As if the economy wasn’t making it hard enough to keep up your level of training, the recent changes in the political landscape and the resulting panic-buying have caused the price of ammunition to soar. These rising prices are driving more people than ever to look into .22LR training as an alternative to more expensive, full-power ammunition.
This is something that I, and those around me, have dabbled in for a long time but have recently had occasion to learn some lessons on the right and wrong way to go about it. I am hoping to record some of what we have been through in the interests of helping you set yourself up for success right out of the gate.
“Drop-In” Conversion Kits
If you want to save yourself a head ache, avoid drop-in conversion kits that convert your current firearm into a .22LR using your regular barrel. You will be better off with a dedicated upper or dedicated firearm.
A few friends of mine are employed by a large police department that recently switched to training with .22LR due to ammunition shortages and budget concerns. The officers in this department are handed .22LR conversion kits for their duty carbines upon arrival to the training range and then they turn them back in before they leave. My friends both experienced significant loss of accuracy when switching back to full power ammunition. In one case, a shooter, optic, and BCM carbine combination that was previously more than capable of index card sized groups at 50 yards could barely keep a group on a paper plate at the same distance. The only way to cure the accuracy woes were thorough cleaning of the barrel with an aggressive bore cleaner.
These officers were diligent and checked their equipment. It is startling to think of all of the officers who are out there with no idea that the accuracy of their duty carbine has been affected.
If you must use a conversion kit, it is best practice to end each training session with a few rounds of center-fire ammunition. This can help keep the bore clear. Additionally, you should have a cleaner at home that excels at removing lead. Thoroughly clean the bore and chamber after each range session.
Edit: A friend at Brownells contacted me and stated that it may not be a good idea to follow .22LR with center-fire ammo. It can actually embed the lead rather than clear it. Thorough cleaning is a must after using .22LR ammo in your center-fire firearms.
Dedicated .22LR Training Options
There are more dedicated .22LR training options than ever. The best ones will completely replicate the functional aspects of their full-power counterpart – i.e. the user controls and ergonomics will be identical. Internal construction isn’t as important as the functional aspects. Options like the S&W M&P 15-22 and Advantage Arms GLOCK Conversion Kit, go so far as to accept the same sights/optics as their full power counterparts so that a near perfect replica can be created expressly for training. Dedicated trainers circumvent many of the problems of a drop-in conversion kit but rarely replicate the full-power counterpart as well, as easily, or as inexpensively as a drop-in conversion can.
A good .22LR trainer will also possess sufficient reliability so that the user doesn’t spend all their time clearing malfunctions. This is especially important if you are using the .22LR trainer in a paid training environment so that you don’t slow down other students and you get your money’s worth from the training.
I, and those that I know, have had great luck with the S&W M&P 15-22 as an AR trainer. Its controls are basically identical to its full-power counterpart. I have mine set up with a Bushnell TR-25 on a riser to replicate the Aimpoint Micros that I often use, a BAD-ASS Selector, a BFG VCAS Sling, Low-Pro Products Handstop, weapon light, and back up iron sights. All these items are basically identical to what I use on my normal ARs. The M&P 15-22 has been extremely reliable and accurate for me. It will even run reliably with the magazine planted on the deck as a monopod. However, its long magazines can make using the same support gear (like chest rigs) difficult and it is lighter in weight than a center-fire AR-15.
I haven’t owned one personally, but I have been around several Advantage Arms GLOCK conversion kits and they have all been solid. The controls all still work the same way, they fit the most of the same holsters (they may be tight in some holsters), the mags fit the same pouches, and they are accurate and reliable enough for training situations. You can even use your favorite sights on them. Places like Glockmeister sell frames separately if you want to build one into a complete firearm.
There are also a number of other dedicated options out there for S&W M&P handgun shooters, 1911 shooters, AK shooters, and more. It is becoming more common for manufacturers to produce a .22LR version of their popular defensive firearms specifically for the purpose of training.
Keep it Basic
Training with a .22LR isn’t a perfect replacement for full-power training. The biggest differences are the lack of recoil and reduced range with carbines. Due to this, I like to stick with drills that emphasize the fundamentals or various manipulations at shorter distances. That sounds limiting, but it really isn’t. Most drills are designed to work some kind of fundamental skill.
Drills that train trigger control and sight alignment are applicable to any caliber and any firearm. The fundamentals are called fundamental for a reason. They are universal.
Manipulations drills can be valuable but only if your trainer has the same controls as your full-power counterpart. I would avoid drills that are heavy on manipulations if your controls are significantly different than the firearm that you are trying to replicate.
Training with a .22LR is kind of like dry fire training but with feedback on the target (the timer is useful but not as much due to the lack of realistic recoil). Since you don’t have as much recoil to deal with, try increasing your accuracy standards to increase difficulty and add pressure.
The quality of .22LR ammo varies widely and .22LR semi-auto firearms will often be very finicky about what they feed reliably and shoot accurately – especially as the round count climbs between cleanings. I like to use CCI ammo. CCI Mini-Mags seem to run in just about anything. The CCI AR Tactical .22LR ammo also shows great promise and it costs a bit less than Mini-Mags.
Choose quality ammo if you want your .22LR trainer to run well. This is vitally important if you are in paid training. Make sure that your chosen ammo runs well in your .22LR training firearm before you take it to a class.
Whichever option you choose, be sure that you set it up as closely as possible to the real thing. Ensure that the controls are as similar as possible and that most of your normal gear will work with the trainer. You are just a .22LR trainer away from guilt free training (and a whole lot of fun).
Note: You should verify with your instructor that they allow .22LR training firearms in their courses before bringing one to their training course. It is becoming more common for trainers to allow them but some instructors do not.