The Beginners Guide To Airsoft In The U.K.

So, there’s one aspect of Airsoft that I might have overlooked a little in the blog… Those first steps into Airsoft.

It’s a combination of having played on and off for over 20 years and also knowing that the majority of my early blog readership had a little time under their belts already.

Starting out in Airsoft can seem quite daunting, there’s a whole new vocabulary, a lot of terms that might not make sense and an unwritten code of conduct that for the most part relies on Rule 1 being upheld (more on this later).

A Brief History Of Airsoft

Airsoft is a little older than people think, originating in 1970s Japan as a “what if” project by a certain Mr. Ichiro Nagata. A gun enthusiast and renowned photographer but living in post-war Japan that was distinctly anti-gun, he explored the possibility of making his own functioning replicas out of non-firing models.

These replicas soon gained popularity within the Japanese collector market and several model and toy manufacturers soon started to offer their own lines of spring and gas/air powered replicas.

Cut to the early 90s and a Japanese model car manufacturer with an expanding line of spring powered replicas decided to take things to the next level with a new technology:

The company? Tokyo Marui.

Their new technology? The Airsoft Electric Gun (or AEG).

The FAMAS, cultural icon and the pioneer of modern airsoft technology.

Having already developed a number of notable improvements to the airsoft system, this new power source alongside the Tokyo Marui designed “hop up” system (a new concept back in those days) remain arguably the biggest two steps forward in airsoft technology since Mr Nagata started messing around with toy guns.

As for the FAMAS, it was far above and beyond what was available at that time and ushered in a new era of airsoft that quickly evolved from backyard plinking to a more serious and competitive game.

A long way from Akihabara, A wet weekend in Herefordshire with likeminded friends.

Airsoft in the U.K. started in the early 90s, I’m sure some smart arse will say that they knew someone shooting BB guns at their mates on a farm in 1989, but seriously… The early to mid ‘90s was when we saw a sudden upturn in the popularity of airsoft in general.

The transition from fishing and model shops selling airsoft guns on the side to dedicated airsoft retailers was a massive boost to the market. As time went on, more and more businesses joined the community and for a time… It was good.

Along came 2006 and the VCRA (Violent Crime Reduction Act) this could very well have been the end of Airsoft in the U.K. with its strict measures on replica weapons, practically the only thing standing in the way of a complete ban was the formation of a self-governing system, designed to prevent the sales of Airsoft replicas (realistic imitation firearms or RIFs) to any jack the lad on the street.

To cut a long story short, the 1st of September 2007 the airsoft industry was a turning point, the VCRA was put in place and the main defence for players (and key requirement to buy a Realistic Imitation Firearm or RIF) was UKARA.

The United Kingdom Airsoft Retailer Association, this cartel of airsoft businesses holds a database of registered and active players who played at insured (and therefore legitimate) sites. The scheme was funded by those retailers who were signed up to the system and was meant to be free of charge to sites and players, however… Many sites do charge a yearly fee for the admin involved, some charge far too much but that’s a whole other discussion.

UKARA is far from perfect, but it’s what we’ve got. Those who say it’s not fit for purpose? I’d ask you to look at the last 14 years we’ve used it and the fact we’re still going strong…

There is the alternative of Two Tone Imitation Firearms, but they’re frowned upon by many within the community as it breeds a complacency of the protections and defences put in place to safeguard our hobby.

You’re arguably better off waiting for three games (whilst renting a club gun) and buying your RIF of choice once you’ve got a defence in place, it’ll cost less in the long run and two tones devalue quicker than a Citroen Saxo with go fast stripes and a big bore exhaust.

One of the better examples of a Two Tone “IF”, An Umarex H&K UMP.

UK Law And What You Need To Know:

So there’s the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006 and more recently the Policing and Crime Act 2017 (PCA) which are the two primary pieces of legal legislation we have to consider as airsofters.

The police don’t take their hits and will definitely be carrying better guns than you. Don’t challenge them to an impromptu game.

I won’t go into specifics, but the VCRA covers who should has the ability to legally purchase a Replica (referred to as a RIF) and the PCA governs whether an airsoft replica is within the boundaries of legality in terms of lethality. So what are the basics? Well I’ll outline the basics you need to know below.

