Travis Haley on Airsoft

Former Force Recon Marine and Magpul/Magpul Dynamics CEO turned consultant Travis Haley shares his thoughts on using airsoft to supplement conventional training at the range. It is well worth watching.

I have used airsoft in the past for training purposes and also enjoyed playing force-on-force with large groups of people. I think Haley’s advice is excellent and it has inspired to me to go out and buy a high-end airsoft rifle. That said, I would struggle to afford, or justify, buying every accessory twice, especially $1,000+ optics.

I would also not be comfortable playing a force-on-force game with a large group of people all carrying replica’s of their ‘real steel’ guns. All it takes is for some idiot, who is high on adrenaline, to go to his truck in the middle of the game (to chug a bottle of gatorade) and accidentally pick up his real gun …

[ Many thanks to jdun1911 for emailing me the link. ]

Steve Johnson

Founder and Dictator-In-Chief of TFB. A passionate gun owner, a shooting enthusiast and totally tacti-uncool. Favorite first date location: any gun range. Steve can be contacted here.


  • jamesvini

    I used to play Airsoft in NZ and i loved it. Unfortunately the firearm laws here is Australia are quite harsh so no such fun here. (sad face)

  • Kevin

    Poorly controlled training exercises get people killed. ALL THE TIME. At the end of “Training at the Speed of Life” there is an 11 page list of people killed in Force on Force training and how they died.

    If you are not using a well thought out and controlled approach to keep real weapons of out your training environment your name may be added to that list. People thinking about doing this should read Training at the Speed of Life.

  • 18D

    I watched this video yesterday, and it was very informative. I’ve been using airsoft and “blue” guns for a very long time to hone skills on and off the range. They are great training tools for all skill levels, and Travis hits on some really good points.

  • Jay

    I would take all my real kit and use it on my airsoft. So must of my real gear is used and airsoft just takes the place of the real steel firearm.

    For those who use airsoft and actual firearms interchangeably, you would have an airsoft with a red tip, bright blue grips and or stock, what have you, to stop confusion, just as you have with simunitions. If an individual cannot keep an actual firearm well enough away, they shouldn’t even be handling one, nor have the privilege of training amongst you.

    I agree that airsoft has tremendous benefits for training for actual life scenarios. It is a cheaper and safer tool. It is a great aid for teaching firearms safety without the risk of life. The best way to learn is through hands on experience. Instead of just theorizing, reading or watching videos, you can test those concepts for yourself without the high risk.

    When it comes to force on force… As you know, you can sit around all day thinking about reloading under stress, but it is not the same as physically doing so. Actually role playing a scenario is better than watching a video of such scenarios. When you get hit by a projectile, that represents a bullet, you know what works and what doesn’t. Like you see in those knife fighting videos, it is all fancy, but when you try those things out in real life, reality is quick to show itself.

  • Nick

    I completely share your concern over being unintentionally shot by an individual unaware that he/she was holding a firearm, not some plastic/zinc toy. I had a buddy once who set out on an early morning hunting trip with a Daisy BB gun instead of his deer rifle! Man was he pissed when he realized that instead of his hunting rifle, he had been carrying around a plastic toy through the woods for 12 hours! The similar shapes must have confused him. Really though, it was his fault. Rob loved to leave loaded firearms next to BB guns, and to also close his eyes whenever reaching for either. He said it “spiced life up, not knowing whether that next trigger pull would be a *BANG* or a *phut*.”

    By now you should be aware that that was an extreme dose of sarcasm. Suggesting that an airsoft/firearm hobbyist might 1) haphazardly toss firearms into a pile of airsoft guns, then not bother to check which one he picked up, and 2) be oblivious to the differences immediately perceivable to anyone with a reasonable amount of experience with the two (like how firearms tend to employ significant quantities of steel in their construction, rather than cheap ABS plastic and zinc/low grade aluminum; have magazines which hold cartridges rather than small plastic spheres, and tend to sport stiff recoil springs) seems like an unneeded criticism based on ignorance rather than reasonable, logical concern. In all of the recreational airsoft events held through out the U.S. over the past decade plus, I’m not aware of any individuals blasting away others because they couldn’t tell the difference between an airsoft gun and a loaded firearm.

