Save money with sub-caliber trainers


Lee’s Note: Here’s another great submission from Peter Burlingame, a firearms trainer operating in the Caribbean.

A .22 sub-caliber adapter for an AR or M4 can save money while still allowing range time. Submitted photo by Peter Burlingame



By Peter Burlingame

If you’ve been to a store looking for ammunition recently you’ve discovered that there isn’t much available, and what is available, is expensive.  Training on a regular basis is now difficult and costly. While the price of .22LR ammo has increased by several hundred percent, it still is the cheapest option around.

Which brings me to the subject of ‘sub-caliber trainers’.  These are either dedicated guns or adapters to your gun, that are use for training with lower powered and lower priced ammunition. Armies around the world adopted sub caliber trainers as early as the beginning of the 20thCentury. The U.S.’s Springfield 1903, Germany’s Mauser Kar98k, and France’s MAS 45 all had .22LR versions for training. Not only did they offer cost savings, but their lower recoil and noise eased new shooters into good marksmanship.

Sub-caliber inserts for 12 gauge shells. Submitted photo by Peter Burlingame

While run of the mill .22LR firearms and air guns will allow the fundamentals of marksmanship to be practiced, a true sub-caliber trainer will allow practice of the entire manual of arms of the full sized version. They will have the same controls, in the same place, and act the same way.

For example, shooting a 10/22 will allow you to hone your sight picture, trigger control, and work on your shooting positions, however, it doesn’t help you learn how to adeptly run your AR15. The safety and magazine release are in the wrong place, as is the charging handle. The stock geometries are different.

Sub-caliber trainers come in several different flavors. We’ve already talked about the dedicated versions. These are guns, designed from the start, to mimic a full power gun, but chambered for a lower powered cartridge. In general, we are talking about guns chambered for the.22 Long Rifle cartridge, but there are also air gun and airsoft versions.

For example, Smith and Wesson has two examples: the M&P22, which is faithful copy of their M&P9 and 40, and the M&P15-22 which mimics an AR15. Both of these guns replicate their big brothers faithfully, enabling you to swap them out for inexpensive practice sessions.

Sub-caliber conversion kit for a Glock 22.

The next group of sub-caliber trainers is conversion units. These are devices that convert a firearm to shoot a different cartridge than the one it was originally designed for. Marvel and Ace conversions were early versions that came on the market in the mid 1900’s. They replace the slide, barrel, and recoil spring of the popular Colt Government model, setting them up to shoot .22LR. Colts were very popular in bullseye type competition during that period, and these conversions let a competitor spend many more hours practicing the basics. Not only saving money, but eliminating the fatigue from firing the heavy recoiling .45ACP cartridge.

In recent years, conversion kits have become more and more popular. Companies like Advantage Arms, Tactical Solutions, Twisted Industries, and Ceiner make conversion kits for popular guns such as Glocks, Beretta 92s, Browning Hi Powers,  Mini-14s, AK 47s, Sig Sauers, Kel-Tecs,  and AR15s.

Chamber adapters fit into a gun’s chamber and then chamber a smaller cartridge themselves. MCA Sports and are two companies that make chamber adapters. There are many combinations to choose from. Many of them use the normal barrel diameter to stabilize the bullet, such as shooting .32ACP in a .308 or .22 magnum in .223Remington. Others set you up to shoot pistol calibers in shotguns, like being able to shoot 9mm or .38 special in 12 gauge.  The down side to chamber adapters is that you only get one shot at a time, (unless you have multiple adapters) before you have to pull the fired case out of the adapter and reload it and insert it back into the firearm. The exceedingly short barrel length in the shotgun adapters makes accuracy questionable. On the other hand, shooting .32ACP out of .308 or .30-30 is plenty accurate for the taking of small game, with the added benefit of being very quiet.

Another type of sub caliber trainers are air guns and airsoft guns. Crossman and Daisy make CO2 powered pistols that are close replicas of cartridge firing pistols made by Smith & Wesson, Walther, Colt and others. They may not function identically to their firearm twin, but will generally fit the same holsters and allow some types of practice commonality.

Airsoft was originally developed in America, but failed to take hold here initially. People in Japan and other Asian countries that restrict gun ownership for civilians, have embraced airsoft wholeheartedly and have really developed the market. Many modern firearms have an airsoft doppelganger. The gas blow back versions of pistols have reciprocating slides and removable magazines, just like their powder burning big brothers. These guns fire .25 plastic BBs at around 300fps. One serious advantage of airsoft guns is that, with proper safety precautions, you can shoot people with them, similar to Paintball. This allows ‘force on force’ training not possible otherwise. (Force on force training can be dangerous. I highly recommend professional training in its use. Ken Murray’s “Training at the Speed of Life” is the force on force ‘bible’ and should be studied by anyone engaged in this activity)

Low cost and low recoil aren’t the only advantages of sub-caliber trainers. Because of their lower power and noise, you can shoot them in places where you couldn’t fire a standard cartridge gun. Specialty .22LR ammo like Aguila’s Colibre and CCI’s new Quiet ammo, are low powered and quiet enough to shoot in the back yard or basement. (Make sure you are not violating any laws or ordinance regarding discharging a firearm in or near occupied dwellings) Bullet traps made for high powered airguns will work as back stops. The trade off with these cartridges is not having enough energy to cycle a semi automatic gun, so you will have to manually operate the action for each shot. Air guns and Airsoft are even easier to use in and around the home. This leads to training opportunities that otherwise wouldn’t be available. Being able to shoot in the back yard or basement means not having to drive to the range and not having to pay range fees. It is easy to spend half an hour in the evening honing your skills, in between regular training sessions.

Sub-caliber conversion kit of a Smith & Wesson M&P

Speaking of regular training sessions, sub-caliber trainers are not a substitute for practicing with full powered ammo, but rather as a supplement to it. It lets you stretch your training time and budget. One thing sub-caliber trainers won’t do, is teach you deal with recoil.  In 2009 during the last ammo drought, almost all of my training with an AR was done with a .22 conversion kit. After a year of this, when the ammunition situation eased up and I resumed shooting .223, I noticed that I had gotten sloppy in my recoil control and my ability to fire follow up shots was compromised. Now, when I practice with the low powered equipment, I always finish the session by firing a magazine or two of full house ammo, just to keep me honest.

Peter Burlingame is the founder of The Self Defense Initiative, a 25 year old training school based in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Peter is a contributing member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors and the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. His articles have been published in the FBI’s National Associates’ magazine, “The Firearms Instructor” and “Survival Quarterly.” You may contact him at Videos at




About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.

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