What should my airsoft sniper rifle be capable of?

How far should it be capable of shooting? how accurate should it be? How much do I need to spend to be able to keep up with everyone else?

Very common questions on the sniper Facebook groups, in recent years awash with gun upgrading which is becoming quite a big market. It’s a tirade of “you need this upgrade/that upgrade/my latest product (of course you do…)“. The more I read, the more it seems that players expect to be playing on a still, weather-free 100m target range aiming at, and hitting, tin cans all the time. Which isn’t the reality of airsoft at all.

The main issues I see on these posts are;

  • Unrealistic expectations of what the rifle should be doing from the player
  • Brands and their fans looking for sales opportunities
  • Lack of understanding of the sniper role
  • A belief that money = performance
  • An obsession with numbers

First, let’s tackle these in reverse order, just because I’m reading back up the page.

An obsession with numbers – FPS and joules. Sites have limits yes, and assuming you’re not one of these players that tries to chrono with hop off and lying about weight to just sneak under it, you’re going to have to stick to them. Rules are rules, learn to play within them and stop trying to cheat the system. But that doesn’t mean you need to go all out to get to within 1 fps of the maximum in order to get the most range. I often get asked why my VSR is “only” 448fps on 0.20. Ignoring the fact that I have a weighted piston and use 0.45, I know I can go up against a 499fps competitor and beat them on range and accuracy easily. It’s all about the rifle setup, but people naturally love comparisons and numbers are an easy way to do that. A lot of the time, rifle upgrading goes wrong when people start trying to simply chase the highest number, ending up with incompatible parts, bad alignment, and a very empty wallet for no noticeable gain, then try to spend their way out of that again.

A belief that money = performance – It doesn’t. Some of the best rifles I’ve played with are the cheapest builds, and some really big money builds I’ve handed back to the owner and thought “holy shit, that’s absolutely awful”. And that includes those expensive “out of the box” guns they tell you don’t need any work. I’ve been very fortunate to be given plenty of parts to test out, as well as buying some pretty high-end stuff out of a willingness to experiment. Yes, some of it has made a difference, but overall I could have gone much cheaper on a few bits for the same performance. Compatible parts and parts alignment is more important, but that’s where those of us who test things should be giving the right feedback on products and setups. I’ll be honest though, in ten years of innovative new products, I don’t actually see much of a difference in the field, compared to the cost of the rifle build.

Lack of understanding of the sniper role – If you think range is an advantage that snipers have, you’re wrong. We don’t pick what range targets appear at, and they’re not going to sit still at 90m thinking “oh fuck, I can’t shoot back with my AEG”. They are going to close you down, assuming they’re not already in range by the time you spot them. If you think that being an airsoft sniper is like the real thing, that you can sit on a hill like some kind of untouchable artillery piece, being able to headshot from a mile away, you’ll last a matter of minutes. Being a sniper is a hit-and-run style game of sneaking up on players, navigating terrain to your advantage and then disappearing before they figure out where you are. It’s more like a hunter or assassin role. And no, we don’t have it easy just lying around in bushes either. Be prepared to put some serious leg work in.

Brands and their fans looking for sales opportunities – Obviously, it’s all gone big business now and money unfortunately is dictating the game. I’ve never actually understood the legions of fans/fanatics who get involved though, I don’t know if they get paid or not or whether it’s a loyalty thing. Like Ed Sheeran fans, because that music is awful but people still buy it. Anyway, you can bet that if there’s a guy having a problem with a rifle, most responses will be along the lines of “yeah, you need to buy this part/my product to fix it”, then the fanboys jump in to help sell it or try to criticise any rivals, so there’s rarely any useful tech info in there. Now, sometimes we do have parts failures where a replacement is needed, and sometimes there genuinely are better options, but rarely do you see a technical explanation or a DIY fix for the problem. As an example, the engineering guy on my sniper team helped me with a hop alignment issue not by recommending a product, but by suggesting I simply remove a screw. Problem solved, for no cost.

