Dry Fire Training: Laser Pistol Or Laser Cartridge? That Is The Question

Dry Fire Standoff: Laser Training Pistol vs. Laser Cartridge with Your Personal Handgun

When it comes to preparing for possible real-world scenarios, there’s no such thing as too much training. For this reason, I want to point out that laser training pistols and cartridges are both beneficial in their own right.

Dry fire training is a great way to keep your shooting skills sharp and improve your accuracy both on the range and in real-world situations. Utilizing laser training aids gives shooters visual feedback immediately with each trigger pull. Utilizing smartphones with Mantis Laser Academy will allow you to revisit a history of your dry fire groupings, improve your speed with shot timers and make you an overall better shooter with a variety of other beneficial tools and feedback.

In general, there are two types of laser training aids available online: laser training pistols and laser cartridges, which are available in common calibers to fit your personal firearm(s). Both are beneficial for dry fire training, but let’s compare the two options so you choose the path that’s right for you. Of course there’s nothing wrong with investing in both laser options, but for those looking to purchase one or the other, here’s a further comparison between the two dry fire laser training devices:

What’s Wrong with this Picture?

Can you spot what’s wrong with the picture above? Being that we’re about to talk about firearm familiarization and discipline, I felt that the picture above speaks volumes about why this is important. For those who haven’t figured out what the gentleman pictured above is doing wrong while handling his gun, there are two major negligent mistakes he’s making. The first mistake is keeping his firearm pointed up and not in a safe direction. The second mistake is racking his slide with his finger in the trigger guard instead of waiting until he’s ready to shoot. If this gun had a live round in it, this would be inherently dangerous.

For anybody thinking since he’s obviously in a gun store, therefore there couldn’t be a live round in the chamber, this thinking goes directly against the basic firearm safety rule of assuming every gun is loaded. Not only that, but you can and will find instances online of gun stores who didn’t realize they had live rounds in a chamber, and you can even find videos of accidental discharges within gun stores. Just because it SHOULD be one way, doesn’t mean it is.

The point I’m illustrating is that becoming familiar with and practicing discipline while handling your firearms in a safe, unloaded state will directly transfer to your habits on the range. Likewise, if you’re used to mishandling your firearm when it’s in a safe, non-firing state, then you’ll likely be reckless with it on the range. That is why it’s important to correctly discipline yourself right from the get go.

Let’s talk about how laser training aids assist in firearm familiarization and discipline.

Firearm Familiarization & Discipline

When I mention firearm familiarization, I’m not referring to just becoming familiar with guns in general (shape, size and otherwise), rather I’m referring to you becoming familiar with your personal firearm(s). Being that not all guns are made equal, it pays off in the long run for you to know your own collection of firearms intimately, and honestly, they should become as familiar as a third hand would be.

While you may be in the market for a laser training system that converts your personal firearms into compressed-air-recoiling training systems, there are very few systems that perfectly convert popular handgun models, such as Glock. For the sake of this article, we’ll remain in the realm of laser pistols versus laser cartridges for dry fire training. The main reason for this is that CO2 conversion systems tend to reside in the commercial or avid enthusiast market, while this information is meant for the everyday consumer.

On the other hand, if you do happen to own a Glock and opt for a dedicated laser pistol matching your model, then you’ll probably have no trouble finding a system that matches it. However, laser cartridges are on the market for a fraction of the cost and this sometimes becomes the deciding factor in this debate.

Keep in mind that dedicated laser training pistols, even when they match your caliber, are usually much lighter and made of plastic, thus they tend to contain no moving parts other than the trigger. While the gun itself may feel familiar when held, you don’t have the benefit of familiarizing yourself with the realistic weight, trigger break or racking your slide to clear a malfunction.

Using a laser cartridge instead would allow for you to become familiar with your actual handgun while still practicing in the safety of a home environment. This also helps you become familiar with racking the slide of your gun, and for all firearm owners, this is an important skill to be comfortable with.

Becoming one with your guns is inherently imperative, and I can’t reiterate this concept enough. Firearms are much like motor vehicles, and being that most people (if not all) reading this article likely drive regularly, I’m going to drive home my point with this example.

