Airsoft – What Is It?

This has the potential to go on for absolute pages and pages so aware not everyone shares my passion for this wonderful hobby I’ll try to contain myself and be concise!

Airsoft began in Japan way back in the early eighties as a way for Japanese people to enjoy shooting in a country where gun laws are even more restrictive than the UK and private ownership of firearms is strictly prohibited for the most part.

Airsoft2The Guns

The guns are generally 1:1 replicas of real guns and made of either metal, polymers or plastics or combinations thereof much like real firearms.  Obviously how they work is very different to a real firearm and led to the name, which originally was softair as the guns are air driven but very low powered due to again Japanese laws restricting muzzle energy to less than 1J, which equates to around 328fps with a 6mm plastic BB or ball bullet to give them the correct name.  To clarify though a 4.5mm BB gun using metal pellets IS NOT an Airsoft gun but an air pistol and should not be used in a game where you will be shooting at other people!!


Whilst all Airsoft guns work by using compressed air or gas to propel a BB down a smooth bore barrel how that is achieved varies.  Traditionally they used HPA held in a small tank that was connected to the gun via a hose.  Over time systems developed and a large model company called Tokyo Marui pioneered an electric system that is battery powered and uses gears to pull a piston back against a spring in a cylinder that’s released at the end of its travel to fire the BB. The birth of the automatic electric gun or AEG.  This is now the most popular way to operate an Airsoft rifle and has been widely copied by most manufacturers.  Whilst a very good system it is a bit of a sterile experience to shoot an AEG as you can hear the motor and gears and there is normally no recoil or feedback to the user.  In more modern systems this has been addressed to some extent and these newer guns are much more satisfying to shoot.

The second method uses compressed gas, usually, propane or “duster gas” held in the magazine to cycle the gun.  This leads to guns that operate more like their real steel counterparts with more realistic trigger breaking points, rests and recoil in both pistols and rifles and gives the most realistic experience to shooters.  The gas blow back pistols have allowed a lot of ex pistol shooters to continue their hobby albeit with lower powered guns in both muzzle velocity and felt recoil but still have a tactile experience when firing.  There is also a growing practical pistol scene in the UK using these guns with large well attended competitions being held with increasing regularity.

The third system that has emerged again recently harks back to the golden era of Airsoft and has seen a resurgence in HPA powered guns.  The systems used to handle the HPA are considerably more advanced than back in the day however and have electronic fire control groups and are made as drop in systems to utilise existing receivers!  These guns offer the shot to shot consistency and adjustability that a lot of airgunners are used to now with PCP air guns but again lack a certain tactility for the user as the newer systems forgo recoil in favour of reliability.

The final method and by far the simplest is the spring powered Airsoft gun.  These are generally single shot and require cocking between each shot whereas the other systems can all be select fire.  Much fun!!  Although very simple they are incredibly effective especially when used in bolt action guns which allow for great consistency in shots and make for great long range sniping platforms.

The Games

The most common game is an Airsoft skirmish.  It’s a form of military simulation on a sliding scale of authenticity (for want of a better word) from games that are similar to paintball all the way up to extremely immersive 48hr Ops where you carry everything you need and play through for the full two days.  These games are focused on the experience as much as the shooting whereas a skirmish is very much geared towards faster paced action with firefights being much more frequent.


Airsoft games can be held in woodland at insured sites or in old disused buildings for CQB games.  A relatively recent development of the last few years is the use of military training grounds such as Sennybridge, Copehill Down and Stanta to hold these games at giving a chance to play at areas normally off limits and reserved for training military personnel adding another level to the whole experience and also giving the opportunity to take part in FIBUA types of games and all that entails.

It’s fair to say that the complexity of games has increased dramatically since I started playing with some games offering helicopter or water borne insertions as well the use of ground vehicles through the game!  There is something for everyone in Airsoft.

Over the years another discipline has emerged and is gaining popularity rapidly and that is practical pistol shooting.  This has really taken off in a big way with a lot of ex pistol shooters coming over so they can continue to do what they did before the ban in 1997 even though the guns are lot less powerful than what they were used to.


So that’s it really – in a nutshell.  A brief potted history of Airsoft.  I’ve left lots out but there are plenty of resources out there if you wish to find out more or just post on the Firearms UK Facebook page and we’ll get back to you.

All photos copyright Peter Bates –

©2024 Firearms UK.


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