Owning a firearm sometimes puts in a Catch-22 situation, particularly with training. We need to handle and manipulate our firearms to be safe, but the handling and manipulation of loaded firearms can be dangerous.
Everything man made can fail. Knowing how to identify — and recover from — firearm failures is key skill for anyone who takes shooting seriously. Perceiving the difference between running out of ammunition and a jam is also important, and reloading under pressure is something few firearms owners practice.
Safe loading and unloading of firearms is something that a lot of gun owners need to practice. Holstering and reholstering is also important, and if you have a SmartCarry holster or carry appendix inside the waistband you may feel uncomfortable carrying a loaded pistol that way at first.
We owe it to ourselves and the people around us to practice on a regular basis, so what do we do?
At some point I am going to write about using airsoft firearms as a training tool, but for now I want to talk about plastic dummy ammunition made by Saf-T.
From left to right: 9mm Luger, 7.62x39mm, 7.62x25mm
Saf-T-Trainers by Precision Gun Specialties are made out of bright orange or yellow plastic. They are shaped like the real ammunition you would use in your gun(s). All of the dummy rounds are made with a rounded nose bullet shape so that you don’t have to worry about feeding problems.
There are a few other dummy rounds on the market. “Snap Caps” by A-Zoom are widely available; they are often sold at gun stores and gun ranges. They are quite expensive ($10 for 5 9mm rounds, for example). Because they are a dark red, they can be hard to see on the ground during training.
S. T. Action Pro makes an awesome practice round called the Action Trainer, but they aren’t available in many calibers. For example, I need 7.62x39mm for practice with my rifles, and 7.62x25mm for some of my pistols and my PPS-43C sub-gun. They are also expensive, but the cost is more acceptable to me due to the brass case and the fine construction of these practice rounds. My instructor has some of these, and they’re really nifty.
There are a few nice things about Saf-T-Trainers, and here’s why they’re my exclusive dummy rounds for practice:
- Inexpensive. I bought 50 9mm practice rounds for $22.99. That’s less than 13 A-Zoom rounds. I don’t mind if I happen to lose a few, or if they get mixed in with other peoples’ practice rounds during class.
- Available in many calibers. I was able to purchase 9mm, 7.62x39mm and 7.62x25mm cartridges. Precision Gun Specialties makes a ton of calibers, including .32 H&R Magnum, .204 Ruger, multiple gauges for shotguns, 9mm Makarov, 10mm, .25ACP and many, many more.
- They are easy to see. My training group practices in all sorts of conditions: super hot days with bright sun, torrential rain, and in the snow. Dummy rounds have a habit of flying all over the place and rolling under furniture when we train inside. The bright orange plastic helps us find our Saf-T-Trainers after a practice session.
- Accurately shaped. The Saf-T-Trainers are made to the same dimensions as the real ammunition you would put in your firearm. This is important for practicing work with loading and unloading guns. For example, we use a technique for charging our AK-47 rifles that involves reaching underneath the rifle with our left arm and pulling the charging handle back with the left hand. Properly-sized practice ammunition is flung very very far when we do this; improperly-sized ammo or spent casings (how we used to practice) often get hung up in the chamber and cause a problem during training.
The accurate sizing of the Saf-T-Trainers is also important for checking magazine function. This is something that every AK owner should do, especially when running surplus steel mags through a reassembled kit gun like the ones sold by Century Arms.
Unfortunately, the Saf-T-Trainers aren’t perfect. I’ve encountered two problems with them.
The Saf-T-Trainers are very lightweight. This means that certain types of drills are hard to do with them, especially a Stage 3 malfunction. This malfunction, also called a “double feed,” means that two cartridges are stuck in the chamber of the firearm at the same time. The best way to fix this jam is to remove the magazine and violently rack the slide or charging handle.
In order to simulate this jam, you have to insert a loaded magazine in the gun, followed by putting a cartridge in the chamber. Close the slide. Jam-time.
The problem with the Saf-T-Trainers, especially the rifle rounds, is that the action of the firearm is often too strong for the lightweight plastic rounds. Preparing a Stage 3 malfunction in our AKs is almost impossible due to the strength of the recoil spring. The light Saf-T-Trainers are easily pushed out.
We’ve learned to work around this by either closing the slide gently, holding the rounds into place, or both. This is kind of a tricky operation; you can get a serious pinch or cut yourself if you’re not paying attention. All of the sudden we’re back to worrying about an accident instead of training. Focusing on the solution instead of worrying so much about safe handling is one of the reasons to go with dummy rounds in the first place.
The other issue, and this is more important, is that the practice ammunition may not be durable enough for use in some firearms.
My converted Saiga 7.62x39mm rifle cracked the rim off of this practice round during ejection:
At about $0.70 each before shipping I didn’t need to take out a second mortgage to replace this round, but I wish they were a little bit more durable. More importantly, I am now concerned that either a bit of the plastic will get broken off into my firearm or that the cartridge will fail in a catastrophic way that may require a field strip during training.
The Saf-T-Trainers by Precision Gun Specialists are an inexpensive way for you to train with your firearm. I think that these practice cartridges are a “must have” for anyone who is serious about using a gun for self-defense. There are situations that are unsafe to practice with loaded ammunition, and these dummy rounds are the way to go.
I am worried about the long-term durability of the Saf-T-Trainers, but you can’t beat the price. I would buy them again, except maybe this time buy a 50x pack of 7.62x39mm rounds to account for the inevitable failures.
The Saf-T-Trainers are available at Brownells and similar e-tailers online. I haven’t seen them in local gun stores, but maybe you’ll get lucky.
They cost between $0.63 and $1.39 each, depending on caliber and quantity. Most calibers are sold in lots of 10, some calibers are available in lots of 50.