A beginner’s guide to replica guns

I know from messages I receive and from chatting with folk that there are people out there who are interested in replica guns but are confused about what this hobby involves. That’s what this article is about: it’s a beginner’s guide to the world of replica guns.

I know that one of the problems for beginners is that they are not sure about what the different types of replica are suitable for, which type(s) of replica is legal where they live and what would suit the type of shooting they want to do. They’re also not sure about how to be safe when shooting replicas. If that’s you, if you think that blowback is something you get after eating a particularly hot curry and you aren’t sure of the difference between an AEG and ABS, this may be a good place to start.

Why would you want a replica?

Replica guns are popular for lots of reasons, but mostly because they allow you to experience shooting without the cost, legal issues and potential risk of owning and using firearms. You can shoot replicas safely just about anywhere: in your backyard, basement or even your bedroom.  For these reasons, replica shooting is becoming more and more popular, but before you dive in, there are a few things you need to know.  

Lots of movies use replica guns – this image from the Walking Dead features an airsoft M9.  

What do we mean by a replica anyway?

A replica gun is just what the name suggests: it’s something that looks like a firearm. However, there are several different forms of replica: inert replicas, PFC replicas and shooting replicas. Inert replicas look like guns and are usually made of metal, they have some level of functionality but they are not capable of shooting. These are really intended as wall decorations or props for costumes. Spanish company Denix are probably the largest single producer of inert guns and their products are sold around the world. Some other (mainly Japanese) companies produce PFC (Plug Fire Cap) replicas. These are functional replicas that use special caps to replicate the action of firearms, but they don’t actually fire anything out of the barrel.

This is a Denix replica of the Mauser C96 pistol from the late 19th century. It looks a lot like the original, but it doesn’t shoot so it isn’t covered on this site.

This site isn’t about inert or PFC replicas, it’s about replica guns that use a spring, compressed air, gas or electric power to shoot pellets or BBs. All the replicas covered on this site are suitable for target shooting.

None of the replicas covered on this site are suitable for hunting. For humane hunting, you need a specialist air pistol or rifle. These are powerful and accurate, but most aren’t replicas of firearms. If hunting is your thing, you’ll find lots of sites and books on this subject, but these aren’t covered here.   

Legal stuff

Before we talk about anything else, we need to talk about the law. You really don’t want to find yourself breaking the law, even inadvertently. Every country (and many states in the US) has its own laws regarding replicas. In some countries, these are very complicated. In the UK, for example, buying a particular type of replica that was previously sold legally can land you in jail for up to five years! You’ll find a link at the end of this article to one specifically about the arcane replica laws in the UK.

Don’t end up here – know the laws about replicas where you live!

In some countries, replicas are not allowed at all. In others, replicas have to be identified by having, for example, a bright orange tip that makes them instantly recognizable as replicas. In some countries, the laws applying to pellet and steel BB shooting replicas are different to those that apply to 6mm airsoft replicas. In many countries there are upper limits on the power of any replica. In some places there are even laws about how and where to store your replicas. There is no way here that I can provide details of all the relevant laws in all countries. So, here’s an essential piece of advice for anyone considering becoming involved in this hobby:

If you’re thinking about buying a replica, check that this is permitted under the laws that apply to your area.

How can you do that? If you’re lucky enough to have a local shop that sells replicas, go in and ask them for advice. If not, find an on-line store in your area and drop them an e-mail. Most people who sell replicas will be very happy to give you advice – after all, you might be a potential customer. If you’re still not sure, contact your local police and ask for guidance. Don’t even think about buying a replica until you’re certain that you understand the legal requirements where you live and you are sure that the replica you’re considering purchasing will comply.

