By: Chuck Smick

The ammo shortage and scarcity has made training with live ammo difficult for more than a year now.

The COVID 19 “pandemic,” rioting, looting, and burning in our cities, along with increased crime activities (even in my small hometown) have gotten people afraid for their safety and their lives. Ammo and guns are gone off the shelves almost as fast as the stores get these items. Ammo prices are through the roof, too. The threat of more gun and ammo regulations doesn’t help the situation, either.

So, how can you continue to keep your gun handling and defensive shooting skills intact, and even build on those skills? There are several alternative methods that I will outline in this article that will help you accomplish these tasks.

Train with a .22 or pellet gun

I have a good friend who was an Army buddy who trains with both a .22 pistol and a .22 rifle on a regular basis, as well as with a pellet rifle and pistol. Training with both a .22 and pellet gun are cost-effective ways to train and improve your shooting skills. I bought a full-size .22 pistol, the same size as my .45 cal. 1911 pistol, and I can still shoot live ammo and get in some great training and shooting without expending a lot more expensive, larger caliber ammo.

Nevertheless, in today’s day and age, I have found both .22 ammo and pellets hard to find at times. Be sure to buy in bulk when it was available!

Dry fire with SNAP CAPS

Snap caps are a great tool to train with, and there is no cost involved once you have purchased the Snap Caps. Another great thing with Snap Caps is you can use them with your carry gun, and this allows you to train with your carry gun… a great benefit to your training. You can practice a variety of shooting skills, presentations, and drills right in your own home (NEVER FORGET ABOUT FIREARMS SAFETY!).

Snap Caps are a great way to get in some malfunction drill training, too. This type of training is essential, because if you have a malfunction in a dynamic critical incident/assault, you need to react quickly and decisively to clear the malfunction and get back in the fight! Snap Caps can help you gain those skills and build the muscle and mental memory to ingrain those skills, with regular practice.

SERT Pistol

The SERT Pistol is a plastic pistol with a laser that shows where your bullet would go, and a laser for aiming the pistol. The SERT pistols that I have trained with are the same size and look likr a defensive pistol (most look like a Glock). These pistols are a great training tool, and beyond the initial purchase price, cost nothing to shoot or to train with regularly.

NOTE: There is no “BANG” and no recoil, but these pistols will allow you to build your skills, speed and accuracy, and get in the valuable training you need to stay proficient with your carry gun.

Laser training cartridge and mini “bad guy” target

The laser training cartridge and mini ‘bad guy” silhouette target are my primary alternative training methods, whether I am at home, or working out of town and staying in a motel room. This method allows me to train with my carry gun and get in some realistic-type training without the cost of ammo, or cost to go to a live fire shooting range.

I started using this method approximately 7-8 years ago and love it. I bought the LASERLYTE ™ Training Cartridge from Midway USA, and the targets from my hometown gun store. I do about 3-6 different drills, from 1 yard to 4-11 yards, depending on how much room that I have in the motel room. AGAIN, FIREARMS SAFETY IS CRITICAL! You have to be very diligent about clearing your firearm and keeping the live ammo out of the same room as you are training in each time.

Once you perform your drills with the laser training cartridge, you can remove it from your gun and do some malfunction drills occasionally with the snap caps also. Both techniques allow you to get some good training, if done properly and regularly, and help you build muscle and mental memory, accuracy, and speed with your basic skills.

You have to decide which method will work best for you and your circumstances. I prefer the LaserLyte™ training cartridge and “bad guy” silhouette target, and the snap caps. I have found that using these two methods really help my accuracy and speed when I train on the live fire range, if I perform this type of training REGULARLY.

I have been amazed at how much this type of training helps! I took a defensive pistol course in 2019 and 2020 so I could learn new skills and build on the skills I already had ingrained. At the end of the course, the instructor asked, “What was I doing?” He said I was shooting more accurately and faster than the other students who were a lot younger than I was (I’m currently 66). I told him I dry fire practiced 4-7 nights a week with my carry gun, laser training cartridge, and mini silhouette target. He understood why I was so fast and accurate after I told him about my training routine.

Why training is important, even with no ammo

Training is critical with your defensive firearm for many reasons. Skills do deteriorate without regular training. Both accuracy and speed of presentation diminish over time. Regular alternative training methods and dry firing can greatly improve your accuracy when you are able to get ammo and shoot. I’ve seen this firsthand myself! When I have gone to the range and not dry fired vs when I have dry fired regularly has been very surprising to say the least….that is why I am a big proponent of dry fire practice. And know this: Most pro shooters dry fire regularly! So, continue to enhance and improve your skills with regular dry fire practice.

Start with basic skills – grip, presentation from the holster (both open carry and concealed), sight alignment and target alignment, and trigger pull. Then work on other drills that will build your skills and proficiency in the event you are faced with a real situation and have to rely on those skills to save your life or your family member’s life from a violent assault by a vicious criminal.

Document your training

When I attended the MAG 40 Course by Massad Ayoob, Mas emphasized documenting your training, whether it was a formal training course, dry fire practice, articles read or videos that you watch…Document your training. If you ever have to use your firearm in a defensive situation. This documentation could prove invaluable in proving that you were trained and have the necessary skills and training to make the decisions necessary in the event of an assault by a violent criminal predator thug (or thugs).

Be prepared

Practice for a variety of realistic situations, train in low light conditions (I turn most of the lights off in my motel room when I train….most violent assaults are most likely to occur in lowlight conditions, so TRAIN FOR IT!).

Use “Bad Guy” targets and train to “look at their hands,” look for a gun, knife or blunt instrument, and train to watch the bad guy’s hands! Also watch their eyes….this could also indicate an imminent attack! This could save your life and allow you to get away from a bad situation or get prepared to defend yourself quicker. Situational awareness is critical! Remember to focus on the threat. Your presentation skills should be honed where those skills become automatic in the event of a real attack.

Train to shoot with both hands, and to shoot with one hand, both your strong side hand and your support hand. If you get injured, you may need to shoot this way. Also, train to fight up close and block with your support hand, while drawing and shooting in a compressed ready posture, with your strong side hand. Train to move, draw and shoot, and get off the “X”-line of attack by the bad guy.

Train regularly and build your defensive skills, so those skills are honed where they become automatic from muscle and mental memory, in the event of an actual violent encounter. Look at your daily routine and think about “What if this happens here? What would my actions be in such a situation?”

Incorporate those “What if” moments or thoughts into your training program and build your defensive skills. Strive to train as realistically as possible and continue to improve your skills regularly. It could save your life!

Chuck Smick is a published freelance outdoor writer and photographer. He is an avid hunter, fisherman, trapper, and shooter. Chuck is a former U.S Army Infantry Officer and Paratrooper, and is an NRA Certified Firearms and Personal Protection Instructor. Chuck resides in Paducah, Kentucky with his lovely wife Kathy, He can be reached at