Understudy Guns

Training options between dry-fire — and bang!

S&W’s M&P22 can serve as a “stand-in” for the company’s “service grade” M&P centerfires.
Airgun, rimfire, “the real thing” — 10 shots from 7 yards each. From left: Umarex (BB),
Advantage unit on G31 (.22 LR), Gen5 G19 (9mm).

My predecessor as Handgun Editor here at GUNS was Jan Stevenson, who the late George Nonte called the most articulate of gun writers. I think George was right. Jan left big shoes to fill and I’m going to step into them now. One of Jan’s most famous articles was on what he called “Understudy Guns.” These are handguns identical to your “serious” sidearm, but chambered for .22 Long Rifle for cheap practice, mild recoil and soft report.

In those days, Colt and S&W made .22 revolvers in the same format as their medium-frame service guns, and small-frame .22s cloned from their snubbie .38s (Charter Arms, Ruger and Taurus eventually followed suit). Colt made the .22 conversion unit for their big autos. Many such guns are available today — there were even pellet guns that handled at least somewhat like fighting handguns, such as the Crosman 38. Nowadays, though, you have more understudy options.

The Choices Today

Sim Guns — Though they’re not generally available to the private sector, GLOCKs and SIGs are available which are built to fire Simunitions paint pellets. There’s nothing better for simulated gunfighting known as Force-on-Force training. Purpose built, they can’t accidentally be loaded with live ammo and the sting of a Sim round most definitely “reinforces the learning experience.”

Dummy Guns — People have been killed or crippled practicing disarming — and handgun retention — with functional weapons when a live cartridge slipped into the mix. Non-shooting dummy guns are the obvious solution. They’re also suitable for quick draw practice in your living room, and they’re great for wet-fitting and boning leather holsters. Even when you’ve applied Saran Wrap and grease, you can almost hear your handgun rusting in the wet leather overnight — an identical plastic or metal dummy alleviates the worry.

I also like the dummy guns for training new shooters; it’s less traumatic for them if they inadvertently point it at themselves or you during the early stages of learning safe gunhandling practices. I’ve had the best luck with the super-popular “blue guns” from Ring’s, but the gray ones from Blackhawk work well. They’re all made of lightweight polymer but if you want more realistic heft, Ring’s makes weighted ones and you can get rugged all-metal ones from Odin Press (“Google will get you there”).

Mas (right) demonstrates disarming techniques with a Duncan metal dummy S&W 4506.

Air Guns — For real marksmanship training, you need actual projectiles. Air guns don’t pollute indoors and it’s easy to craft makeshift backstops for the missiles they launch. No ear protection is required, though of course eye protection is still a must. I spend the most time with Umarex’s licensed copy of the G19, but there are lots of realistic air guns available for practice. Many use Airsoft for Force-on-Force, and it’s okay so long as proper safety gear and protocols are applied.

SIRT — Mike Hughes at Next Level Training hit a home run with his SIRT training pistol, available in GLOCK or S&W M&P format. Pressure on the trigger projects a solid red laser dot on target, and breaking the shot marks the point of impact with a green dot. Silent and with no projectiles, it’s “hotel room safe” for dry fire. SIRTs are ideal for learning to hit from body position index without aiming (hip-shooting, protected gun position), and allow you to participate in TV’s Walking Dead by head-shooting the zombies before the good guys do. I now watch the show on a projection screen at home because I don’t like the idea of potentially eyesight-damaging laser beams bouncing off glass surfaces. Ammo cost: zero.

.22 Conversion units — We have way more .22 conversion units for centerfire autoloading pistols today than when Jan first addressed understudy guns. For the 1911 there are multiple choices, my favorite being the Marvel, so superbly accurate people have long been winning .22 bulls-eye matches with them. You can shoot a 3-gun 2700 match with all the same frame and the exact same trigger, using the Marvel top for the .22 stage and the big-bore top-end for centerfire and .45. I like the Advantage Arms unit for my GLOCKs. SIG makes some excellent conversion units I’ve had very good luck with and the one Beretta makes for the 92 is so good it’s sometimes been hard to find — but it’s very much worth looking for!

The 8-shot Ruger LCR .22 LR (left) serves as understudy to the 5-shot .38 Special (right).

Nothing’s Perfect

The air gun you wind up with may be distinctly different in trigger pull from your real handgun, though the Umarex model comes fairly close. My SIRTs are not quite identical to my GLOCKs but come close enough for valuable trigger time. Obviously, none of the above options are going to duplicate the recoil of a full power handgun.

However, they’re great for tasks like drawing to the first shot, since recoil doesn’t really matter until after the critical Number One round on target. And, shot for shot, they teach you to hold the gun locked on target until the trigger breaks and the missile is on its way to the mark.

Each of them has a place. Jan Stevenson was spot-on when he called these things “understudy guns,” and we have more of them today than ever to use to enhance our handgun-related skills.










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