  • It is not illegal to own a RIF without a defence, only to buy/sell one without the buyer having a defence. (Both buyer and seller are potentially at risk of prosecution). Once the replica has been legally bought, it’s yours to keep without any other requirements needing to be met.
  • To buy a RIF you must have a defence against prosecution, the most common of these is UKARA. There are others such as Film and TV production and re-enactment societies, but UKARA is the most prevalent and widely accepted, therefore being regarded as the most relevant defence for airsoft.
  • To be placed on the UKARA database you must play at a single airsoft site at least three individual times in a period spanning no less than 2 months but also within a one year period. (see your local site for clarification).
  • Only persons over the age of 18 can be eligible for a defence, persons under the age of 18 cannot be granted a defence and therefore cannot purchase a RIF under any circumstances. A person under 18 can be “gifted” an IF or RIF but no transaction of goods or services must ever take place in relation to the gifting. Beside which, it’s incredibly irresponsible to gift a minor an Imitation Firearm and depending on the circumstances, you might find yourself accountable legally for any actions with said replica.
  • Any person over the age of 18 can purchase a “two tone” or Imitation Firearm (IF) without the need for a defence, however it’s not legal to then convert it to a RIF by swapping painted parts out or spraying the IF a different colour. Doing so is considered “manufacturing” a RIF and could land you in serious trouble with the law. It’s also an incredibly grey area as to whether someone with a defence can “manufacture” a RIF, meaning that it’s (potentially) an offence to re-spray an IF even for a seasoned player.
  • Replica firearms (both RIF and IF) are regarded as low powered air weapons for sporting use, therefore you should be incredibly careful to ensure that they are never visible to anyone when travelling to and from a game. In the eyes of the law, it’s almost always considered as a firearms offence to brandish or otherwise cause distress by showing off your airsoft gun in a public place. At best you can expect your airsoft gun seized, potential prosecution and a criminal record, at worst… A couple of 9mm holes in your chest and a Darwin Award.
  • Airsoft weapons are legally limited at 1.3 joules for all automatic/semi-automatic replicas (roughly 370fps on a .2 gram projectile and 2.5 joules for single shot, non repeating action replicas. Most sites within the U.K. use a “standard” limit that’s slightly below this of 350fps (feet per second) on a .2 gram BB for all automatic and semi-automatic replicas and 500fps for bolt action or single shot replicas.

There are so many aspects to airsoft and the rules around it that I’d never cover them all in one article, however there are many resources for the potential airsofter to find out the answers to virtually any question they will ever have. One of the key resources within the U.K. is our players union, The United Kingdom Airsoft Players Union (UKAPU).

Membership is free (although there are donation based options that are gratefully received) and the organisation works on a local and national level to support the players on a wide range of legal and ethical issues. Do yourself and the hobby a massive favour, join now. Even if you’ve been playing 20 years or 2 days, your membership helps give airsoft a voice and a seat at the table when laws are made.

Site Rules And Safety:

Safety is something that’s vital within airsoft, there are some golden rules to follow with any projectile weapon and by following these simple rules, you’ll never go wrong.

4 Rules of Gun Safety

  • #1 Treat all guns as if they are always loaded.
  • #2 Never let the muzzle cover anything that you are not willing to destroy.
  • #3 Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target and you have made the decision to shoot.
  • #4 Be sure of your target and what lies beyond it.

Beyond this, it’s usually a case of looking at your local sites rules and ensuring that you’re able to follow them to the letter. Some sites will have rules on footwear, most will have specific rules regarding eye/face protection and they will all have rules regarding power output limits, usually measured in FPS (Feet Per Second) or Joules. Minimum Engagement Distances (MED). Be sure to follow these rules, or risk being shown the door.

The key golden rule, practically the only one you need to know before you set foot on site is that eye protection is mandatory. No ifs, buts or maybes. Not having your eyepro on inside the game area is a sure fire way to get yourself kicked off.

Mesh is a good option for sweaty bastards, but only buy mesh from reputable sources.

Your First Steps

The age old advice you’ll get from the seasoned players is “buy decent boots and eyepro”, and it’s such a repeated phrase that it feels like it might have lost its impact. To give you an idea of how important those two things are, if you’ve only got £150 to spend, that should pretty much all go on eyepro and footwear. Forget buying that shitty £60 M4 from JustBBGuns, forget that nice multicam platecarrier… the eyepro and footwear should literally be the first two items you buy.

Guns, lots of guns. Wait until you’ve got the essentials before blowing your wad on that Desert Eagle…

There are great footwear options for people on practically any budget, from sportsdirect’s cheapo mid-height hiking boots through to Merrell, Salomon or even clonky old issue boots. The key thing is to get a degree of grip and also some support for your ankles.

Eyepro? Doesn’t have to cost a lot… Great options such as military issue Revision Sawfly glasses or Wiley X Sabers start at around £30, through to Oakleys, Smith Optics or Gatorz at the £100 plus mark. The key is that you only get two eyes and they do not grow back. Buy two pairs of eye protection, you’ll need a second pair at some stage and it’s best to double up on the essentials.

Once you’ve got those two vital bits of kit sorted, it’s time to look for sites. If you’re lucky and you live in Kent you’ll have a dozen sites on your doorstep, if you’re unlucky and live anywhere else, you might have to drive a little while to get to a site.

