You see the open field coming up, and the only way to access the bridge to cross the river is to also traverse the field. You’ve been following them for several miles now and certainly don’t to reveal your position. You’ve trained extensively for this, and you decide to cross using the stalking crawl also known as the Sniper crawl. If you don’, then you’ll surely lose all the ground you have gained on them. You successfully make it to the other side, and much to your delight, they are resting on a fallen tree on the other side. You carefully bring your rifle to your side, load it and aim in their direction. With the utmost care, you release the safety, and use the scope to zero in on the main target. Crack! Crack! “Hit” You run in their direction, celebrating your victory, it’s the last day of this adventure and you won!
What I’ve just described isn’t the latest Hollywood action film: it’s the sport of Airsoft, and while fun, can be a valuable tool in teaching real world skills for emergency preparedness and survival.
In the United States, Airsoft had only had a small following until the late 1990s. This was because the only Airsoft manufacturers were from Japan and Taiwan, and importing Airsoft guns on a small scale was expensive due to high initial prices and the need for specialized knowledge. In the past decade however, the sport has developed from a small niche in the sporting market to a very popular sport and tactical simulation tool. The recent robust and more affordable designs coming out of neighboring China, has made Airsoft widely accessible to the public. There are fields and stores nationwide that are helping to spread the excitement and knowledge of this fun and safe sport.
Airsoft is different from air rifles and pellet guns in that they use standardized 6mm plastic BBs that weigh far less than metal pellets or sabots, and are perfectly safe in a controlled play environment [with adequate eye protection].
There are an increasing number of Airsoft clubs and organizations that organize multiple day events that can be attended for a set fee. They’re run on weekends, usually centered around military scenarios, and the core skills practiced there are valuable to real world preparedness. There are varying degrees of immersion, varying from “play and go back to the car for a snack” to full milsim, where one acts, functions, and performs like a real military force for the entire duration. These latter are great for testing out survival skills. You’ll make camp and have to spend one or two nights in the wilderness. You can practice making your tent or sleeping area using local materials and tarp. You’ll have to bring your own food and water. Since these games are full immersion, even when you’re ready for bed you have to stay alert for surprises coming at a moment’s notice. If there are local sources of water around, like a stream, you can put your portable water filtration devices to the test so you know its reliable when needed.
On a recent excursion, we arranged night watch shifts–nothing feels greater than being the only one awake in your unit, keeping an eye out for moving shadows. In the day you’ll work with your group or squad and practice maneuvers such as stalking, advancing, assault, and defense. Make sure to ask the event planner if you can practice first aid on “injured” soldiers with faux sprained ankles, cuts, and broken bones using a real First Aid Kit. You’re allowed to become familiarized with firearms and learn how to use them properly. Airsoft teaches proper weapon usage, maintenance, and safety precautions. Most Airsoft guns in the mid-range price look, feel, and function as close to the real steel guns as possible. Some Airsoft pistols even disassemble the same way as the real thing! Real firearms training is great for becoming accustomed to the physical feel of shooting a gun, but Airsoft simulation events teach valuable self-defense tactics.
The most important skills these events teach is mindset. You can put all your survival gear through real world paces, know what works, and take out what doesn’t. Working in a team, you’re depended upon and you depend on them. Trust is crucial to any kind of worst-case world scenario. You have to be constantly aware of your surroundings, and learn to distinguish between friend and foe. You’ll hone your aiming and marksmanship skills on real targets who will react and move. You’ll train yourself how to respond – rather than merely react to surprises and potential threats. And if you’re “killed” you can learn from your mistakes, and do better next time.
There are also indoor and outdoor fields that have an open entry policy, you can play for a few hours, and go home. One can definitely learn survival combat methods there. But I’ve found that extended outdoor events test and teach the widest range of abilities and skills related to preparedness.
Try web searching the term ‘Airsoft’ and the name of your state, you’ll find forums where people get together and arrange outings. Airsplat has a web page with a comprehensive listing of training fields across the US.
About the author: John Durfee is a Gulf War veteran and works for Airsplat, the nation’s largest retailer of Airsoft Guns and apparel.
JWR Adds: As I’ve mentioned before in SurvivalBlog, Airsoft and paintball are fine for learning some aspects of camouflage and small team tactics. The fatal flaws of both, however, are that:
1.) Since paint balls and Airsoft pellets have hardly any penetration beyond five yards, players start to subconsciously equate concealment with cover.
2.) Because Airsoft pellets and paint balls only have limited range, people start to subconsciously think of anything beyond that range as “safely out of range” (for maneuver in the open.)
If you can regularly remind yourself about those shortcomings and adjust your training regimen accordingly, then you’ll find that they provide somewhat worthwhile training. But it is essential that you integrate high velocity ballistic realism. This means declaring anyone that blatantly stands up in the open at 50+ yards “dead meat.” Ditto for anyone that mistakenly takes “cover” behind bushes. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: concealment is not cover!