INTRODUCTION TO AIRSOFT EQUIPMENT
Now that you know exactly why you want to use airsoft guns as a supplement to your firearms training, it’s time to start talking about how to do so. This is the focus for the remainder of this course.
In this chapter, we’ll continue our final point from the end of Chapter One: that airsoft guns aren’t merely toys.
To be fair, the cheap ones aren’t ever going to be anything other than a toy. But the type of airsoft guns and related equipment you’ll be using are far more sophisticated than that. You can still teach your kid how to shoot using one, but I wouldn’t put one in their hands as a toy. That’s what the cheap stuff is for.
Moving on, while airsoft equipment is cheaper than real firearm equipment, it’s still going to involve some starting and running costs.
Some of these costs were already mentioned – pellets and gas canisters. We also gave some brief attention to shipping (if you’re ordering online; gas and parking fees if you’re visiting a brick-and-mortar store).
But the most important piece of equipment hasn’t been touched on yet: your airsoft gun.
THE THREE TYPES OF AIRSOFT GUNS
Speaking in general terms, there are three basic types of airsoft guns you can choose from, and each have their own pros and cons.
Usually, we might say the type of airsoft gun you choose depends on your intended use. But considering the point of this course is to show you how you can use airsoft guns to supplement your firearms training, it’s pretty clear one of these variants is superior to the others.
However, that isn’t an excuse for glossing over the other two types.
While it’s unlikely you’ll use either of them, there’s still a slim possibility you might want to anyway. And giving you a quick overview of all three types will help you better understand why we recommend the third type specifically.
Spring action airsoft guns are easily the most accessible variant on the market. Not only are they easy to find, but they also tend to be incredibly cheap.
In fact, you can find many of them in the toy section of most stores for as little as $4. Even the most expensive spring action airsoft gun isn’t likely to come with a price tag of more than $100 – if even as high as that.
However, this kind of accessibility comes at a heavy price of a different kind.
There’s a reason spring action airsoft guns are found among children’s toys: they are children’s toys. And when it comes to using airsoft guns to supplement your firearms training, the spring action variant is a little more than useless.
They’re cheaply made and aren’t going to feel anything like holding a real gun. To be fair, there’s an intangible yet fundamental difference to holding a real firearm and even the best airsoft replica, but that difference is entirely palpable with spring action ones.
That alone makes them unsuitable as a supplementary firearms training tool.
However, the one advantage to spring action airsoft guns that outweighs the considerable disadvantages is they’re incredibly easy to use.
All you need to do is pull the spring into place (it’ll make an audible click), take aim, and squeeze the trigger. The spring will be released and propel your pellet.
But this ease of use is exactly what makes them little more than a toy.
And as a result of the rudimentary firing system, the firing rate is far too slow to be of any real use when it comes to training. You need to stop and pull the spring back, cocking it into place, before every single shot.
While you could be generous and consider a spring action airsoft gun an entry-level tool, we’d argue that’s being too generous. If you’re serious about improving your gun skills, leave the spring action airsoft guns to the kids playing Cops and Robbers.
AUTOMATIC ELECTRIC GUNS (AEGS)
Even though it’s the second type of airsoft gun, automatic electric guns (AEGs) are several steps up in terms of sophistication and practical use.
AEGs are a far more compatible option. Instead of a rudimentary spring action that needs to be engaged between shots, AEGs use a rechargeable battery to provide firing power.
This battery powers the airsoft gun’s motor mechanism, which in turn triggers a series of gears that release its piston. The piston acts as a firing pin and its momentum, the way primer does in a real gun, propelling the pellet or BB.
This results in a high velocity and firing rate that isn’t interrupted by needing to reset the firing mechanisms before every shot. In fact, it’s this exact reason that makes AEGs the most popular option for most airsoft games and mock-battles.
Even more, AEGs tend to be the airsoft gun of choice for the law enforcement and military recruit training we talked about in Chapter One. A big part of this is the fact high-end AEG models are made to be almost exact replicas of the real thing – including feel.
