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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

Photo: Mark W. Clark
Photo: Mark W. Clark

Even in the good economic times of the last decade, it was a problem. Ammunition costs were outpacing police training budgets. No one's quite sure why the ammo became so precious. Some point to demand from the military; some say the Chinese drove up the price with their appetite for copper; still others believe the price of ammo went up just because the manufacturers had an opportunity to raise it.

Regardless of reason, the price of ammo skyrocketed and police training budgets were not ready for it. Former San Diego sergeant and rangemaster Dave Douglas remembers when the price of ammo zoomed 40 percent around 2003, shocking his training budget. Douglas retired from the San Diego PD before the real ammo shock. Now he serves as rangemaster for a tiny police department in central Colorado.

That Colorado agency has only six officers. So Douglas has now experienced the ammo crunch on one of the nation's largest agencies and one of the nation's smallest. He says cost per round is much greater at the small agency than it was in San Diego. "It's a few thousand rounds for small agencies. It's a few million for larger metro agencies," he explains.

The bottom line is that the cost of ammo has police agencies scrambling for ways to cut their firearms training budgets while still maintaining standards. Some are walking a very dangerous line where their solution to the problem has been to cut back on firearms training opportunities both for in-service personnel and for recruits. Others are looking for ways to achieve the same training goals without sending ammo down range.

Dry Fire

Noted handgun trainer, firearms author, and retired Montgomery County (Ohio) Sheriff's Office lieutenant Dave Spaulding says many agencies could save a lot of money on ammo by teaching recruits using dry fire. "Many essential skills such as reloads, clearing malfunctions, and drawing from the holster can be done dry fire," Spaulding argues.

Spaulding says it takes about three days and 500 rounds to make most recruits proficient enough to qualify with a handgun. But trainers could reduce the number of rounds down range substantially by teaching students with dry fire. "You need live ammo for trigger control, reset, and follow-up shots," he says. "Otherwise, you can use dry fire."

So if dry fire would accomplish the training goals much more cheaply why is it rarely used? "I think my gut feeling is that firearms instructors are concerned about the entertainment factor,” Spaulding says. “To have students standing there doing dry fire drills without anything going bang is not entertaining."

Many agencies may soon find themselves unable to provide such entertainment. Shrinking tax revenues, ballooning gas prices, and the rising cost of ammo have law enforcement firearms training programs stretched to the breaking point and looking for alternatives to costly training ammo.

Laser Guns

One alternative that many firearms trainers are beginning to champion is the idea of using lasers for essential skills training such as trigger control.

Back in 2009, research was conducted at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Glynco, Ga. Instructors at FLETC worked with two groups of students who had little or no experience with handguns. Half of the students were trained with live ammo and the other half with guns fitted with lasers inserts. Both groups of students were then required to qualify with live ammo. The difference in performance between the two groups was statistically insignificant. FLETC duplicated these results using both local college students and U.S. Marshal Service recruits.

The FLETC study shows that much of a basic firearms training program can be accomplished without firing live ammo. And that's good news for the makers of laser training pistols and laser training devices.

One of the most popular laser systems for firearms training is the SIRT (Shot Indicating Resetting Trigger) Training Pistol sold by Next Level Training. The SIRT Training Pistol is designed to emulate the Glock 17/22 pistol in weight and ergonomics. It has an adjustable resetting trigger, and it has dual indicator lasers to help students learn how to prep the trigger and to see how trigger control affects each shot.

Bill Heutmaker of Next Level Training says the SIRT pistol is becoming more and more popular with law enforcement. "They are looking for viable products for maintaining muscle memory and teaching weapons manipulation without firing a bunch of ammo," he says.

SIRT Training Pistosl list for about $220 to $450. That may seem high for an emulated gun, but training officer Brian Buchanan of the Hamilton (Ohio) Police Department says SIRT guns offer a quick return on investment. "We are doing a lot of things that we would have done live fire using the SIRT pistols," he says. "We purchased them last year and that initial investment has already paid off."

The SIRT pistol cannot fire live ammo. So it can be used safely in places where a real handgun cannot be used. "I shoot Styrofoam cups in my office sometimes," Heutmaker says. "You don't have to have a target system to make it work."

While a range system is not required to use the SIRT. There are companies that are developing reactive targets for the training gun. Heutmaker says SIRT users will soon have access to a variety of target systems, including poppers and shoot-no-shoot simulations. Some of these targets will be sold on DVDs that users can show on their TVs, others for digital projectors, and others for inexpensive simulator systems. Heutmaker says prices for these targets and systems will likely range from $30 to more than $1,000.

Tags: Firearms Training, Ammunition, FLETC, Next Level Training

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Comments (10)

Displaying 1 - 10 of 10

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

Bob@Az. @ 5/10/2012 2:46 PM

Reloading: Contact www.dillionprecision.com, 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 www.irTactical.com.

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.

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