Airsoft Basics: What is a Sniper?
What is a Sniper?
The word "Sniper" finds its origins in British India, deriving from the verb "to Snipe". The "Snipe" is a fast moving bird which is very alert and known for its erratic flight path, which meant a hunter had to be extremely skilled in both marksmanship and stealth to successfully bring one down. Snipers of this era used flintlock muskets, which meant either you get the kill with your one shot or the opportunity is gone for good.
Fast forward 250 years and you arrive at the modern era, where a Sniper is an elite marksman who is adept with camouflage and fieldcraft and is tasked with intelligence gathering and taking out targets of the highest priority with a single shot at long range.
An Airsoft Sniper rifle is a single-action rifle, usually, a bolt action, which shoots 6mm BBs at Airsoft safe velocities. Airsoft Sniper rifles are usually visually accurate replicas of real-world Sniper rifles, though there are also some which are original Airsoft designs.
Sniper rifles usually shoot at a higher velocity than their semi-automatic and fully-automatic counterparts which gives the Sniper additional range, though this comes at the price of having to manually cock the rifle before each shot. Sniper rifles are also subject to a minimum engagement distance (M.E.D) due to their higher power level, which can vary depending on the skirmish site.
Skirmishing with a Sniper rifle may sound sweet, sitting back at long range and getting kills with impunity, but in reality, Sniping is an incredibly challenging playstyle. Only the most dedicated Airsofters will stick it out with a Sniper rifle and avoid the temptation to get an AEG and charge into the maelstrom, and we always recommend starting with an AEG and moving up to a Sniper rifle when you feel the need to challenge yourself and add some variety to your gameplay.
Airsoft Sniper Rifle Types
Before you zero in on target you will first need to decide what type of Sniper rifle suits you best. Allow us to spot for you and give you the intel you need to take the shot!
The spring bolt Action Sniper rifle is by far the most common type of Airsoft Sniper rifle, primarily due to its affordability and also partially due to its respectable accuracy and consistency straight out of the box.
Spring-powered Sniper rifles use an extremely strong internal spring which shoots the piston forward to compress the air within the cylinder which then propels your BB down the barrel and off onto the target (hopefully!).
Spring Sniper rifles require you to cock the action before each shot, which generally involves rotating the bolt handle by a few degrees and pulling the bolt back, after which it can be pushed back forward into battery and rotated down to lock, just like a real bolt action rifle.
Common spring Sniper rifles include the VSR-10 pattern, which is based on the Tokyo Marui VSR-10, and the L96 pattern, most of which are based on the Maruzen APS2 Type 96. There are several other less common Sniper rifle platforms out there, and it is important that any budding Airsoft Sniper does their research to make sure their platform of choice can be upgraded to their liking, which is an important aspect of Airsoft Sniping.
Spring Sniper rifles have the edge over their gas brethren in consistency and accuracy, at the cost of being harder to cock and more complex to upgrade. Most spring Sniper rifles run well out of the box, but if you seek a stronger spring and more power there will be other components which need upgrading to prevent parts failure, for example, the trigger sear.
For your first Sniper rifle we would recommend a spring Sniper rifle of the VSR-10 pattern as these are by far the easiest to upgrade, and the best performing Sniper rifle platform out of the box. Common VSR-10 pattern Sniper rifles include the Jing Gong BAR-10 and the CYMA CM.701, and these are the current best option for your first foray into the world of Airsoft Sniping.
Gas Bolt Action Sniper Rifles are a relative rarity on the field, though some more dedicated skirmishers and historical reenactors still choose to run them despite the extra effort needed to tune them, and their lesser consistency than spring Sniper rifles on average.
This type of Sniper rifle uses a bolt action mechanism similar to that of the spring Sniper Rifle, the difference being that the Gas Bolt Action requires practically no force to cock as it does not need to compress a spring. This makes the handling of the gas Sniper rifle platform far more realistic than the spring equivalent, and slightly quieter to cock.
