Off the Porch: Airsoft pistol practice, inside shooting on the cheap

Jan. 31, 2014 @ 04:48 PM

For those who haven’t noticed, for the first time in my lifetime, there is a serious shortage of the most popular calibers of ammunition. This began over a year ago when, after the tragic Sandy Hook murders of school children, certain politicians began a push for stricter gun control laws. Over the last ten years, shooting and firearms have seen a huge resurgence in popularity, with gun sales in the United States more than doubling over the period. People who have never owned a gun suddenly are getting into recreational shooting and personal defense.
As a result, when the politicians began the sabre rattling campaign on gun control, a lot of the populace panicked and ran out to purchase the guns the politicians were targeting. While they were there, they also stocked up on ammunition. Suddenly, an AR 15 that sold for $700 was now bringing $1,500, provided you could find one. High capacity semi-auto pistols disappeared from gun store shelves and so did the ammunition for them.  The shortages mostly involved .223 and semi-auto pistol calibers, but the shortage spilled over into all other calibers, including .22 rimfire ammunition, normally used only for plinking and target practice. While the other shortages have slowly dissipated, the shortage of .22 rimfire ammunition continues, with .22 rimfire ammunition often selling for as much as ten times what it did just over a year ago. I believe this is because there are so many replica rimfire versions of popular tactical style guns like the AR 15, AKS, and most semi-auto pistols. Shooters discovered them as a great way to shoot cheaply during the shortage and they continue to shoot them.
Recently, I attended the Bushnell Breakfast at SHOT Show, the trade show for the hunting and shooting industry, and they shared some marketing information that might have revealed why we are in the current and totally unprecedented ammunition shortage we are now experiencing. The Bushnell study examined the current markets and identified just which segments of the shooting market are spending the most money and consuming the most ammunition. The study divided shooters into four groups, who consume ammunition and other shooting products based on their inclinations. The four groups related to target shooting, defensive use, hunting, and tactical shooting. The largest group, at over 40% was also the fastest growing, and comprises the tactical group, shooters who shoot three gun, tactical pistol and shotgun and similar matches as well as those who shoot informally with this kind of equipment.The study also showed that this fast growing group consumed the most ammunition at 60% of all recreational ammunition sales. Rumors that the government was the reason for the shortages were discounted because, in spite of what the internet reports, current government consumption is similar to past consumption.
As the old Pogo comic strip went, “We have seen the enemy, and he is us.” While there’s little doubt that ammunition hoarding is happening, the consensus of the industry is that we are simply shooting more than ever before, and the hoarding session that followed the Sandy Hook gun law scare, pushed the problem over the level of critical mass. This is bad news on one front, but it is wonderful news on another front. In spite of all the negative news media coverage, more Americans than ever are gun owners, more of them shoot on a regular basis, and through a major economic slump, the firearms industry has seen an unprecedented surge in business. All this means that shooting is alive and well in the United States, but this does little to remedy the .22 rimfire ammunition shortage, so economical shooting practice is harder than ever.
All this brings me to the airsoft issue. A couple of years back, at the Bianchi Cup, I noticed the number of Japanese shooters who were competing. I asked one of them how he managed to acquire his pistol shooting skills in a country where individual ownership of handguns is prohibited. He gave me a wry smile and replied one word, “Airsoft”. In further conversation, he informed me that he practices with sophisticated airsoft pistols while in Japan, and comes to the U.S.A. a couple of weeks before the Bianchi Cup. He then practices with a real pistol. His airsoft pistol is identical to his competition pistol, so grip, trigger control, and mechanical operation muscle memory is instantly transferred to the real gun. He told me his airsoft gun cost $1,500 and that it worked exactly like the real thing he was using that week. I resolved to learn more about airsoft.
The test gun I chose is a WE Hi Cappa 2011 clone. It’s identical to the modular framed, double-stack 1911 pistols that dominate three gun, the Bianchi, and other practical shooting events. It has a reasonably good trigger, a grip safety, an extended thumb safety, adjustable sights and the slide operates just like a real gun. There’s a removable magazine that holds 30 plastic airsoft BBs and the propane gas that powers the gun. The magazine is weighted to feel like a full 2011 magazine, and the magazine release is identical to a real gun. It fits the same holsters as the real thing, weighs only a little less, and is so realistic, the orange muzzle is the only thing that gives it away as not being a real 2011.
The Hi Cappa’s magazines hold 30 BBs in the double stack, spring loaded, front of the magazine unit. The rest of the unit is a gas tank that holds the propane gas that drives the BB and operates the slide. A plastic adapter is available for regular propane bottles used for camping or you can use Green Gas, a pre-lubricated product made just for running airsoft guns. You load the BBs and then charge the magazine as you would a butane lighter. Extra magazines are available and sold separately. The magazines also fit magazine pouches perfectly.
Accuracy is reasonable at close range, with Hi Cappa shooting two inch groups at 30 feet. Since the Hi Cappa operates exactly like a real 2011 race pistol, it makes a wonderful tool for training. I can practice draw and shoot drills, transitions from one target to another, replicate shooting falling plates, magazine change drills, or almost any other training exercise to make me better at managing a competitive pistol.  Of course, these guns are also fun to shoot and can provide anyone with a usable indoor shooting range the whole family can enjoy.
Airsoft guns come in replicas of dozens of popular firearms, from antique firearms to the most modern tactical firearms. Many have features like the Hi Cappa that allow them to function exactly as the real thing. Costs range from under $20 for the simplest guns that hand cock like a BB gun, to the really expensive versions my Japanese friend uses. The Hi Cappa 2011 sells for less than $100. Battery driven versions of the AR 15 run as little as $100 with really good operating versions at around $300. Since the airsoft BBs can be recovered in traps and the guns are rechargeable or run on cheap propane gas bottles, the cost of shooting is almost nothing.
In summary, the quality and utility of these guns offer a viable alternative for firearms training. For new shooters, shooters with limited range access, or the need to keep costs at a minimum or for the purpose of training young shooters, airsoft guns offer a remarkable opportunity and utility. They’re not just toys, and if you haven’t looked into them lately, you probably should.

Dick Jones is an award winning freelance writer living in High Point. He writes about hunting, fishing, dogs, and shooting for several NC newspapers as well as national magazines and websites.  If you’d like to have him speak to your group, he can be reached at offtheporch52@yahoo.com or offtheporchmedia.com.