Safety

The replica guns featured on this site are not toys. Those that shoot pellets and steel BBs can cause serious injury and even the plastic BBs from airsoft guns can cause injury if they hit a person or animal in the eye. You need to follow basic safety procedures when you’re shooting with replica guns. Here are eight safety rules that you should follow at all times:

Always wear eye protection. No excuses, no exceptions. Getting hit in the eye by a projectile, even a ricochet, from any replica can cause serious injury. Your normal glasses won’t provide adequate protection, especially from steel BBs and pellets, so even if you wear these while shooting, you also need additional eye protection designed for shooting. How much should you pay? That depends on how much you think your eyesight is worth!

These are Crosman airgun safety shooting glasses, but there are lots of other brands to choose from.

Never point a loaded gun at anything you don’t want to shoot. Always think about where the muzzle is pointing when you’re handling a loaded gun.

Keep your finger off the trigger until the sights are on the target. Don’t carry or handle a loaded gun with your finger on the trigger – keep your finger outside the trigger-guard until you are facing the target with the gun pointed where you want to shoot.

Always treat every replica as if it’s loaded. I’m sure there aren’t many replica owners who haven’t accidentally fired a replica they were sure wasn’t loaded. Treat every replica as if it’s loaded and follow the two rules above at all times.

Think about your backstop. What’s behind the target you are shooting at? Do you have a box or other container that will catch pellets or BBs after they have hit the target? What will happen to the pellet or BB if you entirely miss the target and the box? Pellets and BBs can travel a long distance. In some places, there are laws that you will break if any pellet or BB ends up outside the boundary of your property. Be certain that can’t happen to you and think  about what’s behind the target you are shooting at. Also think about ricochets. Steel BBs are particularly prone to bouncing back off hard surfaces. If your backstop is a wall or other hard surface, you may want to think about putting a large, softwood board behind the target to lessen the chance of ricochets.

Keep pets and spectators safe. If other people are in the area or watching you shoot, they too must wear eye protection. It’s very unlikely that you can persuade your pets to wear eye protection, so keep them safely out of the way when you’re shooting.

OK, I know, some dogs can be trained to wear goggles or safety glasses. But most can’t and my cat thinks they look silly. So please, just keep pets out of the way while you’re shooting.

Never let anyone shoot a replica who can’t understand and abide by these rules. If you want to use replicas to teach your kids to shoot, that’s fine. Just make sure they’re old enough and responsible enough to follow these rules, even if you are supervising.

If you follow these simple rules, shooting replicas can be safe and fun. If you don’t, you can cause injury to yourself or others. There is one other important safety issue to consider: most replica guns look like firearms, even those with orange tips. So there is one more important rule:

Never openly carry a replica in a public place. Hopefully, you know that anyway. Carrying what appears to be a firearm in a public place will cause concern to members of the public and provoke a pro-active and potentially lethal response from the police. Always use your replica responsibly, in your back-yard, basement or at the local shooting range. If you must transport a replica, do so in a box or bag and keep it out of sight. Never leave a replica in a vehicle in plain sight. Lock it out of sight in the boot and in a bag or box. 

Sorry to bang on about legal issues and safety, but they’re both very important. Don’t think of these replicas as pretend guns – think of them as real guns that happen to use compressed air or electrical power rather than gunpowder. I don’t mean to put anyone off, but if you can’t be legal, safe and responsible with your replica then personally, I’d rather you didn’t bother. Every time someone is injured by a replica or arrested for brandishing one in public, it simply increases pressure on the rest of us.

OK, now that you’re sure you’re following all local and national laws and you understand how to stay safe, it’s time to think about what kind of replica you want. And this is where things can get a little bewildering for the beginner.  

Pellets or BBs?

Three basic types of projectile are fired by almost all replica guns: pellets, 4.5mm steel BBs or plastic BBs in either 6mm or 8mm. Each type has its own characteristics, advantages and disadvantages.

An airsoft 6mm plastic BB (left), a steel 4.5mm BB and a .177 pellet (right).

