This is my first instructable, so please bear that in mind. I've seen a couple other airsoft guides on instructables, but I want mine to be much more comprehensive and approaching the hobby from a point of view that takes into account most of the concerns I went through myself when I started playing.
Step 1: You Sure?
The first step is important, and that's if you're sure you can handle shooting people (possibly your friends) and being shot (again, by your friends). I recommend trying the sport out first, renting before buying, and seeing if you like it.
BEFORE YOU PLAY:
This sport does sometimes draw blood, cause bruises, and definitely raise some welts. At times I have experienced a mouth full of bb fragments, a bleeding neck, ear, arms, blood blisters on the fingers, and yes, occasionally welts on my butt. If you can handle your coworkers / spouse / fellow churchmembers seeing those battle scars, and perhaps wondering where that hickey or strange skin disease came from, read on.
Airsoft is about realism, they are called airsoft "guns", not like paintball "markers" for a reason. Airsoft guns are made to look as close as possible to real steel weaponry, and advanced play defines Airsoft as a "milsim" - military simulation. Systema for example is an airsoft manufacturer that is geared more towards "training tools" than "toys". Remember that running around with a replica gun will get you killed, arrested, or slowly choke airsoft as a legal sport in the US. Most players of all experience levels would attend an organized outdoor event before finding some willing private property owner that would allow them to destroy their land with plastic bb waste, and bb shredded trees and plant life. If you live in a rural area, and you just want to skirmish with a few friends, the least you can do is inform your neighbors if you're near their property, and local law enforcement as well. Remember too that plastic bb's will be there a long time, there are some biodegradeable bb's marketed, but from most research they leave much to be desired.
Backyard airsofting in the middle of suburbia is ALWAYS A TERRIBLE IDEA. Helicopters, low flying planes, people passing by will see what looks like either a small scale shootout or a homegrown training site for rebels-terrorists-whatever. Just don't do it.
I've seen a few other places where people swear by backyard airsofting, but in my opinion you're still asking for trouble, and you're just lucky that people have ignored you so far. Getting caught is the proof, and who's going to come back and comment about the time you and your friends were heavily fined, arrested, and jailed for backyard airsofting? No, the only commenters will be the ones who haven't been caught yet.
FINDING A PLACE TO PLAY:
Okay, finally! Here's where this instructable really starts. CQB or CQC - close quarters battle/combat, is I think the best way to jump right into the pool.
Find a good CQB airsoft site, next, call the site! If you're a total beginner there are a few questions you need to ask:
1. Are there rentals, supplies available for purchase onsite?
Can you rent a gun and/or a mask there? What about buying gas, bb's, snacks/drinks, maybe even a gun if you want. Rentals are almost 100% sure to be available, but you might as well be sure.
2. What is the policy regarding eye protection?
Some sites may require full masks, while others require only approved goggles.
(Note: Approved goggles do not mean shop goggles, or even shooters glasses. Shop goggles will shatter into brittle shards, and shooter's glasses do not offer fully closed protection. Even military spec'd rain/wind/dust goggles will break, you need to find a good paintball mask or purpose-built airsoft goggles at the least.
3. If you're a minor, what about parental consent?
Do they have to be there? Do you need any ID?
4. What are the hours?
Airsoft is still a relatively small and niche sport, sometimes my friends and I will call up simply to ask if there's anyone there at all. (Don't get me wrong, a small game can be just as fun as a wild 30 on 30 shootout.)
5. Do they take breaks?
This might be unique to the field I frequent, but they take a 30-60 minute break for lunch and dinner (wristbands show who has paid and can reenter the field), after the dinner break (~7pm) prices are cut to a half day rate, so this might be a good time to jump in.
So now that you've called and you're ready to leave, how do you prepare?
Step 2: Dressing and Loading Out
So you're about to take your first shots. What should you do to prepare?
TIPS FOR ROOKIES:
For the first timer without any gear: jeans, a good leather or strong sided pair of shoes, and either a sweater or longsleeved shirt are my recommendations. A pair of gloves.
You can go in almost anything, although it's your own skin. Many people will buy military style/surplus gear but many of the players I play with will still wear bluejeans and regular sneakers instead of combat boots and a full camo BDU set, but it all depends on how much "sim" feel you want, and how much you can afford, or (unlikely) if the field is hosting an event that requires a certain outfit, just avoid these days. I'd suggest neutral colors and comfortable clothing above all. Your big red sweater might block the bb's, but it's a tasty target, and your blue dress shirt will feel and look awful after a few rounds of sweating and leaning on barriers. As for gloves, paintball gloves, fitting work gloves (not the big gray Mickey Mouse ones, you need your finger to fit inside the trigger guard) are decent, but "Mechanix" gloves will also work, they sell a pair that doesn't have their brand standing out in white, so try and find those if you want to be more stealthy.
