Firearms Training On A Budget

Affordable Firearms Training

Congratulations! You have taken an approved eight hour concealed carry course, and you have recieved a brand new shiny CCW endorsement of your very own. Now, it's time to hit the range with your new handgun and develop the skills you learned in class. The only thing between you and throwing massive quantities of lead down range is a quick stop to buy some ammunition.

Standing in front of the barren store shelf, you realize that the cartridges available are at black market prices! Unless you have deep pockets, skill development can start to take a back seat to ammo conservation. In this article, we will review some techniques and equipment that can allow you to reclaim that reduced range time and work on some basic fundamentals.

The trigger press is a basic, yet extremely important, task to perform while maintaining sight alignment or sight picture. You can fine-tune your trigger press at no cost by simply performing dry fire exercises with your handgun.

Keep in mind, gun safety rules apply any time we handle firearms with NO exceptions. Make sure you double (and triple) check that your weapon is completely unloaded and the ammunition is in a different room. Also you must ensure that your practice target is placed so that your muzzle will be pointed in a safe direction during the exercise.
Dry firing is not a new concept but here is a twist that can make it a little more challenging. Take an empty cartridge case and balance it on the top of your handgun's barrel near the front sight. After the case is in place, try to perform trigger presses while keeping the case from falling. This can be more of a challenge than you think! You can start off easy using a 45 ACP case or similar that is short and has a large diameter base.

You can then progress up to a 223 case or any rifle cartridge case that is tall and has small diameter base. In some cases depending on the shape of your front sight, you can balance a coin instead of a cartridge. If you are concerned with dry firing your handguns, you can use snap caps or a dummy round with the primer pocket filled with hot melt glue. This can soften the impact on the firing pin and your peace of mind.

Another technique you can use to smooth a trigger press is to enlist the help of a weapon mounted laser. Even If your handgun does not have a laser installed an impromptu version can be assembled using a cheap key chain laser pointer. Attach it under the muzzle of your hand gun using a small piece of Velcro. I can hear you laughing now, but give it a chance. The “homemade” version (FIG 5) is not quite as bright as a dedicated model, but for the price and its intended use, works quite well. These lasers can be purchased at your local discount store for under $5.

When you dry fire your laser, it will give you visual feedback if you are jerking the trigger or there is a problem with your grip. The goal of this exercise is to hold the dot still in the smallest area possible while performing a complete trigger press. Your effort here will result in reduced group sizes at the range.shutterstock_144898366
For the shooter who requires a bit more sophistication, LaserLyte has a training aid that utilizes a small laser cartridge (FIG 7) that loads into the chamber of your favorite handgun like live ammunition. The laser cartridges are available in several calibers and have a pressure-sensitive primer similar to a snap cap. When the trigger is pressed, the firing pin strikes the primer causing a laser dot to flash on the target. The LaserLyte system also has an available reactive target that registers the “hit” for scoring. Several customizable practice targets are available online. These targets, combined with a LaserLyte cartridge can provide dry fire or draw and shoot training in the comfort of your home.

The last laser training aid I will cover is the Shot Indicating Resetting Trigger or SIRT pistol offered by Next Level Training. The SIRT pistol has three models to choose from depending on your training requirements and budget. Their top of the line model has two separate lasers, one red, and the other green. The red laser is visible on your practice target during the take up portion of the trigger pull. This allows the shooter to monitor and diagnose any problems with keeping the sights correctly on target.

The next stage occurs when the SIRT gun “fires” which makes the green laser dot flash on the target. The flashing green dot allows the shooter to see where the theoretical shot would have hit on the target. This model has the weight and feel of a fully loaded Glock 17 or 22. You can practice magazine reloads as well as muscle memory training necessary for a smooth trigger press. The trigger can be adjusted to simulate the trigger pull of your favorite handgun, and the take up laser can be switched on or off depending on your practice.

The training tips discussed so far has not involved firing an actual projectile. This next tip will change that by allowing you to shoot reusable training bullets from your firearm. The components are produced by Speer and are quite ingenious and simple to use. The rounds are in the form of reusable molded plastic cases and bullets and work well when shooting at homemade backstops like carpet squares or cardboard. These training rounds use no propellant and are powered only by CCI brand pistol primers.

Speer states these rounds are designed for shooting at a distance of 25-feet. The lightweight bullet has a velocity of 300-400 fps, with 1″ groups possible at 20′. “Reloading” a round requires installing a fresh primer in the plastic or metal case, depending on the caliber you use, and inserting the plastic wadcutter bullet to complete a new cartridge.
The bullets and cases can be reused up to 20 times when using a soft backstop. These rounds are very cost-effective and fun. The bullets and cases are sold separately so you can easily replace the lost or damaged parts. They are packaged 50 bullets/cases to a box.

If you are a fan of the 45 ACP you can re-use your empty brass cases by increasing the size of the flash holes with a 7/64″ drill bit in order to “reload” new rounds (FIG 9). If there's a down side to these rounds, it would be feed failures. I personally did not have any luck with the 45 caliber version feeding properly when manually cycled. Their flat nose and square shoulder seemed to keep them from chambering.

However, they were only tested with one firearm. In a different handgun, the problem could easily disappear. The 38spl rounds performed flawlessly out of a wheel gun and like the 45 caliber version, accuracy was in accordance with Speer's stated results. I have enjoyed many hours of practice using these training bullets in a homemade basement range. When you practice, ensure that the range area is well ventilated, and you have an adequate bullet trap.
Let's take a look at another training option. These are interesting little 22 caliber rounds by Aquilla. The Aquilla rounds, like the Speer training bullets, are primer powered only and will not cycle in semi auto guns. These rounds are cheaper than conventional ammunition and with adequate ventilation, can be used in your “basement” shooting range as well. These 22 rounds are quiet and surprisingly powerful. They have a 20 grain solid lead bullet manufactured with a coating that reduces barrel friction.

