Airsoft, Pellets, and BBs: Inexpensive M1911 Practice, by M.M.

With the continuing ammunition shortage, inexpensive firearms practice has become impossible.  .45ACP centerfire pistol ammo, when available, pushes a dollar a round.  I haven’t seen .22LR for a lot less than fifty cents a round either.  Ridiculous!  However, there are replica, 1:1 scale copies, air or gas powered guns and ammo that simulate the M1911 firearm shooting experience in every respect except the noise and recoil.  You can practice indoors, in any weather, without disturbing a sleeper in the same room with a “weapon” indistinguishable from the real thing at a price that isn’t just low but down right cheap!
Notice I said indistinguishable.  There are jurisdictions where mere possession of these replica guns can get you arrested, fined, jailed or even killed.  I have the clippings!  Do your own research on local laws and for heaven’s sake use good judgment and discretion when transporting, displaying or using these items, even in the privacy of your own property.  These guns shoot actual projectiles, so eye protection is a must as well.  Remember the lament Ralphie heard in “A Christmas Story”!  Noise is generally not a factor.  “Silenced” shots in a movie are not noticeably louder.
This article will focus on the M1911 pistol but there are a staggeringly impressive variety of air-powered clones for most of the favorite prepper firearms including M4geries, 870s, M1A, Glocks and Rugers.  Plus, they can be amazingly inexpensive.  A basic plastic M1911 Airsoft spring pistol goes for less than $15.  A similar Airsoft M4gery rifle starts at around $30.  5000 Airsoft “rounds” are about $15.  You can equip yourself for some very long practice sessions for less than $100.  You can also go overboard too, so watch that.  Electric motor powered full auto Airsoft M4gerys start at $120 or so but can jump into real firearm prices at nearly $500.
Introducing new shooters of any age to safe gun handling, proper trigger control, and focused sight picture has never been easier with these non-lethal guns.  You or a friend can critique your own performance as well.  I quietly judge new shooter friends’ gun handling safety awareness with these guns before we go to a real firearm range.
Keep in mind that the various air gun ammo types have different ballistic capabilities.  Lead pellets are far better for actual marksmanship at significant distances, for example.  Like paintball, but less messy, Airsoft ammo was developed for live fire gaming against other human beings and is safer, but not absolutely SAFE to be hit by.  BBs fly straighter and farther than Airsoft pellets, but not quite as accurately as lead .17pellets.
Airsoft guns started in Japan like pellet guns in Europe and seem to have been developed for exercising the fun parts of shooting and to sidestep national gun control measures by not being classified as firearms.  Airsoft ammo are plastic spheres of various colors 6mm in size and from .12 grams to .28 grams each in weight.  Lead airgun pellets are typically .17 caliber cones with some kind of mushroom shape on top. (That shape varies according to purpose.)  BBs are generally zinc plated steel, silver balls 4.5mm in diameter.  This article will discuss mostly M1911 clones for each type of air powered ammunition.
Similar to paintball, Airsoft free fire zone ranges and supply stores are found in most metro US cities.  Various tactical games are played at these indoor and outdoor facilities.  Made from light plastic, Airsoft ammo generally leaves the gun at less than, usually far less than, 500 feet per second (FPS).  2-300 FPS is more typical.  Assuming clothing, getting hit with one below the head will sting and might leave a welt, but no worse.  Commercial ranges generally have chronographs and a maximum FPS limit allowed.  Safety headgear, goggles and face-mask are mandatory there as well.  In your own basement or living room, firing at a pellet trap only, eye protection from ricochet is sufficient.
Airsoft M1911s, like all Airsoft weapons, are distinguished by a bright orange barrel tip and come in a huge variety of models, some more accurate copies of the M1911 than others.  Plastic, part plastic or all metal guns, working grip safeties or not, working slide safeties most of the time, traditional or more modern sights, etc. are some of the features to watch. The least expensive are single shot spring powered pistols.  That means you have to rack the slide before each shot.  Magazines with extras usually available but specific to each gun model,  hold 16 or so rounds.  They vary in price from about $10 for a springer to perhaps $30 or $40 for gas models.
For example, a simple starter package, the Crosman Airsoft Stinger Challenge Kit includes 2 plastic pistols, dartboard style target and 1,000 rounds in 2 colors for less than $40.   A heavier all metal and therefore more accurate simulation of an M1911A1 is the UTG Sport Airsoft 1911 Full Metal Spring Pistol with 2 Mags  for around $25.
Moving upscale in Airsoft M1911s, I must mention the “GBB” for gas blow back repeating models.  There are many models, but all are powered by 12 gram gas cartridges.  The gas allows for reciprocating slides and semi-automatic firepower just like the real deal, called Real Steel by Airsofties.  Some even field strip very similarly to the real M1911.  The Elite Force 1911 TAC CO2 Metal Airsoft Pistol runs about $125 is one of several top examples.  These models tend to have  modern custom features such as Novak style sights, ambidextrous safeties,  and checkered fore-straps too.
Besides being more mechanically complex and using an additional consumable the GBBs, like any gas powered gun, require the operator to lubricate the cartridge to gun O ring seal with silicone based Pellgunoil or similar.  By the way, 25 gas cartridges runs about $20.  Gas powered guns are dependent on ambient temperature.  The warmer it is, the faster the pellets fly.  Subsequent shots release more gas from the cartridge which condenses and cools the cartridge area of the gun, slowing FPS as much as 20% for later pellets or BBs.  You might expect to get about 80 shots per cartridge.
In between in price from the GBB models and spring guns are the NBBs.  These guns are usually metal and definitely gas cartridge powered but the slides don’t move.  NBB stands for “non blow-back”.  Since the gas isn’t powering the slide movement, more pellets can be fired per gas cartridge.  The SIG Sauer GSR CO2 Metal pistol is a good example for $60.
Leaving the Airsoft universe behind, .177 Pellet guns, on the other hand, are more serious guns.  Traditionally pellet rifles are used for target shooting sports, hunting and pest control and can fire over 1,000 FPS.  Pellets, properly placed from these rifles can be lethal for rabbit and smaller mammals and birds.  Pellets run about $10 for 500.  Keep in mind that pellets are cheap for practice, but quite dangerous to be hit with and think safety, appropriately.
The Colt-licensed 1911A1 Air Pistol is an elegant training weapon.  Actually it is a gas cartridge powered revolver packaged in M1911 clothing.  A pricey $200 is still far, far less than an actual firearm or even a .22LR converter.  The pellets leave at a rated 395 FPS.  The slide doesn’t move, but the other controls work as expected.
The Beeman P1 also available at Amazon and elsewhere, fires pellets up to 600 FPS and has M1911 similarities but is balanced entirely differently and is mechanically dissimilar at the stratospheric price of $480.  Crosman’s not quite released MTR77NPC is a .177 pellet 1,000 FPS M4gery rifle and will retail for less than $200.
I don’t know why the steel BB was developed.  I suspect it was for boys of all ages.  I don’t want to be hit with one of these either, so confine them to a basement or garage range indoors and away from windows and valuables of any type anywhere.  That said, there are a number of M1911 style CO2 gas cartridge powered BB guns available.  
To start, there is the inexpensive Colt Defender. For about $50 you get an Officer sized all metal pistol.  The downsides are that none of the controls are really M1911 operational.  The grip is thicker than standard to accommodate the gas cartridge, too.  OTOH, for draw, aim, fire exercises it works just fine.  There is no separate drop out magazine.  18 BB’s are manually loaded next to the gas cartridge.  Cleverly, the grip panels and mainspring housing slide open as a unit when the mag release button is pressed.

