Maintaining firearms proficiency during COVID-19
With many ranges closed due to coronavirus restrictions, alternative practice methods are critical to maintaining your shooting skills
By Dan Phillips
This past year has proven frustrating and challenging with restrictions and closures of many businesses related to the COVID-19 pandemic. Firearms ranges in many states are no exceptions.
This has presented a problem in some states for retired officers trying to find a place to qualify to meet LEOSA requirements. Some officers have been unable to find a range or location able to qualify them and their certifications have lapsed.
Because the way LEOSA is written, there is no exemption or waiver even during these times. Those of you who have been able to maintain their qualification either through a friendly agency or a range are fortunate.
Here in Washington, the limitations placed by our government made it extremely difficult to find a range. While some of the restrictions have been lifted or relaxed, some are still in place. Private ranges that previously allowed guests to shoot for a fee, are now limiting access to members only and that leaves little opportunity to practice for some of us.
And with the apparent nationwide shortage of ammunition due to hoarding and purchase limits, practicing is all that much more of a challenge.
The importance of shooting practice
If the only time you fire your weapon is that once a year event and you are an expert marksman, then maybe practice is not an issue for you. However, not everyone is an expert shooter, and some need practice. Without practice you get a little rusty.
Maintaining proficiency is critical in between annual qualification events and more importantly if you have to actually use your weapon in self-defense.
Alternative practice methods
If you are a casual or once-a-year shooter, and you are not a consistent “10 ring” shooter, you may want to consider some alternative practice methods.
If you live in the suburbs or the country you might be able to find some state or private land that allows shooting, however, that is not a realistic option for city dwellers.
A couple of options to consider are laser trainers and Airsoft or even BB pistols. LaserLyte and Shot Indicating Resetting Trigger (SIRT) and other similar training pistol are a good choice and can be used anywhere. These models offer the opportunity to safely dry fire a realistic firearm at a target and get visual results with a laser strike.
These come in sub-compact, compact and full-size semi-autos and J-frame revolver models and run anywhere from about $130 up to several hundred dollars. Some products have in drop in barrels with a built-in laser to function in popular firearms.
Dry fire trainers like this are a good way to practice without expending ammunition. You can make a simple dry fire trainer for your Glock or other SA/DA semiautos with a knotted length of 550 cord run through the barrel and out the ejection port. This simply holds your gun out of battery and allows you to practice trigger reset. (Look for directions on this online.) As always, make sure you are practicing with a cleared and safe weapon. All these options will help train your aging eyes and muscle memory and help you maintain proficiency when you cannot get to the range.
Build a target trap
If you have a private back yard or a garage, you may consider building yourself a target trap from plywood and an old plastic shallow container or purchase one and use an airsoft gun for practice.
Airsoft guns shoot a 6mm plastic ball up to 500 fps and are powered by electric strikers, springs or pneumatically with CO2 or gas. These make an excellent training option.
There are inexpensive models in the $30-$70 range, but they are almost always all plastic and lack the weight and feel of a real firearm. The more expensive ones are built to resemble a real firearm in form and function and range in price to well over $100.
Most of us rarely carry anything that big anymore and stick to smaller sub-compacts. Unfortunately, they do not make many airsoft guns in sub-compact packages due to the mechanics necessary to make them function. But you can still get a realistic pistol with the near same feel and weight of a real firearm and be able to practice in the privacy of your home or even backyard.
Using the law enforcement TQ19, BC19 or other small silhouette targets for practice are inexpensive. These small targets give the impression of longer distance at short range and are an excellent choice when you have limited area to practice. You can purchase these simple paper targets in packs of 100 for .20-.30 per sheet from suppliers like Midway. You may also like the splatter version, which will give better visual clarity of hits, but these are more expensive.
If you do have the luxury of being able to go to the range, more power to you, keep it up. But if you do not, consider the other options, because when you need to shoot is not the time to find out you’re off your game.
About the author
Dan Phillips retired as a military criminal investigator after 23 years of service, joined the federal service right after 9/11 and served 16 years working in the security, antiterrorism and counterintelligence fields. Today he works as a security manager for a major defense contractor. A 1998 graduate of the FBI National Academy, Dan serves as the LEOSA program chair for the Washington state Fraternal Order of Police. He has been a contributing columnist to Police1 and published in Police Chief Magazine.