    I certainly see the concern over force on force training scenarios (as Kevin mentioned), where significant quantities of firearms may be present in or around an area where similar training tools are being used, thus increasing the likelihood that a loaded weapon may be unintentionally introduced into a training exercise, but that does not seem to be what you are suggesting as something of which people should be afraid. Rather, you are asserting that gun owners (if not as a whole, than at least a concern-worthy proportion of such) are unintelligent and irresponsible, and will likely harm innocent people through their negligence.

  • Wayne

    I am an AI for a nationally known firearms and tactics instructor. We routinely use airsoft guns for FoF training in some of our advanced classes and custom courses for certain entities.

    The key, as with anything else pertaining to firearms, is proper safety protocols. We have a clearly identified line that nonparticipants are not allowed to cross. All “live” weapons must stay outside of that area. This includes guns, knives and any impact weapons.

    When the student comes to the line he is frisked for any live weapons by the instructor(s) that will be serving as a role player and the student then checks the instructor. This lets everyone involved be absolutely certain what is being used. If you leave the designated area for any reason you are searched again, no exceptions.

    It is that kind of clear cut and set in stone rules that keeps everyone safe.

  • Jusuchin (Military Otaku)

    Airsoft is big with the younger cousins. And at that point a few years back, I told em the safe gun handling procedures. They all remembered, so proud. Now to work on the newest cousin.

    Airsoft, while not being a real gun, has tremendous benefits in trying to educate new people into gun culture. Depending on the quality of one, they will hurt, and you need to emphasize that while an airsoft gun can leave a welt, a bullet can kill. Both hurt, and both should not be pointed at things you don’t want to shoot.

    But also you need to emphasize the differences. For me and my cousins, Airsoft is a fun time in the backyard. But I’ve already taught them real guns aren’t to be used in such a way. (Still not to the point of self defense until the parentals say so.)

    Good video.

  • Lance

    I know of various training academies who use airsoft for both military and SWAT I also know of Security using it too. Very informative and fun.

    Steve you can get airsoft rated optics that are exact copies of current US optics and use them for airsoft there alot cheaper.

  • J

    Any one have any idea which manufacturers make the more realistic designed rifles like Haley is showing in the video? The addition of recoil and having to drop the bolt catch after a reload is really nice.

    • Sean M.

      He was using Tokyo Marui airsoft guns. These are usually a lot higher quality then other Airsoft manufacturers, and it shows in price. I’ve found that G&G Arms makes decent replicas as well. Check out for more options.

  • Squidpuppy

    Anyone done any training with Simunition marking rounds? One of my local trainers was going to offer a FoF class with them, but it never materialized.

    • John Doe

      I’ve used Simunitions before. Much more accurate than paintball/airsoft, more realistic guns (well, converted real firearms) and VERY painful.

      • Lance

        Simutech is great for training but its only for Solders and Marines like you can afford or should I say obtain conversion kits and ammo. Cops and and Security don’t have this luxury so airsoft is a ok substitute.

  • A french follower

    Systema products are airsoft guns for professional use(known as Personnal Trainning Weapon replicas). It’s like 1000$ a gun but it worth it. Steel receivers, and including plenty things that a live gun would do. You can even customize the fps of the replica, and get some some cheaps copies of your priceless holosight or Magpul stuff 😉

  • Blu

    You shouldent have any real firearms anywhere near a mock firefight in the first place, and its not like (In the millitary at least.) you keep your M16 in your car.

    • Lance

      Very true a Oregon State Police man was at a military training center and brought the wrong MP-5 with him and shot and killed a team mate by mistake be careful always.

      • Dan

        I’ve held all kinds of airsoft replicas as well as real weapons and if I can tell the difference between the two easily a Police Officer who is trained how to use firearms by the government should be able to as well.

        First off, you should never keep any gun loaded and ready to fire when you’re storing it, whether it is an airsoft gun or a real firearm, so he failed in that aspect. If he had treated the weapon properly he would have noticed “Oh look, the pellets are really big and shiny and the wrong shape…why is that?”

