Airsoft vs BB Gun: How Do They Differ?

Remember when your brother got shot in the forehead with a BB, and it left a pretty mean scar? Not only did it leave a mark, but it was pretty bloody, too. BB guns, also known as air guns, are traditional toy rifles that are also a little dangerous. 

 Airsoft, on the other hand, are guns that are more toy-like in all ways except look. When you shoot an airsoft gun, you are shooting a small, plastic ball. Some airsoft weapons can fire these balls at extremely high velocities, so getting hit isn’t for the faint of heart.

However, the danger with an airsoft gun is much lower than a traditional BB or pellet gun, which has made it a popular alternative to paintball in recent years. Below, we’ll look at the BB gun vs airsoft to see how they differ.

Airsoft vs BB gun appearance

The first thing people notice about an airsoft gun is how real it looks. Airsoft guns are designed to look like real guns. However, most people are familiar with the blazing orange tip on the barrel. 

 Federal law requires toy guns imported into the U.S. have an orange marking on them. 

On the other hand, BB guns are exempt from this requirement. In the past, BB guns did not resemble real guns to the extent airsoft guns do, so they are not on the orange tip list. Recently BB guns are trying to look more realistic to drive up sales. Most copy the designs of bolt or lever action rifles.

Airsoft guns typically have more plastic. Since they fire plastic projectiles as ammo, it does not take a huge amount of power to project them quickly. On the other hand, BB guns fire steel or lead rounds. These require longer, more sturdy barrels and stocks. Thus, the only plastic found on BB guns is typically around the edge of the stock or the sight. 

Pro tip: Remember to pack your airsoft or BB gun in a proper gun bag when not in use.

Airsoft vs BB gun power

A container of airsoft BBs looks pretty harmless. They are small, colorful balls about the size of a large pea. But, there are some airsoft guns that fire those BBs with tremendous power – enough to seriously injure a person. Luckily, most of these airsoft guns are banned.

Some airsoft guns can send a projectile up to 500 fps (feet per second). However, these are rare.  Most fall under the 300 fps range, making the plastic BBs much slower than most BB guns.

Most BBs and metal pellets weigh more than airsoft BBs. A typical airsoft BB weighs in at around 25 grams, whereas a typical BB or pellet is around .45 grams or 7 grains. Even with the extra weight, air guns provide a much faster exit velocity due to the longer barrel and pressure created by the metal projectiles. Plastic cannot replicate the power of metal.

Airsoft vs BB gun accuracy

Since air guns fire heavier projectiles at higher velocities, these will be more accurate than an airsoft gun at a range of anywhere beyond 40 feet, typically. A chart of flight distances reveals that an airsoft BB is unable to travel beyond 260 feet.

On the other hand, air guns can easily handle targets up to 100 yards, and longer. Airsoft guns cannot reach that length unless you have an airsoft sniper rifle that is modified. Even then, they can barely touch 100 yards.

Airsoft vs BB gun internal ballistics

What are the mechanisms that power airsoft vs BB guns? There are several ways BB guns get the power to fire a projectile:

  • Pump action – the shooter pumps a lever that allows air into a chamber, but not out. Pressure builds with each pump. Thus, more pressure, power, and velocity form when pulling the trigger.
  • Spring and piston – a large spring is attached to a small piston. The shooter bends the rifle – called “breaking” – which pulls the spring, and piston, back. When the trigger is pulled, the spring releases, and the piston is pushed forward, compressing any air in the chamber and pushing the pellet or BB out of the barrel.
  • Gas – some air rifles use compressed gas, such as CO2. The gas comes in small canisters that fit into a chamber in an airgun. When the trigger is released, the gun allows some gas from the canister into the chamber, which pushes the bb out.

Airsoft guns also use spring, pump, and gas designs for power. However, there is also an electric option widely used in airsoft guns. Battery packs stored within the airsoft guns power small motors that electrically recoil springs. The downside of electric airsoft guns is that they are less powerful since the springs are not as strong.

Final thoughts

The argument over BB vs airsoft is bound to continue. The less dangerous airsoft is popular as a game, where people can battle against one another without worrying about getting injured. Air guns still have a place, however, particularly for backyard target practice and varmint control. 


About the Author

Trey is a lifelong hunter and avid camper. He lives outside Denver, CO with his wife Kaci and their lab mix Ziggy. They spend as much time as possible outdoors - hunting, fishing, and camping.

2 thoughts on “Airsoft vs BB Gun: How Do They Differ?”

  1. Thanks this article was really helpful in clarifying a lot of terminology that was confusing, otherwise. Well written and clear!


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