SO MUCH MORE THAN PLASTIC BB’S
The days airsoft guns were considered as cheap toys are long gone. The business of adult airsoft guns is prospering, together with the manufacturers and retailers who take this market niche seriously.
The growth of airsoft around the world is evident not only from the success of specialist manufacturers but also the willingness of other gun and accessory companies to add the concept to their production lines and/or license their designs and brands. Initially developed in Japan and Hong Kong when real firearms were generally banned for civilian ownership decades ago, airsoft replicas, using plastic BBs or similar, established themselves globally.
A term frequently heard in the airsoft world is MilSim, an abbreviation of Military Simulation. The idea is to engage in military or law enforcement style combat using airsoft guns and gear that are preferably as realistic as possible. Which is why you see so many devastatingly authentic looking airsoft replica guns on the market today. Some engage in historical reenactment by replaying scenes of historic combats while others prefer to make up their own scenarios. These involve tactical ‘skirmish’ and combat situations, where teams are set basic objectives to be met, with the other team trying to prevent them. Capturing the other teams flag for example is a basic scenario. Not surprisingly military combat tactics are a great source for inspiration for airsoft players. Airsoft teams are set up with team leaders, riflemen, snipers, grenadiers… These various team members all require different tactics as well as different gear.
With the current full-scale replicas featuring the correct weight and handling characteristics of ‘real’ firearms, it is hardly surprising law enforcement and military units are using airsoft guns for their training purposes. Choosing airsoft guns for certain basic training drills is an economically viable choice since expensive firearms and ammunition are less needed. Since airsoft guns are not lethal, safety is another added bonus of using airsoft guns for training purposes.
INS AND OUTS
The main thing distinguishing an airsoft gun from an airgun is the relatively low power the former has. Using light BB pellets (usually weighing around 0.20g) typically means just one to two joules of energy. Other guns do fire steel BB’s but, obviously, these are designed for target practice rather than skirmishes. There is a great variety of airsoft guns with diverse operating systems on the market. In its most basic form, the airsoft gun shoots a single plastic BB pellet propelled by simple spring energy. Others have larger springs and produce more power, like airsoft sniper rifles. Then there is gas power, which can employ various types like freon or butane, while some, usually more powerful models, rely on CO2 power. All gas types can also be supplied in more realistic mode, where the slide of the rifle or pistol actually ‘blows back’ to replicate the recoil of a real firearm. Others use electric motors to cycle their actions and propel the pellets, some in semi-automatic mode and others fully automatic.
Non-blowback guns are of a basic type that looks quite realistic but is mostly not particularly ‘authentic’ in appearance. They may be spring or gas operated yet the slide remains fixed, not moving rearward to simulate recoil. These are usually less expensive to produce and buy. As the lack of a recoiling slide can aid accuracy the better NBB’s can be more accurate than similar guns with a more sophisticated operating system.
Gas blowback guns are generally better-made models that look extremely authentic. Some are licensed by the makers of the actual firearms they replicate. Popular with skirmishers and collectors alike, they also feel realistic to use: the slide is forced back by a proportion of the gas used to propel the plastic BB pellets and in doing so adds the effect of recoil for extra realism.
Battery-fed AEG’s (Automatic Electronic Guns) are capable of sustained fire (where permitted) with complex electric motors and gearboxes to operate the mechanism and feed pellets from the high-capacity magazines.
If AEG’s play a big role, their power supply plays an equally important role. This supply comes in the form of batteries that are plugged in and hidden in a compartment of the airsoft gun, for example a hollow stock or forend. Which is why they come in several sizes and configurations. Their voltage can differ as well. Most standard batteries have a voltage of 8.4V. Higher voltage batteries such as 9.6V are suited when a higher rate of fire is desired. Batteries with a voltage of over 9.6V are only suited for AEG’s with an advanced setup that need extra power. It’s important to ascertain the voltage a specific AEG can handle before you go buying and plugging in new batteries. Next to size and voltage, the type of batteries varies too, ranging from Ni-MH (Nickel-Metal Hydride) to Ni-Cad (Nickel-Cadmium) and LiPo (Lithium Polymer). These are all rechargeable but differ in capacity, charge/discharge rate, weight and price.
Outsiders might be surprised to know there’s more to airsoft ammunition than plain plastic BB’s. Quality BB’s made perfectly round, smooth and uniform in size and weight is what the airsoft aficionado is looking for. These BB’s come in different weights. Ranging from 0.12g to 0.30g+, all BB weights have their specific properties and are suited for specific airsoft guns. The lightest weight BB’s, 0.12g, are perfectly suited for spring powered airsoft guns. They are less accurate than heavier BB’s yet tend to travel further. Standard weight BB’s, 0.2g and 0.23g are the universal go to weight for AEG’s and powerful spring sniper rifles shooting with a velocity between 300 and 370 feet per second. They offer great accuracy, tight grouping. Heavier BB’s of 0.25g, 0.28g and even 0.30g+ are suited for more powerful airsoft guns shooting with a velocity between 370 and 500 feet per second. Due to the increased weight, these BB’s are highly accurate. As we’re all more and more environmentally conscious, it’s great to know some BB’s are environmentally friendly and completely biodegradable.
Although airsoft guns are not lethal as firearms are, one definitely needs eye and face protection. Shooting glasses or goggles are the simplest form of eye protection. It’s recommended to use these with half masks to protect the lower part of your face as well. Full face masks are the safest option out there. These cover the entire face and even the ears. As with goggles, masks come with mesh or lenses. Lenses offer the ultimate in protection, yet they can fog up. Mesh doesn’t fog up but tiny fragments, dust… can still pass through. Further head protection is offered by tactical helmets in all shapes, sizes and colours. Many include rails or velcro to attach accessories like lamps, cameras… Knee and elbow protection can be useful as well, as are tactical gloves to protect your palms and knuckles.
AIRSOFT AROUND THE WORLD
It is vitally important to check your country’s airsoft regulations as laws governing this market niche vary widely from country to country. You would not want to fall foul of the law or, equally importantly, miss out on sales. From outright bans to tight controls and requirements to join clubs before you can even buy the appropriate hardware to full-blown allowance are all evident, depending on where in the world you are. Age restrictions apply in many countries and, as mentioned earlier, in many cases, membership of a registered airsoft skirmishing club is required before purchase. Whatever the case however, airsoft is an expanding market the gun trade needs to take a serious look at.