The manufacturer reports a muzzle velocity of 500 fps and 11 ft/lbs of energy. These rounds are not toys and can be lethal. They are capable of breaking glass and penetrating hard tin cans. These low powered rounds are not suitable for use in long barreled firearms because there is a substantial risk that the bullet will not exit the barrel. A follow up shot with a conventional round could be lethal.

Some of you may not own or want to purchase a dedicated 22 caliber handgun. One option would be to consider a 22 caliber conversion kit. These kits are available from a variety of sources and for the more popular semi-automatic handguns. They can quickly change the caliber of your current handgun to fire the less expensive 22 caliber cartridge. The conversion is made by simply exchanging the slide, barrel, and magazine from your handgun with the modified versions in the kit.

Some of the kits on the market will convert Glock, Sig, and may1911 clones. It wouldn't take long for these conversion kits to pay for themselves given the current market value for larger caliber ammo.

The last area we will cover in our quest to get the most bang for our buck is training aids for firearm manipulation skills. This will include practicing tactical and combat reloading of a semi-auto, Revolver unloading and reloading drills using speed loaders & strip loaders. The goal of any practice is safety and there is no shortage of training aids on the market that will help us accomplish this mandate. A short list would include dummy or inert ammunition.

There are many different types sold by various manufacturers. You should try to avoid the ones that are made entirely of plastic. The better choice would be using the type that has a metal case with a plastic bullet. These rounds more closely replicate the weight of a real cartridge. When practicing revolver reloads using a speed loader, for example, the light plastic rounds will not fall as realistically into the cylinder like the metallic type will. Dummy rounds are also helpful in diagnosing handgun stoppages like feed and ejection problems. You will want to have a few of these around for every handgun you own.

Blue guns can be used for any number of training scenarios requiring drawing and re-holstering. They are useful in performing function checks, breaking in new holsters, as well as, practicing drawing from a new carry position before “going live.” Blue training magazines replicate the weight of their actual loaded counterparts and are great stand-ins for taking the abuse your expensive magazines would typically see during training exercises.
Airsoft guns – Airsoft guns are replica firearms that fire 6mm plastic pellets. These pellets range in velocity from 65 to more than 700 fps. They are propelled by compressed gas or electric and/or spring-driven pistons. These guns are designed to be non-lethal with proper safety gear and to provide realistic training. Depending on the mechanism driving the pellet, an airsoft gun can be operated manually or cycled by either compressed gas such as Green Gas, CO2, compressed air via a spring, or an electric motor pulling a piston.

While the initial outlay of money can be high, you will reap the benefits of affordable training over a long period of time. Airsoft guns enable you to practice most all handgun drills as well as engage in force on force training. This type of training allows participants to safely practice using live-action, reality-based scenarios.

Well, there you have it. I hope that you will be able to utilize one or more of these tips in your practice. The inflated prices and the lack of ammunition may have reduced our range time, but it doesn't mean that our skills have to suffer because of it.

Hopefully, the shortage won't last much longer and we will be able to return to our normal training routine without having to “know a guy” who has access to ammo, or to obtain financing to pay for it. Until then, I have provided you with the knowledge to overcome this setback.

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on April 7, 2014, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

11 Responses to :
Firearms Training On A Budget

  1. Ken Hovater says:

    A friend of mine that spent some time on the US Army pistol team taught me an exercise that they used to do with a 1911. Tape a piece of paper to a wall at shoulder height. Making sure the weapon is unloaded, take a pencil and insert the eraser end in the barrel until it bottoms out. Hold the sharpened end about 1″ from the paper and press the trigger. This should leave a small graphite dot on the paper.
    Repeat the exercise as many times as desired. This will teach not only trigger control and sight alignment, it will also help develop forearm strength.

  2. Rich Hoven says:

    Thanks for the tips on Firearms training on a budget – I have a Ruger single six 22 pistol with the extra cylinder for mags – love, it – BUT my problem is finding 22 ammo ! The hardest places to find 22 ammo are small home town hardware stores and small gun shops, Walmart (when they do get some)is a problem, as the night crew employees text their buds when the truck comes in and they are to the store before the truck driver is driving away. Any suggestion?

  3. Saltporkdoc says:

    I have been a shooterofsome type for 55 years. Some of the mentioned techniques I have heard of and used before, many (because of advances in technology primarily) I have not. These I will add to my training regimen immediately!
    Thank you for a well written and informative article.

  4. ChrisB says:

    You can also buy a laser cartridge insert for your weapon. When you pull the trigger, the laser light flashes for just a second. The price on Amazon is about 2-3 boxes of ammo, but it’s great for dry-fire practice.

  5. Matt Hart says:

    I don’t think this technique is terribly useful. In a confrontation, you don’t have time to carefully aim and fire. You need to get used to quickly pulling and firing, because if you really need to fire, you aren’t going to have time to aim.
    I practice pulling the firearm, turning off the safety as I move the handgun up, and quickly firing two shots. Then I replace it in the holster and do it again. Sometimes I practice peeking over a counter and firing quickly, or moving in from the side.
    Aiming and firing like this article suggests is for competitions, not deadly encounters.

  6. I appreciate your tip to choose a gun that’s easy to use to learn how to use your personal firearm. I also like how you said that you should have ammunition in your weapon as well. My husband and I are looking into a personal firearm training to know how to use guns to protect our family.

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