Step into the world of laser training systems, where honing your shooting skills is now more convenient than ever. In this comprehensive article, we delve into the realm of laser training systems, illuminating their benefits, drawbacks, and the wide array of options available. Whether you’re a seasoned marksman or a novice, these systems offer an innovative way to elevate your shooting skills without leaving the comfort of your home.
Most people who have been shooting guns for very long understand that it is a perishable skill. If you don’t practice regularly, your skills degrade, and you have to work harder to get back to the point you were previously. While that’s a problem for simple marksmanship, it’s an even bigger concern for defensive shooting skills.
Standing in a solid stance and punching holes in paper is one thing. Drawing quickly from concealment and getting a first-round hit is quite another. And in truth, unless you have a range at home or access to a private range, most ranges don’t allow you to draw from a holster and shoot. So how do you keep both marksmanship and tactical handgun handling skills current?
Laser training systems have come into vogue over the past decade. Most involve some variation of using a laser cartridge in your handgun to make dryfire practice more beneficial. They all claim great value in advancing your shooting skills without leaving the comfort of your living room.
But how well do they work, and what are your options regarding the different systems available? That’s what I’m going to talk about. My goal is not to sell you on one system over another but to discuss the pros and cons of laser training systems in general and tell you a little about what systems are available and what they do.
Why Use a Laser Training System
The best reason to give laser training systems a try is convenience. You can use them in your living room rather than going to a range. That’s great if you have 30 minutes or so after work or if you don’t live near a range. That’s a big concern for folks in the city or freedom-challenged states without many ranges. They don’t require much room, so they will even work in an apartment.
Cost is another positive factor. Live fire requires ammunition. Other costs include targets, travel time, and range fees. Laser training systems range in price from under $100 to over $900. But even the most expensive systems are, for the most part, a one-time expense. Once you make the initial investment, you can use your system indefinitely with no further expense other than the occasional battery.
Finally, there’s the benefit of more comprehensive training. Dry fire by itself is fine. It can help you develop a better grip and trigger technique. You can also practice drawing from concealment on your own. What you don’t get from dry fire is feedback. Even the simplest laser cartridge will show you where you hit the target. That allows you to see if you consistently hit low or to one side or another. And more significantly, if you’re getting a first-round hit after drawing from concealment. The most complex laser training systems will give you real-time feedback on where you are hitting. Some will even produce an analysis of what you are doing wrong.
What Laser Training Systems Can and Can Not Do
Laser training systems have some definite benefits, but they aren’t perfect. They have some drawbacks too.
On the plus side, they are convenient and easy to use. It allows you to practice the basics of defensive shooting at home. There is no need to make a lot of preparations or travel to a range. That means you save the cost of going to the range as well as the cost of ammunition. And laser dry fire practice beats doing nothing at all.
But it’s not just the convenience; they also offer solid training benefits. You can practice drawing from concealment and getting a first-round hit. You cannot do that with dry fire alone since there’s no way to know if you hit the target. The immediate feedback of seeing the hit and a score tells you how your technique is. You will know if your sight alignment is good and whether you’re making mistakes like jerking the trigger or putting uneven pressure on the gun with either hand. They will even work well with a red dot or laser aiming device on your gun.
On the downside, if you are using a striker-fired or single-action pistol, the fact that there is no recoil to operate the slide means you are training one shot at a time. That’s good for drawing from concealment and getting a first-round hit, but you will have to work the slide or cock the hammer manually before you can take another shot.
Of course, if you have a true DA or a DAO pistol, you can take follow-up shots without interrupting your sight picture or grip to work the action. But if you want to take follow-up shots with a revolver, you will need more than one laser cartridge to fill the cylinder.
The lack of recoil brings up another training shortcoming. If there’s no recoil, you don’t have to learn to overcome it to get back on target for a second shot. Although at least one system produces recoil through CO2, it’s as expensive as some handguns. Finally, even with a laser training system, dry fire will never substitute live fire in informing you of your handgun’s idiosyncrasies or how well it shoots different brands of defensive ammunition.
