To be proficient with your handgun skills, one needs to develop muscle memory. Muscle memory is what happens when you have trained your body to the point that a desired reaction is engrained and natural. For instance, when you tie your shoelaces, you do not even have to think about it as you have done these thousands of times in your lifetime. You can do it in the dark, without looking, and with different laces. When you take two ends of a shoelace in your hands, you can automatically tie a knot without concentrating on your actions. It is estimated that a minimum of performing an action the exact same way 200 times is needed to establish this muscle memory. Some estimates that involve fine motor skills place this number closer to 500.
Live fire handgun training, to be done safely, needs to be held at a dedicated range with proper berms and --at a minimum-- a range safety officer in attendance. Many ranges are outdoors which can cut training opportunities down in the winter, at night, and during rainy seasons. In addition, ammunition, targets, and miscellaneous range costs like range fees, staples, markers, transportation costs can add up.
While there is no true substitute for live-fire range time with your firearm, there is an affordable option for increasing your training opportunities and building up that crucial muscle memory. It is called airsoft.
-Sig P229R? Nope, it's a KJW (Kuan Ju Works) 1:1 scale gas powered blowback operated airsoft gun firing 6mm plastic pellets out to 90-feet that can be bought for about $99. With a 25-round magazine, ergonomically correct frame, working safety/decock, accurate sights, and metal construction, shooting it is reliable, accurate, and function training for P229 users.
- Glock 17? No, its a HFC (Ho Feng Corp) gas operated airsoft pistol that mimics one almost perfectly, down to the recoil for about $58.
Numerous models are designed to emulate actual popular firearms to a very close level of detail. These are full size and use the same actions to manipulate slide stops, hammers, triggers, safeties, magazine releases, and decocking levers. In gas-operated models, they even have realistic blowback action slides that mimic the cycling actions of the weapons they were modeled after. Often these more realistic designs are made with low-grade steel and aluminum, closely approximating the weight and feel as well as the manipulations needed to operate it.
Several companies such as BAM Airsoft http://www.bamairsoft.com/ openly advocate the use of airsoft training for USPSA competitors.
Here is a video from Bam showing a pair of USPSA competitors who set up a range in their two-car garage and can put in hours of practice under any weather without disturbing the neighbors.
The price of 6mm airsoft pellets at about $12 for 5000, and $9 worth of gas is good for about 3500-shots. This translates to each trigger pull being somewhere around $0.0048 cents a pop or about 200 shots per $1. You just cannot beat that for a bargain. Furthermore, airsoft can be a good introduction to new shooters to establish the basic fundamentals with an added level of safety before placing a live firearm in their hands.
When combined with safe live fire at your local range, an airsoft replica of your personal firearm can stretch and increase your training for just a few dollars more.