When you first learn how to drive, even if you begin at an early age, it’s quite awkward. There’s a lot of learning to do between all of the pedals, buttons and switches. Then, you also become familiar with how the car reacts with each and every input.

When you put the time in to become familiar with the vehicle you’re driving, you begin to do things as second nature, without even looking at what you’re doing. If you have more than one car or truck, you’ll eventually become intimately familiar with those as well.

Now, no matter how comfortable you are within your own vehicle, there’s always a slight learning curve when operating a vehicle you’re unfamiliar with. Being that most vehicles function similarly, you’d likely be able to operate the unfamiliar car just as safely as your own, but not before getting a feel for the shifter, buttons, switches as well as how the vehicle handles.

This same concept exists with firearms. Yes, there are many makes and models of both guns and vehicles, but unless you make a radical shift similar to going from a car to a motorcycle or revolver to an AR-15, you’ll likely become comfortable with new firearms you encounter rather quickly. This is after you overcome the hurdle of becoming familiar with your very first gun.

Now, here’s part two of this analogy so bear with me…

Motor vehicles are powerful and capable tools which should be treated and respected as such. They can be very dangerous in the wrong hands or when negligence prevails.

Firearms are in the exact same category. Firearms are tools used for specific purposes, which like cars, can be a ton of fun. They too should always be respected with the precaution they deserve.

When you learn how to drive for the first time, you’re not just thrown the keys and given a free pass for the open road. Just like in all aspects of life, there are rules in place to keep both you and those around you safe. Many of these rules are common sense, but some are regulations that vary from city to city, state to state.

And guess what… this concept also pertains to firearms. Shocking that I went there, I know.

At the core of the many laws and regulations surrounding firearms from state to state, there remains a commonly shared set of principles designed to engrave a natural discipline into anybody who operates a firearm.

In short, these common best practices consist of:

Treat every single firearm as if it's loaded.
Always keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction.
Always know your target and what’s beyond it.
Never put your finger in the trigger guard until you’re ready to shoot.
Never aim at anything you’re not willing to destroy (living beings included).
Wear eye and ear protection whenever handling your firearm for purposes of practice.

I can write each of these points in 50 different ways, but you get the basic idea. I’ll spare the reference back to motor vehicles and dive directly into the point of becoming disciplined with your firearms.

Building safe habits with firearms from the start is the best way to become a safe and disciplined shooter, and becoming a disciplined shooter will help you maintain foundational firearm safety principles. This is not an overnight skill, and it shouldn’t be treated as a win because you had one safe day at the range. You should always be working (mentally and physically) on being situationally aware while handling firearms.

Remember, trigger discipline will prevent you from accidentally discharging your firearm before you’re ready to do so, and muzzle discipline will prevent unwanted damage or harm if you happen to accidentally pull the trigger before being ready and aimed at your intended target.

Trigger discipline serves as a safety redundancy, but it also doesn’t guarantee any measure of safety; it simply helps greatly reduce the chance of accidents occuring.

Sight Alignment, Sight Picture and Target Acquisition

Now I may be speaking for myself here, but I’m not the type of person who keeps my firearm trained on a potential target 24 hours a day. For this reason, I choose to practice acquiring targets with proper sight picture while getting used to aligning my front and rear sights via muscle memory during holster draws.

You may have heard the adage “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” If you’re not familiar with this (rather popular) saying within the firearms community, it refers to being able to complete your task effectively the first time.

I’ll give you an example:

Let’s say two shooters are standing fifteen feet in front of a target that they’re both attempting to hit with a specific set of crosshairs. Let’s now also say that this challenge will be done from a holster draw, with ten rounds in the magazine. Whoever hits the specified area on the target first, wins.

Now, let’s call them Shooter A and Shooter B. When the timer begins, Shooter A quickly draws their firearm out of their holster, quickly aligns their sights and starts tossing rounds into the target ahead.

Simultaneously, Shooter B opts for the slower and smoother approach and proceeds to take their time, slowly but smoothly drawing their weapon, aligning their sights, breathes and then proceeds to take calculated shots at the target.

For the sake of this example, let’s imagine that Shooter B will win. Yes, it could have gone either way, but the point I’m illustrating here is that a single, smooth and well-drawn shot could more quickly place the round where it needs to go than a rapid fire approach.