Laser Training System Pros
- Handy – can practice anywhere
- Good training on drawing from concealment
- It saves money compared to ammo and range costs
- Many keep a training record
- Good for first-round hit training and assessment
- Provides immediate feedback
- DA/SA and DAO can be used for subsequent shots
- Cartridge works as a snap cap to protect your gun’s firing pin
Laser Training System Cons
- Need to rack striker-fired pistols before each shot
- Need to cock SA pistols before each shot
- No recoil with most systems
- No hands-on assessment of how the gun shoots or works with live defensive ammunition
- Some systems are expensive
Laser Training Systems
As I mentioned, I intend not to rate laser training systems or try to persuade you to buy one over another. I aim to acquaint you with what is available and talk briefly about each system’s good and bad points. You can find detailed reviews of any of them for more information.
|Type of System||Brand||Benefits|
|Laser Cartridges||Many Available||Real-time feedback on point of impact|
|Strikeman and LASR||Laser cartridge and app||Realtime feedback on point of impact and progress record|
|MantisX||Motion sensor device attached to the gun accessory rail & laser cartridge||Provides a critique of trigger manipulation & realtime feedback on point of impact and progress record|
|SIRT||Training gun||Can use for all types of drills|
|CoolFire Trainer||Replaces barrel with recoil device||Real-time feedback on point of impact and simulates recoil|
The simplest and most inexpensive laser training system is a laser cartridge, such as those offered by LaserDot Trainer or LaserLyte. These consist of a caliber-specific laser cartridge that you load into the chamber of your pistol. Pulling the trigger causes the firing pin to strike the rubber switch on the back of the laser cartridge, emitting a laser pulse out of the barrel. By watching the target, you can see exactly where you are hitting. Special laser-sensitive targets are also available that emit a ‘ping’ when struck by the laser pulse. These are nice but cost as much or more than the laser cartridge. The laser cartridges alone run between $50 and $100.
The benefit is real-time feedback on your point of impact.
Strikeman Dry Fire Laser Training System
Strikeman was one of the first commercially available handgun laser training systems. It consists of a caliber-specific laser cartridge, a paper target, a free phone app, and a stand to hold your phone. The app uses the camera on your phone to track your hits. Load the cartridge into your gun. Hang the target on the wall, set your phone on the stand, and start the app.
The app will give you a timer to start any one of several training programs. You can see where your shot hits. The app will also add shooting sounds, hit pings, and a voice that calls out your score for each shot. Finally, the app will generate a progress report showing your scores over a period of time, say 30 days. That way, you can see how much you have improved. The advantage of the verbal score report for each hit is that you know how well you did without looking away from your sight picture to see the impact. The Strikeman runs around $100 for everything, including one caliber-specific cartridge.
The benefit is real-time feedback on the point of impact with a numerical score and a training record.
LASR – Laser Activated Shot Reporter
The LASR system is similar to the Strikeman but goes a few steps further on the sophistication scale. The basic components are similar, except that the system uses a laptop and webcam-type camera instead of a phone and app. LASR also adds a wide range of interactive targets to the system. The system is similar to the Strikeman in that you can draw and shoot at targets, but the target arrays and diagnostics are more in-depth. So is the price with the LASR costing two to three times as much as a Strikeman?
The benefit is real-time feedback on the point of impact with a numerical score and a training record.
MantisX and Mantis Laser Academy
The MantisX consists of a small module that attaches to the rail of your handgun or an adhesive rail you can attach to the bottom of a magazine and an app for your phone or tablet. A sensor inside the MantisX measures the quality of your trigger pull and sends a critique to your phone. It has several different modes that assign you various numbers of trigger pulls and time frames. The critique includes a chart that shows you the quality of your trigger pulls and diagnoses what you are doing wrong. It does not use a target or give you any feedback on accuracy. What it does do, is let you know if you are jerking the trigger or making other mistakes. The cost is around $170.
The benefit is a real-time critique of your trigger pulls.
SIRT – Shot Indicating Resetting Trigger Pistol
A SIRT (Shot Indicating Resetting Trigger) pistol is a training device that replicates the weight and feel of a Glock pistol. It cannot be made to fire live rounds, so it’s very safe to use, especially for new shooters. It is equipped with two lasers that shoot out to the target. The first shoots as you take up the slack on the trigger. The second shoots when the gun “fires.”
