Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Airsoft Practice for Maintaining Shooting Skills

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I've been shooting a lot of IDPA matches lately. I used to shoot them every week, but a change in my schedule three years ago meant that I would not be able to compete as much. What was worse, the new schedule seriously cut into my available range time.

Now that I can get out and shoot more, it's become painfully obvious how much my shooting ability has declined. Like they say - "Use it or lose it."So, I've developed a new routine to ensure that I can get 30 minutes of practice a day. No, I didn't suddenly win the lotto so that I could afford enough ammunition to practice every day. I'm not even going to the range. Using dry-fire practice and airsoft replicas, I'm practicing at home.

One of the biggest impediments to consistent regular practice is the cost of ammunition. We've seen a significant spike in ammunition prices in the past couple of years. Ideally, I'd like to practice with live ammunition on a range, but the reality is that ammunition costs would be prohibitively expensive. Nothing beats being able to shoot and move with a pistol and live ammunition, but airsoft replicas can come close.

Many different models of airsoft guns are available, and most are exact replicas of actual firearms. Pistols like this Walther P99 are faithfully recreated in airsoft form. Many even have reciprocating slides that lock back after the last shot. But the best part is, airsoft ammunition is incredibly inexpensive.

While an airsoft gun may not duplicate the recoil of an actual pistol, training with them can still be useful for the first shot. Using an airsoft pistol, you can easily practice drawing from concealment and engaging a target with the first shot.

The other reason people cite for not practicing is a lack of time. There's no easy answer here - if you want to improve, you simply must set aside the time to practice. Practicing at home is at least a partial solution to the time problem. Considering the amount of time it takes to pack up your gear for the range, drive there, drive back, unload and clean your firearms (you do clean them after every range trip, right?) the time saved can easily be an hour or more.

Even still - practicing at home can only provide you with so much. There is no way to accurately practice followup shots at home - for that you need to be at a range. Practicing double-taps and Mozambique drills (two to the chest, one to the head) pretty much requires the use of live ammunition in order to allow you to train to handle muzzle climb and bring the front sight back down onto the target.

The reason that you need live ammunition to practice follow-up shots is that when you practice, you are training muscle memory. The reason for repetition drills is to ingrain the proper motion into your brain until it becomes instinctual, requiring no conscious thought to perform perfectly. If you train using practice equipment that does not work exactly as the real deal, you will be ingraining the wrong muscle memory and your performance will suffer. For this reason, limit drills at home using airsoft or dry-firing to "first shot" drills - ones that stop after the first shot.

This won't help you on your splits, but believe it or not, that's not where most speed is made up. Most of the time spent in practical shooting competition is drawing from the holster, reloading, and maneuvering. Fast shooting looks cool, but if you spend 8 seconds on a reload, it doesn't matter how close your slits are. It's the complex actions of drawing and reloading that eat up most of the time. Luckily, airsoft and dry-fire practice is very effective at improving your speed in drawing and reloading. Practicing these actions at home will increase your performance enormously.

Experts say that it takes 10,000 repetitions before something becomes so ingrained that it can be done effortlessly and perfectly without thought. That's a lot of practice. What's worse, if you don't continue to practice regularly, those skills will fade. Utilizing airsoft replicas and dry-fire practice at home for just 30 minutes a day can help you improve and maintain your shooting skills.

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