This is intended as a general introduction to airsoft for people who have never played before. It is a general guide to airsoft in the UK, though many of the points here will be the same abroad. Any advice regarding the law is intended as a rough guide only and you should research further or consult a lawyer on points in detail if you wish to. Vintage Airsoft is not responsible for any action you take regarding this advice!
This is Part One, a really basic starting point.
Part Two will look in more detail at guns and equipment.
Part Three will eventually look at specific airsoft genres.
So, if we are sitting comfortably, let us begin:
So, you want to try airsoft? Well, get yourself an airsoft gun and off you go then!
Oh wait. Don’t do that.
If it was that simple I wouldn’t be writing this would I?
-Buying something that looks just like a real gun is illegal in the UK
-You have to be over 18 years old
-You don’t know what is worth buying yet
The VCRA or, how do I get a UKARA ‘license’?
The Violent Crime Reduction Act is a largely pointless bit of law that makes it illegal to sell, manufacture or import Realistic Imitation Firearms (RIFs) in the UK. There are ways around this however as the VCRA grants exemptions to permit their sale/creation, including Airsoft Skirmishing.
What this means is that you will have to prove to any retailer that you are a regular skirmisher. This hasn’t been defined in law and is, rather like the rest of the VCRA, a bit sketchy and vague. This is where UKARA comes in.
The United Kingdom Airsoft Retailers’ Association (UKARA) co-ordinate with many sites to keep a record of who is skirmishing regularly and therefore has a defence to buy RIFs. When you have played three times in two or more months, sites will allow you to fill in a form and pay to have the pleasure of easily buying RIFs online and in shops.
Let me get one thing straight:
UKARA IS NOT A LICENSE.
UKARA is a scheme set up by retailers to cover their own backs, it is not government run, affiliated or even officially recognised. It has never been tested in a court of law. Nevertheless, among airsofters it is seen as the gold standard of defence and is by far the most widely recognised. Other schemes are available but not as widely recognised.
What about those bright blue/green/red/yellow/see through guns? What’s wrong with that?
These guns, or Two-Tones as they are often called, are Imitation Firearms (IFs) under the VCRA. The difference is that although they look just like the gun in every way, they are at least 50% brightly coloured or see-through to mark them out as not real. All you need to buy these is to be over 18.
If you just intend to mess about with friends (on land with permission!) or shoot in the garden these are fine. For serious airsoft skirmishing they have a number of issues. Firstly, in woodland a bright pink gun is quite visible.
Secondly, many of the cheaper options on two tones are very low quality. They have plastic internals, plastic externals, low power and are generally a bit dismal. Many retailers do however offer a two-tone service on good quality guns for a token £15-20. That’s a lot of money to spend to make your gun less useful, but if you want a good airsoft gun without actually going skirmishing then that’s the way to go!
Yes, you can repaint it once you have a defence to the VCRA, but it will chip off and wear as you use it, revealing your lovely, vibrant undercoat once again.
And even after all of this, you may have bought a two-tone, gone airsofting, realised your gun is rubbish and all your new airsoft buddies may have to let you know there aren’t many good upgrade parts for that particular model. Then you are back to square one.
So, don’t get a gun! Yet.
Choose a site
There are airsoft sites all over the UK, they are roughly divided into to two major types: Woodland and CQB (Close-Quarter Battle).
For your first airsoft experience, I would wholeheartedly recommend woodland/outdoor sites. The chief reason is that most shooting happens at range, so when you get shot it hurts less. Yes, airsoft hurts, but 99% of shots in woodland sites sting for a moment to let you know you have been hit and fade off very quickly. It isn’t something you have to worry about unless you get in very close.
Outdoor airsoft is very much fieldcraft, movement and tactics based. Good camouflage, accuracy and unit tactics pay off here. Don’t worry about knowing everything about these subjects when you first turn up, in fact if you go in with a know-it-all attitude you will learn the hard way that it’s not quite like in the movies.
CQB is a very different beast. I recommend you play a few outdoor games first before trying this. CQB is intense, fast and painful. CQB will leave marks. Good CQB sites are strict about the power allowed and do not allow full automatic, which is unnecessary.
Your first concern is to find one local to you. If it’s convenient, you can get to more games and not have to set off at the crack of dawn or psych yourself up for a long drive home after a hard day’s skirmishing. If you have a few options, try them all out. You want a site with good prices for hiring kit, decent guns for you to use and a friendly bunch of local players for you to learn from. Ideally, the site owner/operator should have an interest in airsoft as the games will be better run and based on the abilities of airsoft guns as opposed to the limitations of paintball guns (which many sites also run).
I’ve found the site I would like to try, what should I take?
Money. Cash is best as not all sites have card facilities. Enough to hire for the day and buy some more ammo, you will run out quickly until you learn which shots are worth taking!
Rough clothes. You can pick up an old pair of DPMs (the recently discontinued British combat uniform) and a jacket for a few quid and these are absolutely fine. You can also get MTP (Multi-Terrain Pattern), the current British uniform very readily now. They are lightweight, hardwearing and comfortable, as well as breathable in warm weather. Avoid denim, it is hot, stiff and gets very heavy and uncomfortable when wet.
A hat. This is one bit of protective gear sites don’t typically provide. Hits on the skull do hurt, so the more of your head that is covered the better. A beanie is fine.
Gloves. Hand strikes are a bit sore, in CQB these are vital as hands get hit a lot, in woodland they are nice to have. In winter they also make holding metal guns a lot more comfortable.
Footwear. Substantial, supportive footwear is a must, especially on woodland sites. At a minimum, hiking boots, or ideally high-ankle assault boots. You can get these easily in army surplus shops, it is worth trying on a few pairs to find ones that fit well. Also consider a thick pair of outer socks to prevent blisters.
A good sporting attitude and a good dose of honesty. If you don’t play honourably and take your hits you won’t make many friends and will probably get shot a lot to make up for it until you do. Regular airsofters hate cheating, they don’t take kindly to it. Listen to the marshals, they will give a safety briefing at the beginning and instructions during the game. They are there for your safety and enjoyment.
Everything else should be provided by the site, a basic webbing set, gun, ammo, batteries/gas, eye protection (eyepro) and face protection (facepro). Wear face protection for your first goes, at least until you know what it’s like getting hit.
Oh, three final bits of advice:
-If you’re not sure, ask a marshal. There’s no such thing as a stupid question, they know not everyone is familiar with guns and safety gear
–Keep your eyepro on when you’re not in the safe area. You will get yelled at for taking it off, for you own good
-Take your time and enjoy yourself. You don’t have to be Andy McNab or Jason Bourne on your first day. No-one is.
The guns we build here at Vintage Airsoft are generally for the more experienced airsofter who has specialist needs. However we deal with all levels of players and are always happy to help build the gun of your dreams.
We’ll be covering in more detail the kit you may want to consider in the next post.
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You can buy many of our finished products in our Etsy store.