The system enables the shooter to see how far apart the projected impact point is as you start pulling the trigger compared to the impact point when you pull the trigger. That tells you if you are jerking or pulling the gun off target when you shoot. A significant advantage of the system is that the trigger resets after each shot. Unlike when using your actual gun, you can take follow-up shots without stopping to rack the slide. A disadvantage of the system is that the shooter may have to look away from the sight picture to see where their impact point is when they fire. Because the SIRT is a laser training pistol, you can use it in force-on-force training. The unit is expensive, however, around $500.
The benefit is real-time feedback on trigger pull, accuracy, and the ability to take follow-up shots.
One of the main drawbacks of dry fire, with or without a laser training system, is the lack of recoil. Without recoil, you are missing a critical aspect of honing your shooting skills. Another drawback is having to rack the slide between shots. The CoolFire Trainer addresses both of those issues.
The system replaces the barrel of your personal gun with a CO2-operated system. When you pull the trigger, the system fires a laser dot and cycles the slide of your gun. This does two things. It provides a fairly realistic recoil simulation for you to react to, and it cocks the gun for a follow-up shot.
You get real-time feedback on your accuracy, you can make follow-up shots, and you learn to react to recoil.
The main drawback to the system is that it’s expensive, anywhere from $500 to $1000. So while it’s convenient, it won’t save you much money compared to live fire, at least not at first.
The benefits are real-time accuracy feedback, the ability to take follow-up shots, and simulated recoil.
Things to Consider Before Buying a Laser Training System
Will You Use It?
The single most important consideration before spending money on a laser training system is whether you will use it. I’m not pointing fingers, but how many people have nice workout machines in their basements that haven’t been touched in months or years? Any training aid is only valuable if you use it. My wife and I use our weights and workout equipment three times a week, so we see a benefit from it.
How Will You Use It?
The next consideration is how you will use it. A laser training system isn’t a substitute for shooting your gun with live ammo. It can help by saving you money, allowing you to practice frequently, and letting you practice things like drawing from concealment. But with one exception, it won’t help you learn to deal with recoil.
What Do You Want It to Do?
There are lots of different types of laser training devices. Some, like the Strikeman, tell you how accurate you are and provide a record of your improvement. Others, like the MantisX, critique specific aspects of your technique, like trigger manipulation. Still others, like a simple laser cartridge, give you an immediate indication of where you hit but don’t offer any critique. All of them are fine as long as they are doing what you want them to.
Your budget is a significant factor. While it’s true that laser training systems can save you money, they are still not free to buy. Fortunately, they come in a wide price range. A simple laser cartridge showing you where you hit can cost around $50. A complex system that simulates recoil will cost more than many handguns. Yet each is useful in its own way. If you’re on a tight budget, getting a less expensive laser training system and using the extra money to buy a better gun or better defensive ammunition is wise. You decide.
How to Fit Laser Training into Your Training Routine
No single type of training can stand alone in improving your performance in any endeavor. It needs to be part of a solid training routine. Laser training systems are no exception.
New Gun or New Ammo
Dry fire should never be the only training or practice you do with a new gun or if you change defensive ammunition. Always put at least a box (50 rounds) of ammo through a new gun before you trust it as your defensive handgun. The same goes for a change in ammunition.
You must know if the handgun is reliable and accurate in both cases. You must also be sure the ammunition you’ve chosen will cycle reliably in your gun. Further, it’s not uncommon for different ammo to produce different results in accuracy. The only way to know any of this is through live fire. After that, dry fire with a laser training system will help you hone your trigger and sight picture skills and keep them from getting too rusty.
Learning to Deal with Recoil
All handguns produce recoil. Maybe a .22LR isn’t noticeable, but 9mm and .45ACP are. Even a .380 produces a degree of recoil. No amount of dry fire will train you to deal with recoil. If you want to spend the money or have it to spend, you can invest in a training system that simulates recoil, at least to a degree. However, it still will not simulate a muzzle blast or flash.
While most defensive situations don’t require a reload (just study DGU incidents online), it is important to know how to do so and do it quickly and efficiently. Again, this is something that can’t really be done using a laser trainer. On the other hand, it is something that you can do in your living room. Switching out magazines can be done without a range situation. Simply load a snap cap into a spare magazine. Then you can practice dropping a magazine from your pistol, loading the spare, and then releasing the slide to load the snap cap.