Most modern pellet-shooting replicas are designed to use .177” (the size denotes the outside diameter of the pellet) soft metal pellets. These are widely available and come in two basic types: flat fronted target pellets (sometimes called “wad cutter” pellets) and pointed hunting pellets. No replica pistol is suitable for hunting, and some replicas won’t load or shoot properly with pointed hunting pellets, so always use flat fronted pellets in your replica pistol. Some older replicas use larger .22” pellets. With these, you should also use flat-fronted target-type pellets.

These are Gamo Match .177 flat-fronted pellets suitable for target shooting. Almost all pellet manufacturers produce similar pellets

Replicas designed for shooting pellets always have rifled barrels. This simply means that inside the barrel, there is an engraved, spiral pattern. The soft pellet deforms to tightly fit inside the barrel and the rifling causes it to spin, increasing consistency. In general, replicas designed for use with pellets will give the greatest accuracy and consistency at target-shooting ranges of 6 – 25m. Some pellet shooting replicas are also claimed to be capable of shooting 4.5mm steel BBs. That’s technically true, because the steel BBs are slightly smaller than .177” pellets and fit into the barrel without engaging with the rifling. However, accuracy using steel BBs in a rifled barrel is generally poor and some people claim that the steel BBs can actually damage the rifling over time. My advice is: never shoot steel BBs through a rifled barrel.

The Umarex Beretta PX-4 Storm. A pellet-shooting CO2 powered replica with blowback.

Pellet-shooting replicas are generally more accurate out to longer range than BBs shooters. If you want to shoot at longer range (25m, for example) you are probably going to want a pellet shooter. The main disadvantage of pellet-firing replicas is that they can’t fully replicate the function of semi-automatic handguns. The soft pellets have to be loaded into a rotary magazine of some type and that means limited function. For example, no current pellet-shooting semi-auto replica, even those with blowback, will lock the slide back after the last round is fired. Pellets work just fine in revolver replicas and particularly those with removable shells where the function of the original is accurately replicated in all respects.

If you want something that fully mimics the function of a semi-auto pistol, you’re going to want a BB shooter. These come in two forms: those that shoot 4.5mm diameter steel BBs and those that shoot larger, plastic 6mm or 8mm airsoft BBs. What’s the difference? Steel BB replicas shoot with more power, typically up to 3 Joules (the power of replicas is measured in Joules, a function of the weight of the projectile multiplied by the speed at which it leaves the barrel) compared to around 1 Joule for 6 and 8mm BBs. Steel BBs have the capacity to cause more injury than the lighter plastic BBs and you do have to be very careful about ricochets. That doesn’t mean that plastic BBs are harmless – you must still use eye protection, but a ricochet from a plastic BB will not have the power to break the skin where a steel BB may.

In my view (and I know that many people will disagree) power is largely irrelevant for enjoyable target shooting at up to 10m. It doesn’t really matter if your BB is hitting the target at 250, 350 or even 450 FPS (feet per second). What matters is how accurately and consistently it hits the target. For this reason, I tend to favour replicas that shoot 6mm plastic airsoft BBs. IMHO, these are just as much fun to shoot, there are fewer safety concerns and, if your replica is shooting high or low, these 6mm BBs are available in a range of weights (all 4.5mm BBs weigh pretty much the same). Whether you decide to go for 4.5mm or 6mm BBs, these BB shooters are about as close as you can get to the experience of shooting a semi-auto handgun without the smell of gunpowder.

Propellant

A few replica pistols are powered by springs: these are sometimes known as mechanical airguns. However, many are very low power replicas of semi-auto pistols that use the racking of the slide to compress the main spring. I have tried a few of these, but none were really satisfactory. The exceptions are a small number of replicas that use some form of break-barrel action to compress the main spring for a single shot. Most of these are pellet-shooting, accurate and of course, you don’t have to worry about gas, CO2 or keeping the batteries charged, but these don’t replicate the function of the originals.

The Umarex Browning Buck Mark URX is a single shot, mechanical airgun that shoots pellets. It looks a lot like the original, but doesn’t function in the same way.

