Reality Based Firearms Training for Civilians

By Mike Searson

Reality Based Firearms Training for Civilians
Reality Based Firearms Training for Civilians
Mike Searson
Mike Searson

USA -( When specifically training for personal defense or home defense, Reality Based Firearms Training is the key to success.

This type of training goes beyond shooting reactive targets or going through laser based scenarios (which both have merits in their own right).

This is similar to sparring for a boxer as opposed to shadow boxing.

Reality Based Training involves the use of real firearms that have been converted to shoot safe training marking cartridges. It is considered to be the highest level of evaluating a student’s application of skills without having to engage in a “real” fight.

In the past this training the higher end and more realistic variants have been limited to military and LEO types via MILES or Simunitions and most civilian trainers were reduced to using air soft, paintball, laser tag or other low end solutions.

That changed a few years ago when Simunitions ( ) opened their training up to civilian ranges in a new training program. We were able to witness some of the instruction by Barrett Kendrick and Allessandro Padovani of ICE Training at a state of the art 25,000 square foot facility under construction: Reno Guns & Range of Reno, Nevada.


Simunitions is probably the most famous name when it comes to producing specialty cartridges for use in force on force training. These rounds are referred to as marking cartridges and are similar to paintball pellets in concept and principle. The difference between marking cartridges and paintball pellets is that the marking cartridges are fired by a smokeless powder cartridge from a real firearm as opposed to compressed air from a paintball gun.

These reduced power rounds are available in 38 Special, 9mm Parabellum and 5.56 NATO and can be used in real firearms, fired at a greater distance, and simulate actual recoil and impact greater than those felt by paintball or air soft efforts. For these reasons, the use of hearing protection, face masks, throat and groin protectors are strongly advised.

Apart from the ability to use Simunitions in standard firearms as opposed to replicas and the feel of actual recoil there is a significant benefit that this type of platform offers that the others do not.
Most scenarios where use of force comes into play for a civilian shooter or law enforcement officer take place at night time or in low light conditions, as you can tell by the photos, the interior lighting left much to be desired.

Simply put, you will not always obtain that perfect sight picture on a three dimensional target like you would at a sunny afternoon outdoor range session and let’s face it, the bad guys use cover and concealment, too.

Sometimes the only clue to the presence of a hostile target is the muzzle flash when he discharges his weapon. That is not a feature which can be duplicated in an air soft or paintball force on force training session, but it can be done with Simunitions.

Even though the power in Simunitions is reduced, there is still a visible flash signature.


A strong emphasis was placed on safety by Barrett and Allessandro. Everyone entering the training area was told to leave any real world defensive weapons (like the author’s SIG, Seecamp and knives) in an outside lockbox along with any improvised type weapons such as strike bezel flashlights or tactical pens.

The firearms used were dedicated for use with Sims and were identified by their training blue color.
Access to the training area was restricted to one door which was monitored.

The Training

Now some of the pictures might give the illusion of a dystopian environment (part of this had more to do with poor lighting in a building still under construction) with people wearing gas masks and body armor, but this adds to the realism in training. You won’t know if that is “Jay the friendly instructor” or “the bad guy looking to send you to your maker” under that mask at first glance. You have to rely on other cues to let you know “what is what” and “who is who”.

With a group of current and former law enforcement officers as trainees in this “train the trainer” program, the expectation may have been to see shoot outs similar to a paintball field on a Saturday afternoon using real guns and ammo that would leave welts.

On the contrary, for the first several hours no shots were fired at all. The student instructors stood down most of the threats by using verbal commands or not taking shots because the situation would not have been legally prudent to do so. Still as current or former officers they had to change their own behaviors from training to adapt to a civilian role.

Instructor Barrett Kendrick echoed this by saying: “The goal is not to put people in situations where they have to shoot the role-players 100% of the time. The goal is to make them think these courses of action through in order to make the right decisions.”

“Some people may be eager to go guns blazing 100 percent of the time, but others will be much more timid, you may have to pause and coach them. Ask them why they did a certain thing a certain way.”

When the shooting did start they were 100% correct from a legal standpoint and the student instructors made use of cover and concealment, simulated 9-1-1 calls when appropriate and did everything by the book. This is the way they should teach their students how to do it.

With instructors trained in this manner, the students who visit the range for reality based training should experience a high degree of safety, professionalism, training and satisfaction at Reno Guns & Range.

About Mike Searson

Mike Searson’s career as a shooter began as a Marine Rifleman at age 17. He has worked in the firearms industry his entire adult life as a Gunsmith, Ballistician, Consultant, Salesman, Author and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1989.

Mike has written over 2000 articles for a number of magazines, websites and newsletters including Blade, RECOIL, OFF-GRID, Tactical Officer, SWAT, Tactical World, Gun Digest, and the US Concealed Carry Association as well as AmmoLand Shooting Sports News.

1 Comment
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Love the views and insights on training for that gun fight in a real based reality settings. There are many things that we can wheelchair quarterback, unless we get out there and do it. You’ll get the experiences and find nuances here and there, which is great, some will feel natural and some not. But I think we can all agree that training of any sort is always good preparation, its better than just reading about what you should do if this happens, all these what ifs, etc.. Every schools have their thoughts, philosphies and approached on reality based training,… Read more »