The $90 built by Daisy, Winchester 11 is rivaled by the slightly more expensive “Tanfoglio Witness” M1911 as very accurate copies in almost every respect to a real, operating M1911A1 firearm.  The slides move, triggers are the proper shape, safeties both thumb and grip  work as expected.  The left grip panel on the Winchester pries off with a fingernail to reveal the gas compartment.  There is a clever lever system built into the mainspring housing to tighten and puncture the gas cartridge for use.  The magazine is a very thin unit released by the traditional button.  The “Witness” model isn’t on Amazon as a BB model right now, but is easy to find online.  Additionally, I don’t know why they named a M1911 clone the “Tanfoglio Witness” either, as the actual “TW” firearm that I remember is only distantly related.
Original military issue M1911A1s have marginal sights.  The ASG STI Duty One CO2 BB pistol imitates its namesake and has all the modern features of a custom .45 except for the non standard trigger shape for $100 and the slide moves too.
If you can wait a little while, or want to order direct from Hong Kong, Cybergun / KWC, the Taiwanese manufacturers of the “Tanfoglio Witness 1911” are coming out with a “tactical” version for around about $100 that has Novaks, ambi safeties, grip safety and a correctly shaped trigger.  It is available now in Canada from
In Conclusion:
By the by, no one is compensating me to mention any of these representative models of these various practice weapons.  Worse luck, I’m now somewhat embarrassed to admit that I have this plastic and pot metal arsenal.  Still, I can practice at home anytime without undue expense.  
Amazon is hardly the only online source either:  Try  or among many others to do your comparison shopping.  Wal-Mart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Gander Mountain and similar chains will have some of the huge selection available and basic air gun shooting supplies.  There even might be a dedicated specialty shop nearby if you are unfortunate enough to still live in a major city.

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