In ‘A Christmas Story’, Ralphie Parker wanted a Red Ryder carbine action rifle for Christmas.
His dreams of wanting to own a BB gun brings out the inner child in all of us, where we imagine ourselves as a heroic character of sorts in whatever fantasy scenarios we can dream up.
He never would have imagined that BB-slinging would evolve into a popular quasi-sport known as airsoft.
Airsoft is a hobby that originated from Japan in between the 1970s and the 1980s due to the country’s strict gun laws and a desire for recreational shooting.
Players simulate combat using realistic-looking guns that fire 6mm plastic pellets in controlled areas. Standard games typically revolve around team death matches: where players ‘die’ if they get hit anywhere on their body.
It is popular due to the fact the weapons themselves are constructed to look like real firearms, and I own several models myself.
Compared to paintball, airsoft is a good way for military, police, and government organizations can practice their team building, coordination, physical reflexes, shooting tactics, and so on. And to be frank, it’s pretty damned fun.
I had the privilege of playing airsoft in Japan for almost three of my seven years in the country. I often played in numerous fields that are situated in throughout the Kanagawa and Chiba Prefectures, as well as a few within the Tokyo metro area.
Airsoft is extremely popular throughout Japan, and people come regularly to play public games and other major events in the fields.
This article was written under the assumption that the reader (i.e. you) is new to airsoft and would like to know more about the guns themselves before purchasing them.
Airsoft Station has a guide for new players that give a better context into what airsoft is. It still leads to the question…
Different Types of Airsoft Guns | Beginners’ Guide to the Airsoft Galaxy
What type of airsoft guns are there?
Since airsoft guns come in different flavors like real guns, they are categorized based on the platforms they emulate: pistols, submachine guns, assault rifles, shotguns, machine guns, and sniper rifles.
In addition, they are split further into three general category types. The different types of airsoft guns are airsoft electric guns, gas blowback guns, and spring-powered guns.
The guns themselves range from $20 to as high as $1000. When you start out, expect to shell out at least $300 at the minimum, because you’re not buying only the gun, but BBs as well (which you’re going need extra when in the field anyway), along with different power/propellant sources (batteries or gas).
All airsoft guns that are manufactured and distributed in the States come with a federally mandated orange tip that is marked at the barrel end of each gun.
You can refer to Airsoft Station’s buyers’ guide or Airgun Depot’s beginner’s guide.
Airsoft Electric Gun (AEG)
AEGs are the most heavily utilized platforms in fields across the United States, Japan, and the world. They are airsoft guns that are powered by batteries.
The batteries in turn power the motors housed within the chassis of the guns themselves to activate the firing mechanism and propel the BBs out of the guns.
Since AEGs provide realism, including the ability to select between full auto and semi-auto, the AEGs also comes with a feature called a hop-up system.
Hop-ups are used to calibrate the range and accuracy of BB which is dependent on the BB’s weight grade. They’re needed in order to provide a level of consistency and keep your guns firing in a straight line.
They are popular due to the fact that they come in different varieties. M4s and AKs are the most commonly used platforms that I’ve seen in the time that I spent in the hobby in both Japan and here in the States. I’ve seen operators use other rifle types as well, such as HK416s, SCARs, Masadas, and MP5s.
Some of the popular AEG manufacturers that you can buy include G&G Armament, Tokyo Marui, Classic Army, Polarstar, Krytac, and Valken. Velocities that AEGs typically shoot at ranges between 300-400 FPS (feet per second) on average.
Gas guns typically come in pistol, rifle and shotgun forms. Gas blowback guns are popular due to the fact that they simulate the recoil of real firearms.
The GBBs are sourced by different gas propellants, in the form of green gas, red gas, propane, and HFC 134a (i.e. duster gas).
Depending on which gun you use, they can use one or multiple types of the available gas propellants.
There are also non-blowback (NBB) guns that are sold though I haven’t personally seen them utilized often. NBBs are ideal if you’re looking for a pistol but still in a money crunch.
As far as the propellants themselves go, green gas is the most popular. It’s the strongest propellent for GBB guns, especially in outdoor environments where the temperatures are cold which can bog down the performance of your gun.
Duster gas is sold in the form of computer duster cans and is slightly cheaper compared to green gas since they are advertised either by themselves or in bulk packages.
There is also high-powered air (HPA) guns that can be connected via an HPA tank or specially-modified HPA magazines.
HPA rifles are usually interfaced with the former via a direct feeding and are mounted in backpacks so that users will have access to usable air. The result is a gun that fires an extremely fast rate and can dish out a lot of pain.
Spring-powered guns come at last place of the available categories because they’re not seen that often except in rare instances where some fields will issue them to players for the sake of comedy.
They were the first guns introduced into the hobby, where in order to fire the shooter would have to pull the slide back the slide or charge the handle before firing every single time.
