By Keith Garcia
So you made the jump from pistol matches into the world of 3 Gun. You want to improve but how do you do it? Unless you have a range behind the house and an unlimited amount of ammunition this sport will be a costly adventure. If you’re looking for ways to improve that don’t include shooting until your ankle deep in brass then airsoft may be right for you.
What is airsoft and what can it offer you?
Most of the rifles and pistols used in the 3 Gun world have an airsoft replica. Airsoft guns are replica firearms that fire plastic pellets by way of compressed gas or electric and/or spring-driven pistons. These guns are designed to be non-lethal and to provide realistic replicas. Depending on the mechanism driving the pellet, an airsoft gun can be operated manually or cycled by either compressed gas such as Green Gas (propane and silicone mix) or CO2, or by compressed air via a spring or an electric motor pulling a piston.
The airsoft industry is larger than you might think. For this article I wanted to find out more about the airsoft community so I talked to one of the key players. I interviewed Tim Seargeant the marketing manager for Airsoft G.I. a retail company who proudly advertises itself as the “The #1 Airsoft Retail Store in America.” I asked Tim for some background on the company and the community they serve:
“Airsoft G.I. has been in business since 2003 and has grown from a one man operation to a work force of over 60 employees. We have over 11,000 product SKU numbers for airsoft guns, tactical gear, and shooting accessories.”
“A vast majority of airsoft users are involved in recreational airsoft play. The most primitive form of airsoft is a force on force battle wear two evenly sized and gunned teams start on opposite ends of the field and shoot at each other until one team is eliminated. Another more advanced form of airsoft is called MILSIM, or military simulation. These games are typically played on a much larger playing field and incorporate objectives for each team to complete. MILSIM games will usually draw a larger, more dedicated, airsoft crowd. MILSIM games can range from 100-1000 participants depending on the venue, the game organizers, and the number of teams while force on force games usually range from 10-150 players depending on venue and game organizers. Another small sect of airsoft users are military and law enforcement officers or looking for training tools.”
“Our typical customer is an American male between the ages of 13 and 35. However airsoft has become much more popular over the past ten years and the demographic of players has changed slightly. More parents are discovering that airsoft is a great way to bond with their kids.”
“If airsoft continues to grow the way it has been then there is no doubt in my mind that airsoft will surpass paintball in popularity within 10 years. There are organizations popping up now to make airsoft a competitive sport, and if that movement gains ground then it could easily grow in a similar fashion that other professional sports have in the past. In 10 years I definitely see airsoft moving from a recreational game to a competitive sport.”
I will focus on airsoft rifles and pistols in this section. Airsoft shotguns are available but I do use one and do not see the training benefit for 3 Gunners. In my opinion for successful training you need a good quality gas powered airsoft pistol and rifle; additionally some reactive targets will enhance the training experience.
Pistols: The first thing you will notice when handling an airsoft pistol is the light trigger pull. Many of the airsoft pistols will have better triggers than their center-fire counterparts. I have owned airsoft replica Glocks and STI/SVI’s; both guns have performed very well in both accuracy and reliability. A good quality airsoft pistol will usually shoot a 1” group out to 8 to 10 yards. Since most of my airsoft training takes place inside my garage this type of accuracy is sufficient. My current training gun is a Tokyo Marui “High Capa 5.1” which is a replica modeled after a double stack 2011. Apparently airsoft participants are no different from competition shooters when it comes to a love of accessories. All the up-grades on my Custom 2011 for 3 Gun are on my airsoft trainer including adjustable rear sight, fiber optic front sight, grip tape and a magazine well.
Rifles: In the past airsoft rifles have been primarily driven by electric motors. The rifles would hold huge amounts of BB’s and run for a long period of time on one charge. The BIG drawback to realistic training was the trigger pull. The triggers were basically an electric switch activating a motor that would drive a BB down the barrel. The problem was that it took a long time for the motor to spit out a BB. If you are used to shooting an AR15 that responds immediately the electric triggers on an airsoft rifle was like shooting in slow motion; follow up shots had slow splits so you were hard pressed to do realistic training.
In 2012 gas powered rifles hit the market. Similar in design to airsoft pistols the rifles were powered by gas stored in the magazine. The result is a rifle that has a very nice trigger capable of matching any center fire gun shot for shot. The addition of the gas also increased the speed of the BB and the accuracy of the rifles. The result is a great training tool for 3 Gun. My current airsoft rifle is a KWA Full Metal GBBR. I had the configured to match my JP competition .223cal rifle. As with the airsoft pistols there is no end to the accessories you can hang on your airsoft rifle. An added bonus with the gas powered rifles they function just as good using low cost propane and do not require the “Green” gas sold for the pistols. Using a “propane adapter” and a couple drops of oil lowers the cost of gas by 75%.
