Training on a tight budget

Last year I sent out several inquiries to my firearms training friends, looking for their perspectives on training on limited budgets. I received a variety of responses, ranging from several texts of “Do you want me to just write this article for you?” to a number of courses of fire currently in use with the sender’s department. I wasn’t surprised to hear that everyone already had a low budget plan in place.

Some of the texts had simple descriptions. For example, LET contributor Dennis Haworth described a portable running man setup that uses 4 carabiners, 2 ropes and a target platform that rolls. Correctional Sergeant Ernesto Castro, a range master for his facility, recommended using vehicles to practice simple skills like carbine-handgun transitions.

John Hall sent me the courses of fire for a portion of his class on unconventional shooting positions. John and I have held classes on the same range, so I am quite familiar with these drills. If your department uses them, long sleeves and a change of pants are necessary. I am a firm believer in making these drills quite vigorous.

Paul Markel recommends Airsoft and BB guns — particularly Crosman Airsoft — and I do, too. I am also a firm believer in subcaliber training, and I use Crosman pellet pistols for marksmanship training. Many manufacturers are recognizing the utility of sub caliber training by providing rimfire versions of their centerfire duty firearms. For example, Ruger has produced the Ruger 22/45, a complement to the Ruger SR 1911. Really, it doesn’t get better than this.

Paul Markel is the kind of trainer whose passion for realistic scenarios and training methods is self evident. What I like about him best is the fact that his material, written and on video, is entertaining. His weekly television program (see is a “must see” and his articles, which appear in some of the best venues, are on top of the “most talked about” list in firearms news. Oh yeah — he can shoot, too. I have included his part in its entirety.

Firearm training encompasses a vast collection of skill sets, including threat recognition, manipulation, mindset, decision making, physical training and confidence.

Some skills, like mindset, are harder to develop than others. The subset of mindset, determination (mental toughness, tenacity), is a skill developed over time from personal experience. It is harder to hone this skill on the range or training center, but classroom training like Street Survival has a significant amount of validity. For example, living a mantra like “I’m not going to die here. I will keep on fighting until I win” is a viable counter to “I’m not going to jail this time.”

The officer needs to be mentally, ethically and physically competent in order to be effective. That is, he must be able to apply training and judgment to each situation in a timely manner.

For example, if we take John Hall’s drills (depicted later in this article), which are designed to create a foundation for nontraditional shooting positions, the officer reinforces that he doesn’t need to be crouched or in a modified Weaver in order to be lethal.

Using Markel’s philosophy on Airsoft and BBs, officers will learn, often painfully, the nuances of slicing the pie. The sting of force-on-force tools is an effective motivator.

Physical manipulation training is also an essential part of firearms training. This is often misnomered as “muscle memory.” My shift sergeant, now retired as the lead instructor of the Trident Farms Academy, used to tell his students, “If muscles had memory, I would still look like I was 20.” Actually, physical manipulation is the method by which the brain routinely seeks more efficient normal pathways to learn a skill. Eventually, a skill is “learned,” where the components are fused together into a single smooth motion. This is the same reason why a novice golfer lacks a smooth transition in their swing until they repeat the motion hundreds of times.

My friend Charles Staley of was my martial arts instructor a few years ago. He used to share the theory of learning a particular technique with us all the time, a version of “muscle memory” based on the teachings of Bruce Lee. Before a person learns a skill, the novice cannot readily distinguish a good skill from a bad skill. That is, “A kick is just like a kick...” When they begin learning the skill, it is broken into components. The skill level of the learner elevates the concept of the skill, but the learner doesn’t have the ability to raise that particular skill past the sum of its components. For a particular skill requiring smooth transitions, it is herky-jerky. After mastery, the skill becomes a simple concept again. This is habituation.

Critical shooting skills require habituation. This is proper manipulation training combined with practice.

I have three simple rules for training: Train to simple goals, use relevant training situations and train to task.

Simple task goal

A simple task goal can be something like teaching officers to make magazine changes behind cover under time pressure. The courses of fire submitted by Hall (Page 38) lists the intent of the course, and the training goals are simple and straightforward.

Related to a possible encounter

If the officer is less likely to need to make a 100-yard shot with the duty handgun, it should take a lesser priority to a contact distance draw-and-shoot drill. Having said that, Markel’s force-on-force training is spot-on. I have always advocated a run in full equipment before a session, to simulate the (likely) fight, run and adrenaline dump that precedes most “on duty’s.”


Obviously common sense has to prevail on the budget issue. However, trainers should not move on to another task mission until participants have completed the previous task to standard, even if it limits the department training day to a single task.



Paul Markel’s budget training recommendations

The title “Training on a tight budget” is a bit misleading; the implication is limited budget. But even that terminology is a bit flawed. In truth every law enforcement agency has a training budget and by definition all budgets have limits. When is the last time your chief said “Spend as much money as you like, just keep the receipts”?

I’ve been involved with law enforcement training in one form or another for two decades and the story has always been the same. Regardless of the dollar amount allocated for training, every time the total agency budget is cut (or more likely fails to expand), the training budget is reduced. As a police trainer you are expected to do more with less — or at least the same job — while spending less money.

