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why do they call it "soft"?

As I have been obliquely mentioning over the past few weeks, I have been slowly getting into the modern sport / recreation / activity that is commonly known as "airsoft". For the uninitiated, think "paintball without the paint", and for the really uninitiated, think "war games with pellet rifles". So after two all-afternoon matches / games / whatever-you-want-to-call them, what do I think? Well, I have already procured my own rifle (a used KWA SR12), set of woodland cammies, and mask, so guess for yourself.

The important thing about airsoft is to keep in mind what it is, and what it is not.

To begin with, airsoft is a game; it can be a valuable training tool, but the cold reality is that hitting some field in the middle of nowhere and going into it with untrained civilians ranging from 12 to 72 years of age is not really going to teach you a whole lot. On the other hand, realistic force-on-force training with airsoft toys has become so prevalent that even the military is getting in on the game. As always, the value of the experience is dependent upon your willingness to learn, and the people you are learning with, but unless you go to a dedicated school, airsoft boils down to a game.

Moving on, airsoft is not reality. Everyone goes home at the end of the day. You (generally) get an unlimited number of lives. Hand-to-hand gets you ejected from the field. Most fields maintain a "minimum engagement distance". Most fields put caps on the max speed or energy of the rifles. Ranges are measured in hundreds of feet, not yards (this was one of the harder transitions for me). "High capacity" magazines in the airsoft world would cause complete and total bladder failure of all "gun control" extremists if the number carried over to "real steel" guns (think 300+ rounds). "Pray and spray" actually works surprisingly well (probably thanks to the magazine size). Concealment is generally equivalent to cover. "Grenade launchers" work entirely differently. Wind is even less your friend (a 0.25g plastic ball bearing traveling at around 350fps (at the barrel) will be sent into the next county by much more than a stiff breeze).

Airsoft can still be valuable. Even though we are talking about a fundamentally less-accurate platform and projectile, the basic tenets of accuracy will continue to apply in all circumstances – how you hold the firearm, how you pull the trigger, how you breathe, and so forth; it is up for debate as to whether or not you will notice any changes through the "noise", but that is another matter. Moving around in the forest is moving around in the forest (or any other geographical area), regardless of whether that device in your hands is "real" or not, and the same can be said for squad tactics, building-to-building fighting, etc. Likewise, being ambushed / flanked / deceived / stalked / etc. (or, preferably, doing it yourself) works out the same way the world over. Regardless of the unreality of the "bullets" flying at you (they print -1 in really tiny font on every BB, dontcha know?), you will almost certainly experience a stress reaction to being "shot" at, and knowing how you and your body will handle that can be valuable information. Conversely, learning how to handle other people going through those reactions can be useful as well.

And even looking past the experience of the airsoft field, the airsoft toys can be invaluable for safely teaching people how to not only obey the Four Rules of Gun Safety, but also know how to use specific platforms – airsoft AR-15s, 1911s, G36s, and whatnot elses all operate in nearly the same fashion as their "real steel" counterparts, so learning the manual of arms works out the same way. That similarity also makes practicing house-clearing (if you are so inclined to those plans) significantly less likely to cause random holes in your walls, as well as checking where those holes could potentially end up, while still using devices that are nominally like your actual firearms. 

Airsoft is a hell of a workout, or, at least, it can be. Especially if you die as much as I do. And along the way to possibly burning off a few pounds, you may develop an enhanced respect for our servicemen and women who do this kind of gos-se day-in and day-out, with real guns, real gear, and real bad guys shooting real bullets at them.

Airsoft is here to stay, at least based on AirSplat’s inclusion on the Internet Retailer Top 500 list. Might as well see what all the hubbub is about, eh?

And, finally, airsoft is fun. Let us face it – if you read this weblog, you probably enjoyed playing "army" / "cowboys and indians" / "cops and robbers" / etc. as children, and still probably play war games / first-person shooters / real-time strategies / etc. So now imagine getting together with some of your buddies and doing the same thing out in the wilderness of wherever you live, and tell me that does not sound like an entertaining time. Sure, you are going to die. Sure, some people are jerks and are seriously negligent about calling their hits. Sure, some people take themselves and the game way too seriously*. But it is still an entertaining, and (almost more importantly these days) affordable**, way to spend an afternoon.

Is it for everyone? Of course not – you have to have a decent pain tolerance and a willingness to actually get down and dirty to be able to actually have any fun at this. But if any of the above sounds interesting to you, check around and see if you have a field in your area; the odds are good that they will rent/let you borrow an airsoft rifle for a match or two, and by then you should know if it is something you would enjoy. And if you are in the Knoxville area, hit up Parafrog for your airsoft needs – not only do they not mind customers lawfully bearing arms in their store, but they are genuinely concerned about keeping you on as a customer, and seem inordinately eager to help you out (note, Google Maps lies about their location; they are currently here) – and if you are looking for a field in the area, drop me an email.

(As always, certain safety rules should be adhered to when playing airsoft. Eye protection is a must, and I would recommend something that can cover your mouth and ears as well. When off the field, state and federal laws generally require some sort of orange tip to be on the airsoft toy, designating that is not a "real steel" firearm. "Real steel" firearms should not be brought onto an airsoft field, and, personally, I would argue against them even being left in the car (too many airsoft toys are damned near indistinguishable from their real counterparts, and you would not want to reach for one and grab the other). Shooting people in the head/face or within 20-50 feet is generally frowned upon (specific restrictions dependent upon fields/players). The Four Rules still apply (with different meanings of "destroy"), especially during stand down periods, so stop waving that damned thing around. Yadda yadda. I am not a lawyer. You are responsible for your own actions.)

(* – Not that there is anything necessarily wrong with that, per se, but see above about airsoft not being reality, and bear in mind that it is important to maintain the distinction.)

(** – In the Knoxville area, fields charge between $5 and $10 for 6-8 hours of gameplay. Airsoft rifles run between $100 for a basic, bare-bones AEG (automatic electric gun) that is almost entirely plastic and will hopefully last you a while, up to $500 and beyond for officially-licensed, all-metal clones of HKs and SCARs and the like. And a bag of 4000 BBs runs you somewhere around $12-$15.)

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