  • B_rad

    Buying separate optics on top of your brand new airsoft gun is a non issue. They make replicas of those optics as well.

  • Joseph


    My only problem is how avid airsofters are now feeling like they’re suddenly operators. I can say, however, that people who play paintball and airsoft actually have learned a lot of stuff people don’t learn at the range. (I do train with airsoft by the way) – Still, the status Haley gives is something the airsofters and airsoft companies are sure to cling to. Heck, there’s already articles on airsoft websites with Haley’s video putting a lot of emphasis on it. I hope airsofters don’t go nuts bugging everyone with it all.

    I very likely am over-reacting.

  • JT

    If anyone is after the most realistic airsoft gun I would highly recommend the Inokatsu M-4 it is gas blowback and even manages to simulate a decent ammount of recoil!–HfwK4

  • Billy Bones

    I dint see how someone could confuse an airsoft ptw with a real firearm.

    These airsoft weapons run on batteries… You have to be criminal motive or really stupid to ever confuse the two.

    Mags weigh different etc. Oh, and they take 6mm BB’s.

    These deaths must have Ben confusion with simunition units, this I can see a possibily happening.

    Best airsoft M4 for FoF short of a Systema is the KWA brands ptw.

    • davethegreat

      I thought so too, until I went to a store that was entirely dedicated to Airsoft stuff. They do make some that are weighted steel bodies. Same color, same weight, etc. I even saw one mac-11 clone that had a propane-filled rectangular magazine (apparently, propane is a common gas propellant for higher-end Airsoft stuff).

      Holding one of their top-of-the-line pistols in my hand, there were only two ways to tell it was not my police-issue Glock 22: stare directly into the barrel (about half an inch from the muzzle, it goes from .4″ wide to .18″ wide, but the opening is in fact the same size as a real .40 cal), or actually read the inscription on the side.

      The funny thing is that the Airsoft pistol actually cost more than my real Glock (though I did buy it over ten years ago, with Glock’s police discount).

  • Ian

    Airsoft, will at the very least, will teach you how to use cover real quick. Getting lit up with those pellets is like getting attacked by a swarm of bees.

  • Gas blow-back rifles have a better semi-auto action than the electric guns. You don’t get that lag that Travis talks about. Recoil is a little more realistic too. They are also more compatible with parts for real M-16/AR-15s, which is often an issue with electric guns which have to have batteries stuffed in somewhere.

    The gas guns are a little more maintenance intensive than the electrics, and the magazines are more expensive. I guess you can’t have everything.

  • Geoff

    There’s a really easy solution to prevent confusion between your airsoft gun and your real gun. Just spray paint your airsoft guns bright pink.

  • Grindstone

    Here’s a sure-fire way to tell airsoft from real steel: Check the chamber.

    Say, shouldn’t you be doing that anyway?

    If you mix up an airsoft weapon with a real steel version, you probably shouldn’t be anywhere near real firearms as it is.

    /owner of multiple firearms AND quality airsoft

    • David/Sharpie

      I think the mix ups they’re talking about is other peoples guns, not your own

  • Griz

    As a training tool, Airsoft has played an important role in teaching my son to shoot.

    When we first arrive at the range, we start out with his Airsoft pistol to review control/sighting/reloading/etc. Then we move onto the steel guns. Starting with something that doesn’t go “boom” allows him to focus on the principles without being concerned about a bullet report (and the safety concerns of a bullet discharging at the wrong moment).

    My son being comfortable and consistent (safety and target awareness) with the Airsoft pistol reliably translates to better firearms handling and shooting.

    To be honest, I used to look down on Airsoft. Especially coming from a paint-balling background, there’s always been that rivalry. After integrating Airsoft into my sons’ firearms training, I definitely see its’ benefits.


  • Reasonably priced and decent quality copies of optics such as the EOTECH are avalible through airsoft retailers. Same with accessories. Concern over real guns entering play are eliminated by strict orange tip rules in every game.