Introduction: Airsoft: a Guide to Tactics and Care Based on Personal Experience.
This instructable follows my first and has the main goal of going past the first week or month of the sport of airsoft. I avoided calling it an intermediate's guide because this area is very vague; I do not consider myself an expert. But airsoft is accessible to anyone who wants to play, past the core rules, I don't believe there are stupid questions from anyone with a gun and a mask on. Should a novice know the inner workings of a gearbox? Should an experienced player know? Mostly the answer is a qualified no - there is no rule requiring knowledge of gearbox maintenance or repair. However this information is useful to many players who are willing to open up their guns and check things out. I'll try to make this almost a "survey" of the different subsets of information about airsoft and gameplay advice in CQB.
Also, I'd like to thank all of those who read and rated my first airsoft instructable. I read every comment and appreciate the feedback. It has been much too long since my first guide; owing partially to the fact that I've been out of the game for a bit and mostly to the fact that I didn't really know where to go from the first instructable. The impetus to this instructable is refreshing my own knowledge, replying to comments asking me questions, and the realization that no other instructable I've seen has approached the topics I want to. There's a niche, and I'm going to give a shot at filling it.
And special thanks to those who noted my efforts at writing a concise and planned guide.
Step 1: Disclaimers/Refresher Rules
"I ain't your momma"
I am not in the military, the tips discussed are for use in airsoft as a SPORT; real life tactics may be more effective, but they may also be unsporting. Other tactics would make real tacticians laugh out loud. Regarding the basic maintenance, disassembling or modifying your airsoft gun, this is done AT YOUR OWN RISK. Humilating as it was, I was guilty of bringing a "shoebox" gun - a box full of parts - to my local tech once, and while I will go through some basics concerning my particular case (an ICS SIG 552 and associated internals), I am not an expert or tech in any way. I am also not associated with any particular shop/store/company/field/clan/team anything in the world of airsoft. Which means my opinions and prejudices may not be fully informed and possibly totally biased. To be straight up:
I appreciate your comments, but most questions regarding troubleshooting or quality will be referred to the internet. If I could have called it a "pointing in the right direction, sort of, to tactics and care, based on personal experience" without people laughing, I would have.
If you read my first instructable on airsoft (please do!), you should be aware of the core rules.
1. Proper safety gear (Full Mask/Eyewear depending on field rules)
2. Safe Weapon Handling (Treat like a real steel weapon)
3. No physical or verbal confrontation
4. Call your hits
5. Ask for surrender (Minimum Engagement Distance)
6. Dead men do not talk
7. Obey referees
8. Follow FPS limits
9. Follow rules of the game
10. Play with honor
Safety makes airsoft playable, honor makes airsoft fun
Step 2: There Are Many Like It, But This One Is Mine
Your primary weapon in airsoft is what you depend on, and you want it to be accurate. Your gun needs to be zeroed, which along with the standard zeroing that real steel guns must do to remain accurate, it involves adjusting your hopup.
Adjusting Hop Up
The first step is adjusting your hop up, zeroing is the fine tuning of your accuracy, adjusting hop up simply makes sure your bb's are flying straight. The hop-up is a unit with a movable barrel or dial that squeezes a rubber nub on top of a bb in the chamber of your gun. This provides friction when the bb is fired, and gives it backspin to keep it flying straighter, farther. A properly adjusted hop up will send your bb straight without arcing upwards. If the bb arcs upwards, this is not only undesirable for accuracy under pressure, but if you're firing at any angle other than a right angle perpendicular to the ground, it means you're possibly shooting around corners, and is bad sportsmanship.
Aim down your sights or look down the side of your gun for a better view of the trajectory.
Fire a shot.
Adjust the hopup "up" or "down" accordingly.
You will need a bit of distance to ensure your bb is not arcing upwards and is going straight as long as possible, ask the ref at your field if you can adjust it before the game.
Adjusting hop up can be much more important than zeroing your sights because the engagement distances in airsoft are small enough that losing the zero of your gun won't have as much effect as having an improperly adjusted hopup.
Zeroing your sights involves windage and elevation adjustment - left/right and up/down respectively. This is a bit more of a precision action, possibly requiring hex wrenches or screwdrivers. Each weapon will have different ways to do it, refer to your manual for exactly how.
For those who have optics (red dot/scopes), it's always a good idea to properly zero your iron sights as a backup, especially outdoor players who depend on accuracy at longer ranges.