Don’t take my example at face value though, try this exercise yourself as if you were both Shooter A and Shooter B. Attempt to quickly draw and fire your gun accurately while considering only speed, and then do the same thing again while slowing down and considering only accuracy. You may be surprised at how fast ‘slow’ really is.

Trust me, I went back and forth in my head with examples to use, from baking to driving a vehicle but without turning this article into a novel, I decided to make a shooting-specific example.

No matter your skill level, but especially when first starting your journey with firearms, it’s best to practice sight alignment, sight picture and target acquisition in a slow, smooth and safe manner. Just like chopping vegetables in a kitchen, you’ll increase your speed over time, but going fast is pointless until you can execute the basics comfortably.

The main benefit of using your personal firearm rather than a laser pistol for this type of exercise is to get used to your specific sights. Every make and model of firearm will have slight differences in sights, and if you plan on switching out a generic set for something that glows, it’s always good to practice with what you’ll be using in a real world situation.

However, using a laser pistol to practice aligning your sights is just as beneficial when it comes to building muscle memory and becoming more familiar and comfortable with your draw.

Holster Draw Grip and Speed

Here’s where our debate hits a crossroads. Now we’ll begin to drift from minor preferences between laser pistols and laser cartridges, to more differentiating factors to consider. We touched on the idea that slow is smooth and smooth is fast in the section above. This idea couldn’t be more true than while practicing the initial draw of your firearm and building your muscle memory, to become familiar with that initial hand placement with your grip.

One could argue that your initial hand placement on your handgun is more pertinent to safe shooting than pulling the trigger. This is simply because the initial grip and control you have on your firearm has a direct impact on every action following this, all the way through the follow up shot. Plus, if you’re sloppy drawing from the holster because of your grip, then it may very well fly out of your hands while drawing, opening you up to an entirely new world of problems.

That being said, here’s where laser cartridges and laser pistols differ from each other when it comes to practicing draw grip, as well as the speed of your initial draw.

Remember that you get the full benefit of using your actual firearm when it comes to laser cartridges. If you’re practicing for real world scenarios (that very often escalate quicker than you’d like), then you’ll want to become intimately familiar with the actual weight and feel of your firearm with your preferred accessories.

Of course, you may have a popular handgun that you’ve left in its original factory state, but many of us opt to add grip related accessories and magazine extensions that fit our hand size and preference, especially when purchasing more compact handguns for concealability.

While the actual accessories and grip make it important to practice on your own handgun, there’s a secondary factor that can be practiced on either laser device, your hand’s muscle memory.

If you were standing in front of a target preparing to draw your firearm, the absolute very first thing that takes place is your hand begins to move toward your gun’s grip (ideally). It may go without saying, but keeping your hand open, your thumb separated and ready to secure your firearm high and tight prior to drawing is imperative.

If your hand is not in proper form when you attempt to draw your firearm, then you run the risk of unintended consequences such as dropping your gun out of the holster, negligent discharges and just overall bad accuracy, all of which may follow not having a solid foundation of a grip when first engaging your target.

Muscle memory with your holster draw is also important for practicing moving clothing out of the way, as anybody who has drawn a handgun from under a shirt will tell you, snags are all too common when not practiced thoroughly.

While using a laser pistol is a very suitable training aid for the muscle memory portion of your draw, having a laser cartridge in your personal handgun has the slight training edge due to the realism of using your own gun in a holster that you’d be wearing in a real world situation.

Trigger Realism

Fact: laser pistols don’t come in as many variations as actual handguns. They tend to model themselves after very popular manufacturers’ top selling pistols. Being familiar with firearms is being familiar with the stages of a trigger, specifically when specific triggers “break” compared to others. In real handguns, you can replace triggers with ones that have a higher or lower threshold of force needed to engage the firing pin.

With that in mind, you likely won’t find a dedicated laser pistol that has interchangeable triggers, thus you most likely will not get the same feel of a trigger from a laser pistol as you would your own personal firearms. Even purchasing a second handgun will prove just how varying triggers can feel straight from the factory of different manufacturers.

