by B.B. Pelletier

This report was prompted by reader Rikib, who asked the following:

“If you find the time could you provide info about AirSoft guns, their purposes, uses, ranges of fps. Why would I want one if I have a pellet gun? Just wondering what an AirSoft gun is useful for I guess, other than training children to shoot safely. Do I have a use for one, they are relatively inexpensive.”

Well, I guess it’s time to go through the origins of airsoft again. I’ve done this before, but it’s been so many years and I don’t even remember where it is anymore, so this is a good opportunity to bring us up to date.

Rikib — You think airsoft guns are inexpensive? Well, the few you have seen may be, but how would you feel about paying $3,000 for an airsoft copy of the BAR? Because they do exist. How about $1,000 for an airsoft M60 machine gun (a crew-served weapon on a bipod) and another thousand for the accessories? A good friend of mine owns one, and guys who spend tens of thousands on full-auto crew-served weapons flock to his side when he gets it out at a shoot. Airsoft guns can be very expensive, as well as the guns you see here at Pyramyd Air. Perhaps, if you know the history of airsoft, you’ll understand what the guns are and why they exist.

A little history
Airsoft guns came into being in the Orient, where firearm and even pellet gun ownership is severely restricted. In fact, in several countries, a private individual cannot own a firearm of any kind. That doesn’t change the fact that a Japanese man can be just as attracted to firearms as an American, a Brit or a German. So, there’s always been a demand for firearms even though the possibilities of owning them in some countries are insurmountable.

Enter the airsoft gun. Back in the late 1970s, companies in the Orient started bringing several non-weapons to market to satisfy the itch many people have to hold and fondle firearms. So that these replica guns would do something, they were made to shoot 6mm balls at velocities low enough to be relatively safe. Hence, the term airsoft. In the beginning, it was copies of military ordnance, like that BAR and M60 I mentioned. As time passed, they began to develop other lower-cost models of civilian guns that would have a wider appeal.

As the 1980s dawned, the American company, Daisy, began importing several inexpensive models of airsoft guns into this country to sell to their customers. They changed the name to soft air, a misnomer that Crosman also copied when they entered the airsoft market. The realistic-looking guns frightened U.S. lawmakers. The best airsoft guns were nothing but genuine firearms whose internal mechanisms had been adapted to shoot 6mm round balls the Asians called BBs. They also called them bullets, and they often called them BB bullets.

The U.S. government was about to ban the importation and sale of airsoft guns for the U.S. when a California lawyer came up with a way of marking the guns to make them distinguishable from firearms. Their muzzles would either be colored a specific shade of blaze orange, or they would have transparent bodies that showed the internal parts. After several years of discussion, laws were framed and airsoft sales continued in the United States in the early 1990s by the thinnest of margins.

Back in the late 1970s, companies in the Orient started bringing several non-weapons to market to satisfy the itch many people have to hold and fondle firearms.

But it’s in Asia where the real innovation on the guns continued and flourished. The guns they built originally to satisfy gun collectors and enthusiasts were now being used in mock battles. Because the guns are much less powerful than even paintball markers, they gained popularity rapidly. They don’t hurt as much when they hit, and less protective gear can be worn.

The directions of airsoft
However, it’s at this point where the world of airsoft splits cleanly once more. Part of it remains with the collecting side, while the other part, the far larger part, goes toward gaming or mock battles. It’s the gamer or skirmisher who has driven the accuracy and shootability of the guns to where it is today. And, even that push has undergone another split in recent years, with skirmishers going in one direction, which is by far the largest group, and a very small and select group heading in the practical pistol shooting direction. The latter are the guys who pursue the sport of IPSC — with timers, timed silhouette targets and courses of fire that resemble the ones that the firearms crowd engage. While this is a very small group, they spend more money per capita on their guns than any other group of airsoft enthusiasts, other than collectors. It’s not unusual for these shooters to purchase a gun for $200 and spend another $1,000 on it to get it into full race-gun trim. Their guns can shoot groups well under one inch at 30 feet and are completely semiautomatic and entirely reliable.

They’re fun to watch, as they do everything a firearm IPSC competitor does except endure the noise and recoil of the gun. Their guns are lightning-fast, super-slick and always on the money when they’re adjusted properly.