Bring money, of course, and maybe some bottled water (if the field allows it). A probably helpful tip that I've personally never followed: band-aids or a first aid kit, but most wounds are pretty minor.
IF YOU'RE BRINGING YOUR OWN GUN:
More on owning/renting a gun in the next step, but if you already have one, BAG IT! Either a real gun bag, the box it came in, or a backpack will do, but not a paper or plastic bag. You want the profile to be covered at the very least. You should not be walking around outside with an exposed weapon. Period. Ask the field for more info.
TIPS FOR VETERANS:
Loadout your stuff as much as possible before you leave. For CQB, you want to get there, get ready and hop right in. I usually load my hi-cap mags, put in my fully charged battery, and recheck my stuff before I leave the house. Although if you have a rifle with a slippery safety, best not to risk it shooting off in the car on the way there. Also, if you have a high powered flashlight, I suggest taking the batteries out, i've melted a lens cap and a MOLLE pouch by leaving it in and the flashlight gets accidentally switched on.
Step 3: The Rules of Engagement
If you stop after this page, I won't feel bad, just make sure you read all the rules!
These are basics, the rules may be different at the field you attend, if you don't know, be sure to ask!
1. Eye protection!
This is default for any type of game. Once you enter the CQB field, your eye protection should be on. Between games it's usually okay to walk around unprotected, but if there's bb's in the air or you don't know, put your goggles or mask on. If your protection comes off and you're in a dangerous situation, call yourself out, and hold your mask or goggles over your eyes and carefully walk out. If you can't, shout for the refs, "blind man" or similar should get their attention. Better the round gets postponed for a few minutes than someone gets hurt and everyone has to stop for much longer, or at worst, medical attention needs to be called.
2. No physical contact!
This means no fighting. The last thing anyone wants is a fight to break out when people are carrying high powered projectile weapons. And even without them, it ruins the game. Most field will kick you out or ban you for getting fights. At the field I play at, this extends to verbal contact with the other team. There's no shouting expletives or taunts, because for the most part that is not tactical, or good sportsmanship. Some fields allow "silent kills" where you touch the barrel of the gun against your unaware target, in this manner you don't give away your position to the enemy.
3. Call your hits!
The first 2 rules were safety issues, this rule is the core of airsoft. This is not paintball, where hits are bright and obvious, a 6mm plastic bb is nearly invisible at speed, they make black bb's to make them even harder to spot. Airsoft is honor based, and calling yourself out, raising your hand or weapon, and getting off the field is required for the game to work. Some times you will hear the hit if not feel it, but still, you call yourself out. Remember: the reverse is true, if you're shooting someone obviously hitting them and they are not calling themselves out, keep shooting them!
What's a hit? Hits on your rifle are not hits at the field I play at, nor are ricochet hits, but these really only apply if you can see the bb's bouncing off an opposing wall. Friendly fire (being shot by your own team mates) counts as being hit, and everyone makes this mistake at one time or another, just try and be careful.
4. Minimum engagement distance
This distance is variable by field, but also varies in situations. At close range, 10-15 feet (and especially less), if you come upon an enemy facing you, you usually don't shoot, you both are out (at my field). Some fields require you to stop, back up without firing, and reengage at a safer distance. You should call surrender to exposed opponents who don't know you're there as well, it's bad form to shoot players close range in the back. But again, if they don't take the offered surrender, shoot them!
5. Dead men don't talk
Once you're hit and either walking out, back to your starting area, or standing still dead/waiting for a medic, you do not talk. Talking will usually get you sent off the field, or more severe punishment by the refs. (Sit out a round, sit out the night)
6. Listen to the refs!
The refs, unless you're playing a pickup game, work for the field, and have the authority to kick you out. Cheating in an honor based game is stupid, and if you get caught, you're marked as someone to watch. If they tell you to stop a game, you do not continue playing or moving. If you think they're wrong, it's CQB, it's many rounds, just ask them to clarify (after the current round is over!), or just let it be, you can't ask to change refs.
7. FPS limits
Many field have a maximum limit to how powerful your gun can be, (350fps per .20g bb). They will chrono all guns before the game to make sure you're not shooting hot, but if you switch out (there are a variety of tricks) and are caught, you're out of the game. It's only a 6 millimeter, 2/10 of a gram weight BB, but it's going extremely fast, and like I said, a bb has shattered on my mask and I got a mouthful of bb fragments before, if it was travelling much faster, I'd have gotten a throatful.
8. Blind fire
I don't think any fields allow blind firing (shooting without your face exposed). This means you can't hoist your gun over a wall or peek it around a corner and fire wildly to lay down "cover fire", otherwise it's simply a bb sink game, trench warfare, and terribly un-fun. You must at least aim each shot, with the very least having your head exposed behind your gun. I do not think firing from the hip counts as blind firing, but if your entire body is exposed, you might as well be aiming your shots.