Setting Up a Training Regime
At the Range
First and foremost, get to the range as often as possible for you in terms of cost and time. Practice the skills only live fire can exercise. Dealing with recoil, the accuracy of follow-up shots, rapid magazine changes, malfunctions, and getting to know your gun and whatever defensive ammo you use.
If time and money permit, consider taking some training classes in defensive shooting. If that’s not a good option, look into shooting USPSA matches. It doesn’t cost much to enter; you don’t have to have a race gun for Production or Production 10 Divisions. You can use the same gun you keep at home by the bed or even the one you carry. You will be amazed at how much you learn very quickly.
There are several solid training techniques that laser training systems can help you with. You can also do some things at a range, but others are things that most ranges don’t allow. This is a good place to remind everyone to double and triple-check to ensure your gun is unloaded and there is no live ammunition in the room with you before doing any dry fire.
Drawing from Concealment
Practicing drawing from concealment is a skill that needs to be practiced more. It’s also one of the most critical skills you can have when defending your life from a criminal assault. Most ranges will not allow you to draw from a holster, IWB, or OWB and shoot.
Dress in your street clothes. Adjust for seasonal dress, such as wearing a jacket or coat. Be sure your shirt is in its usual position concealing your gun. As soon as whatever signal your system uses, or just on your own internal signal, sweep your shirt or jacket aside, draw your gun, and shoot. The goal is to draw quickly and get a first-round hit.
You can also do drills to help you train for a home defense situation. For example, set your gun on a chair or table. When the signal goes off, retrieve your gun as quickly as possible and shoot. Again, your goal is a first-round hit. The variations of this drill are endless because you can put the gun in different places and be in different positions. You can even be lying on the sofa like you were watching TV.
Shooting from Different Positions
Most range training starts every shooting run with you standing, facing the target with your gun in your hand, and ready to shoot. But that’s not how all defensive shooting encounters go. Just as you should practice picking up your gun from odd places before taking your shot, you should also practice being in different positions. These include sitting, lying on the floor, and even walking into the room and seeing a threat. If you read many defensive shooting accounts, you will find that people often suddenly encounter a home intruder or a criminal on the street. You will also see that the armed citizen is sometimes wounded in the exchange.
To perform this drill, you can start from a sitting position and obtain your gun. The goal is to get a shot off quickly and get that critical first-round hit. Try also doing it as you walk into the room. Finally, try shooting while lying on the floor. You can create any training scenario you want because you are in the privacy of your own home. All of these will be things you could not do on most ranges.
Sight Picture and Trigger Manipulation
You can practice these skills on a range, but they are skills you can never practice too much. Drills for these skills are simple enough. Aim your gun while getting a good sight picture and pull the trigger. Most laser training systems will show you where you hit with the laser dot. Some will provide a critique of your trigger technique. Others will give you feedback and even a progress report of your improvement over time. And all without the expense and time required to go to the range and shoot live ammo.
Last Words on Laser Training Systems
Dry fire training can be a valuable part of your overall training routine. Using a laser training system will increase the effectiveness of dry fire training. Like all training aids, laser training systems have their benefits and limitations. Still, they have become popular over the past decade. External factors like ammunition shortages, inflation, and even the effect of the government’s response to Covid have served to increase their popularity.
A non-scientific poll I conducted on a well-known and popular shooting sports forum asked, “How often do you use a laser dry fire training tool like Mantis, Strikeman, Laserlyte, or another?” The poll yielded the following results:
- Monthly: 7.7%
- Weekly: 23.1%
- Daily: 7.7%
- Never: 61.5%
Based on those results, around one-third of the respondents used a laser training system and most of those who did use it every week. The comments accompanying the votes indicated that people used laser training systems for everything from fine-tuning trigger techniques for competition to just working on good sight pictures.
Laser training systems have found a place in the shooting community. I use a laser training system a few times a month, sometimes more depending on the weather since I shoot outdoors. If you don’t practice with dry fire, you should start. If you already do dry fire training, adding a laser training system to your practice time could benefit you. Only you can decide that, but they are at least worth looking at.