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Cover Story

Beating the High Cost of Training Ammo

Police officers need to shoot to maintain their firearms proficiency but that’s become a budget buster for agencies.

May 07, 2012  |  by - Also by this author

Next Level Training is working on producing more emulated handguns, including a Beretta M9 emulation, a Smith & Wesson M&P emulation, and a Glock 19 emulation. The company also recently developed the SIRT-AR Bolt.

Unlike the SIRT Training Pistol, the SIRT-AR Bolt is used with an actual firearm. Users replace their AR’s carry bolt with the SIRT-AR Bolt. With the SIRT-AR Bolt in place, the weapon can be safely dry fired with laser shot indication. The trigger auto-resets after each "shot," and users can also make mag changes and perform weapons manipulations.

The one thing the SIRT training weapons can’t do is emulate recoil, at least not yet. And Next Level Training freely admits that fact. "We advocate a combination of dry fire (SIRT) training and live fire," says Heutmaker.

A Softer Bang

Another alternative firearms training method that many law enforcement agencies have considered is the .22 conversion. There are kits available from numerous manufacturers that can convert duty pistols from 9mm and .40 S&W to .22 Long Rifle. There are even more kits for converting ARs from 5.56mm or .223 to .22LR. Smith & Wesson even makes a .22LR AR, the M&P 15-22.

Douglas is particularly fond of the .22LR conversions, especially for ARs. "The great thing about the .22 cartridge is that you can shoot that stuff all day long for one-fifth the price of 5.56mm rounds," he says.

Others are less enamored of the rimfire round. International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI) executive director Robert Bossey has had bad experiences with .22s in law enforcement training programs. "We found when we used .22 conversions at the academy that there were stoppages. We’d have 10 guys on the line shooting, then two stoppages, and it would shut everything down."

Bossey’s also not fond of the implications of .22 conversions in law enforcement; he believes they teach officers bad habits that could make the difference in a firefight. "We always say, 'Train the way you're going to fight.' Well there's a lot of difference in the recoil and the report of a .22 vs. a 5.56 round."

Despite his reservations Bossey admits that shooting .22s is better than shooting nothing. And that's the argument of the firearms trainers who support .22 conversions. "Shooting is a completely perishable skill," says Douglas. "And if you can't afford the ammo or can’t get it, then a .22 conversion is a good alternative."

That's Douglas' advice for agencies as well. Officers need to shoot, even if they have to shoot .22 conversions instead of 9mm or .40S&W. "Today if I was running three practices and one full-on qualification, I’d probably run two of them with .22 conversions and the other two with full-recoil ammo. It would be a real cost-saver," he says.

Of course .22 conversions are not free. Converting an old Glock costs around $250,  and the Smith & Wesson M&P 15-22 AR lists for about $500. Still, at the price of ammo today, these conversions almost pay for themselves. The problem is getting agencies to embrace the concept and make the investment in both training time and equipment.

A Role for Airsoft

Perhaps the cheapest projectile that anyone can fire from a gun is the 6mm airsoft BB. Even with the cost of CO2 to send it down range and $200 for a semi-auto airsoft handgun, you can’t beat airsoft's cost per shot.

Still very few agencies, if any, use airsoft for traditional firearms training. Where airsoft is playing a role is in force-on-force scenarios. And Spaulding applauds that and wants to see more of it. "If there is a silver lining to agencies having less training ammunition, it's that it’s forcing agencies to conduct more interactive training," Spaulding says.

Interactive training is very valuable, according to Spaulding, because it teaches officers the skills and hones the instincts they will need to prevail in a real gunfight. "It makes them make rapid crisis decisions," Spaulding says. "And the students come to understand that the skills they have learned on a square range really do work and that kind of confidence is huge. It's the number one factor in overcoming fear, confidence in your skills."

Using airsoft for interactive training saves agencies the cost of Simunition rounds and conversion kits or the need for building shoot houses. Such innovation comes when agencies are cash-strapped and need to maintain training standards.

IALEFI's Bossey says if agencies really want to cut costs and save money on firearms training, they should watch what smaller agencies are doing. "It's always the guy who has a five- or 10-man department that comes up with the innovations," Bossey says.

For now the cost of training ammo has pretty much stabilized, but it remains much higher than it was just a few years ago. And agencies are being squeezed on all sides by loss of tax revenue and the skyrocketing cost of gasoline. Training budgets will invariably take a hit in this environment and firearms training budgets and training ammo budgets will suffer. That means that more and more firearms instructors will have to find a way to teach both recruits and in-service officers without firing quite so many live rounds.

Going Into Business

Back in 2008, the training budget for the Hamilton (Ohio) Police Department was hit with the fiscal equivalent of a bomb. It was reduced by 75 percent.

That left the training officers searching for any way to continue the same quality of officer instruction. And they found an ingenious solution. They went into business.

The state had recently passed a civilian concealed carry law. And that left interested gun owners in Hamilton searching for CCW classes. Hamilton PD's chief decided to put the department’s training officers and range facilities to use and provide those classes.

And they were a hit. Hamilton PD training officer Brian Buchanan estimates that he and his colleagues have taught more than 5,000 local residents how to safely and legally carry a firearm in the last four years. "People enjoy being taught by law enforcement officers," he says.

The CCW training business is by no means lucrative, but it has achieved two goals. The Hamilton PD knows that most CCW permit holders in its jurisdiction were properly trained and the fees paid by the students have made up for the budget cuts. "It's also a positive interaction between the public and the police and a great public relations tool," Buchanan says.

