How to choose a first Airsoft Gun?
When choosing an Airsoft weapon, there are a few basics you should consider before making any purchases. Get it wrong and it will prove financially costly. Ultimately it is all down to you and your personal preferences as unlike real warfare and soldiering, your life and the lives of those who would depend upon you, will not be adversely affected if you choose a low powered cheap end weapons system that will fail you mechanically or look like a plastic child’s toy.
Some players like to be snipers hidden in the bush but with a very expensive and heavy M240 GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun), which is not exactly mission specific but appeals to the individual as being what he or she wants. Some teams or clubs may insist you only attend with certain weapons in order to join in, this is especially important within re-enactment groups, so make sure you research them before purchasing a weapon prior to joining. That rule works equally well with Uniforms and equipment. If totally new to Airsoft, try out a couple of sites to get the feel of the club / team and what you find best fits with what you are looking for.
Your choice of first Airsoft weapon must be based upon why you want one and what you will be using it for. Is it for target shooting, posing for photos only or actually playing in a game with others? Once you have made that first decision, you can then decide what best works for you. As I’ll keep emphasising, the choice should be yours and yours alone; not one based upon what other people have told you. Anyone who tells you that you must have this or that item is either trying to impress you, or impress their will upon you.
The next step of buying your first Airsoft gun is to decide the role you would like to play. Do you want to be the player up close in the thick of the action or do you want to be a silent player in the background, supporting your team. Determining your playing role is essential to figuring out your choice of FAW that will fit your needs and fulfil the accuracy and size required.
If you simply wish to do target practice in your back garden or alone in the woods, that is fine but if you intend to play or attend events and sites, you need to establish in your own mind, your preferred choice of role. These are the typical standard roles within Airsoft.
Team Leader / Section Commander: You will need an automatic weapon, preferably an AEG (AEG will be explained later) battery powered, rapid fire system that allows you to fire both semi automatic and fully automatic that shoots accurately when aimed properly. Any assault rifle looking gun should work well for this role.
Rifleman: For your first Airsoft gun, this role is best suited for the beginner. Riflemen make up the bulk of a squad and deal with a multitude of ranges from up close and personal to 150 feet. They use weapons such as the M4, AK47, AUG’s and the G36.
Marksman / Sniper: A weapon that is very accurate, long barrelled and looks like a sniper rifle. An AK47 is NOT a sniper rifle though in some game scenarios it may be necessary to designate a player as a sniper with an AK47 if no one has a dedicated sniper weapon on the day. These players can either provide support for the squad, or go solo. While it is a very interesting role, it can cost a lot of money to purchase and upgrade your first Airsoft weapon sniper rifle. Snipers tend to use spring or gas Airsoft rifles such as the VSR-10, Bar-10, PSG1 and L96. Playing the role of sniper is an expensive one, your options on the field are extremely limited and at this stage I can confidently state that a sniper rifle for your first Airsoft gun is an unwise choice.
Section Gun Group / Support Gunner: Requires a weapon that fires on fully automatic but also has a massive magazine capacity to sustain the rate of fire demanded. In Airsoft, only bursts of two seconds should be the maximum. Any longer and you will hurt an opponent. Gunners use a lot of ammo and something called ‘Spray and pray’, a tactic thus named because you spray at your target and pray one or two will hit, is a tactic not appreciated in the field and should be avoided. Deliberate aimed bursts will earn you respect and be more accurate. Look for weapons clearly designated as SAWs (Squad Automatic Weapons) such as the Minimi M249 SAW, RPK, M240 GPMG and FAMAS. But as a first Airsoft weapon, very expensive and heavy. These players support the squad with large volumes of firepower and use their large and heavy weapons to suppress the enemy while the rest of the team moves forward. This too can be an expensive role, and may not be a good choice for your first Airsoft gun.
Having decided upon your role, the best way to choose your first Airsoft weapon is to view a large Airsoft retailer website, and check out what you feel visually appeals and can see yourself with, then short list them. Remember, a good quality Airsoft weapon is going to cost the better part of £180 to £200 absolute minimum (240 to 320 dollars). Anything below that price will leave you disappointed.
