Airsoft blasts off

Simulation guns, real fun

By Michael Swan on January 11, 2012

You'll shoot your eye out, kid."

While any story even remotely related to BB guns would be remiss not to include a reference to Ralphie and the Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle he lusted after, much has changed in the world of replica firearms since A Christmas Story was released in 1983.

For one thing, fake guns - and all the variations - have evolved. Heck, no one even really messes with BB guns anymore - at least not among the aficionados. For those truly concerned with exacting simulation, airsoft is the name of the game. Every day airsoft guns and airsoft as an activity seems to grow in popularity. Airsoft has easily overtaken paintball as the preferred method of military simulation entertainment (because, when it comes down to it, paintball just isn't very realistic, by the design of the guns alone); and the increase in business that places like Tacoma Tactical, an indoor airsoft facility, have experienced seem to suggest interest is only growing. Washington's only indoor airsoft facility, boasting a 12,000 square-foot "play area," Tacoma Tactical owner Jason Daniel says business has increased "one-thousand fold" since opening in 2004. He attributes this success to Tacoma Tactical's "low commitment to entry," meaning anyone can show up and get their feet wet with airsoft for a relatively small cost - both monetarily and in terms of time invested.

"I always believed there were more people who wanted to play airsoft than knew about it," says Daniel. "(Tacoma Tactical's growth) has gone way beyond any type of projection I had."

The fact that Tacoma Tactical has an indoor facility, and offers all the equipment a player needs for rental, makes it appealing for those who might otherwise be leery of the blossoming entertainment option.

"It's like the bowling alley," Daniel says of the ease that a first-time player can come in and get started.

Originally created and marketed in Japan in the 1970s, designed to emulate real guns for a Japanese public for whom gun ownership was banned, over time airsoft weapons have evolved into often-intricate and expensive toys, enjoyed by young and old alike. These days, just about any gun you can imagine is available in an exact airsoft replica - an attention to detail that is undeniably part of the major appeal for hardcore fans.

Airsoft guns don't fire traditional BBs; they utilize non-metallic pellets that are slightly bigger than traditional BBs, and also (in theory) don't penetrate the skin (though the guns' velocity can be adjusted). Powered by spring, battery or compressed gas, according to Wikipedia, "Most Airsoft guns are capable of shooting from 50 meters per second (160 feet per second) to 125 m/s (410 ft/s), although it is also possible to purchase upgraded internals for some Airsoft guns that will enable up to 210 m/s (690 ft/s) projectile velocities."

That's all well and good, but what about being shot by an airsoft gun, you ask? How bad does it hurt?

Daniel describes the feeling as, "a bee sting, at worse," and says that most of the time a player won't feel being hit at all if the pellet strikes part of the body covered by clothing.

That said, he does offer a humorous warning for potential newbies.

"Most people think they're coming to shoot someone," Daniel offers. "They're really coming to get shot."

Without question, one thing that has allowed Tacoma Tactical to flourish is the South Sound's military population. While Daniel estimates Tacoma Tactical's overall clientele is only 20 to 30 percent military, he says most of the regulars and staff have a military background.

"We're familiar to them," Daniel says of Tacoma Tactical's relationship with the military. "There's no doubt the military base makes things much easier (on business)."

Daniel says teenagers make up the largest chunk of Tacoma Tactical's clientele, but later in the evening older players tend to dominate. More information, including hours and exact prices, can be found at