Step 3: "I'll See You on the Beach"
When I'm standing and waiting for a game to start, I'm holding my gun pretty casually, at a low or high ready (not pointed towards anyone), with my finger outside the trigger guard, and the safety on. Some fields require barrel caps/condoms anytime you're not on the field or until the game is just about to start.
As soon as the game starts, I disengage the safety, put my finger inside the trigger guard, and point the gun towards where the other team started. There's a lot of reasons why I might not hold my gun up and in a firing position: reloading, moving, hiding behind very small cover, or just plain tiredness, but in most cases, I'm holding my gun at the ready.
Why? A lowered gun takes longer to bring to a firing position, longer to sight in, and because it is moving more, reduces your accuracy when you do fire.
My grip is modified by gloves I may be wearing, I like my gloves to be snug and allow for maximum dexterity. Gardening gloves are not recommended. I need it to fit inside a trigger guard, adjust my safety, and handle magazine changes.
Many foregrips exist, mostly "broomhandle" style grips that are simply a post for your offhand to hold. Gripping the broomhandle with your whole hand results in a lot of lateral instability. If I use a foregrip, it is as a reference point only so I can access other items on the front (lights/lasers) without having to move my hand around the outer barrel of my gun. Another grip style is a magazine grip for the forehand. In real steel guns this grip was mostly utilized with submachine guns, as having the hands close together decreased stability on full size rifles. However for airsoft this is quite a good grip, as it speeds your reloading, your hand is already on the magazine.
The stock of the gun and your main hand is treated differently than with real weapons. This is the first area where real weapon tactics diverge from airsoft gaming. There is very little recoil on an airsoft gun as opposed to an actual rifle. You do not need to abut the stock of the gun to your shoulder and main body mass or pay attention to recoil control as much as with a real steel gun. I enjoy using the SIG 552 for exactly this reason, as the stock is foldable and I can aim with fair accuracy in tight situations. Firing a real gun with a folded stock in full auto, sometimes with only one hand holding the gun is asking for wild inaccuracy.
In regards to pistols, it amounts to personal preference how to hold your sidearm. The efficient method is to use both hands to control recoil (much more prevalent on GBB pistols than AEGs), your hand is also close enough to reload the gun faster.
Step 4: "Reload!"
You've used up your magazine (you can tell because your gun is making a different hollow sound), or you heard your magazine unwind. Again, there are different real life tactics compared to airsoft in terms of reloading your weapon. In real life if how quickly you can reload is tantamount to your survival, you perform a "speed reload" in which you simply let the magazine drop out of the gun as you grab a fresh mag - into the mud, dirt, possibly for someone to step on, you get the idea. Unless you don't care much for your $30+ magazines, there are almost no speed reloads in airsoft (when you're prone, on clean ground, and the magazine won't fall very far is one situation I can think of) and every reload is tactical.
What is a tactical reload?
There is a little more care involved in a tactical reload, and it facilitates the removal and storage of spent mags.
To perform a tactical reload you need to keep a firm grip on the mag, and dump it - either into a purpose made dump pouch (highly recommended) or if there are bb's left in the mag and you expect to run out during long games, back into your mag pouches.
Inserting a fresh mag means that your mags are loaded for fast removal from your mag pouches. I keep my mags upside down and oriented so all I have to do is a quick pull and flip to insert into the magwell. I prefer open top pouches as opposed to elastic bands or velcro secured pouches because of easy access, however if you expect to be doing a lot of movement where they may work loose, go with your preference.
I am not a big fan of ready-mag systems because of the already mentioned fact that the overwhelming majority of airsoft depends on tactical reloading. Ready-mag systems for those who don't know are devices that hold a spare mag directly next to the magazine that is inserted in the gun. For speed reloading they decrease the time almost by half, since you don't have to grab a mag from your body, however, since you're already stowing your mags in a dump pouch, the time it saves in airsoft is negligible. This of course does not relate to their function are external battery compartments. Magazines can also be linked together by design (again, G36 and SIG series), these have the benefits of quick reloads, but they do not allow for combat with a folded stock - I like the folded stock, so I stick with single magazines. Your preference should determine how you want to run though, of course.
Step 5: Body Position
Starting with the hands and arms, you should keep yourself as compact as possible, presenting as small a target as you can. Keep your elbows down and your body at an angle when firing to present a thinner silhouette.
