Beginner's guide to airsoft rifles

Airsoft has become a popular activity around the world, with players from all walks of life regularly enjoying the entertainment value, fitness benefits and social aspects that the sport provides. Airsoft enables individuals to enjoy simulated war-style scenarios without the threat that comes with real warfare, making it both exhilarating and safe.

If you're new to airsoft, some of the equipment and technical terms associated with it might seem a little overwhelming at first. And whether you’re just getting started or have been playing for a while, there are a number of common questions about airsoft that you might have. 

One of the first things you’ll need to get to grips with when it comes to airsoft is the equipment you’ll be using, and in particular airsoft rifles. If airsoft is something that you'd love to get into but don't know where to start, this guide will tell you everything that you need to know about airsoft rifles themselves.

Types of airsoft rifles

There are several types of airsoft rifle on the market, including gas, AEG, and spring. Each of these operates a little differently and offers their own benefits. Some people prefer one type over another.

AEGs / Electric Airsoft Rifles
An electric airsoft rifle, also known as an AEG rifle (Automatic Electric Gun) is an airsoft rifle that uses battery power to automatically fire projectiles via an electronic mechanism. AEGs are perhaps the most popular type of airsoft rifle with regular players thanks to their accuracy, fast reload and range of firing mechanisms offering full and semi automatic options.

Gas Airsoft Rifles
A gas airsoft rifle is powered by a CO2 or green gas cartridge and uses the gas to propel the projectile, and in some cases to create a blowback effect to mimic firing a real rifle.

Spring Rifles
A spring rifle is a single-shot rifle that requires manual loading. It works by using a spring system to compress air that is used to fire the shot. Offering easy and reliable action, although in some cases less power than gas or AEGs, spring type guns are often found as airsoft sniper rifles.

How Airsoft Rifles Work

Most airsoft rifles work around the same core principle, using air to fire BBs.

Spring rifles require cocking before each shot. When the user cocks the rifle, a spring is compressed. When the trigger is pulled, the spring is released and forces an attached piston pump forwards, quickly pressurising air inside a chamber and propelling the BB.

An AEG uses a motor to compress a spring loaded piston pump between shots. This mechanism is similar in principle to that used in spring powered rifles, however is controlled by a battery powered motor. Upon release, the spring pushes the piston forwards, forcing the BB out of the chamber. This mechanism is also used to cycle the next BB into the chamber without the need for gas. By using this motor, the rifle can fire automatically, meaning that the user can hold down the trigger to fire BBs continuously, without needing to cock the rifle between shots.

A gas rifle is slightly different in terms of its mechanism. It uses a small amount of gas stored under pressure that is released through a valve system when the trigger is pulled, forcing the bb or pellet through the barrel of the rifle. On many models, gas is also used to cock the rifle before the next shot, meaning that the user can fire in a semi-automatic way. A gas rifle may also provide blowback when fired for a realistic feeling.

Components Of Airsoft Rifles

Many airsoft rifles have similar basic components as they are operated by similar principles. The main components include a spring, piston, barrel, bolt or cocking lever, trigger and magazine. These components work together to fire the BBs in relatively the same way regardless of whether you have a spring, AEG or gas rifle.

Another important component is a hop-up, which creates backspin on the bb in order to help it achieve longer range. Hop ups can usually be adjusted so the user can find their preferred setting for power, range and accuracy.

AEGs will have an additional motor, usually based under the grips, gears that are operated by the motor and also a battery and wiring. A gas rifle will have a gas cartridge that is usually found under the grips or in the magazine depending on the model of the rifle. Rifles also have other exterior components such as a stock, sights and a rail.

Models Of Airsoft Rifles

There are a huge range of airsoft rifles on the market that cater to the needs of all airsoft users. Some users prefer to use sniper-style rifles, while others like to use fully automatic rifles with a high rate of fire. If you're looking at target shooting, single shot bolt action rifles are a popular choice.

Assault rifles are very popular for skirmish players, usually, semi-automatic or rifles that switch between semi and fully-automatic.

Airsoft assault rifles are available as replicas of some of the most famous guns in the world, including everything from M4s, M15s and M16s to AKs, AR36s, M14s and 9mm options, as well as a range of historic and iconic rifles that have been used in combat operations the world over.

Understanding Airsoft Rifle Specs

When you are considering the purchase of a new airsoft rifle, there are a few terms and specifications that you might see that allow you to compare one model to another, and give you an idea about how the rifle will perform.

Some of the most common specs to be aware of are:

Lighter rifles are usually often more maneuverable and will be easier to carry and run with during a skirmish. The weight is also influenced by the materials used in the rifle’s construction, so it’s important to consider weight and the strength of the materials to find something that suits your style.

Magazine Capacity
Higher capacity magazines can hold more ammunition and so mean you won’t need to reload as often. Airsoft magazines are almost always swappable parts, with players often carrying multiple magazines for quick reloads during a game.

The caliber describes the size of airsoft bbs or pellets that the rifle uses. Most rifles will typically use 6mm bbs which are available in a range of weights to suit various weapon types and playing styles.

Rate Of Fire
The rate of fire (ROF) describes how many shots the rifle can fire in a given time. This is most often measured in rounds per minute (RPM) which is the number of rounds that can be fired in 1 minute, when the rifle is in full auto mode.

The power of an airsoft rifle directly relates to the speed at which the bbs will leave the barrel, and is often measured in feet per second (FPS). If considered in terms of energy, automatic airsoft weapons in the UK must not fire with in excess of 1.3 joules of kinetic energy in the BB when it leaves the muzzle. As a reference, 1 joule equates to 328fps when using a 0.2g BB.