However, while AEGs are a very suitable choice of airsoft weaponry for supplementing your live fire training, they still aren’t the best. The biggest issue with AEGs is the trigger pull.
With a real gun, you get a “wall effect” when pulling the trigger. AEGs don’t have that same kind of “break,” which can cause problems when transitioning back to your firearm. And if you’re also practicing dry-firing, then this lack can potentially cause you to regress on your trigger control, albeit only slightly.
Nevertheless, AEGs make a great entry-level tool for using airsoft guns to supplement your firearms training. If you properly compensate for the lack of trigger control, you could possibly go all the way with one of the high-end models.
GAS-PROPELLED AIRSOFT GUNS
By far the best choice is to use a gas-propelled airsoft gun.
As the name states, these rely on a small gas canister to provide the propellant. These are typically housed in the magazine chamber (at least, that’s the case for handgun models).
So even though you’ll be reloading during your airsoft training sessions, you won’t necessarily be doing so in the same way you would with your real firearm.
This is pretty much the only disadvantage gas airsoft guns have, at least in terms of building muscle memory. And it’s exactly why airsoft training is only meant to be supplementary, not replace actual training or even dry-firing.
Another disadvantage is those tiny gas canisters become fairly expensive to replace, especially as you might find yourself using one or more every session.
However, this also depends on the type of gas you’re using – something we’ll cover in the next section. And even shooting huge quantities, with multiple sessions a week and using the most expensive gas, is still a lot cheaper than live firing.
Moving on to better topics, the biggest advantage gas airsoft guns have over the spring action and AEG variants is realism.
Replica models are near-perfect cones of the real thing. This depends on the quality, of course, which pushes the price up. But they’re still a lot cheaper than a real firearm and can often be easier to get your hands on.
When using a high-quality gas airsoft gun, the difference is mostly going to come down to blow-back. However, not all models have the blow-back feature, and those that do are more expensive – but again, it’s worth the extra cost.
The blow-back feature comes as close to replicating recoil as you can expect from anything that isn’t a real gun.
Gas airsoft guns are still easier to fire than the real thing, of course. But aside from that (and the reloading and recoil issues), they can be hyper-realistic – to the point where most jurisdictions made it mandatory to add a noticeably orange tip to the barrel to differentiate between a gas airsoft gun and a real firearm.
If you’ve been a gun owner for some time already, you likely have a few accessories for your preferred firearm. As another major benefit, most (if not all) of those accessories can be used with your gas airsoft gun replica.
All told, even if you’re an absolute beginner and haven’t purchased your first handgun yet, we recommend spending some extra cash to get yourself a gas airsoft gun rather than either of the alternatives. Not only can this make your final decision a lot easier, but it will also provide a reliable (albeit still rudimentary) self-defense weapon.
If you decide to start with a high-end AEG, then this section won’t be immediately applicable.
However, we don’t recommend skipping over it. If you’re serious about improving your firearm skills with airsoft training, you’ll be upgrading to a gas model sooner or later. It’s worth having this knowledge in mind in advance, even if you still need to refer back to it when you do upgrade.
As with airsoft gun types, airsoft gas comes in three basic variants. One of them is a cheap, “unofficial” workaround, while the other two are more conventional. All three are worth considering.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) gas canisters are probably the most commonly used option for airsoft guns. This isn’t necessarily because it works better than the other variants – just that it’s 14 the most convenient and accessible, as a general rule.
There are a few caveats to that accessibility, however.
First, depending on the airsoft gun model you’re using (and, to a lesser extent, its manufacturer), CO2 cartridges typically only last between 50 and 100 shots. This means you could easily end up needing to “reload” at least twice per airsoft training session.
Second, unless you know how to refill the gas cartridges safely yourself, you’ll need to order full ones online or purchase them from a specialty trader. This is a little more expensive than the “unofficial” workaround we’ll be covering last, but still makes CO2 the most accessible option.
