I get a lot of questions about different dry fire practice systems and aids quite often. On one hand, I haven’t tried them all. On the other hand, the first thought that enters my head that I’m tempted to respond with is that systems and aids are unnecessary – that is to say that all one really needs to dry fire effectively is their firearm and a shot timer. That said, I keep finding benefits to each and every dry fire system and training aids that I’ve tried. Granted I haven’t tried them all, but that’s neither here nor there. This post, however, is my initial take on the latest dry fire aid I’ve tried, which is the CoolFire Trainer.
I’m going to lead with the disclaimer. I am affiliated with and have a financial relationship with CoolFire Trainer. That means that I receive a small percentage of sales that occur after someone uses a link to the CoolFire Trainer website from this blog at no additional cost to the purchaser. However, I purchased the CoolFire Trainer I have been using for my own personal practice which is the experience that I’m using for the basis of this post. I did take advantage of a special discount, which I will talk a little more about later, that is available to all firearms instructors to save a little money, but CoolFire Trainer, the company, did not provide the system to me free of charge. Additionally, they didn’t request this review, nor am I receiving any compensation for it.
What exactly is a CoolFire Trainer? For starters, it’s a bit of an ambiguous term, at least in my opinion, because CoolFire Trainer is a company that produces CoolFire Trainer products. The products are a set of components (a trainer barrel, recoil spring or assembly, parts, and accessories) that are made for a specific pistol that when installed convert the pistol into a CO2 powered dry fire training tool which simulates recoil by cycling the slide and therefore resetting the trigger. Thus allowing one to run multi-shot drills safely in dry fire practice sessions. In many ways, I kind of see this as the missing link for dry fire because it allows us to work on recoil management abilities which is something that cannot be done with traditional dry fire practice. Frankly, being able to work on recoil management in dry practice with the actual gun I use in competitions or carry regularly for defensive purposes is exactly what motivated me to purchase their products.
A trainer barrel unit, which includes the corresponding recoil spring or assembly, runs $315. However, if you don’t already have a CO2 fill device and a CO2 tank, then one is really looking at a cost between $400 and $405, depending on options, for the whole enchilada. That really is just the starting point because one can add lasers, repair components, tap rack training aids, and other items. I went with a trainer barrel for the CZ Shadow 2 with a Soda Maker CO2 fill device and tank plus a few extra striker tips since I figured I would likely be putting in some serious trigger time with it if I ended up liking it. All in, I was looking at $415 before the special firearms instructor discount. Here is was included with the kit:
- A cardboard box with installation, fill, and usage instructions printed on the inside of the box,
- A nylon carry pouch,
- A pair of Rogers Shooting School Tap Rack Training aids,
- A pair of spare striker tips,
- A pair of spare black seals for the Soda Maker fill device,
- A spare grommet for the Soda Maker fill device,
- An Allen wrench,
- A CZ Shadow 2 trainer barrel,
- A CZ Shadow 2 recoil spring for use with the trainer barrel,
- A Soda Maker CO2 fill device,
- A 14oz pre-filled Soda Maker CO2 tank,
- And a customer service contact card with the model and serial number of the trainer barrel written on it.
The system works by swapping out the barrel and recoil system components of the pistol with those provided in the CoolFire Trainer kit. What that swap entails varies a little bit depending on the specific gun model but the concept is universal. Once that is done, we take the CO2 tank with the appropriate fill device attached and we fill the trainer barrel with CO2 by turning the tank upside down and pressing the fill device into the front of the trainer barrel. Once that is done we are good to with about two standard magazines worth of dry fire trigger presses with a reciprocating slide.
The mechanics behind how the system works is fascinating in my opinion. The trainer barrel is a pressurized CO2 tank with a one way fill valve located at the muzzle. The pistol’s firing pin (or striker) impacts the polymer striker tip on the trainer barrel which appears to break the seal of the pressurized CO2 contained in the trainer barrel. The release of pressure drives a piston in the trainer barrel back against the breech face of the slide which drives the slide back in a similar fashion to how the pressure from a detonated cartridge drives the case of the spent cartridge back into the breech face. The recoil spring is compressed in that process and returns the slide to its battery position as the recoil spring springs back to its uncompressed state. The forward motion of the slide also drives the striker and pistol of the trainer barrel back into the trainer barrel where it is ready to start the process again.
The red colored portion of the trainer barrel is visible when it is installed in the pistol and functions as visible confirmation that the pistol is unable to chamber and fire a cartridge. The reason the pistol is unable to do that is due to the fact that the trainer barrel doesn’t have a chamber and is missing a feed ramp. This makes it physically impossible to strip a round from an inserted magazine and detonate it. All of these features are important for safe dry fire practice.
In my opinion, the simulated recoil from the reciprocating slide doesn’t feel exactly the same as the recoil from live fire, but it’s close. I say this because the feeling from the slide returning feels a little harder with the CoolFire Trainer than it does when I’m shooting the Shadow 2. It’s hard to explain, but the feeling is similar to dropping the slide on an empty chamber which is generally frowned upon, especially on 1911 and 2011 style pistols. To be honest, I don’t know how much of the old “don’t drop the slide on an empty chamber” adage still holds true with the advent of modern metallurgy and precision manufacturing methods. Still, it gives me pause as I could be accelerating wear and tear on the pistol. At this point, I see no evidence of that, but I will continue to keep a very watchful eye on it and report on it if and when I find evidence or experience a breakage.
Even though I notice a difference in the simulated recoil, I continue to believe that adding simulated recoil to my dry fire practice is valuable. The main reason for this is that it prevents one from getting lazy with their grip which is a thing folks do often enough when they begin incorporating dry fire into their practice regularly.
Another benefit is the fact that one can now practice common drills with simulated recoil while having a real trigger press with each shot of the drill. This might not seem like a big deal, but I think it is. For example, working Bill drills in dry fire practice without the CoolFire Trainer using a striker fired pistol, then one will get a realistic draw and first shot followed by five squishy trigger presses all without any recoil. Aside from the differences in visual input and slide movement, the five squishy trigger presses will likely require smaller amounts of pressure to press the trigger back. That’s a bigger difference than when using the CoolFire Trainer where one will experience more realistic visual input, slide movement, and trigger presses. Using a double-action/single-action pistol, which results in six double-action trigger presses as opposed to the one double-action trigger press followed by five single-action trigger presses with the CoolFire Trainer which is much more realistic.
The CoolFire Trainer is, once again in my opinion, a great option for introducing somebody to recoil without using live ammo. Not only is this safer, but it is significantly less scary for somebody who is brand new and is carrying a fear of firearms with them. This makes the CoolFire Trainer something that I think instructors should consider having in their tool kits. Which brings me to the special discounts, the company offers special discounts for Military, First Responders, and Teachers (firearms instructors fall under the teacher category). It does require following a verification process to receive a one-time use discount code which can be repeated to get a new code for a future purchase.
Is the investment in a CoolFire Trainer worth it? That’s a question that everyone will have to answer for themselves. I still stand by the notion that dry fire by itself with your firearm and a shot timer is sufficient to develop high levels of proficiency. As such, this dry fire aid is not necessary. At the same time, I do see value in it. I, for one, will continue to use it and combine it with the Mantis X in dry fire practice until I see evidence that it yields excessive wear and tear on the pistol I am using it on. As an instructor, I’m making it a part of my tool kit until something better comes along that simulates recoil without using live ammo that I can use to introduce folks to recoil and use it with a gun that is dedicated for instructional applications.