Airsoft: Playing War for Big Boys

Want to strap up like John McClane and run around blowing shit up without getting yourself a life sentence? Welcome to airsoft, the all-action war game for your inner Rambo.
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The mist shroud that had previously hung over the dry stream bed like a ghostly veil, parts as a smoke grenade thirty metres away explodes in a fusillade of white sparks, white sparks and a grey smoke that almost magically softens to a vivid orange, like liquid sunshine being poured into a swirling cauldron of fog. This vibrant orange curtain descends silently, slowly and almost apologetically over you as you wait, wait in your foxhole. Wait in your foxhole for them, them, those that want to shoot you. Those that want to send you to the other side.

The smoke lingers, lingers for longer than a celebratory Romeo y Julieta in a cramped boonie tent. The smoke has a peculiar scent, a scent unlike anything you can place, anything your finely tuned nostrils can distinguish. Your fatigues, your BDUs (Battle Dress Uniform) are soaked; a fetid mixture of sweat, spilled electrolytes, insect repellent and morning dew. Your BDUs are Multicam pattern made by OPS Tactical - they’ve never let you down before, never let you be seen before. You wait for them. Wait for the opposition to come, to ‘come on in…’

But you’re not crouched in the dusty and sparsely covered Helmand Province, Afghanistan, facing the never-ending waves of Taliban insurgents. You’re not sitting in the lush vegetation surrounding the Tigris River in Baghdad, Iraq, in conflict with religious extremists and mercenaries from around the globe, intent on civil war. Hell, you’re not even squatting in the thick, humid, suffocating tropical equatorial rainforest surrounding Bogota, Columbia, tracking FARC soldiers and cocaine producing villagers.

You’re buried shallowly in a temperate forest consisting of deciduous and coniferous trees in Wickham, Hampshire, Southern England and it is an early spring morning at Combat South’s woodland site, just nine miles or so north-west of Portsmouth harbour. Combat South is an airsoft shop that also runs two nearby sites for airsoft enthusiasts to skirmish on (woodland and an urban site).

Airsoft is essentially a sport that involves players; or airsofters/skirmishers who own or rent hi-end BB firing weapons that are near perfect 1:1 scale replicas of real world (real steel as it is known) firearms (in appearance, that is).

These weapons/’big boys toys’ are fairly powerful, they are a massive step up from those plastic guns that any self-respecting market stall owner will sell to those annoying kids who will then plague neighbourhood cats, seagulls and satellite dishes with brightly coloured BBs; typically, 8.4-9.2 volt electric battery powered (think R/C batteries rather than AAs) BB guns fire 6mm spherical ammunition at velocities between 200-350 feet per second (fps). Of course, more powerful upgrades can be engineered, but UK site laws usually have a one Joule or 328fps limit; to reduce injuries and ill-feeling (being shot up by a ‘hot’ BB gun is unwelcome and owning one is considered very poor form and will get you or it removed from the game/site).

BB pistols, either gas powered (think mini-propane canister with an adapter) or battery powered (now think AAs) fire at velocities around the 150-320fps mark. Spring powered rifles usually have more lenient rules, as reload times are slower and if a safe ‘engagement zone’ rule is implemented by site marshals, 400-500fps is around the normal velocity mark. To put these velocities into context, the real steel Colt M16 assault rifle fires a 5.56mm round at about 3,100fps.

"Whether you want to look like Adam Baldwin’s ‘Animal Mother’ from ‘Full Metal Jacket’ or Bruce Willis’s ‘John McClane’ from ‘Die Hard’ – there is a look, a kit list and a weapon in the airsoft market for it all."

Combat South is a Portsmouth based company that is both a well-run, very well stocked airsoft shop as well as two well run, highly staffed, friendly skirmish sites, which usually hosts eighty to one hundred players each skirmish date. Steve Banks, an ex-Royal Marine manages both and is ably aided by a close-knit group of friends and indeed, family. The ‘home’ airsoft team, the formidable W.A.S.P.S, help marshal the site.

The site, which is insured and is equipped with a village, several out-buildings and a safe-zone where skirmishers can safely eat, kit-up and chat (a big feature; it is a friendly hobby) without fear of being shot or ‘fragged’, all on a huge woodland site. The day is broken down into two hourly morning games, which are usually a mix of attack vs. defend or capture the flag. A break may be needed depending on the heat/humidity. A longer, objective filled game is launched, where points can be earned and missions are added throughout the duration, until lunchtime – which can be anything from a Christmas hog-roast to a packed BBQ - and then usually this game continues until it starts to get dark. Games run all year round at most sites and are usually running two to three times a month. Combat South deploys about seven marshals per day and rules are strict and must be adhered to.

Airsoft is a world-wide hobby and many players label it a sport. It has several international magazines devoted to it, and it is bigger than you may think. Whereas paintball is very much a fun activity, with players looking like Moto-cross players daubed in brightly coloured gunk, airsoft is usually a more cerebral affair, more planned, more realistic. Mil-Sim (Military Simulation) games are popular, where strict rules must be adhered to and players often spend whole weekends trying to complete set adjectives (typically airsoft is attack vs. defend or attempting to capture a MacGuffin, often within a time limit).

Airsofters generally want to look like real-life subjects, units, or eras, or at least, realistic characters – think the Xbox/Playstation game series ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’ or ‘Ghost Recon: Modern Warfighter’. WW2 and Vietnam styled games are also hugely popular,as are the replicas of the guns used in those conflicts and Combat South hold and host an annual Vietnam styled gathering which is popular with players nationwide.

Players will source real world combat fatigues, emblems, and kit if they can afford it. Upgrading and customising weapons is popular and widespread. It is not unusual for players to have accounts with Asian and US retailers to take advantage of new or unobtainable products that the UK market wouldn’t otherwise see. When exchange rates were favourable for the Sterling, UK airsofters imported like mad. Airsoft is very much an Asian creation. The first - and who are now the major airsoft manufacturers, retailers and agents - are from Japan, China, Taiwan and Korea.

Many airsofters are collectors, others are re-enactors, others are using it to stay fit and ready for maybe real world fighting, others are doing it for the ‘rush.’ It can be appreciated on many levels. Whether you want to look like Adam Baldwin’s ‘Animal Mother’ from ‘Full Metal Jacket’ or Bruce Willis’s ‘John McClane’ from ‘Die Hard’ – there is a look, a kit list and a weapon in the airsoft market for it all.

Like ‘Aliens?’ Sure, get the AEG M41A Pulse rifle kit. Like ‘Rambo?’ Then buy an AEG M60 light machine gun. Heck, even ‘Ol’ Painless’ from ‘Predator’ – the M134 Minigun and the infamous M82 Barrett .50 calibre rifle from ‘Navy Seals’ are available in 6mm BB spouting forms! There are hundreds of airsoft teams out there, and most usually want new recruits to join in the fun.

For prices, equipment and general information please check out Red Wolf Airsoft.

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