Additionally, there’s another small workaround worth mentioning.
Empty, reusable CO2 airsoft gas cartridges are found online for relatively cheap. So if you do know how to refill them properly, you could simply buy a large canister of CO2 and keep yourself stocked up.
As long as you have the proper equipment for refilling the cartridges, all you need to worry about is remembering to get your big canister topped up from time to time.
This also makes CO2 slightly cheaper than it would be relying on full canisters. Unfortunately, there’s no viable workaround for the limited number of shots you get.
While the most expensive option per canister, green gas is a firm favorite among airsoft enthusiasts. It’s also going to be the best choice for you when using airsoft guns to supplement your firearms training.
The basic reason for this is, even though a canister of green gas can cost between 10 and 15 times more than the same amount of CO2, it’ll also last you between 15 and 20 times longer. Whereas the typical CO2 cartridge is only good for 50 to 100 shots, a green gas cartridge can see you through 1,500 to 2,000 shots.
Once again, however, this depends on the make and model of the airsoft gun you’re using. This is largely due to magazine capacity (in the case of airsoft guns, how big a canister of gas you need to use), but also how easy it is to insert the cartridge.
Some of the cheaper models especially can be a little tricky and you’ll lose some gas while reloading. This will generally be a negligible amount, however, especially as you get more adept at it.
PROPANE AND SILICONE OIL
The third (and final) option we’ll introduce can be a dirt-cheap alternative to CO2 and Green Gas. It’s also the “unofficial” workaround we mentioned.
What you’re basically doing here is making your own Green Gas, albeit in a round-about fashion. You see, what we didn’t explain in the previous subsection is that Green Gas is simply propane mixed with silicone.
The silicone serves a couple purposes, the most immediately noticeable of which is the removal of the propane smell.
However, the more important reason for the silicone’s presence is to act as a lubricant. Propane is a dry gas, so you can put your airsoft gun under a surprising amount of stress if you don’t use the silicone oil after every session.
More to the point, there are a few advantages to the propane and silicone option.
First, as mentioned, it can be dirt-cheap. As with refilling CO2 cartridges yourself, all you need is a large canister of propane and a collection of empty airsoft gas cartridges. Depending on where you live, propane is often cheaper than CO2 and the cost of silicone oil won’t off-set that advantage by much.
Second, the need to lubricate your airsoft gun after every session can serve as good practice for lubricating your real firearm. You won’t need to do so nearly as often as you will with your airsoft gun – in fact, you’ll want to use only the smallest possible amount of lubricant on your firearms in winter.
But it can still be an invaluable lesson in how to correctly apply lube. Even though a good quality gas airsoft gun is fairly pricey, it’s nowhere near as expensive to replace as a real firearm would be.
There are two basic types of ammunition you can use with airsoft guns: BBs and pellets.
To be frank, neither have any practical advantage over the other, provided you’re only using high-quality ammunition. With that said, BBs are going to be a slightly safer option, in terms of how much damage they’ll do if you accidentally shoot someone.
For the most part, airsoft guns are rigged to use 6mm plastic BBs. This is a great option to use, as they’re well and truly dirt-cheap.
Whereas the hollow-point hunting pellets we used for our cost calculations in Chapter One cost a little less than $5 per tin of 250 pellets (the cheapest we could find on Amazon), a bag of 5,000 6mm competition-grade plastic BBs can cost as little as $16 (as of March 2020).
While that’s a little over thrice the cost of the hollow-point hunting pellets, it’s also 20 times as much ammunition.
It’s possible to find BBs for cheaper than that, but you’ll want to stick to using those marked for professional airsoft sports use or as being competition-grade. While you might save a couple of bucks opting for the cheap stuff, it could end up costing you your airsoft gun.
This is because cheap BBs typically have seams, bubbles, dimples, and/or rough edges.
While fine for handing to your kid to play with when using their cheap spring action airsoft gun, they’re wholly unsuitable for your use in supplementing your firearms training. These BBs have a higher-than-usual tendency to crack and/or burst during fire.