Lastly, Unrealistic expectations of what the rifle should be doing from the player – Playing in woodland with a rifle that can hit 120m, is a bit like using a Ferrari to go to the shop for some bread. You’re not going to be using that Ferrari at 200mph and could probably have gone on a bicycle. What I mean is that taking extremely long shots is rare in a lot of woodland sites, simply because there aren’t 100m sightlines to take that shot, but also because we’re not shooting a static target on a range, which is what a lot of guys use to measure performance. Your target is moving constantly, and the longer the shot, the longer the flight time of that BB and the smaller the chance to hit. It’s far more efficient shooting at 50m and scoring a hit every time, than to attempt (or have several attempts) trying to clip a head popping up and down behind a barrier at 100m. Airsoft guns running lightweight plastic bb’s don’t perform like your sniper rifle in Call of Duty. There are limitations due to weather conditions and physics – it’s not a case of putting crosshairs on that 100m target, pulling the trigger and hitting. The way around that is simply to adjust your play style to get closer and be more decisive in your shot selection.

Time for a demonstration.

So, what exactly should you be expecting from your newly purchased plastic slinger? I took some time out this weekend to show realistically what I would want or expect from a bolt action.

My local site, Dirty Dog Airsoft. With a CQB game in full swing with over a hundred players and no real use for a sniper, I decided my time would be better spent elsewhere on site getting a bit of target practice in. I’ve paid for a day at an airsoft site, might as well make full use of it, and to the sniper that doesn’t always mean playing every minute of every game.

Simple, effective kit

I grabbed my VSR, a few mags, and the ever-versatile NI DPM chest rig and headed off into the site. There is a shooting range available in the safe zone, but it’s across an open field and is too windy to be much use, other than to check that your gun is actually firing. I have a few locations I use for rifle testing away from the elements.

Guess the range to the barricade?

I did forget a close up picture here of what I’m aiming at, so I’ll have to apologise for that, but in the background is a wooden log barricade. I hung my chest rig on it as a target and walked back down the path to what I felt was an “good” engagement distance. No rangefinder, just by eye.

59.38mQuite far when you compare the big CQB area to the left of the map – most AEG’s here are only engaging between the steel containers

A quick check on Google maps afterwards, and this is roughly 60 metres, which is perfect. Looking back, it’s probably ten metres further than I wanted for this demo and I could have gone almost halfway to the target and still been comfortably outside MED if it were a game situation, but that looked really close actually and far too easy. I’ll leave that for the filmmakers.

Now, my rifle is upgraded to reach 115-120m if I need it to, but I don’t actually use that extra range often and doubt there’s many opportunities to anyway. It is however accurate and consistent, though that’s down to the hop bucking and hop setup. This 60m is a good distance over open ground, and looking at the rest of the woods on the map you can see there’s not a lot of need to go much further if you play in and out of the treelines anyway, so if your rifle can hit 60-70m then it’s more than good enough for 95% of situations without having to touch anything in regards to power (spring, trigger etc). Most cheap stock rifles will give you this out of the box anyway, usually being between 430-470fps from the factory; remember mine is 448fps and capable of hitting double the range.

With a good bucking, teflon tape mod and a good airseal, I’m able to put the crosshairs on and easily hit any of the three individual mag pouches at 60m no problem, though the weather today and this being a sheltered area helps. Although I’m a bit bigger than most guys, I’m about 13 mag pouches high and 6 wide, keeping them vertical. If I can aim for and hit one accurately, every time, and I’m smart enough to aim centre mass, that gives me lot of margin for error at this range when aiming at a full sized airsofter. It’s enough to be able to pick out an individual arm or leg too, so if you can get your rifle to this level of performance you should have no problems picking people off. It won’t cost much for a decent bucking, like a Modify or Maple Leaf, Teflon tape wrapped around the front end will just add a bit more seal for better consistency from shot to shot, so that you’re shooting the same spot every time (to help with shot adjustment). A good nub will cost even less, and for a lot of rifle platforms you can get upgraded hop arms or TDC’s (a screw to push down the hop army centrally) to further improve accuracy. A good, cheap barrel like a ZCI or Maple Leaf Crazy Jet after that, otherwise just keep yours clean. And then you’ve got an accurate weapon without the expensive stuff like triggers, cylinders, pistons etc. In fact, including the rifle, you can often get all of that for the same price as some triggers alone.

So, a few thoughts on performance and a demonstration of what to expect. Realistically. I’ll pop this post up on threads and I know instantly there’ll be guys jumping on to brag about their “monster rifle builds” that can hit distances that they’ve totally imagined, and how much they spent on all that bling, and how they easily hit headshots first time at 150m.

Go for it…

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