They’re the cheapest of the airsoft gun types available but not practical in intense firefights, and can be bought in places like Dick’s Sporting Goods or Walmart.
Since airsoft guns are modeled on real guns, as you delve further into the hobby you’re going to want upgrades. Mock silencers, flashlights to blind the enemy, and scopes if you don’t want to use iron sights to aim your weapons.
Springs are also another item, since you may not be happy with the amount of distance that your rifle is covering.
There are two different flavors of BBs, biodegradable and regular. Biodegradable BBs are the only type of BBs that are allowed specifically at outdoor fields due to their environmentally-friendly nature. Regular BBs can be used at indoor CQB fields but not in outdoor areas.
There are also glow-in-the-dark BBs that are used in conjunction with special tracer units that are used specifically in low-light areas.
When fired, they produce a useful lighting effect that helps to track your shots and give you an idea when you need to aim.
In addition, there is also stealth BB ammunition that can be used to prevent your enemy to see where you’re shooting from.
The BBs are divided further into specific weight grades: .20 grams, .23 grams, .25 grams, .28. grams, .30. grams.
The higher the number goes; the heavier the BB-grade is. I typically rely on .20 BBs for the purpose of hitting my targets as quickly as possible.
Heavier BBs move slightly slower due to the weight of the projectiles themselves, their saving grace being that they’re ideal for brushing past thick forms of cover like trees and other plant life.
Their heavier weight also compensates against weather conditions are not in your favor (even slight winds can brush .20s aside with ease). Wherever you play at, you need to be aware of the gun you’re using and its limitations.
You’ll want to consider getting a chest rig or plate carrier to carry some extra magazines with you when you’re out in the field. The hi-capacity magazines that come from the boxes of the AEGs are sold with are good for carrying a large number of rounds.
However, when winding them up and carrying them around in-field they are quite noisy and can give your position away if you’re not careful.
Ideally, as you play longer you’ll want to swap out hi-cap magazines with mid-cap magazines. When you further develop your shooting proficiency as you play, you will need to learn to rely on not always being able to use the full ammo count you have with you.
Airsoft Gun Reviews – What Airsoft Gun Should I Buy?
Airsoft guns are a fairly saturated market so there are plenty of guns for new players to choose from. Some of the reviews written below are weapons that can be bought without digging too deep into your wallet.
I have added a couple extra higher-tier to supplement the starter guns if you have money to burn and are looking for high-end guns to get an edge over the competition.
Keep in mind that these are just a handful of airsoft guns derived from Amazon. You can also find these products on other major online retailers such as Evike.com, redwolfairsoft.com, ehobbyasia and many others.
The products listed in the following paragraphs are by no means an exhaustive list and is just a sampling of the vast catalog of airsoft guns that are available on the market.
I would recommend looking for a brick-and-mortar retailer that is close nearby, browse whatever guns they have, and pick one that looks and feels right for you. Ask the staffer whatever questions you may have about the guns themselves.
They should have enough expertise for all the guns that are available in-store. If that doesn’t work out for you, you could always ask a friend or two that’s been playing the hobby for some time that can give you a frame of reference for your purchase.
By the end of the day, the airsoft guns you buy will ultimately boil down to a matter of preference and what style you’re aiming for.
If you’re unsure of what gun to choose from, you can read Airsoft Station’s guide on how to choose your first airsoft gun or Instructables.com’s guide.
What Airsoft Gun Should I Buy? Guide to Buying Your First Airsoft Gun
Best Airsoft Gun
Umarex Elite Force Competition MP5SD6
Umarex’s MP5SD6 is the only MP5SD AEG that is currently available from any American manufacturer. It’s based on the actual submachine gun of the same name manufactured by Heckler & Koch, used by special forces units such as the U.S. Navy SEALs or British SAS. Just like the real thing, the Elite Force MP5 features an integrated suppressor that runs along the length of the barrel which gives it a cool appearance.
- The MP5SD6 is a good beginner’s gun, usually priced around $155 so it doesn’t break the bank too hard.
- Good for CQB fights where you have to shoot within tight, enclosed spaces.
- Comes with two 200-round high capacity magazines out of the box.
- Good for beginner/intermediate players.
- Charging handle on the left side of the gun is for aesthetic purposes and can break if you slap it too hard.
- Lacks a handguard rail compared to M4 platforms that feature it.
- Needs miscellaneous parts to be about to add upgrades like scopes, flashlights or lasers.
Valken M4 ASL Series
Valken’s Accelerated Sportline M4s come in different configurations. As advertised, they are designed with durability and reliability in mind, making it a good starter rifle and has enough available real estate to add different external upgrades to them.
Each different configuration is priced between $145 – $165, making them good starter rifles regardless of whichever one you choose.
- Features polymer construction that gives it a nice feel in key areas of the gun, including the hand grip and receiver.
