You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!

Gun range practice
Shutterstock / JazzyGeoff
It’s been just over 20 years since I first started recommending in my Black Belt Magazine articles that all martial arts schools, at least those that teach self-defense, to use airsoft guns for realistic techniques, tactics, and scenarios when it comes to defense against pistols and rifles. For those of you that may not be familiar with airsoft guns, they are training guns that fire a 6mm plastic projectile accurately up to 21 feet (7 meters). Well, if you’re in one of those reality-based schools or groups that heeded my advice over the years, or you’re just now ready to start learning how to survive criminal or terrorist attacks involving firearms, since shootings have doubled since last year, then bravo!

It’s better than yelling out “BANG! BANG!” in training and wondering where an imaginary bullet would have impacted. However, the risk of using airsoft pistols or rifles is the 6mm projectile, which moves through the air at 1.1 to 1.50 Jules (International System unit of kinetic energy) that can easily put somebody’s eye out. As such, you need to have what every military unit or law enforcement agency has on their gun range to avoid a Negligent Discharge (NG), and that’s a gun clearing trap. “Clearing” means making sure that you know the condition (loaded or unloaded) of the weapon done in a safe manner. However, the real ones, made of metal and designed to catch real bullets safely, are expensive, and you don’t need a real one for airsoft guns. You can make one yourself out of available materials for next to nothing, and I’ll teach you how.

   The materials you’ll need:

1. A cardboard box. It could be that Amazon box you’re about to toss out, or any small to medium size box. The thicker the cardboard the better. Some gift boxes are just too thin, and a 6mm projectile may shoot right through them, which defeats the purpose of the gun clearing trap.

2. A cardboard tube. The easiest ones to find are those after a roll of paper towels has been used up. The cardboard roll from gift wrapping paper works great because they are long. The toilet tissue cardboard rolls are too short to use, although you could use it if you decided to make your bullet trap out of a shoe box. This would be good size if storage space were an issue or you want a portable gun clearing trap.

3. A serrated blade knife, to cut a hole in the cardboard box.

4. Packing tape, to tape the tube to the hole of the box.

5. Shredded newspaper or packing peanuts, to fill up ¼ of the box. This will serve as the energy absorbing material.

6. Red or black paint (optional), to paint the entire gun clearing trap for esthetics.

You can see from the step-by-step photos below just how easy it is to make a gun clearing trap for airsoft pistols and rifles. In fact, if you Goggle the words “gun clearing trap,” you’ll get to see various styles of real ones (for a live-fire gun range) that will give you design ideas.

Once your gun clearing trap has been made, you’ll place it in your training area, be it in your garage, backyard, or self-defense school. You may even want to have a yellow sign above it, mounted on a wall or post, that reads in bold black letters GUN CLEARING TRAP AREA. Everything you do to make your training area look like a gun range prepares the mind for a real live-fire range, and that means SAFETY.

Gun Clearing trap

Jim Wagner

To make your own gun clearing trap these are the raw materials you need, and they are practically free.

   Using a gun clearing trap

The reason for making, and having, a gun clearing trap is for SAFETY. By using a gun clearing trap you are, first of all, practicing good gun range procedures. This increases your level of professionalism when it comes to your martial arts training. After all, the literal meaning of “martial arts” is “war arts,” and firearms training must be a part of today’s self-defense training. The second reason for using a gun clearing trap is because many airsoft pistols and rifles do not allow you to look inside the ejection port and the chamber of the weapon, like real firearms do, to verify if it is loaded or not. Therefore, even if you took the precaution of taking the magazine out of the airsoft firearm there can still be a 6mm projectile in the chamber, regardless if it’s mechanical, electric, or gas operated. That means an unsafe condition before training or if the airsoft is stored for the next lesson. Clearing the airsoft means preventing a NG.

Anytime you, or another armed person, has been issued an airsoft gun the next step is to clear it before the training lesson. Here is the procedure:

1. Wear wrap around eye protection. In fact, whenever an airsoft is being handled, everyone in the room must have eye protection on. It’s up to the instructor, and a Range Safety Officer (RSO) if you have one to make sure everyone has their “eyes” on.

2. There should be no magazine in the weapon, but if there is, remove it by placing the muzzle (the “business end” of the airsoft) into the end of the tube first.

3. Pull the trigger. If there is a 6mm projectile in the airsoft it may end up firing into the cardboard box. The shredded newspaper or packing peanuts absorb the energy of the projectile, so the likelihood of it bouncing out is greatly reduced. WARNING: you would never pull the trigger of a real gun to verify if it is loaded or not! We do this ONLY FOR AIRSOFT because we cannot lock the slide or bolt back and look inside the chamber. Most airsoft have only an outline of an ejection port, just to make it look more realistic, but it does not actually function.

4. Load the magazine into the magazine well. You may, or may not, chamber (also known as “lock and load”) a 6mm projectile into it. This depends on the course of instructions, how soon the weapon will be used, and whether there will be a safe direction later to load the weapon. If the gun clearing trap is the safest place to load the airsoft gun or rifle, then do it there while the muzzle is still inside the tube.

Gun Clearing Trap

Jim Wagner

All it takes is to make your gun clearing trap is to cut a hole in the box, fill the box ¼ of the way with absorbing material, stick the tube in halfway, and tape it in place. You can paint the box and tube it if you want it to look more like the real thing.

gun clearing trap

Jim Wagner

Just like a real gun clearing trap on a live-fire range, the airsoft gun clearing trap works exactly in the same way.

gun clearing trap

Jim Wagner

If there is no time to make a professional looking gun clearing trap, then here is a simpler one made in mere seconds. Simply cut a hole in a box, and voilà!

Gun clearing trap

Jim Wagner

Students are given a designated CLEARING AREA, thus making the training session safer for everyone when using airsoft guns.

Gun self defense

Jim Wagner

After verifying the condition of the training gun, students can then proceed to the TRAINING AREA for techniques and tactics training or a for a realistic scenario.

Gun clearing trap

Jim Wagner

This was the most elaborate cardboard gun clearing trap ever made by any of my students, which were three German Military Police soldiers - natürlich.

Unloading procedure

When the airsoft is no longer needed (be it for a lunch break or storage after a lesson) it needs to be cleared first. Here are the steps:

1. Place the muzzle into the mouth of the tube.

2. Remove the magazine from the airsoft gun or rifle, and place it into an ammo pouch, a pocket, or on a nearby table.

3. Take the weapon off safety by flipping the selector switch to FIRE mode (indicated by a red dot when the lever is moved). Pull the trigger. WARNING! Again, pulling the trigger to verify if an airsoft is loaded or not is not the correct procedure for a real firearm.

4. Pull the slide or bolt back to the maximum, and let it fly forward (don’t “ride the slide”) while the muzzle is still inside the tube. Pull the trigger a second time. You’ll know by the sound made whether a projectile was fired or not.

5. Put the weapon on SAFE, then remove the muzzle from the tube. While putting the airsoft away, whether on a storage shelf or in a container, make sure that the muzzle is always pointed in a safe direction while doing so.

When I first instruct students who have never handled firearms before, especially children, then I have them go through the motions (a “walk through”) with a rubber or plastic training firearm first. I want them to get used to muzzle discipline before I hand them a tool that can fire a projectile. Once they have demonstrated the ability to safely handle a firearm using a gun clearing trap then they move up to manipulating the airsoft pistol or rifle.


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