To many people, Airsoft is just a toy gun that annoying 12-year olds spray at each other with plastic pellets in the back yard. But to the military and creative survivalists, it’s a training tool that saves lives.
The Japanese invented Airsoft in the 1990s and militaries worldwide soon discovered that the inexpensive, safe Airsoft guns are a realistic method for training tactical movement, magazine change drills, building clearing, and much more.
What is Airsoft?
There are a myriad of different types and styles of Airsoft guns, but the common attractive feature is that they are modeled in size and appearance on real handguns, shotguns, battle rifles, and sniper rifles. While most are lightweight but sturdy ABS plastic, the higher end models use the same wood and metal construction and approximate the true weight and feel of their real-life counterparts.
Airsoft guns shoot 6mm hollow plastic pellets anywhere from 200 to 500 feet per second (FPS). This is fast enough to project a level shot for up to 40-50 yards, but slow enough with a very light projectile to avoid injury. Still, face and eye protection are a must.
The beauty of Airsoft training is that it’s easy to acquire used or new guns, no matter how remote your location. Craigslist, eBay, and sporting goods stores have a wide variety of Airsoft guns and accessories. If you have an AK-47 or AR-15 as your weapon platform, you can find any variety of Airsoft to closely match your bang gun’s configuration: tactical lights, scopes, and collapsible or folding stocks. Airsoft guns are made to function exactly as the weapon it’s modeled after; this means the magazine release, accessory rails, and fixed sights are exactly the same. In fact, many Airsoft components such as optics and handguards are interchangeable with their parent weapon.
Types of Airsoft Guns
Airsoft comes in many shooting styles – spring loaded, battery powered “automatic electric gun” (AEG), or gas blowback (GBB). Typically, spring guns are the least expensive, as they require the spring to be cocked back with each shot. This is fine for smaller children, as the velocity is quite slow, at 200 FPS or less and unlikely to cause damage at close range.
But for older children and adults, AEG or GBB are the ways to go. AEG has the advantage of a lower cost to shoot, as long as the battery holds out. Happily, battery chargers are inexpensive and readily available. The disadvantage is the lack of felt recoil, reducing realism.
GBB uses either the inexpensive hand-held propane canisters which charge the magazines, or the small CO2 cartridges you can get at any sporting goods or department store. Different GBB guns require different gas, and they are generally more expensive than AEG both for the weapon and cost to shoot. The advantages to GBB are that the gas systems work similar to real guns, working the bolt or slide, and simulating real action with each shot. This adds realism to firearms training, but without as much felt recoil as the real thing.
GBB is very effective for marksmanship training, especially with folks who have a difficult time or are intimidated by the report and recoil of real firearms. GBB Airsoft allows the trainee to feel the weight of the real weapon, and shoot in the comfort of their own home or back yard without the noise, recoil, or ammo expense. This is especially useful for handgun accuracy. A simple cardboard box with a target in front and curtain or rags at the back to catch and drop the pellets and you can practice any dry-fire exercise with real shots and not make a mess of your house. Just be sure to discard all spent ammo, as re-firing Airsoft pellets can damage your gun. Your child, spouse, and even you will be a deadeye shot before you know it.
How to Purchase
Now that you know the value of Airsoft, how do you go about acquiring the guns? Wal-Mart and many other sporting goods stores carry all varieties – from $29 el cheapos to $500 for tricked out, souped-up models. For training in firearm handling, familiarity, and drills, you don’t need the baddest, fastest thing out there that lets you spray pellets all over. You would never be doing that in a real-life situation anyway. You also don’t want the cheap plastic lightweight spring guns where the pellets drop out of the air after 30 feet. You want something in between, like the $125-to-$250 range if you buy brand new.
Our group decided to shop the models that were closest in weight and feel to whatever we would be carrying in the field. For most of us, that meant AK-47 and AR-15 rifles. Some prefer shotguns, so they looked for units modeled on Mossberg or Remington. Most of us are on limited budgets, so we looked on Craigslist and eBay, the two most prolific classified ad and auction sites on the internet. And we weren’t disappointed! Larger cities and environs have more used equipment to choose from, so if you find someone who is selling their guns, face masks, pellets, slings and assorted other gear all at once, that can be a great deal and worth the drive.
Horse trading for Airsoft can be a real hair-pulling experience. Remember that most sellers will be teenagers and very young adult males who need money for other interests. They will inadvertently give you wrong or incomplete information about the guns, unless you ask very specific questions and even guide them along. Many don’t know what make or model they have, even when serial or other identifying numbers are clearly marked on the side of the gun. Get this info before you make a drive to see it so you can estimate value and see user reviews on the internet. Just punch the numbers into an internet search and you will get more data than you can handle.
If you go anywhere but the seller’s home –meeting at a halfway point or a neutral location – be careful! These guns look absolutely real and gun haters and other uninformed rabbits may call the police on you. Nothing will happen to you since they’re perfectly legal and considered toys by many, but it could be inconvenient and embarrassing. All Airsoft guns are required to be equipped with a bright orange tip when sold brand new in order to identify them as Airsoft. Since many people paint or remove these tips, just be aware that since Airsoft guns look so real, to be discreet in a public setting – the same as you would be with any firearm.
Next is ammo, which typically is 6 millimeters in diameter. While many of the cheaper guns use the lightweight .12 gram pellets, they are so light that inaccuracy after a few yards becomes an issue. Also, in better guns with more power and higher FPS velocity, these fragile pellets can sometimes break into pieces inside the gun and damage or ruin it.
Your best bet is to select the heavier, more stable and accurate .20 gram and heavier pellets. The heavier they are (.25, .28 grams and more), the farther they will travel in a flat line, increasing realistic accuracy out to 40-50 yards or so. However, the advertised FPS ratings for Airsoft guns is almost always for the lighter .12 gram ammo. For example, a rifle rated at 375 FPS will likely get 330-350 FPS with .20 gram pellets and less with the heavier ones. While this is plenty of velocity for realistic training, you don’t want to go much below 325 FPS for open field or woods training. But for close quarters combat (CQB) training or home defense and building clearing practice, less FPS is better for safety.