Preferably choose a first Airsoft gun that has upgrade potential such as Tokyo Marui, Classic Army, ICS, G&G and KWA. Then narrow the choices down further to just three named brand weapons and compare the statistics on them. Research them and research them again for reviews, demos and forum comments. Put the time in to do your research and it will pay dividends. Do not be lazy!
Crucially, when you have finally made your first Airsoft weapon choice, double check it comes supplied with its own magazine, battery and charging unit if it is an AEG. If it does not, order them at the same time as you place your first order. Nothing more disappointing than having your great new item arrive and you cannot fire it as you have zero power! ONLY use high quality BB’s, (Ball bearings) NOT cheap ones or your weapon will soon seize up as its internal mechanism is ruined. Final word of caution on placing your first order for your first Airsoft weapon. Check out the credentials of the retailer you are making the purchase from. Once it arrives, be sure to keep your first Airsoft gun in tip-top shape by cleaning it often and kept in the box it came in unless you also purchased a carry case for it.
How much should I spend to buy an Airsoft gun?
If you don’t have much money then the best advice is to save up. Will take longer to get what you require, but it will save you more in the long run. Do not be impatient. You can pay an absolute fortune on a weapons system but all you will get for that ridiculous extra amount of money, is the maximum of 15%, maybe even 20% better performance. And ultimately you can have the best that money can buy, but it still boils down to the skill, tactics and determination of the player on the day in the field, i.e. the end user! Boasting and bragging about how expensive your weapon is will only generate hostility in most cases towards you and you may intimidate new players to the sport. You will also invariably find yourself being actively sought out as a priority target! Ideally be prepared to spend in the region of £200 minimum to £300 for your first Airsoft weapon.
Weapons Choice Basics.
There are three types of Airsoft guns available; Gas, Electric and Spring, each with different versions and added features or extras.
Types of Airsoft weapons:
1: Spring Airsoft Guns or Rifles. These are the easiest type to use, pull back the slide which compresses the spring and the gun is ready to shoot. Great for target practice, cheap to buy and no need for gas or charging it up. The downside is that it has to be cocked and reloaded for every shot you fire. Not practical in the middle of a fire fight!
2: Airsoft Gas Guns / GGBs (Gas Blow Backs). Generally for the more serious enthusiasts, they operate by a gas driven mechanism powered by carbon dioxide and, or green gas. Downside is that they have to be refilled each time. These guns have realistic recoil so that every shot you shoot, the gun recoils like a real gun. In very cold conditions, gas guns do not always work.
3: Electric Airsoft Guns and Electric Powered. Known as AEG’s or AEP’s, these are the most popular and by far the most common as well as being of higher quality and the greatest variety. A rechargeable battery drives an electric motor that works an internal mechanism to load and then discharge the BB’s. The advantages of this type of weapon system is that you can fire on single shot semi automatic (i.e. a pellet/BB is fired every time you pull the trigger) or in bursts on full automatic. The majority also have high capacity magazines that can hold hundreds of BBs. So all round the ideal system for players. The most common battery used is an 8.4v. Most beginners should ideally opt for an AEG weapon as they are reliable and upgradeable when compared to GBBs (gas blowbacks).
Selecting your final choice of First Airsoft Gun
How durable and tough do you want the weapon to be? Does it simply have to look good, but is fragile or do you want it to last whilst it’s subjected to being thrown around in the field and within buildings?
Durability depends upon the quality of the gun and the material it’s made from. Some will argue that plastic will not last as long as metal. This is no longer strictly true as some of the new plastics are incredibly strong and durable; neither do they rust, apart from the internal parts and metal pins etc, nor does the paint or coating scratch off as is the case on most metal weapons. Remember that even real weapons now incorporate a lot of plastics. Take the G36 as an example. Both Metal and Plastic works well for Airsoft games and NEITHER is unbreakable! Metal bodies do bend and dent with use. A plastic gun can last a long time with the right player. Some guns that start out with a plastic body, like Marui, can be modified with a metal body when you have more money available.
How accurate do want the weapon to be? Precision is decided by the bore, length and quality of the inner barrel. Precision inner barrels can be purchased in a variety of lengths and bore diameters in order to improve the accuracy and fall of shot. Check if the weapon has Hop Up. This is the mechanism that enables you to put back spin on the pellets/BB’s and helps them to sustain a longer trajectory thus increasing accuracy. Different weights of pellets/BB’s require a different Hop Up setting, so you really need an adjustable one.
