Anyone who knows me in real life or follows me on twitter will have noticed me talking about something called airsoft an awful lot since the start of my time at uni. As many people in the UK don’t know about, and as many people on my facebook think I’ve joined a militia, I’ve been meaning to write a bit about this hobby. This series of articles will look through the various parts of the hobby, starting from a brief forward intro through an explanation of the guns and gear and onto the games themselves as well as a few extra things
The best way I’ve found to explain it is to compare it to the team building exercise of kings, Paintball. In a similar way to paintball, you take part in a number of team based games which require the use of military style tactics. However, as fun as paintball is it has its downsides. Ammo in paintball is expensive, it can be messy after a game and it requires you to wear some very restrictive clothing to have the required level of protection. It provides a glimpse into the world of military re-enactment but unfortunately its a world splattered with neon orange and pink paint.
Airsoft is a step up. Instead of firing paint, plastic BB’s are used as ammo. Immediately this means you don’t have to worry about stuff marking your clothes or ruining your play area. Its also quite a bit cheaper to buy 1000s balls of plastic than it is to buy 1000 paintballs. However, this change in ammo type also changes the gear players use.
Instead of the strange looking paintball markers, airsofters run around with what are known under UK law as Replica Imitation Firearms. It is actually how it sounds – airsoft guns are replica version of real world (or virtual/celluloid world) fire arms. Want an M4 like that one you saw on CoD4? Well done, M4s are the most popular gun and it will be a real easy to get the equipment together to make it be an exact copy of Captain Price’s (moustache not included). Want the grenade launcher that Eames dream bigger in Inception? You can buy it but its not the high explosive throwing device it normally is – think of it more as a giant shotgun.
Airsoft guns are split broadly into three categories – Electric, Spring and Gas.
By far the most popular amongst players and the type most newcomers will use first, electrics use a battery and a gearbox (see below) to propel BBs at varying speeds towards your target. Electric is most often used in assault rifles and SMGs like the ever popular M4s or the SWAT team MP5. These are normally known as AEGs or Automatic Electric Guns. However, there are also AEP or Auto Electric Pistols which shrink the system down to give you a sidearm. There are also AEGs which include blowback or shell ejection or even other features to make themselves even more realistic. However, these fancier systems make the guns mechanism even more complex and as such are not recommended to newbies. Also trying to pick up a load of ejected shells after a fire fight in deep woodland is not fun.
If you’ve ever picked up a cheap replica of an MP5 from some dodgy shop, there is a pretty high chance that its powered by the simple spring. However, springs are used in more than just crap guns – many of the better brands use springs in shotguns or launchers and many of the sniper rifles (or fagrods) use spring to get bbs to fly even further than electric. Its pretty hard to break a spring gun, but there is no way in hell that a springer can give you the same rate of fire as an electric. However, springers are among the most satisfying to use – pumping a spring shotgun before a firefight is a great way to make a dramatic point or to give you the shotgun feel.
Gas is perhaps the most dramatic of the mechanisms. Using a variety of gases, such as CO2 or Green Gas, these function closest to their real world counterparts. The kick may be less than the real steel, but firing a gas powered pistol, especially if it has blowback, looks and feels pretty god damn close to the real thing. Normally, most pistols are gas powered, but rifles and shotguns also use this method of power. Another common use of gas is in the various airsoft grenades be they hand thrown or grenade launcher fired. These throw out hundreds of BBs propelled by the gas making them lethal in enclosed spaces. Gas is fun but it is unreliable, acts poorly in winter and is another thing to keep in supply alongside your BBs.
As well as the guns, you also need magazines and clip to feed them with ammo when you’re blazing away on the field. For assault rifles and SMGs, these range in type.
At the low end you have low cap mags. Low caps have the exact number of rounds that their real world counterpart would have. For example, the standard mag for the M4 is 30 rounds and that is what a low cap would hold. For most sites, using these is idiotic and they are normally only used in mil-sim games by crazy dedicated players.
The standard mags you receive with most gun is the humble mid cap. These usually hold around 150 rounds and are what many people use. The inside is simply a spring that is forced down by you loading the BBs into the mag. These means nothing rattles around as you move across the field but limits your ammo capacity. They are also useful when you have to make sure that when you pull the trigger every round comes out without a break.
The upper limit of the mag capacity is shared between high caps and box/drum mags. High caps can be filled with a butt load of rounds (say 200+) but they require winding every so often to keep the BBs flowing. I primarily use this mag type though it does mean you can hear me a mile away. Of course, there come occasions where you have to kill everyone in a room and that when the drum mag comes in. These hold several thousand rounds and are normally wound by a motor that starts when it hears the gun firing. They can be a little temperamental but when you need an MG to spray the enemy base you learn to love them.
Gas weapons normally have special mag that include a reservoir you fill with gas in order to propel the rounds. This means their internals are a little more complex than the standard mag so I don’t recommend ripping them open.
You must have seen the SOPMOD image floating around online. No? Well here it is:
This is what many airsofters experience thanks to most guns coming covered in accessory rails designed to mount laser, lights, scopes and grenade launchers onto. Personally, I like slapping a sight onto my assault rifle with either a front grip or a light depending on the situation. Accessories allow you to make your gun yours, be it by functional tools or by being idiotic (yes, I do want four lasers on my assault rifle).
Accessories turn meetups with your airsofting bros (and girls) into what could pass as a fashion show with people talking about your choice of gear and admiring the collection of stuff you’ve bolted/taped/screwed onto your gun.
There is another reason that airsofters go into the fashion show mentality – their gear. And that’s the topic of tomorrow’s introduction into airsofting.
However, before I go, this is what I use when I’m running around various fields.
1. XM8: the big grey gun on the side is my XM8. Based off the G36, this was a prototype rifle the US Army was going to use to replace the M4 and M16. However, it never entered service. Which is a shame as it look striking. It currently has a 3x zoom scope that came with the gun and an underslung light/laser for corridor fighting. I’m looking to change the sight to a 1x zoom red dot scope and laser so I’m can more easily fight up close.
2. SPAS 12: Oh yes. The big black shotgun on the right is a new addition to the armoury that I shall be rocking rather soon. Its a spring shot gun that fires three BBs per shot and loads from 30 round shells. It looks amazing and is a laugh to pump. Oh and it has a light so I can blind people before I give them a tri-shot tattoo.
3. M9: Occasionally, you need to grab a sidearm when your main runs dry. My latest sidearm is a copy of the US Army’s pistol, that has a nice weight to it. The one I bought also includes a silencer (for lolz) and a taclight/laser to look cool. Fun for all the family!
I used to own a Glock 17 pistol I bought from a friend but I sold it due to it malfunctioning and eating gas like a mad thing. Luckily its gone to a new home.
See you tomorrow where I’ll talk about gear and the like – such as the swanky helmet and gas mask in the picture above.
Photo of the Airsoft Arsenal courtesy of Daniel Harrison