If that happens, they can (and most likely will) damage the inside of your airsoft gun. It might not be noticeable at first, but it will quickly become detrimental to your airsoft training.
And when an accident eventually occurs, those rough edges, seams, bubbles, and dimples can make the impact more painful – especially if the BB is cracked and bursts on impact.
Imagine getting hit with tiny fragments of very sharp shrapnel at a high velocity. Then do the right thing and get high-quality BBs instead.
However, you might be forced to use metal pellets – if not the hollow-point hunting variety (which are great for self-defense too, by the way), then the ball-type. It all hinges on the make and model of your airsoft gun.
Be very sure to read the fine print for your airsoft gun before purchasing ammunition. While some models allow for multiple types of ammunition (making for great versatility), others can only be used with BBs or pellets, not both.
If you already have a real firearm, then you should also have all the necessary safety equipment. But if you’re planning on using a high-quality airsoft gun as an introductory foray into the world of gun ownership and usage, you’ll need to get a few items.
Even though airsoft guns don’t make nearly as much noise as discharging a real gun does, you’ll still want to get some ear protection.
Not only will this save you the bother of needing to do so anyway when you later purchase your first firearm, but it will also help you get used to wearing them. Once again, it’s all about building muscle memory.
Plus, if you have sensitive ears, a 16 whole session of airsoft training can still create enough noise to make the protection necessary. It’s unlikely, but always better to be safe rather than sorry.
Finally, if you decide to start participating in mock-battles, ear protection is going to be a necessity anyway. Not only to protect your hearing but also to avoid getting hit in the ear by a wayward (or badly aimed) projectile.
Another incredibly important piece of safety gear is eye protection. You don’t need to get fancy here – a pair of good-quality construction glasses will do. As with the ear protection, you’ll need this for using with your real firearm and in airsoft mock-battles.
To finish, while not an absolute necessity for airsoft training by yourself, you might want to consider getting some padded gear. If you’re even slightly considering joining a competitive airsoft team, then do yourself a massive favor by buying competition-level protection in advance.
Obviously, if you’re going to be using airsoft guns to supplement your firearm training with a buddy, then the gear does become an absolute necessity. When that accident eventually happens, you’ll be glad of the padding!
You need something to shoot at, right?
The options here are fairly simple. You can opt for paper targets and deal with picking up and disposing of the spent ammunition.
Or you can get a heavy-duty target trap (they usually retail at about $80 to $100), which still uses paper targets but will collect the spent ammunition and provide a safe backing for your target.
Another option is to use reactive or resetting traps.
While these can add some variance to an otherwise potentially repetitive activity, they can also be an unnecessary distraction when starting out. Still, the dynamic movement will be a boon to your training as you progress – though you’re back to picking up spent ammunition after every session.
If you’re going the paper target route (with or without a target trap), buy them in bulk or print your own.
As you’re likely to be doing the same for dry-firing, make sure you use different target patterns for each kind of training. This helps to mentally segment each portion of your firearms training regime: dry-firing, airsoft, and live fire.
You’ll notice we didn’t include a section on airsoft models.
There are a few reasons for this. First, airsoft guns have been developing at a rapid pace, so it’s not going to be useful for us to list makes and models. Such a list could become obsolete within a few months (years at most) as the tools become more sophisticated.
Second, your choice in make and model is ultimately going to depend on the type of airsoft gun you buy and (more importantly) the real firearm you’re training with. The whole idea behind splurging on a high-quality airsoft replica is so you can build muscle memory for using that firearm.
Finally, as mentioned several times already, your general rule of thumb is always going to be “get the highest quality you can afford.” The better the quality, the better a clone it will be and, therefore, the more appropriate it is as a training supplement.
The remaining two chapters of this course will be a lot shorter than the first two. However, that doesn’t mean they’re any less important. Next, we’ll be looking at the limitations of airsoft training in a little more detail than already discussed.