For More Information

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Comments (11)

Displaying 1 - 11 of 11

A.T. @ 5/7/2012 7:35 PM

How about using realistic looking pellet pistols to teach the basics of of grip, sight picture aiming and trigger control.
Has anybody tried that yet? It would save a bunch training money also. Just thinking outside of the box.

Another idea is to insert an aftermarket .22 rim fire tube inserts in the barrel for training. I remember using those a long time ago in a center fire pistol just to to plink with.

Of course, all these cost-saving adjuncts will never replace training with the duty ammo, but at least they will provide less expensive initial training before graduating the recruits to the full-power duty ammo on the range.

A third option is to reload range ammo. A lot of rage brass is given away and not reloaded by many Depts. Perhaps train a and provide the reloading equipment to a few recruits or officers who would volunteer to do it, and provide some incentive for doing it.

Frank @ 5/8/2012 5:46 AM

The magic word is RELOAD! Its the cheapest way out unless your department buys by the pallet.

Moose @ 5/9/2012 7:53 PM

Maybe it is time to look into setting up a reloading staion with some quality equipment. Before someone goes all ballistic here, let me explain. It is not something you go into with the first person who says they know everything, they probably don't know Jack. Interview your personnel and see what experince they have with reloading. Depending on where you are from, you may have active shooters from any type of a regular shooting sports, hunters, moonliters at gunshops, etc. Buy some good progressive reloader and componets. If you save your brass, you have a big expense cut from your budget there. Once you buy your equipment and the materials - buy in bulk! Instead of a one-pound can of powder, purchase an 8 pound keg, a case of primers (5000), and at least this many bullets. Work up some loads, chronograph them next to factory loads and work to achieve a suitable reload that equals the factory carry ammo. Once a load is reached and passes any test for reliability, fps, accuracy, safe loads - then stay with it. This is not something that any member of the agency comes in and cranks out a couple hundred rounds. One or two people handle all phases of the reloader. You will be surprise at how well you can shot with reloads for practice and save the factory for quals and carry.

Editor @ 5/10/2012 8:51 AM

Moose and Frank:
It's very interesting. Not one officer or retired officer that I interviewed mentioned reloading. (And I have to admit I didn't think of it.) So their must be some prohibition against it because of liability or insurance or something. I'd be interested to hear from other officers why reloading is not something that agencies want to discuss.—David

[email protected] @ 5/10/2012 2:46 PM

Reloading: Contact, the best there is in equipment & training! Mike Dillion is a VERY LE friendly guy! I'm not connected to his company other then being a very satisfied customer for over 25 years. His no BS warranty on his products is unparalled in the industry. Check them out and start saving money. Unless your Dept. has too much extra cash........

Robert Carr @ 5/14/2012 3:38 PM

Back in the 70's I was with a small town PD who did not have the money for us to use on the range. We loaded our own and we shot wad cutters. We were shooting 38's and 357's at that time and we were able to get the same effect as the real loads. We all did the practice and we need to get it the best way we know how. Stay safe by Brothers and Sisters.

Andy @ 5/18/2012 6:22 AM

Have you guys seen the irTactical system? It's a completely projectile-less training system that allows force on force training anywhere. It is a very realistic decision making tool in use by LE all over the world. Think of it as an advanced MILES system! It costs WAY less than most police training methods out there today. Check it out at

It's not an accuracy tool, but can definitely supplement your training.

Magicmanmb @ 5/30/2012 4:27 PM

Going with a friend who was requalifying with his previous department, I was shocked to see them using Winchester white box 25 rounds for annual requalification. As both a retired officer and current consultant to several departments, I found them using ammo they would never carry on duty & the small amount of ammo fired to be totally unsafe to them & others. Several of the officers reload, none were using even the grain weight they carry. Not training with the ammo you would carry or using a reasonable quantity is false economy, unfair to the officer, partners & the public sworn to protect

Pete @ 6/21/2012 6:16 PM

In New South Wales, Australia, the NSW Police has been reloading training ammunition for years. The Armoury produces about 2 million rounds a year for 15,000 police. Each reload costs less than half the price of factory made stuff....mind you the reloading machinery for that quantity cost about 2 million to set up....over 10 years it has paid for itself. There are a number of issues to consider though such as projectile type and availability, powder availability, case availability and how many times to reload it and how you keep count of that.....a far amount of governance needs to sit around it if you are going to consider it.....

HERB @ 7/5/2012 12:25 PM

I date myself, but PRACTICE WITH RELOADS, QUALIFY WITH WHAT YOU CARRY. way back in the late 50's, I convenced the Chief to go that way and we shot once a month and qualified every third month. The confidence of all officers with their firearm was proven all the time, in the field, as all officers became more Confident Shooters. I spent 37 yrs "in the business" and feel that I know something about this subject. TRY IT, YOU WILL LIKE IT.

Mike @ 3/20/2016 10:18 AM

Full disclosure. We manufacture and sell CoolFire.

For the most realistic training other than live fire, check out our CoolFire recoil laser training system. Our system simply drops into YOUR pistol , charges with inexpensive CO2 and provides realistic recoil and a laser pulse with each pull of the trigger. Train with recoil at about 1/3 of a penny per trigger pull.

Train anywhere...anytime while saving money. Real Gun. Real Training. Real Results.

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