Since I shoot in the Tactical Optics division I topped my rifle with a scope. There are a number of companies that make cheap scopes for use with airsoft rifles. The key to productive training is to build and reinforce the correct technique. If you can find a cheap scope that has the same eye relief and field of view as your game gun more power to you. There may be a replica of your actual scope but all things being equal I prefer to use the real thing. I set up a Swarovski Z6i 1-6x power scope in a Warne RAMP mount and I use it on my airsoft gun and my .22cal conversion. The Swarovski matches my current set up for 3 Gun so I like the consistent sight picture and head position it offers between the different platforms. With a little added work you can simply move the optic from you 3 Gun rifle to your airsoft gun on training days; this will require changing the elevation adjustment a good deal for most guns. If you are diligent about returning the scope back to the original settings and sighting it back in before a match there will not be a problem. Do not be the guy who shows up to the first stage of a match with 20 minutes of extra elevation in his scope….. really, true story.
Targets: I prefer metal reactive targets when training. These can be knock down targets that fall when hit or simply ring when struck with a BB. I recommend targets from BAM Airsoft (bamairsoft.com). They make a wide variety of targets, everything from plate racks to an airsoft version of a Texas Star can be found there. My favorite training target is the Steel Challenge set; the set consists of reactive steel plates that ping when hit. I prefer this style target because it can be hit multiple times without have to stop in order to reset the target.
I use a CED7000A Airsoft Timer from Competitive Edge Dynamics when I train. The CED timer is more sensitive than a standard shot timer allowing it to register reports from gas powered airsoft guns.
I like training with airsoft indoors so I can do it in any weather or lighting conditions. I set up my airsoft range in the garage. I recommend using a large nylon or cloth tarp as a backstop for you BB’s. The BB’s will tear up your walls and bounce all over the garage if not given a soft place to land.
I do not recommend practicing magazine reloads with you airsoft guns that require you to drop the magazine. Airsoft magazines are heavy, fragile and expensive. The magazine feed lips will bend or crack if dropped wrong and there is no way to repair them. A good way to practice with airsoft is to star with an empty gun and load from you belt or off a table and eliminating the dropping of a magazine. I use a coupler with my rifle magazines so I can do a mag change without dropping a magazine.
Extended use and rapid fire from gas powered airsoft magazines will cause them to start to freeze and function slower or stop altogether. I recommend using a small electric heating pad to warm the magazines after you fill them. I keep one in the garage and set my magazines on it when they are not in the gun. The heat from the pad will warm the magazine up after you fill it and keep your guns running longer.
Airsoft training is only limited by your imagination. If you can identify problems in your match performance there is probably a way to adapt airsoft to help you train. The one thing airsoft will not do is help you learn to manage recoil. I do not shoot multiple rounds on one target in my normal airsoft training. Since recoil is not a factor shooting multiple shots on one target is not very challenging. Shooting one shot, calling the shot, driving the gun to another target and firing one shot is challenging and is really no different than shooting a center fire gun; all the same basics of marksmanship apply. Airsoft is great for working on your draw, transitions from target to target and learning how to shoot on the move.
For 3 Gun training I prefer to work on my transitions from target to target and from one gun to another. Transitioning from gun to gun is overlooked by a lot of 3 Gunners. Lots of time is lots in matches from slow or botched transitions between guns. The beauty of airsoft is that it allows you to work on these transitions and practice some shooting as well.
Here is a sample training exercise I like to run with my airsoft rifle and pistol and my 3 Gun shotgun.
My handgun starts in the holster unloaded with the hammer down. I have a loaded pistol and rifle magazine on my belt along with eight 12g shotgun dummy rounds. My shotgun and rifle are on a table in front of me. The shotgun is empty with the bolt locked open; the rifle is unloaded bolt forward. I have six steel plates set out along the wall three high and three low.
On the start signal, I move to the table while drawing and loading my pistol, I need one hit on each piece of steel before grounding my pistol on the table (paying close attention to the safety). Next I pick up my shotgun while drawing four rounds from my belt. I load four rounds and then take a sight picture on each steel target before grounding the shotgun (paying close attention to the safety). Next I pick up my rifle and load it with the magazine from my belt and hit each steel once before grounding the rifle (paying close attention to the safety). I go back to the loaded pistol and repeat each step only this time I am picking up a loaded gun and taking the safety off before shooting.
This is one of my favorite drills as it covers a lot of different skills and requires you to think through each problem.