Far too many law enforcement administrators view training as an “extra” or “discretionary.” Initial and continued education training is not viewed as a necessity but a luxury. Of course, there is always state-mandated training that agencies cannot ignore or opt out of. Unfortunately, far too much of the mandated training is cultural sensitivity and politically-correct horse excrement.

Life-saving training

After your troops have wasted hours on sensitivity training and cultural awareness, the budget for additional man hours has taken a severe hit. After all, you have to pay guys to come in and sit still while some hippie college professor tells them they need to be more “sensitive” to the needs of the poor unfortunate masses. When the time comes to train your people in an area that might just save their lives, most budgets have already been tapped pretty hard. This situation requires one individual to step up — the firearms trainer.

A dedicated, experienced and motivated firearms trainer is the difference between officers getting the training they need or simply throwing up their hands and saying “We don’t have the money.” A trainer who is personally motivated can and will make the most of the meager budget he has available.

Force-on-force training

Some of the most valuable but least often utilized training for law enforcement officers is force-on-force or dynamic situation training. Officers must deal with situations that may or may not require the use of deadly force. Unlike the square range with its static lines and shooting lanes, force-on-force training replicates the real world where officers actually work.

There are numerous reasons this training is not conducted as often as it should be or at all. One of the primary reasons is the cost. Simunitions and force-on-force specially designed marking cartridges are pricey. The average cost is more than 50 cents per cartridge, and the agency will need to purchase conversion kits for existing firearms or dedicated trainers that will not fire live ammunition. Any way you slice it you are looking at an investment of several thousand dollars for a small- to medium-sized agency, and we haven’t even touched on the special protective gear yet.

Modern Airsoft guns

If you haven’t considered Airsoft replica guns lately, or at all, you might be surprised at what you can get for a relatively small investment. Before we go any farther, when I’m discussing Airsoft replicas I’m not talking about the cheap spring and “AA” battery operated toys you give your kids.

Modern Airsoft replica guns are constructed not just from plastic, but from aluminum as well. These semi-automatic pistols are offered in CO2 configuration. That’s right — they use the very same CO2 powerlet cartridges you used for your BB gun as a kid. The older “Green Gas” Airsoft guns use a fuel that is essentially canned propane, but tough to find locally.

Crosman has a number of CO2-powered, semi-automatic Airsoft guns that will work as FOF replica trainers. I’ve had the chance to work with their Models CP02 and GBB. The CP02 is a near replica of the S&W M&P, and the GBB is essentially the Beretta 92. Both are made of aluminum and polymer, use detachable magazines and fire 6mm plastic BBs at around 300 feet per second. Three hundred feet per second seems to be the “just right” mark for Airsoft replica training. The BB is traveling fast enough to produce the desired pain stimulus needed for realistic training, but not so fast as to create a penetration hazard.

Protective gear

Every marking cartridge company offers their own style of safety gear. My experience has been that the gear is about three to four times the cost of paintball safety gear, while performing the same job. I prefer to hit the local sporting goods retailer and purchase the paintball goggle/mask sets. If they can stop a .68-caliber paintball at 300 FPS they can stop a 20-gram BB. There are some new mask kits with a skull cap to protect the top of your head. I like that option. Other than a neck wrap and optional athletic cup for the guys, that’s all the safety gear you need. Protecting the cranial/facial region is most important.

The worst thing you can do is let your people dress in multiple layers like they are going on an arctic expedition. If they can’t feel the sting from the hit they won’t be worried about getting “shot” and the training will have little value. Negative reinforcement via pain is an excellent motivator to use cover and move your feet to get away from the incoming rounds.

Adding it up

I’ve found the Crosman CP02 pistols at my local Academy Outdoors for about $59 each. Protective masks average from $30 to $50, depending on how ninja you want to be. The BB ammunition is priced a thousand for a few bucks. Finish the package with a box of CO2 powerlets for $3 and you have an investment of about $100 per kit per man.

As long as you maintain your gear, the only thing you’ll have to replace are CO2 cartridges and BBs, and that will cost a couple pennies a shot. This is naturally a significant savings over Sims marking cartridges and firearms conversion kits.

Are Airsoft replicas the final answer? Of course not, but they are definitely a viable option for training departments with tight budgets. The value of the training is not in the cost of the gear, but the scenarios and training routines that you, as the individual instructor, put together.


Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer and retired military small arms trainer. He teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. He has a BS in Criminal Justice and an MS in Online Teaching and Learning. Lindsey has taught shooting techniques for over a decade.. He enjoys competing in shooting sports, running and cycling events.
Paul G. Markel became a U.S. Marine in 1987 and served his nation during times of war and peace. A law enforcement veteran, Paul was a police officer for seventeen years before becoming a full-time Small Arms and Tactics instructor. Recently, Mr. Markel has trained thousands of U.S. Military troops prior to their deployment to combat zones. Paul hosts the weekly television program Student of the Gun airing on the Sportsman Channel. He also recently published the eBook “Student of the Gun; A beginner once, a student for life.”