9. Weapon Safety (Perhaps the most important one - Thanks for reminding me, Sergeant Crayon!)
Treat airsoft weapons just like you would real ones, because most of the rules for real firearms apply! Ejecting a magazine will still leave a round in the chamber, just like real guns. If you're not playing, don't point the gun anywhere except down or up (probably up though, bb's richochet). Keep your safety on when not playing as well. Even when I'm performing routine maintenance on my gun, I'll have the mag empty and dry fire the gun a couple times in order to both release the spring inside, and empty the chamber of the bb that might be left inside. Opening a gearbox with a compressed spring is asking for a high powered jack in the box effect. And peering down the barrel is akin to what Wile E. Coyote would do, with terrible real life consequences. If you have a stuck bb, there's ways to get it out. Another instructable is in the works that will include basic maintenance.
Finally, here are some of the more subtle guidelines that need to be followed, the "don't look stupid" rules:
- 0.20g 6mm BB's are STANDARD, which means your gun will chrono (speed check) with .20g BB's. The Crosman or other Walmart/Sportmart bb's are usually .12g, which will fire MUCH faster, but with less force, and wild inaccuracy, besides which the forces in standard airsoft guns might shatter a .12g bb. If you're renting a gun, you'll still need to provide BBs, and if you bring .12g's, they probably won't let you use them in the rental guns.
- don't fire wildly. Especially during the game. Your reenactment of whatever action movie might very well shoot a team-mate, worse: hit a ref, worst: burst a fluorescent light (which contains toxic mercury).
- don't fire in ready rooms / outside the field. Most people take off their eye protection when leaving the field, making this doubly dangerous. Keep your safety ON!
- don't keep your gun on you to run outside to get something you forgot, brandishing a weapon is still brandishing a weapon. Leave the gun inside.
If I've forgotten anything, please let me know, it's very important!
Step 4: Renting/Buying Your First Rifle.
If you're just trying the sport out, I strongly suggest renting a gun at the field of your choice, even though the quality of the gun might not be to your liking, this is still the best way to start out.
Most likely the field will have 2 styles of rifles available for rental, the MP5 or the M16 (there are many variants of the two) for CQB I would recommend the MP5, as turning corners and sighting will be much easier, however the M16 will let you get the feel of a full sized rifle, and its a very versatile and modifiable gun, with many players using it for both outdoor and indoor play, modifying it to suit their needs.
You're going to be limited by the selection of the field, but you'll also be able to see others using their own, and they aren't usually shy about talking about what/why they bought their particular choice.
If you think your rental isn't firing straight or has some problem with it, ask the field managers or refs to help you adjust or fix the weapon), don't try and fix a rental on your own.
If you're going to jump right in, or you've had a chance to rent a gun now, ask around to see what people like, or what you've seen around. If you like the looks of a real steel rifle, chances are they make an airsoft version of it. Since you're reading this, I'll give my suggestions. For AEGs, (Automatic Electric Gun - which is practically synonymous with airsoft rifle) you can't really go wrong with Tokyo Marui(TM) or Classic Army(CA) guns, but these are probably going to be at the upper third in terms of cost of what's on the market. There are many other brands out there, but Tokyo Marui and Classic Army are standards. One up and coming brand is ECHO1(E1), much cheaper than TM or CA guns and with a rising reputation of quality as a midrange AEG. Most the parts will be interchangeable between brands of the same type rifle (barrels, magazines, attachments, etc), but you'll have to check to be sure.
Check around for prices, online and retail, and definitely regardless of price start a good relationship with a retailer. Lots of times you won't want to pay for shipping on heavy metal parts or bb's, and almost all retailers are run by players, they'll give you the lowdown on what's worth buying.
I own a TM Sig 552, TM G36c, and an ICS M4A1, ICS has a reputation of loud operation, but are well known for their MP5 line of airsoft guns. Regarding my own stuff; the Sig 552 is really a fun gun, one that will get second looks because it's not widespread, but has the limitation of not having many accessories/parts available. Also, the hi-cap magazine, made only by TM is woefully small, 220 rounds. The G36c is quite fun, feels very solid and with lots of modification parts. The M4A1 by ICS just doesn't wow me, the gearbox is sounds pretty bad, and the accuracy is not on par with my other TM guns, although the split gearbox and spring detensioner are great ideas, I just don't play with it much, but I know lots of people who love their ICS M4's.
Next, on the pistols!
Step 5: Pistols
The world of airsoft pistols is much more complicated than AEGs. There are many different kinds (Spring, EBB, GBB, NBB) depending on their method of operation and propellant.