Can spares be easily purchased? If the gun is damaged it can prove costly to replace it so consider whether parts can be replaced inexpensively or even upgraded thus improving the quality of your gun at a fraction of the cost.
FPS, MPS & ROF.
Note the FPS speed, (Feet Per Second) and now MPS, (Meters Per second), is the speed at which pellets/BB’s leave the weapons barrel. The higher the FPS, the faster the pellet/BB travels. Thus the faster the pellet/BB, the more impact it will have on contact with a part of the body. Roughly at 200 to 300 FPS, if the pellet/BB hits someone within a ten to fifteen feet distance, it can cause some very painful bruises. From 500 FPS upwards, pellets/BB’s can penetrate the skin. But be warned, the higher the FPS, the more pressure is exerted upon the weapons internal mechanisms, thus the potential for damaging other parts of the weapon, if they aren’t built as well, is higher! Generally, the faster the speed the further the pellet/BB will travel, but if the weapon has problems with accuracy then these could be increased with a higher FPS.
ROF is the Rate Of Fire. This is the amount of pellets/BB’s that can be fired from the weapon in a certain amount of time. Automatic weapons have the highest ROF. This feature is often hyped up as the more pellets/BB’s aimed at the target the greater the chances of a hit increases! However in practice it only leads to using far more ammunition instead.
Basic Types of Weapons:
Remember, select your model based on YOUR preference, not what other people tell you.
M4 / M16 Airsoft guns: Are almost the universal standard weapon within the Airsoft world as they come complete with an almost absurd abundance of both external and internal upgrades for this type of weapon. For woodland play, any variant is fine, but if you plan on playing CQB, avoid a full length M16 and opt for the shorter M4 variants.
MP5 Airsoft guns & Variants: Very popular weapon. Not as many options for external upgrades as M4 / M16‘s, but plenty of internal upgrades available. Ideal for CQB, where the small size makes a big difference.
AK-47 / AK-74 Airsoft guns: Many different body styles to choose from, ranging from the standard AK-47 to a compact AK-74U. Not as many external modifications as M4/M16’s, but plenty of internal upgrades.
G36 Airsoft guns & Variants: Not quite as popular as the M16 and AK47 family, though now gaining a considerable following. One big advantage is the availability of magazine well adapters. These can be a god send since G36 magazines aren’t as widely available as other types. The G36C is beginning to come into its own as a practical and thoroughly reliable and durable weapon system. It has the range for field operations yet is short enough for CQB. An up and coming serious contender and makes for an ideal First Airsoft Weapon. .
Consider also that there are two main types of weapon layout and configuration. Standard regular configuration and bullpup. Bullpup weapons have the magazine situated behind the trigger, so the weapon has an overall shorter length yet still retains a long barrel. Because of this, bullpup weapons can be used as snipers, field guns, and CQB guns all at once if push came to shove.
DONT BUY THE CHEAPEST
Once you have established both your Role and first Airsoft gun choice, you must now establish your actual price limit. Your FAW will seem very costly, and it is important to decide how much you are able to spend on it. If you aim to get serious about Airsoft, you will need to bite the proverbial bullet and look to spend, as stated earlier, at least the absolute minimum of £150-£200 for a high quality FAW. If you cannot afford that, then initially hire on site weapons as you save until the day you have enough. Long term it will save you a fortune. You need a weapon you can afford but not at the expense of being under powered and under-armed because you tried to save your funds. What are the considerations? First, you need an accurate weapon. The object is to hit the opposing player, and you’ll have to engage them at quite a range unless you want to get hit early in every game. So, adjustable Hop Up is a requirement. A long barrelled weapon is better for accuracy, so long as you can aim it properly in the first place. Pistols and grenades are fine in some situations, but long barrelled weapons are the principal tool of an Airsoft player in the field. Again it all depends upon personal choice. Try and strike a balance and get a weapon that functions well out in the field and for CQB (Close Quarter Battle) within buildings etc. M4’s and G36’s tend to fit this range perfectly. Most times you will not engage targets out in the woods or fields at distances in excess of 100 meters so why buy an expensive long ranged system in the first place. Snipers are a different matter but as many will discover, playing in games where snipers are in play, they tend to dominate the dynamic of the event and can even ruin the game play for all the other players as they get constantly picked off by a sniper they never see.
