You've hit the ground, the smell of dry leaves and moist earth is all around. It's an ambush. Twigs and leaves are breaking above as volley after volley flies overhead. You and your group slowly retreat. One of your squad mates throws a smoke grenade in front to make cover. You run low into the smoke, staying close to your group. Just as you clear the other side you see more of them coming to flank you. You dropped your rifle in the initial surprise, so you instinctively reach for your sidearm. You draw, drop the safety, aim, and "CRACK!" "CRACK!", you've neutralized three before they can raise their rifles. You've cleared a way. You and your team rush past them, ready to fight another day. You didn't win this battle, but you don't need to, you just need to survive. As you look back, you see one of the enemy reach into his pack for his cell phone, and you see him log into Facebook. All in a good days fun. What I've described isn't the latest military action film, it's the sport of airsoft. Airsoft events can be an invaluable and inexpensive tool to teach wilderness survival, small unit tactics, and proper use of a weapon for defense.
Airsoft is different from air rifles and pellet guns in that they use standardized airsoft 6mm plastic bb's that weigh far less than metal pellets or sabots, and are perfectly safe in a controlled play environment.
There are an increasing number of airsoft clubs and organizations establishing multiple day events that can be attended for a set fee. They're run on weekends, centered around military scenarios, and the core skills practiced are valuable to real world preparedness. There are varying degrees of immersion, ranging from "play and go back to the car for a snack" to full airsoft milsim, where one acts, functions, and performs like a real military force for the entire duration. These latter are great for testing the survival skills you already have and picking new ones up from other players. You'll make camp and have to spend one or two nights in the wilderness. You can practice making a sleeping area using local materials and a tarp. You'll have to bring your own food and water and manage it. Bring your survival pack exactly how you'll have it ready for a real survival situation. If possible, you can research local flora in order to gather and prepare it while immersed in the event as a way to supplement your initial supply. These games are full immersion, so even when you're ready for bed, you have to be alert for surprises coming at a moment's notice. If there's local sources of water, like a stream, water filtration devices can be put to the ultimate test so you know their true reliability.
On a recent excursion, I was assigned sniper recon duty, nothing feels greater than scouting away from your group, calling in enemy locations and staying unseen. During the day you'll work with your group or squad and practice maneuvers such as stalking, advancing, assault, and defense.
Another benefit of airsoft is familiarizing yourself with firearms and learning how to use them properly for self-defense. 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. Most pistols are 1:1 true to scale, so if you own a real pistol, you can find its airsoft version and even use your carry holster to train smooth drawing. Some gas 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 in actual firefights against other people.
Another often unforeseen benefit is physical fitness. Running around all day with limited resources, a full pack, and adrenaline is fantastic exercise. Just make sure to stay hydrated! You'll be sweating a lot more than you think. It also trains your body to react well under stress and flight/fight situations. The more you're exposed to these moments, the faster your brain is able to process the correct actions and pathways, your muscle memory knows exactly how to draw your weapon , cock it, and fire it, and reload it When you can do these actions unconsciously, you have more presence in the moment to make combat decisions.
The most important skill learned at these events is mindset. You can put all your survival gear through real world paces and determine what works, and lose what doesn't. You learn to distinguish between friend and foe. You'll hone your aiming and marksmanship skills on real targets who will react and move. All uses of a firearm should be defensive, not predatory, so you'll train yourself how to respond - rather than react – to surprises and potential threats. And if you're "killed" you can learn from your mistakes, so you survive next time!
Airsplat also has a site with a comprehensive listing of fields across the US.
If you are ready to get out there and try it Airsplat has a comprehensive listing of US airsoft fields
John Durfee is a Gulf War veteran and the marketing manager for Airsplat, the nation's largest retailer of Airsoft Guns and Apparel.