Gas Sniper rifles usually have a gas reservoir inside either the magazine or the bolt itself, and cocking the bolt only cocks the internal hammer or striker, meaning the gas bolt action can be cocked far quicker and more quietly than a springer, and all without making your arms burn from pulling back an enormously strong spring.
The unfortunate side effect of the gas power source is the "cool down" effect, which means when the gas bolt action is fired quickly the FPS of the shots will slowly drop off, resulting in worse consistency which translates to additional fliers and reduced accuracy.
This doesn't mean a gas Sniper rifle is inaccurate, it just means a Sniper wielding a gas gun has to be careful about their rate of fire, and control the urge to take shots which they aren't certain will land.
Players choose Gas Sniper rifles for their realism, primarily, and for some this is enough for them to have a great time sniping. Gas Sniper rifles offer realistic historical designs such as the KAR-98Kand Mosin Nagant, and these two are as close as you can get to the real thing, and far more realistic than a spring Sniper rifle.
Some gas bolt actions even feed from realistic shells which eject each time the action is worked. Nobody will tell you that this type of Gas Sniper rifle is the perfect skirmish tool, but it sure is a lot of fun, and far more immersive than a spring-powered platform.
For many, it is about the challenge, and Gas Sniper rifles pack the range and accuracy to do the job but require a lot more effort and patience to use, and are often far heavier and more realistically built.
Some more performance-oriented Snipers use gas bolt actions, but these are usually HPA (high pressure air) conversions of VSR-10 spring platforms and are chosen for the combination of an effort-free bolt action and improved consistency over Gas bolt actions.
Why use a Sniper Rifle?
So, why would you use a Sniper rifle when they are slow to shoot, challenging to use and require loads of upgrades to shoot like Novritsch or KickingMustang? Because they are fun, of course!
Sniping is challenging, and not for every player, but nothing beats the thrill of getting hits from an unknown location and escaping before being seen, especially if you have had to work very hard for those few hits, planning your advance and waiting for the perfect moment.
Sniping without an upgraded setup is perfectly doable as well, it just requires that you get a little closer and maximise your field craft skills, which makes the kill all the sweeter!
Any Sniper will need to be content with taking home a lower number of kills than most skirmishers and must be ready to get hit a fair amount while exchanging fire with AEG users wielding their uncivilised fully automatic guns.
For a Sniper, quality beats quantity, and if you are the type that wants to brag about their kill count you will have more to boast about using an AEG, as a big part of Sniping is waiting for the perfect shot, and having the patience to decide when to pull the trigger.
With that in mind, if you are new to Airsoft and you are considering a Sniper rifle as your first gun, we recommend instead starting the game with an AEG, and moving on to a Sniper rifle when you have had a taste of the playstyle and you want the full dish.
It is absolutely possible to play like a Sniper with an AEG, focussing on concealment and restricting yourself to semi-auto so you can have a taste of what it feels like to Snipe amongst high rate of fire speed demon setups in outdoors skirmishes. Before taking the plunge and buying a Sniper rifle we recommend giving this a try, as it could save you a lot of money if you find out Sniping isn't for you.
Another option is to befriend a Sniper at your local woodland site and ask if they need a spotter for the day. This will give you a leg up on how an Airsoft Sniper operates and save you from beginner mistakes. Getting advice from experienced players can be a far quicker way to develop your skills on the field, and most will be more than happy to share their knowledge.
If you are the type of player who enjoys a challenge and prefers a stealthy playstyle over an aggressive setup, Sniping could be your poison. Challenging though it may be, playing as a Sniper is one of the more unique aspects of our sport and is a great option for those who have the patience and skills, and have done the research.
So now you know a bit more about Airsoft Sniper rifles, and hopefully enough to decide the type of sniper which suits you. With the intelligence gathered and your sights zeroed, click the button below when you are ready to pull the trigger!