What is Airsoft? Getting into the Game

Looking for a way to get the kids off Call of Duty and outside? 

Paintballs are messy, NERF darts are annoying, and you may have your reservations about getting a membership to the local range and becoming a gun owner. But what about airsoft?

If you haven’t heard, airsoft is a competitive team shooting sport that pits players against each other in a tactical setting, allowing them to fire small plastic pellets at each other without causing injuries–much like paintball. Unlike paintball, however, airsoft pellets don’t mark players or make a mess.

Airsoft takes on a lot of different forms, from military simulation to target shooting!
Airsoft takes on a lot of different forms, from military simulation to target shooting!

We’re going to take a closer look at the history of airsoft, how airsoft guns work, and how airsoft is played.

Ready? Let’s go!

A (Very) Brief History of Airsoft

Airsoft originated in Japan in the early 1970s as a way to meet the needs of Japanese shooting enthusiasts while still obeying the country’s strict gun control laws. 

The name comes from the original trademarked name “soft air,” which was used because the compressed gas mix used for airsoft guns was significantly weaker than the CO2 cartridges used in BB and pellet guns that were in production.

A realistic M15A4 airsoft gun for milsim games.
A realistic M15A4 airsoft gun for milsim games.

Since then, airsoft guns and the sport itself have spread to the U.S. and the rest of the world, and have grown in popularity ever since. Today, airsoft technology is used for target shooting, for sport matches, in military and law enforcement training, for mil-sim events, and for historical reenacting.

How Airsoft Guns Work

Airsoft guns may appear to be very similar to BB rifles or pellet guns, but they’re not quite the same thing. The first difference is in the ammunition–airsoft uses 6mm plastic or resin BBs instead of lead BBs or pellets.

The BBs used for airsoft are less dense than those used for BB guns, which means they don’t penetrate as well (or at all), so they can safely be fired at other people without causing injury.

Well, without causing significant injury. BBs can cause eye injuries and leave welts, which is why it’s important to dress appropriately and always wear eye protection.

Airsoft and BB guns do have very similar actions, though there may be small differences. Both types of gun use either a piston to create air pressure or compressed gas to fire a projectile. Airsoft originally used a weaker gas, but it is possible to find carbon dioxide powered airsoft guns now.

The internals of an electric airsoft gun.
The internals of an electric airsoft gun.

Depending on the propulsion of your particular airsoft gun, you may use pressurized gas, a manually compressed spring, or an electrically compressed spring.

Your specific propulsion method will determine the way that your gun operates. Let’s take a look at some of the different propulsion types and how they work.

Gas-Powered Airsoft Guns

The traditional method of airsoft propulsion, a gas-powered gun will use a canister of compressed gas–either green gas, propane, carbon dioxide, or HFC-134a–to propel the BB down the barrel. When the trigger is pulled, the tank valve will open to release pressurized gas and fire the BB.

How a gas-powered airsoft pistol works

Gas-powered airsoft guns can be hyper-realistic and often are used to simulate a real firearm. They are commonly semiautomatic, meaning one BB is fired with every trigger pull, but the gun will cock itself to fire the next round as it cycles. These guns can be found in blowback and non-blowback actions.

A blowback action features a moving slide, much like a real gun. These models sacrifice a bit of performance for realism. While all gas-powered guns require maintenance and repairs, the moving parts of blowback guns make them harder to maintain and require more care.

Electric Spring-Powered

An Airsoft Electric Gun (AEG) is the most popular style of airsoft gun since they have high capacities, high rates of fire, and good accuracy. These guns use a battery-powered motor to turn gears, which draws the piston back on the spring. By drawing the piston back, tension is created in the spring. 

AEG operation gif
A gif showing hoe electric airsoft guns work

When the trigger is pulled, the spring is released. As it moves forward, it compresses air in the chamber and propels the BB down the barrel. 

AEGs are a bit more complex than other types of airsoft guns and require more maintenance to keep them in top shape. An airsoft technician can perform necessary repairs and adjustments.

Manual Action Spring-Powered Guns

Similar to AEGs, manual action spring-powered airsoft guns (springers) use a spring to compress air in the chamber and fire the round. Unlike electric models, though, springers must be manually cocked for every single round fired. 

Springer Airsoft Diagram
Diagram showing how bolt-action airsoft sniper rifles operate

The shooter will need to work the gun’s action to compress the spring before firing, which means that these guns cannot be automatic or semiautomatic. It’s a common design for sniper rifles, however, since it’s an extremely reliable system and provides a realistic bolt action experience.

These guns require the least maintenance of all and are very common to find in many sporting goods stores.

How Do You Play Airsoft?

Airsoft refers both to the technology used to create airsoft guns and the sport itself. We’re going to talk a little bit about some of the many ways airsoft can be played.

The main premise of an airsoft game is to eliminate other players by shooting them with a BB. Many airsoft game types are similar to matches you might see in a first-person shooter video game, like Call of Duty. 

Types of Airsoft Games

  • Team Deathmatch: Players are eliminated when they’ve been struck by a BB. The first team to have all player eliminated loses the match.
  • Capture the Flag: Enter the enemy base, capture an objective, and return to your own base without being eliminated.
  • King of the Hill: Take control of a neutral area and hold it for longer than the opposing team holds it.
  • Bomb Assault: Deliver a fake “bomb” or another prop to the enemy base without being eliminated.
  • Fortress: Defend your base from enemy players without being eliminated.
  • Close Quarter Combat: An indoor version of other games, commonly played in a house or an indoor arena to simulate CQB scenarios.

There are many other types of airsoft games, but those are some of the common ones you may see. Team Deathmatch is a very popular style of airsoft, since it works well in large groups and doesn’t always require the use of bases.

What Are the Rules of Airsoft?

Every field or site will have its own specific rules, but there are some basic safety rules that should always be observed. Airsoft guns may not fire real bullets, but it is possible that they can still cause injury, especially to eyes and faces. Treat airsoft guns like real guns and follow these rules:

  • Always wear full-seal eye protection when playing or around an arena. Stray BBs do happen.
  • Always point your gun in a safe direction, such as at the ground (not your foot), and your finger off the trigger until ready to fire.
  • Don’t make face or head shots on purpose.
  • Always stay within the bounds of play and don’t create unfair hiding advantages, such as climbing a tree.
  • Don’t shoot players within 10 feet of you. They can either surrender, you can move away, or you can verbally tell them you’ve tagged them.
  • If you’ve been hit, raise your hand and remove yourself from the game (or follow whatever rules have been established for players who have been eliminated).
Being safe and having fun is more important than winning–we promise.

In Closing…

Airsoft is a fun sport with thousands of players ranging in skill from beginners to casual players and even professionals. There’s a lot of variety in airsoft, so you’ll be able to try different styles of play, types of airsoft guns, and more.

Interested in learning more about airsoft? Let us know what topics you’d like us to write about. Don’t forget to like Orange Tip Tactical on Facebook!

Milo Harrison

Milo's a desert rat by birth and grew up in the shadow of Nellis AFB. He first discovered paintball in high school, but quickly switched to the world of airsoft when he found out how much less it stung. He still loves a pickup game in the backyard, but these days, you'll usually find him at airsoft LARP events.

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