This is a 100% win for the laser cartridge in my book. My opinion hinges on the fact that understanding your gun’s trigger is vital to being comfortable with it in a real world situation. Pulling the trigger from a dead rest can result in a tugging of your gun in a direction that throws your accuracy way off.

For this reason, knowing how much slack you have available and knowing when your trigger will reach the “wall” (the last bit of resistance before the trigger break, where a bullet will fire) are one of the main knowledge points that separate accurate and precise shooters from those who fill their targets with constellations and scatter plots.

Using Real Accessories

There’s no way I could illustrate all of the available customization options for firearms within this article. With that being said, laser pistols come in many models, from basic non-recoil laser handguns to full recoil barrel replacements for your already existing handgun. Assuming you’re not in the market for the full conversion system that converts your actual firearm to a laser pistol, the budget friendly models also have their own variations.

Some laser pistols come with no ability to accessorize, while others come with an accessory rail on the underside of the barrel. Some even have replaceable sights. If you happen to have one with the ability to use aftermarket accessories such as tactical lights, lasers, night sights or a red dot, then you can have all the fun you’d like by sprucing up your laser pistol with the real world items you’ve loaded your personal firearm out with.

However… that’s not the most practical way to practice for the average gun owner. If you’re an enthusiast who’s comfortable (and has the proper tools for) replacing sights multiple times, then by all means, continue on my friend.

For the vast majority of other gun owners, this may be too annoying of a process to really bother in switching out your accessories between your real firearm and laser pistol. For example, if you use the TLR-6 laser/light combination and have red dot sights as well, then both of those accessories need tools in order to reinstall and realign.

Of course, you could always purchase two of all your real world accessories, but that too isn’t the most practical approach either to this topic. The laser cartridge has an obvious benefit over an average laser training pistol when it comes to using and familiarizing yourself while using your real world accessories. Being that the bullet drop is non-existent for real world self-defense scenarios, your laser cartridge can help you calibrate and confirm the alignment of both your red dot sights and your laser attached to your accessory rail.

Overall Cost

I’ve hinted at this above, but the cost difference between laser training cartridges and the variety of laser training pistols on the market is substantial. The Pink Rhino Laser Training Cartridge is a prime example of a high-quality, high-rated training laser that’s available in the most common handgun calibers, and priced around the same as a week’s worth of commuter coffee.

The current market for laser training pistols are in the range of $100-$1,000, with some exceeding this depending on how intricate of a system you’re looking to build. Keeping with my assumption that most people reading this aren’t going to spend the price of multiple handguns on a laser training system, you can expect to find the consumer level laser training pistols to be in the realm of $100-$600. The higher in price they go, the more features they have, such as using accessories and offering electronic or gas driven blowback for additional realism.

When it comes to the cost of each trigger pull, this also varies depending on what type of system you’re using. For most of us, it’s simply the cost of replacing the battery of the laser after a few thousand trigger pulls. If you’ve opted for a blowback system that uses compressed air, then you’ll have to factor that into your overall cost. Once both the average laser training pistol or the laser training cartridge are up and running, the cost per trigger pull is substantially less than an actual bullet leaving the chamber on the range.

So Which Option is Right for You?

Regardless of budget, there are pros and cons to both options for the everyday firearm owner who wants to keep their skills sharp. When it comes to laser pistol features, it simply boils down to this: the higher the cost, the more features available and the higher level of realism offered.

When it comes to the laser training cartridge, the realism with feel, weight and accessories is greater, however it falls short on recoil realism. This is assuming, of course, that you’re not using your own blowback system in addition to a laser cartridge.

If you need to be discreet, want to remain on a tighter budget, but also want to practice with a familiar firearm and setup, then the laser cartridge is probably your best option. If you have a large TV/projector screen and no need to keep quiet, then an intricate laser blowback system may be your favorite choice. Falling right between those two options is the generic laser pistol with no blowback.

No matter which training option you decide on, the suite of MantisX training products can suit any training scenario, from dry fire to live fire practice. The Mantis Laser Academy app and our unique set of printable targets takes your training to your next level while providing you with valuable feedback.

We hope you found this article useful and informative, and if you did then go ahead and share it with your friends and family!