£0 – £100: If you don’t have at least £100 to spend on a first Airsoft gun you really should just keep saving. DO NOT buy a random Chinese LPEG (Low Powered Electric Gun). They are not for Airsoft games. You will only hit the inside of a barn door if standing almost next to it.
£100 – £150: This price range covers most of your standard entry level weapons. The primary manufacturers in this price range are Classic Army Sportline, Echo 1 and G&G Affordable Series. (Note, there has been some recent rumour that Classic Army have been suffering from manufacturing problems and consequently some retailers are no longer offering these for sale through their outlets as a temporary measure but mine are still working perfectly).
£150 – £200: This price range contains upgraded/ metal body versions of the entry level guns from the same manufacturers and is really the absolute minimum budget level you should be looking at. Most of the upgraded versions are not a whole lot better than the basic versions in this category so seriously hold back and save until you can afford the higher level.
£200 – £250 : This is a problematic price range to be in. Many clone manufacturers, most notably A&K, market specialised weapons in this area such as SR-25’s and custom M4/M16’s. Although the metal bodies are enticing at this relatively low price point, the internals could best be described as not up to the job considering the cost. The one exception is the Classic Army MP5’s. If you are looking for an MP5 and this is your price range, they are definitely a sound investment.
£250 – £300: This price range is the start of the true high end models. Most of the guns you will find in this range are Classic Army M4/M16’s. You really can’t go wrong with a Classic Army, despite present rumours and most people choose an M4/M16 variant. This the recommended entry level funding for your first Airsoft weapon.
£300+: This is where you will actually get your monies worth as well as durability and accuracy. Classic Army, Tokyo Marui, G&G, KWA, and ICS are all excellent manufacturers. This price range really is all about personal preference. Note that Tokyo Marui bodies ARE plastic, although the internals are excellent. Once again, you really can’t go wrong if you buy from one of these manufacturers, and your choice should be based on personal preference at this level.
Try and avoid brand loyalties. Meaning, don’t listen to those that say, “You must get a Classic Army weapon or a Tokyo Marui only”. A non biased review is that Tokyo Marui makes very high quality but expensive weapons, and then next comes Classic Army or G&G, then the Echo 1 / Star / Jing Gong. Remember, you won’t be getting better than you pay for by much. Also, trust the general idea of the reviews. Avoid guns without reviews.
Power is not the Holy Grail of a weapons system. It may be good for a sniper to hit an opposing player a 100 yards away, but the typical player won’t be engaging targets that far. So at your initial choice stage, do not be concerned with future upgrades before you actually have the weapon. A weapon that handles at least 0.20-gram BB’s and 0.25-gram BB’s is a good bench mark to aim for. But keep in mind you don’t need a 400 FPS weapon in the beginning. A player with a 300 FPS M16 can use it immediately and will have a lot more fun than waiting to buy the weapon he can later upgrade to 500 FPS!
For your First Airsoft weapon, do not even start to consider weapon sights as these will become a serious item issue best left until you have experience under your belt after you have been in the field and got down and filthy in the muck several times. No point purchasing a semi decent sight, fixing it to your weapon, it looks good, but then you cannot get a target acquisition eye line through it because your mask is too pronounced, the weapons sight fixing rail is too far forward or the weapons stock is too long etc, or, as is frequently the case, during your first fire fight you spend too much time trying to acquire your target through the site with one eye, and miss all the other players heading for you out of view. So start with open battle sights whereby you can immediately look forward with both eyes open, see your targets then aim fast. Some scope sights become loose very easily, or are not correctly zeroed so the cross hairs do not match up anywhere near to where your pellets / BB’s are actually hitting. Let the snipers use scopes; you save your money for gear, BB’s and game time. If you feel that you really must have one, go for a red dot sight. It is different as they are quick target acquisition and do not cost as much as a scope.