On a side note: I wouldn't recommend thinking you can run into even a CQB game with just a pistol, the other players will have tremendously more ammunition than you would, and rate of fire, and range. Some dual wielders have a lot of fun, but I'd recommend this only for the slim, agile player who can sneak around, sidearms are usually holdout or backup weapons.
Basically like a single action pistol, you have to manually cock the slide each time to fire a single bb. Springers generally are the cheapest in terms of quality and power, usually lacking an adjustable hop up and generally being made of plastic. There is not slide movement on trigger pull.
Electric Blowback pistols are semi-automatic and fully automatic(I think), use a battery (I think the standard is 7.2v), the recoil is substantially lighter than in GBB pistols, and the power is lacking as well, unless there's serious modification involved.
Non-blowbacks can be electric or gas, it simply means that the slide does not move with each shot, I have heard the gas versions of these shoot very hard because all the energy is used to propel the bb, I've played against these before, and they are very quiet, the metal "chunk" sound of GBBs, and the wind-grind sound of EBBs is reduced to the muffled thunk of a springer.
Gas Blowbacks make up the largest category of airsoft pistols. They use different varieties of gas to propel the bb as well as cock the slide, operating very much like real steel handguns. The recoil and slide action are satisfyingly solid, and the power can be substantial. There are a few models that are capable of full auto or 3-round burst modes, but mostly they are semi-auto. The gasses involved are, listed in terms of power: HC134a, Green Gas, propane, Red Gas, a "Black" gas, and Co2. There are studies that show that Green Gas is propane with an added name, but most people I've seen still use Green gas for most guns. HC134a is used for "Japanese" guns as I've heard, because the slides are lighter and therefore may break under a higher pressure gas. Red Gas hits harder, but shortens the life of the gun, and Black gas I have never seen, only heard about. Co2 guns use standard CO2 cartridges, one person I play with stands by them because they hit hard and can last all day on one cartridge, but I have not experienced this myself.
I own an old Desert Eagle spring pistol (unbranded), a Wei-Tech(WE) 1911 variant, and a Kuan-Ju Works (KJW) Sig P229. The WE is decent enough, but many airsofters go for the Japanese made guns, Tokyo Marui makes very good pistols, and Western Arms (WA) makes high quality guns that many people wouldn't think of playing with. The Japanese manufacturers however usually use plastic slides, Chinese co's usually use metal, which means they can take higher pressures.
Parts for pistols is another huge market, with many parts available for almost all styles. You can buy full metal slides, high output valves for the gas, new grips, and all sorts of add-ons.
Step 6: The Gear.
Okay, so you like airsoft! Awesome, it's a fun sport that can get expensive, but from what I've heard, at relative depths, paintball is much more expensive once you commit to it.
Gloves are the first step past the essential equipment, although many players still run barehanded. A rifle bag completes the transition to an airsoft player who wants to play regularly. A backpack works for a while until you realize the compartments simply aren't made for weapons.
So what's next after you get a bag? Well, probably a hat next, head shots have made me bleed rather profusely. A sling makes it so you don't have to hold your rifle all day long. Kneepads, shuffling on your knees around a warehouse floor with small bb's rolling around begs for the irritating pain of bb's embedded in your knees as you slide around.
A tactical vest is perhaps the next evolutionary step into being deeper into the sport. A vest protects against center mass hits, as well as being a load carrier, for extra mags, perhaps a camelbak style hyrdration system, a pistol, communication equipment, anything you want on hand during a game.
Again, save the mask/goggles, all this gear is extra, not required to have fun, but just stuff that will add to the realism.
Since I began playing, I've seen the increased use of lasers, and then their decline, and now the increased use of flashlights to momentarily "blind" players is what I've noticed. Then grenade launchers (yes, they make airsoft versions of them, including claymores and actual revolving revolvers, and shotguns that eject empty shells).
Try to think about the long term needs, most beginning players will buy a crossdraw vest, only to realize it has a lot of useless pouches or simply does not look "real", see what other players have and use, and see what you want your look to be. If you look at the pictures you'll notice I went with a tan scheme, maybe you want an urban gray/black, or a woodland green/brown, it all depends on preference and perhaps if you want to form a team associated with a certain scheme.
Step 7: That's About It!
Well, that's enough for anyone to get started in airsoft, I didn't talk about combat tactics, the various internals of airsoft guns and their maintenance, or anything like that, but this Instructable is meant to be the first day to first month guide, if you want to polish up on that stuff, please, let me know, if there's enough interest, I will try and make a new instructable about some of the finer nuances of airsoft.
Oh and PS: The homemade airsoft guns / bb projectile weapons on Instructables might be looked down on at a field, they might be fun experiments for fun, but I don't know if they'll be accepted to play with.
Thanks for reading!