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Idaho Airsoft Teams Take Aim

War simulation sport attracts brigades of new players

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Your daily life quickly falls away when you take the field. You stealthily navigate the scrub brush, trying to remain undetected, and begin to wonder if your team has what it takes to outsmart and outmaneuver the opposition. Then you contemplate the line between reality and simulation.

This isn't a role-playing video game, nor is it real battle--yet you can't help but feel an exhilaration that could only come from playing a game that dabbles in several primal realities.

Have you prepared enough? Are you positioned correctly?

The intense feeling of vulnerability is both nerve-racking and empowering. Your commanding officer pipes through your headset and you begin shooting, consistent with the directives of the moment.

Of all of Boise's quirky game-sport outings, Airsoft stands on its own. To check it out for ourselves, Boise Weekly paid a visit to a large, organized contingency of gamers playing on a muggy Saturday morning near the Boise River west of Star.

Paintball's cousin, Airsoft has been around since the late 1970s and has international origins. The result of a firearm ban in Japan and some creative interpretation, Airsoft guns are replica weapons that shoot small plastic BBs. With the evolution of the market for this lifelike hardware came a desire to replicate real battle scenarios and the game of Airsoft was born.

Boise has a well established crew of folks dedicated to the game--rain or shine--every Saturday at locations throughout the Treasure Valley. There are five established Airsoft teams in the area: Mil-Sim Airsoft Group, Real World Airsoft, Alpha Omega Airsoft, Mike Force Irregulars and Blacklist Airsoft--formerly a paintball group.

MAG has been in Boise since 2005, and now has about 20 regular members ranging from active-duty military to teenagers fascinated with battlefield tactics. Camaraderie and teamwork are the goals, and despite the potential impression that it is a violent undertaking, the sport appears to be more about tactics and socializing than anything else.

Malloya Mount--call sign Bojo--of MAG was quick to note that Airsofters are "not out there trying to pretend to be something we're not. ... We just go out to have a good time and enjoy the game [and] create a positive environment."

Dressed in full tactical fatigues, Boise's Airsoft groups get together and play out various scenarios of their own creation. Many games are derived from role-playing video games like Call of Duty, while others are original. A referee determines the winner, typically after a two- to three-hour series of mission goals. Every game has a different set of rules, regulations and weapon requirements, ranging from capture the flag to convoy games using automobiles in the field.

Getting shot feels like "someone snapping you with a rubber band," according to Mount. Each game has velocity and BB weight restrictions to ensure the safety of players.

Weaponry ranges from 100-feet-per-second, short-range spring-powered guns to 1,000-feet-per-second gas-powered sniper rifles. Guns cost between $100 and $800 (although there are base models available for far less), with inexpensive biodegradable BBs, making Airsoft a cheaper alternative to paintball. Of the most common is a classic Army M4A1 replica, which starts around $150.

With the exponential growth of the popularity of role-playing war simulation interactive video games, Airsoft has grown leaps and bounds in recent years. Teams get together for regional and national meets from coast to coast, bringing in thousands of players from all walks of life.

The appeal varies depending on who you talk to but the game's goal is universal: to have fun.

Kalen Fairchild of Boise has been playing Airsoft for about a year and enjoys the inclusiveness of the sport.

"Airsoft is meant for anybody. We have women and seniors that play with us," said Fairchild.

Airsoft revolves around seniority, leadership and strategy. The game has a distinct hierarchy that players follow closely. While most players participate just for the fun of it, Airsoft does have winners and losers--typically distinguishable by the number of welts covering the body at the end of the game.

Afterward, players hang out for an hour or more to trade battle stories and talk about life, work and school. All things considered, Airsoft is as much a social gathering as it is military simulation.

Justin Brown, owner of Garden City's Combat Sport Supply, said that business is good these days. Formerly a paintball and Airsoft store, CSS has focused more on the latter in recent years because of market demand for guns that look and feel more like the real thing. Its global distribution has allowed it to plug into numerous networks that you might not expect to be involved with Airsoft.

"We sell equipment to everyone from ditch diggers to brain surgeons," said Brown of his clientele. He sees Airsoft as a great way to get some exercise and a sense of accomplishment that is both team oriented and primal at the same time. CSS has even expanded its customer base to include military and law enforcement agencies that use the guns for training.

If you are looking to try your hand at the versatile and inclusive game of Airsoft, Boise's groups are a dedicated and welcoming bunch. Rental guns are available and newbies are encouraged to jump right in. Parents can bring their kids--provided they are willing to sign a waiver and supervise.