Airsoft Rifle Accessories And Attachments

Like real firearms, there are many attachments and accessories available for airsoft rifles. Some of the most popular ways to upgrade airsoft rifles include the addition of optics. There are a wide range of sights and scopes available to enhance the precision and accuracy, which can make a big difference whether you’re involved in a skirmish or simply shooting for target practice.

Torches, Laser Sights & Grenades
Assault-style rifles often have a rail underneath the barrel that can be used to attach items such as torches or laser sights. A torch allows you to use the rifle in the dark, whereas a laser allows you to see a red dot on your target so you know where your projectile will hit. 

Some users even attach airsoft grenade launchers to the rail of their rifle. These propel a gas-powered grenade filled with BBs.

Scopes & Red Dots
Items can also be attached on top of many airsoft rifles. Airsoft scopes are very popular for rifle users and allow for better target practice by magnifying the target, and come in particularly useful for those taking on a sniper role during a game. Some people prefer red dot sights that enhance precision but allow more flexibility than scopes, allowing targets to be seen and aimed at with greater accuracy than a rifle alone.

Care And Maintenance Of Your Airsoft Rifle

Looking after your airsoft rifle will determine its longevity. This means it should be regularly serviced if you want to get the best out of it. Basic maintenance includes cleaning the inner barrel, emptying the magazine after each use to ensure the spring holds good tension and using silicone oil to lubricate the gearbox.

It’s worth inspecting your rifle after each section to check it is in good condition, enabling any components that may have become worn to be identified and replaced if necessary. Make sure your equipment is clean and dry before storing.

How Much Do Airsoft Rifles Cost?

The cost of airsoft rifles varies greatly depending on what you're looking for. Prices differ based on factors such as rifle platform, power type and materials and build quality, but with so many options available there are plenty of choices for all types of player.

If you’re buying your first rifle or just getting started in airsoft, you might want to look at entry level options which can be upgraded later when you’ve figured out your preferences and playing style.

Good quality entry-level options of either gas, electric or spring powered rifles are available for around £100, which gives you options including sniper rifles and assault rifles based on a range of real world weapons that will certainly hold their own on the battlefield.

Moving up in price you’ll start to see more features being added and higher quality materials and components being used, with a huge range of great quality rifles in the £200 - £400 range. For dedicated players, highest end models can cost around £400 - £500 and beyond for the most premium versions.

UK Laws Surrounding Airsoft Rifles

Some people find the laws surrounding airsoft rifles to be confusing at first glance, but they are actually fairly simple. First, it is completely legal to own an airsoft rifle in the UK. However, there are restrictions in place that govern how powerful a rifle is and also the colour it must be. The UK legal limit for how powerful a rifle can be is 2.5 joules for single-shot or semi-automatic rifles and 1.3 joules for fully-automatic. However, it is worth noting that if you wish to engage in airsoft with other players at a skirmish site, then there may be a different limit that is specific to the site. Some skirmish sites have lower limits than the national legal limit to better protect everyone involved, so always check this before attending a skirmish.

As airsoft rifles are imitation firearms, the colours of the rifles that you can buy are dependent on several factors. If you are over 18, you can legally purchase a two-tone airsoft rifle with a primary colour that is substantially different to a real firearm (e.g black or silver). Because of this, you'll see that many airsoft rifles come in a range of two-tone colours such as neon orange, blue, or green.

There are some circumstances where you are legally allowed to own a realistic imitation firearm. For most people playing airsoft as a sport or hobby, the most simple way to achieve this is to register at a skirmish site that has UKARA (United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers Association) membership.

To become a registered player you are required to partake in skirmish events for a minimum of three days over less than a two month period. You will not be legally registered until two months have passed. This means that regardless of whether you attend a skirmish site and partake in a skirmish for three consecutive days in the first week of a two month period, you must wait for two months to be registered.

Other circumstances in which you can purchase a realistic imitation firearm include being a member of a historical reenactment group that is properly insured, if you are a TV, theatre or film production company, or if you are acting on behalf of a museum. The final circumstance that allows you to purchase a realistically coloured imitation firearm is if you are a crown servant and your crown duties require you to do so.

Find our more about UK Laws around Airsoft

Airsoft Rifle Safety Considerations

Although generally, airsoft is a very safe hobby, there are certain safety considerations that you should be aware of if you are new to it. These include treating all rifles as if they are loaded and not pointing them at people or animals; never firing at targets without the knowledge that the surrounding area is clear, and keeping your finger away from the trigger until you are ready to fire.

You should also never attempt to alter the colour of a two-tone rifle as these are coloured this way for a reason - doing so is also illegal if you do not have the legal right to own a realistically coloured weapon. Additionally, you should never carry your airsoft rifle in a public place as this can put you or others in danger.

Many safety considerations come with skirmishes. Before attending a skirmish, be sure to read up on the safety information that relates to the specific skirmish site, and pay attention to guidance and information provided by site staff and marshalls.

For more information about staying safe with airsoft, take a look at our Airsoft Safety Guide

Find The Right Airsoft Rifle

Before purchasing an airsoft rifle, think about what you'll be using it for and choose a rifle that best suits this. Remember all safety information and the laws surrounding purchasing realistic imitation firearms. Airsoft is an exciting hobby but it requires airsoft weapon users to participate in target shooting or skirmishes responsibly by adhering to both the laws and general safety rules.

If you are unsure about which type of rifle will best suit your needs, get in touch with the team at Land Warrior. We can provide expert and professional advice and help you select the product that’s right for you.