Your head should be scanning throughout the game, and many times will be the smallest allowable body part that needs to be exposed when firing. There are several players of paintball and airsoft who do not aim directly down the ironsights, instead aiming down the side of the gun, this way they can fire over taller cover than is possible through ironsight aiming. I personally do not like to do this, but if I am operating in a low light situation with a flashlight, I do the same in order to better see the bb's path of travel.
Your torso is the biggest target. Airsoft CQB in larger fields is cover to cover fire for the most part. The majority of hits I take are in the mask from looking around cover, or in the torso when I am moving between cover. Therefore keeping your body small, moving quickly is paramount to evading bbs.
Step 6: Airsoft Basic Maintenance
This portion of the instructable can quickly become overly complex so I'm going to limit myself to very basic maintenance of an airsoft AEG. At the very least maintenance requires silicon oil.
Trust me when I say that airsoft guns are engineered precisely. While a real steel M16 can be field stripped rather quickly, an AEG with problems that are not very basic (dead battery, bb jam, etc.) is simply out of commission for at the very least 30 minutes IF you are an experienced tech with the right tools and replacement parts for the job. I'm including pictures of my AEG gearbox, but there are many others on the internet that can be found with ease and which might better show the intricacy and small parts in an airsoft gearbox.
So be grateful and respect the airsoft tech that works on your gun, because the title of "tech" is very applicable despite the popular belief that airsoft guns are simple toys.
Step 7: Oil
Like their real steel counterparts, airsoft guns need to be oiled to be kept in good operating condition. For basic maintenance on an AEG oil should be used when cleaning the barrel, and very sparingly used in the magazines and magwells.
Nearly everything past what you can do with silicon oil is going to be in disassembly of your gun, either to upgrade or repair something inside. Remember, you don't have to upgrade your gun to have fun in this sport unless you're going outdoor and need a higher FPS rating, or (as in my case) you need to downgrade your gun to follow CQB FPS limits.
Most airsoft guns come packaged with a long stick that has a beveled end and an end with an eyelet. The beveled end is to unjam bb's that have become lodged in the barrel, the eyelet end is to attach a scrap of cloth and clean the bore of the barrel. Keeping your barrel clean and free of dust will help your accuracy and prevent barrel jams. Remember, airsoft uses 6mm bbs, stock barrels are about 6.08mm-6.10mm and tightbore barrels range from 6.03mm-6.05mm, these are extremely tight tolerances and even a dribble of oil can cause bbs to stop mid barrel, which is turn may cause bb's to shatter and damage the internals.
Step 8: Hop Up
The hop up unit is one of the major parts of an airsoft gun and I'm willing to give advice on it because it is relatively simple and more important, sits outside the gearbox (for all guns that I have encountered, anyway). The hop up is attached to the barrel, when disassembling the hopup you'll have to unhook the hopup barrel from the inner barrel, the barrel is simply a "screw" type affair that raises or lowers the hopup spacer against the bucking, which expands into the bore of your gun. The bb is then shot against and past this bump, which through friction gives the bb backspin. There's also a small lip on the hopup bucking which prevents doublefeeds and misfeeds.
Since that's not much to say on the topic of maintenance, let's talk about the different upgrade paths. This is to be used as a quick guide ONLY, I'm only going to list the two different upgrade paths and what they entail. I am not an airsoft tech and most of these upgrades are not ones that I would know how to accomplish myself. Aftermarket parts are sometimes gun, company, and/or gearbox specific. It's sometimes mindboggling how many different parts there are and their interdependencies.
Step 9: FPS Upgrade
1. Spring upgrade
A spring upgrade is the obvious way to increase FPS. Spring ratings can be found online, but I went from a 120 spring to a 100 spring in order to drop my FPS from about 390~ FPS to about 340~ FPS. An upgraded spring begins to stress nearly all the other parts of the gearbox.
2. Tightbore barrel
As I mentioned previously the difference between a stock barrel and tightbore barrel can be as little 0.04mm, however this difference can mean slight increases in bb velocity since there is less air escaping past the bb.
3. Associated parts
The spring upgrade is THE way to upgrade how hard your gun shoots. However the spring upgrade causes increased stress on all parts of the gearbox. You want the technical list? Piston, gears (Spur, Sector, Bevel), bushings, tappet plate, spring guide, motor, everything. Each of these may need to be upgraded in order to handle a stronger spring. Man, I've heard of people's entire gearboxes cracking under the pressure of ultra strong springs and internal stress.