Choosing a site can be tough, most sites are a microcosm of the society we live in. There’s people with more money than sense, there’s also right bastards who won’t pay more than £20 for a chest rig. There’s genuinely nice people and there’s also a small element of real cunts.

I call this one “Claire”, it’s loud, big and scary… she’ll chew through your belt in under 30 seconds if you don’t watch her.

Try not to be too shy when you attend, even if alone. You’ll soon find some likeminded people, and if you don’t stumble across your airsoft soul mate… Try another site, sometimes it’ll take a while to find your spiritual home, but once you’ve found it, you’ll have all the friends you need.

Mindset Is Key

It doesn’t matter how much time or money you invest in airsoft, there are certain limitations that cannot be overcome. It’s a bit of a headfuck for anyone whose previously fired any type of firearm (or even air gun) to come into airsoft and have to realise that the projectiles we fire are not inherently accurate. Understand it’s limitations and you’ll have more fun.

On the other end of the spectrum, there can be a bit of a misaligned mentality when it comes to newcomers who are previously online gamers. If you’re hit, that’s it. There’s no health bar, it’s not “headshots only” and you’re shitty 8fields plate carrier doesn’t allow you to soak up more fire with some kind of juggernaut perk.

If you’re not standing there like a knob without any idea what’s going on, are you even an airsofter?

Always aim to play within the spirit of the rules, even those rules you think don’t apply and can be bent, they can’t and they shouldn’t. Stop expending energy trying to cheat the system and instead, work out how to be the best you can be WITHIN the confines of the rules.

Mindset will see you through most of your troubles, and for those you can’t work out… Ask someone whose opinion you trust.

Within a couple of years playing airsoft, you’ll have so much Afghan clothing and tactical gear that GCHQ will almost certainly be watching you.

There are some (usually) unwritten rules that are worth knowing, you might fall in with the right sort of crowd and have these explained to you, but often you’ll probably (through no fault of your own) have them screamed at you by another angry player. Follow the below rules and you’re well on the way to the path of enlightenment.

  1. Don’t be a dick, if at any time you think your actions could be seen as dick-like or dick-esque in nature, stop and re-evaluate your course of action.
  2. Thou shall not touch other people’s shit. This falls under rule one to a degree, but it’s something that needs saying. Don’t move someone’s Blank Firing Grenade or Magazine from where they dropped it, there’s virtually no reason to move it and you could mark yourself out as a thief. Also, dicks in mag wells are not cool, don’t do it (Monkey, this means you too) and don’t pick up someone’s HAO L119A2 without their consent and start mashing your shitty mags into it to prove a point… You’ll awake the dragon.
  3. The bang rule is to be ignored. It’s a stupid idea and defeats the purpose of playing, the surrender rule is to be encouraged but used sparingly… Pain is a wonderful teacher, you’ll teach someone how to clear a room much better by putting a shot in their left arse cheek.
  4. It only takes one shot to hit someone, two at most if they’re mentally challenged. Try not to light people up, we’ve all done it but once it’s been done to you a couple of times you’ll appreciate that it’s not pleasant.
  5. Non-hit takers who appear to have forgotten rule four are subject to “the pain threshold rule”, this has to be a last resort but it can be used to educate and re-establish the level playing field. Flicking that little switch to fun mode and adjusting you’re aim are the key steps. Areas to target include hands, genitals, nipples, arse cheeks and throat. “The enemy cannot scream, if you disable his larynx”.
  6. Always aim for centre mass, generally you’re going to get the reaction you want. If they’re running or standing in the open, aim for the chest. If they’re poking just their head and a gun around the corner… Aim for the nose. It might seem controversial to say “aim for the face”, but you shoot the target that is presented to you. The person presenting just their head and gun round the corner is a legitimate target, they have the choice to wear full face protection or present a bigger target… You could wait for them to do so, but you’re under no obligation to.
  7. Be a nice guy, and again… This falls under rule one as well. Don’t make crude comments about the girl airsofter, treat them as you would a sister (No, not like that you Devonians). Try to not take the piss out the fat cunt struggling to fit his gut under that osprey body armour, don’t mock the new guy with a £10 wish scope on his M4 and certainly don’t be a cunt to the new guy who’s a little over excited and wants you to be his best mate… Everyone is deserving of the same respect you demand for yourself… Except Youtubers Brand Ambassadors, ICS Captains and Bloggers, fuck those guys.
  8. You’re not as good as you think you are, and neither are your guns. Calling someone out for not taking their hits (just because your certain that you’ve ranged them) is a cardinal sin. It rarely works out the way you want it to, and you’ll quickly become nothing more than an anecdote to all those around you. (C’mon maaaaayte, take yer hiiiits!).
  9. Play around a bit, it’ll make you a better player and an appreciation for what makes a site good or bad.
  10. Don’t be a dick… It’s that important, I’ve listed it twice to make sure the message sticks. For the most part, people don’t care if you’re a bin man or a real world door kicker. I’ve known players that have done both as their day time jobs, both get equally lit up by some hyperactive 14 year old with an orange G36 and a Jack Wills hoodie.