Without a doubt, for the past 10 years, it’s been the gaming end of airsoft that’s grown and thrived the most. And, it’s this aspect that the casual public is most aware of. Using the same “Capture the Flag” scenario that paintball has embraced, teams of skirmishers armed with airsoft guns are maneuvering around on simulated battlefields trying to out-maneuver each other and accomplish their military goals. The guns they use are becoming increasingly more capable of supporting such operations. For example, a sniper “rifle” of today can be adjusted to land most of its shots inside a 12-inch circle at 50 yards, making it feasible to actually perform valid sniping roles on the battlefield.

Battle rifles, which are often based on the U.S. M16 and M4 variants, can be modified with steel gearboxes and other special performance parts to enable them to sustain operations under very realistic conditions for a long time. These guns are almost at the point where they can take the same rugged field conditions as genuine firearms. Indeed, there are a few select airsoft guns that are sold only to the military and are every bit as rugged and reliable as the firearms they copy. The larger commercial world of airsoft is rapidly approaching the same level of reliability and ruggedness.

At the high end of the gaming group, there are trademarked training simulations that travel all over the world and charge hundreds of dollars for the chance to be led and trained by battle-tested veterans with impressive military credentials. Airsoft teams are buying radios for their helmets, so their squads can have operational nets in the field, and even genuine military vehicles like 2.5-ton trucks to transport the squads to the training area. An individual might have to spend several thousand dollars to outfit himself for this kind of activity.

Law enforcement
Police departments are even using airsoft to replace Simunitions as a means of saving vast amounts of training funds, as well as reducing damage and injury in training by an order of magnitude. And, this interest is only in its infancy. As the equipment becomes more robust, the move to use it will increase because of the enormous savings it presents.

Without a doubt, for the past 10 years, it’s been the gaming end of airsoft that’s grown and thrived the most.

But what about the regular folks?
So that, Rikib, is a thumbnail overview of airsoft and where it is today. Now, to answer your specific question about how you can use it, I’m going to assume that you do not contemplate spending several thousand dollars on guns and equipment, nor are you looking to own a hard-to-acquire gun like a BAR, which would cost $30,000 as a firearm but only one-tenth that much as an airsoft replica gun.

Like most of our readers, you want to know if there’s something that is both cheap and fun to use. The answer is yes. For less than $25, you can buy a 1911A1 pistol that’s a repeater and has enough accuracy to hit a motel soap bar every time at 30 feet. If you can live with that level of enjoyment, then, yes, airsoft is for you. That kind of gun is the very cheapest reliable gun on the market. Look at the Tanfoglio Witness as one such gun.

The first thing you’ll notice when you fire this pistol is how far the airsoft BB flies without appearing to drop. As you shoot the gun, the ability to see the BB in flight helps you make sight corrections until you cannot miss any reasonable target within range. This type of gun uses the lightest airsoft BBs, weighing just 0.12 grams. They travel under 300 f.p.s. and are the best way to get to know airsoft, in my opinion.

The next step up would be a gun powered by gas. Green gas is the easiest to use, and will give you true semiautomatic operation as well as stunning accuracy. For about $90, look at the TSD M190 pistol, which is a Beretta 92FS. I’ve owned and used one for the past 5 years and it’s still running fine. Accuracy with 0.20-gram BBs is on the order of 1.5 inches at 30 feet, with a velocity of 330 f.p.s. on green gas. And, this gun has full blowback and a single-action trigger!

If long guns are your style, consider one of the very affordable sniper “rifles” (all airsoft guns are smoothbores), like the UTG Master Sniper that I tested for Shotgun News. I was able to keep over 90 percent of my shots on a silhouette target at 50 yards using 0.24-gram BBs with this authentic weapon. This gun comes out of the box shooting 460 f.p.s.; and, with a few aftermarket tweaks, it can easily top 500! That’s a lot of performance for only $105.

I’ve purposely avoided talking about the higher-priced guns, because I don’t think they’re the right place to enter the world of airsoft. You now understand that Pyramyd Air is selling the low- to mid-range airsoft guns. They do not stock the high-end or ultra-collectible guns because the market for them is too small and unpredictable. To get your feet wet, there isn’t a better place to begin than here. I would start with one of the lowest-priced pistols and advance only when I found the sport too compelling to ignore.

I used to write a lot more about airsoft. But, because Pyramyd Air has the No. 1 rated airsoft blog, I no longer have to. So, my advice — if you’re interested in pursing this further — is to check out the Pyramyd Airsoft Blog.