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Airsoft Invasion

Brandon Timmis and Ried Martin model the gear Airsoft players use during their tournaments or backyard training. It’s best to play in designated areas or fields, or on private property with permission.- Dan Barile/farragutpress
The flash of orange is the giveaway.

Federally-mandated orange gun tips might be the only indication to someone watching a game of Airsoft — a sport rapidly growing in popularity — that the mock weapons used to shoot round, plastic pellets are, in fact, replicas.

“We’ve definitely seen a growth in the industry. We’ve had leaps and bounds growth here in the last three years,” said Joe Fowler, manager of Parafrog Airsoft in Knoxville.

Airsoft is a game similar to paintball and has a large fan base among young adult males, which Fowler said could be due to expense and operation costs, not to mention the realism of the guns themselves.

“Your initial purchase price is less, your operational cost is very much less and the realism of the guns kind of speaks for themselves,” Fowler said of Airsoft in comparison to similar games.

Fowler estimated Parafrog’s average customer base included children as young as 10 to men in their 30s, “with more serious recreational players in the 18 to 40-year-old crowd.”

And there is the occasional woman who visits the store or plays in games.

“As the sport progresses, there are more and more girls who get involved, whether it’s something they were dragged into and then realize they like it, or whether they have a penchant for playing themselves,” Fowler said.

“We run the gamut, really: from 8-years-old to 80-years-old; to the recreational person shooting targets in their backyard all the way to the training applications,” he added.

Airsoft player Ried Martin joked, “I like the game because sometimes I like to get my anger out on people and it’s fun. It’s a great game.”

Martin’s friend Brandon Timmis agreed.

“If you really like the whole military style but don’t want to take people’s lives, [Airsoft] is a way of having fun but not having to go overseas and risk your life. You can find a safe way to have fun,” he said.

“You get a bunch of guys, get together and have fun,” he added.

Airsoft guns are available at a variety of retailers, including sporting goods stores. A player (or his parent or guardian) must be over 18 to purchase a weapon. Parafrog sells higher-end guns that are covered by manufacturer’s warranties, allowing the store to upgrade or repair weapons.

Airsoft guns typically are powered one of three ways: through compressed propane-silicon gas, a manually powered spring or a battery powered gear-and-motor system.

Fowler said that, although Airsoft weapons don’t behave the way a traditional BB gun does, players — especially children and young adults — should use common sense with the guns.

“Anyone playing under 18, even recreationally, needs to play under adult supervision of some kind: obviously, we’re shooting projectiles at one another, but too, the guns look very realistic,” Fowler said.

“Even with the orange tips, the gun looks so real that there does come a modicum of common sense and responsibility in just owning one,” he added.

It’s best to play in designated areas or fields, or on private property with permission.

“If you have an open space in the neighborhood, it’s definitely good to let the neighbors know that you or your kids are going to be out there doing this,” Fowler said.

The small, plastic pellets fired from Airsoft weapons are less likely than BB guns (or similar weapons) to cause property damage, Fowler said. Parafrog even sells biodegradable ammunition.

Although popular as a game — even hosting national-level games at military facilities — Fowler said Airsoft weapons also are used in law enforcement and military training.

“They’re 1:1 scale replicas of the real weapons with tight controls, so law enforcement officers, competitive shooters and civilians who just want to get better with their weapons can use these effectively to gain mechanical muscle memory,” Fowler said.

“Especially in the law enforcement and government side, they can do training for a lot less expense with much less liability, comparative to some of the past or even current training programs,” he added.

For more information about Airsoft, visit, or


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