Common Mistakes Newbies Make:

  1. Trusting online opinions and regarding them as fact. Everyone’s biased, trust only those who earn your trust. Not everyone has a profit to make by recommending a certain product, but people sure do love the sound of their own voice. [looks in mirror awkwardly]
  2. Buying a bolt action “sniper rifle” for your first or second game and expecting to get the same results as [insert YouTube sniper airsofter]. It’s not an easy craft and certainly not something that’s recommended for 90% of players. Bolt actions often come with restrictions and rules that are not easy to understand until you’ve got a few games under your belt.
  3. That burning desire to join or form a team, ignore it. Seriously… it’s not worth it. Wait until you’ve built that friend network and then consider the whole team thing. There’s only a few people who truly benefit from airsoft teams, those are the guys selling custom patches 😂.
  4. Wanting to be spoon fed, as much as a personal touch to information is always valuable, don’t milk your resources dry. Ask a few questions sure, but do your own research first. Ask me about how effective GBBRs can be vs AEGs and I’ll tell you, but ask me “should I buy a GBBR?” And you’re showing me that you’ve not done enough research for me to give you any information that won’t just go in one ear and out the other.
  5. Setting up a cringe as fuck IG page and expecting people to follow you. We’ve seen it all before, there’s a brace of new teams each year and half of them burn out before September. By all means post pics of you and the boys in the woods LARPing, but understand that you’re nothing special and you’re about a post and a half away from being the next Fill Yer Boots covergirl.
  6. Giving your own opinion as fact, when you’ve got next to no knowledge on a subject. Unless you’ve owned both Viper and Crye G3 Combats, your opinion on Viper being “jUsT aS GuD” holds less weight than one of their shitty chest rigs. Save your worthless drivel, no one cares, except those who don’t know any better.

The Online Airsoft Community Isn’t The Airsoft Community.

The majority of large airsoft community groups are moderated and frequented by silly old cunts and kids who never play airsoft. their opinions should be taken with a hefty handful of salt. It’s all a pissing contest online… If you’ve done a milsim, someone else has done 10. If you’ve got 3 pistols and a shotgun, someone will pull out a minigun. Pay no attention to the online aspect of airsoft, it’s unrelated to the real world and you ha e to be rather unlucky to bump into one of the keyboard warriors, even more so to actually realise who they are.

90% of UKAC, Pew Pew and Rants & Bants.

Every week there’s a new scandal and every month there’s an argument between some Z list youtuber and an Instagram influencer you’ve never heard of. Do yourself a favour, concentrate on what unites us, not what divides us. To the outside world we’re all a bunch of walting twats that “should have joined up if you wanted to shoot people”, so embrace your geekiness and discard the negativity.

Your Reasons For Starting Airsoft Might Not Be The Reasons You Stay

You might start airsoft because you love guns, you might join because you’ve got an itch that nothing else can scratch (there’s a cream for that) or it might just be that you’ve played a game or two of paintball and fancy yourself as the next John Wick. There really are no wrong reasons for starting airsoft, well… There might be one or two… But you’ll find that as the weeks turn into months and the months into years, your reasons for staying might change.

For many, the replicas themselves are the draw…

For some, they turn from passion for the pastime to passion for their tight knit community. For others it might go from the casual Sunday skirmish to playing full on weekenders kitted out like a Chadian post office delivery guy with a pump action shotgun hidden down your trousers (it’s a long story).

The key to it is to have fun, recognise the elements that you enjoy and gravitate towards the parts of airsoft that give you that jolt of enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter if you want to build an L119A2 with exactly the same set up as Obi Wan Nairobi or run around like a mong with an M4 magazine fed Hi-Cappa and a Dye i4 mask. But the most important thing? The people you meet. I’ve had a massive amount of positive experiences within airsoft, it’s always been down to the company I’ve kept at those moments in time. From cups of “tea” with the Scottish lads at Swynnerton to the murderous Hot Dog and coffee fuelled rampages at Copehill, Longmoor and Sennybridge with the CTF226 guys. From driving around an MOD site in a mocked up Chadian Police Vauxhall Corsa using NVGs to sitting in the setting August sun, chatting to a former SAS NCO about the benefits of good Coffee, a daily walk outdoors and the importance of mental health awareness…

No other pastime has opened so many doors and there’s nothing I can imagine that comes close to Airsoft, without having to sacrifice a damn sight more money, time and effort into it.

The people around you will influence your path within airsoft, surround yourself with good people and you’ll never have a bad game in your life.

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