We shall not go into player strategy as that is a whole different matter but keep in mind that new players tend to waste so much ammo. Make your shots count, do not be a total amateur and do the classic Spray and Pray syndrome, especially as most proper games limit ammo per scenario.
Magazines (or clips) are containers that hold your pellets/BB’s and push it up into your weapon. If you are a sniper, you are in no rush and will not fire many pellets/BB’s, so one or two low-capacity clips should suffice. Remember, bring extra pellets/BBs. If you’re a support gunner, your magazines will be sizable but you will still want a few.
For TeamLeader/Section Commanders, ideally you will want a few magazines of high capacity that hold more pellets / BB’s than normal. Many sites limit the amount of pellets / BB’s you can use per game scenario / mission so you will not need a shed full of magazines strapped to your chest other than for visual effect.
CQB (Close Quarter Battle). For players dealing with ranges less than 40 feet and for clearing buildings and rooms, preferably use short rifles so they can go around corners and through doors easier. Use Airsoft weapons like the MP5, P90, and G36C’s.
If you bought a weapon with fixing attachment rails, such as Picatinny or RAS/RIS, (they are the bumpy looking sections on the weapon you attach things to) you have room for improvement. If you like to fight at night, you can attach a flashlight. If you are not a very good aimer of shots you can attach a red dot sight. You can also attach forward hand grips, bipods and laser pin point target markers so think about the accessories you might want to add later. Are they reasonably priced? What kinds of extra magazines can be bought and what are the costs for these?
Scopes: These have magnification, zoom and reticule numbers to consider. Unless you understand these items, they become useless pretty fast. Look good but not effective unless used correctly. Keep in mind that having a very long zoom capability isn’t always better, and it can get very frustrating if your AEG sprays shots randomly that go all over the place different form your scope’s view. Also, you may need to get expensive mounts for some scopes.
Lasers: These can be useful but beware ones that veer off of your intended line of fire, can be very annoying. Also, NEVER EVER shine one in someone’s eyes.
Flashlights: These can be very pricey so look at purchasing a Mini-Maglite or some lesser flashlight and simply buy a mount for it. The Mini-Maglite is good because of the adjustable cone angle and standard batteries and fits well in a scope mount.
It’s always good to have a pistol as your secondary and back up weapon just in case. Whether it’s a cheap spring version or a Gas Blowback, try and get one. What you get depends on all the factors previously listed for your first Airsoft weapon.
Ammunitions – Pellets / BB’s
The pellets / BBs themselves are very important. The higher price you pay for them, the better they will be in general. This means fewer flaws in them such as moulded lines, dents, extra bits, and off sizes. This is more important with more expensive and accurate weapons, since they shoot harder and have smaller interior bore measurements in their barrels, hence the need for more perfect pellets / BB’s.
Another concern is density. The heavier pellets / BB’s are, the less they will be affected by wind and will not smash as easily in your weapon; this could lead to broken internal parts. If your AEG jams, STOP FIRING! In general, low end AEGs or springers should be okay with .12 gram pellets / BB’s. As for a high end AEGs/sniper rifles, get very high quality pellets / BB’s. Look for tolerances of +-.01 mm. You can get pellets / BB’s up to around .3 grams, but I wouldn’t recommend that except for sniper rifles.
Best advice for deciding and purchasing your first Airsoft gun for Skirmish / Milsim is to Buy an AEG weapon within the £200 to £300 price band and save gas for sidearms where they work best. Go with your personal preferences, but don’t be slack and silly about it. If you are going to be playing a lot of CQB, don’t buy an M240 GPMG. Stick to the reliable Airsoft manufacturers ! You can’t go wrong if you buy from the manufacturers that have been listed.
Recommended List of manufacturers:
Ares (Star) AEG
Classic Army AEG
G&P AEGs and Kits
GBTech / VFC AEG / Umarex
Inokatsu AEG and Kits
King Arms AEG
LCT AEG and Kits
Systema PTW AEG (Very expensive custom weapons but worth it)
Many thanks to Arn (Skirmish Airsoft East Anglia – UK) for the article
And once again, great photo from Recon Ghosts Team (on top of the article): http://www.recon-ghosts.de
You have choosen your Airsoft gun ? Now it’s time to play !
And thanks to ‘Slippery Ninjas’ team for this last picture.