- Can add attachments easily such as a scope or foregrip attachment due to a rail extending through the length of the barrel, regardless of configuration.
- The ASL series of M4s have been retrofitted to be ambidextrous, meaning it can be used by shooters who are either right-handed or left-handed.
- While compatible with different midcap M4 mags, you’ll have to exert a little extra strength in order to lock them into the magazine well
- You’ll need the butterfly-type NiMH battery; are NOT compatible with this gun.
Umarex Elite Force 1911 Pistol Series
While not as sleek-looking like the Glocks or Hi-Capa-style pistols, Elite Force’s 1911 pistol series is a good entry pistol for people who are just starting at airsoft.
I spoke with a staffer at Ballahack Airsoft yesterday and he told me that if players want a gas blowback pistol, this would be a good first choice. 1911s are gas and cost-efficient.
For a starter gun, it fires quite smoothly and the feel of it is nice. The 1911s also give off a loud bang whenever you’re shooting at indoor fields.
- Affordable starter pistol priced at $120.
- Features blowback action for that nice, recoil feel when you shoot
- Has a 14mm negative threaded barrel that allows easy installation of tracer units that light up glow-in-the-dark Bbs or just regular mock suppressors.
- Lacks an additional spare magazine
- The same threaded barrel gives the pistol a less than ideal appearance
G&G Armament FN2000
The same weapon that serves as the base model for Sam Fisher’s SC-20K assault rifle in Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell, the FN2000 is an ambidextrous bullpup assault rifle.
Manufactured by Fabrique Nationale, the gun is a standard assault rifle used by the Swiss Army as part of the NATO military organization.
It is designed to be compatible with 5.56mm magazines utilized by the Americans, British and other NATO nations.
As such, G&G Armament’s rifle is a 1:1 replica of the same, where magazines used with the M4 and AR-15 airsoft platforms are compatible with this rifle. The FN2000 packs a bit of a punch, able to fire .20 BBs well over 400 FPS (mine fired between 425-450 FPS).
- Comes in two variants: one where there is a rail available to add scopes and a 1.5x scoped version that is integrated on the top of the rifle.
- Fires at over 400 FPS, a nice speed if you want to have your BB deliver that extra sting
- Boosts that cool-looking appearance.
- Not a cheap rifle (expect to shell over $360)
- Some mid-cap M4 magazines have problems feeding BBs into the rifle itself. The PTS 150-round midcap magazines compensate for that particular deficiency.
- The safe/semi/full-auto selector switch is a little stiff, making it hard to swap between the three on the fly.
Krytac M4 War Sport LVOA Series
The popular LVOA M4 series from the Krytac brand is another popular variant of the M4. I had a friend that’s part of a charter I used to play with back in Japan that modified his LVOA to interface with an HPA tank firing well past 400FPS (illegal in public games in Japan except for chartered games only).
The rifle is fairly weighty and not something that I would recommend as a beginner’s weapon, but if you want to purchase it, by all means, go for it.
- Sturdy metal construction.
- Comes in different varieties, all which give them an intimidating look when wielding them in-field.
- Regardless of whichever configuration is chosen, all can have attachments added to them.
- The hefty price tag (over $400). You should wait for a discount or sale before you buy the rifle.
- Some fields might not allow you to use the LVOA M4 since it typically runs over 400 FPS.
Best Practices In and Out of the Field
When playing airsoft, safety is paramount no matter where you are. I wrote up some general rules of conduct for you to keep in mind when carrying and handling your airsoft weapons. Not following any of them are grounds for the staff to kick you out of their field.
Treat every weapon as if it was loaded. Like their real-life counterparts, this rule remains true for airsoft guns as well.
- Never point at a target you do not intend to shoot.
- Keep your finger off the trigger until you are ready to fire – learn to exercise trigger discipline
- Keep your weapon on safe until you are ready to fire.
- Do not fire your airsoft weapon in safety areas, there are designated ranges to test and dry fire your gun.
- Keep your barrel bags on the end of your primary weapons at all times before you enter and after you leave the field.
- Do not blind fire your weapon. Even though it’s a viable tactic in real life, it is a safety issue in airsoft fields that can
- Full eye protection is required at all fields in order to prevent injury. It’s also not a good idea to wear mesh goggles out in the field due to the high FPS of U.S. airsoft guns.
- If a BB hits you anywhere your body, call it out.
The Airsoft Megastore has a player resource center to help give you guidance on how to be a better player.
In conclusion, airsoft is a great hobby if you’re looking to try it out. It’s good if you want to get yourself some light exercise, make new friends, relieve stress, or do some recreational shooting that’s a cheaper alternative option to paintball.
There’s a certain level of satisfaction when firing your gun while watching your BBs fly as the people you shot call their hits.
Have fun slinging BBs out in the field!