Step 10: ROF Upgrade
1. Battery upgrade
Most of the mid to high end AEGs can handle an upgraded battery with a higher voltage. An 8.4v battery is standard, while a 9.6v is the upgraded standard, providing a higher ROF which in turn wears the internals at a faster rate. Recently lithium polymer batteries have begun entering the airsoft market, and they operate with different characteristics. For example: my ICS SIG552 as opposed to my old TM SIG552 (rest in peace) cannot fit even my mini 8.4v battery, the standard size for nearly all airsoft guns. I went with a 7.2v lipoly battery and it shoots on par or faster than my 9.6v nimh.
2. Motor upgrade
Like FPS upgrades, the ROF is mainly influenced by one specific upgrade (battery for ROF, spring for FPS). However, there are other parts that can help speed up your fire rate. The motor upgrade is the second part, which is physically the next part after the battery that cycles your gun faster. A high speed motor will spin faster, but may require high speed gears to operate efficiently.
3. Associated parts
There is a give and take balance between FPS and ROF, a motor that spins faster will not necessarily be able to deliver enough torque for an upgraded spring. Different gear sets exist for each type of upgrade (helical vs flat gears). A lightweight piston might cycle faster, but also might shatter upon impact (I have experienced this before. There is also a strange "vacuum" effect that I have heard about, when your piston cycles so fast that upon winding back for the next shot, the bb hasn't left the barrel yet, so the piston actually sucks the bb back, getting shot by the next bb in the chamber.
I am not going to lie, these aren't your average problems, are are only encountered by those who have upgraded their guns to the edge of their tolerance. However if you do go down the upgrade routes, it is something to remember.
Step 11: Accessories
Accessories (gear and gun attachments) on the other hand are quite multiple. They can be aesthetic, but most can also serve a functional role.
Silencers/Suppressors: They can be aesthetic only, or conceal a long inner barrel. I own a suppressor that actually decreases the sound of fire, but its legality is rather, questionable.
Flash hiders: For the most part for aesthetics only, unless you buy a Noveske style flash hider which makes it louder because of its parabolic design.
Rail covers/color rails: Aesthetics, their original usage is to protect the operator's hands from the sharp edges of the rails.
Optics: Ranging from ironsights to red dot sights, to ACOGs to rifle scopes these accessories can be quite expensive. The biggest difference in their functional uses is if they provide magnification or not. if they do magnify they will no doubt be used for field use, however for close quarters use a sight rather than scope is preferable to me.
Flashlights: Weapon mounted flashlights are used for both illumination and as an deterrent against opponents. A bright enough light will blind them and provide concealment of the person behind the light. It also keeps opponents behind cover if they realize a light (and therefore weapon) is trained in their direction.
Stability: Sniper grips, cheek rests, and bipods all aid in the stability of a gun, but are mostly for snipers/large field use.
Magazine accessories: I've already mentioned ready-mags and clips, but there are also aftermarket box/drum mags for certain guns which increase your ammo capacity into the thousands. Along with these are magpuls, which essentially are straps on the bottom of the magazine which aid in pulling them from pouches.
Lasers: I'm putting lasers in their own section because while they are functional as both aiming aid and deterrent against enemy revealing themselves, I personally do not like taking a laser beam in the eye. I could go on about permanent damage but research and federal regulations vary on the amount of damage, exposure time, and power output of lasers (one of the biggest airsoft suppliers is Hong Kong, my dubious legality silencer came from Hong Kong, draw your own conclusions). I can handle bbs to my neck, that's part of the game, but I simply don't like having a laser pointed at my eye.
Step 12: Till Next Time (hopefully Faster)
Well, that's really all I can dig up from my brain right now. The photos I've attached are all I can at the moment, feel free to request more, but the photo upload and organization is very frustrating at the moment. There are many sites online related to airsoft and the mechanics of airsoft guns, the instructable community of airsofters can't compare (no offense!) to the technical experience of the established airsoft sites. Please look to them for any detailed help regarding your own guns. I again apologize for the long delay between the first and second, which I promised at least twice.
I hope you won't begrudge me your comments or suggestions on this instructable or for ideas on a new one. I am testing my airsoft backstop I cobbled together over a weekend with the design goal of being able to capture 90-95% of fired bbs from 2 high caps at the standard of 0.20g @ ~350fps (which means nearly a thousand bbs). Please let me know! Thanks.