The cost of regular pistol training is comprised of more than just the ammunition and the range fees and the gas for travel. It also takes time. Finding large enough blocks of time to drive to a range, shoot, and return can be challenging. Training at home cannot replace range time, but it can augment it. Air guns are one of several technologies that makes home training possible.
A back yard (or in the city, a hallway) with a pellet trap can go a long way towards making regular practice feasible. Depending on the local laws and neighbor attitude, an orange muzzle cap might be advisable.
The air gun in this example, a Sig P226 clone, shoots pellets rather than BBs, mainly for improved accuracy but also for reduced ricochet hazard. As you can see from the photo, the magazine holds 8 pellets on each end. It doesn’t mimic the feel of a regular pistol magazine very closely, but does work very reliably for feeling pellets. There’s no last shot hold open or any other indicator. Most air revolvers also use pellets, but few “semiauto” pistol do.
The advantage of good accuracy means that the 1.5″ round spinner can be reliably hit from five yards.
A playing card can be hit with every shot from nine yards and perhaps further.
What’s the training worth of such practice? Obviously, marksmanship–sight alignment, trigger control, stance, breathing–can be improved without having to put up with the noise, the recoil, and the cost of real ammunition. Presentation and aiming or pointing the first shot can also be practiced, even using the same holster as for the regular carry pistol.
Increasingly rapid presentation with a good grip followed by clean trigger squeezes go a long ways towards getting better at standard defensive reaction.
What are the limitations of air gun practice? It doesn’t help with learning recoil control. Air guns, even realistic models like this P226, tend to have different manual of arms from the real thing. In this case, the safety doesn’t work the same way, and there’s no way to lock the slide open. Also, since the first half of the trigger pull rotates the next pellet into place, shooting it from trigger reset results in a blank shot. The trigger has to be let out all the way forward, which is a problem with P226 but won’t be an issue in DAO P320 that’s coming out soon. Some air guns are more realistic, but at the cost of accuracy (the Umarex P08 uses BBs rather than pellets). Reloading isn’t the same either. On the other hand, carrying and wearing practices are pretty much the same as with actual firearms.
A C02 cartridge will last, depending on the ambient temperature, 60 to 100 shots. The cost of the powerlet and the pellets is negligible compared to the expense of a regular range trip. So, while air guns can’t be used for all aspects of training, they are useful for a sufficient subset of the learning tasks to make them worth employing. They are also less regulated than firearms, making them good presents to novice shooters.