If you want to be able to shoot more than once without reloading, you are going to want a replica powered by CO2, gas or electric power. CO2 comes in the form of 12g capsules that must be placed into the replica and pierced. CO2 powered replicas generally have more power and are the loudest of all. Most gas-powered replicas use green gas, basically odour-free propane. A few use less powerful HFC134a (also known as Duster Gas), which is basically just compressed air. Some replicas (for example, many produced by Japanese manufacturer Tokyo Marui) are designed only to use HFC134a and can be damaged by the use of Green Gas, so make certain you know what type of gas your replica uses. In general, gas-powered replica shoot with less power and noise than CO2 powered versions.

The CO2 powered Umarex replica of the Luger. It has blowback and it’s just about as close as you can get to the look, weight and function of the original. A 12g CO2 cartridge is shown beside the replica.

Both forms of gas come in aerosol cans that you use to pressurize the magazine in the replica before shooting. You can buy gas or CO2 from stockists who sell replicas. A few replica pistols (and most semi-auto submachine gun and assault rifle replicas) are powered by rechargeable battery packs. These AEGs (Automatic Electric Guns) can be fired in both semi and full auto modes. Electric pistols don’t generally have great power, but they are much quieter than other forms of replica. They’re also less susceptible to the effects of cold weather – both gas and CO2 powered replicas get notably less powerful as the temperature drops.

HFC134a (left) and Green Gas (right)

It all depends what you want. If you want a replica that gets as close as possible to the experience of shooting a firearm, perhaps you want CO2 power? If you want something relatively quiet that won’t startle your neighbours, perhaps a Duster Gas or electric replica may be best? Think about the type of shooting you intend to do and where you’ll be doing it and choose a replica that suits.

How close a replica do you want?

The reviews on this site asses all replica pistols in terms of how well they replicate the original both visually and in terms of functionality. Visually, I assess whether the replica the same size and proportions as the original, whether all the controls are replicated and whether it has authentic markings. For functionality I look at how closely a replica compares with the original for shooting, loading and disassembly – yes, I know that you don’t need to field strip a replica, but the way this can be done without tools is intrinsic to the way in which many handguns are made and I do like it when this is replicated. 

The Tokyo Marui Glock 26. Looks good, it’s a great functional replica, it has blowback and it’s a nice shooter too, but it’s quite light and not particularly powerful. It uses HFC134a.

The weight of the replica is also important. Some all-plastic replicas are great visual and functional replicas, but they are so light that they can feel a little toy-like. Metal replicas (these are usually made from zinc alloy, by the way, so very few are as heavy as the original) are much heavier. It all depends what you’re looking for. Do you want a powerful and accurate pellet shooter that perhaps isn’t such a great functional replica of a semi-auto pistol? Or are you willing to sacrifice some power and accuracy for a BB shooter that is more functionally accurate?

One of the terms you will see often in relation to replicas is blowback. But just what is this? In a semi-auto handgun, part of the energy of the cartridge is used to make the slide or bolt move rapidly rearward. When it reaches the end of its travel, a spring pushes it forward again. This movement is used to extract the spent shell casing and load a new round in the breech. Many replicas use gas or CO2 to replicate this action, moving the slide or bolt to the rear and loading a new BB in the breech ready for the next shot. This idea was pioneered in replicas in the early 1990s by German manufacturer Umarex. Now, many, many replica pistols (as well as some replica submachine guns and assault rifles) incorporate blowback.

In some cases, you’ll find virtually identical replicas, one version featuring blowback and one without. There is no doubt that blowback is a great way of replicating the feel of a semi auto pistol, but it does have drawbacks. Replicas with blowback are generally more expensive and this action uses more CO2 or gas, so you’ll get more shots from non-blowback replicas. Some non-blowback replicas are also more powerful, as all the energy of the gas or CO2 is used to push the pellet or BB down the barrel. Do you want blowback? Well, this provides an experience much closer to the original, with the moving slide replicating recoil. Generally, I prefer replicas that incorporate blowback, but, if you’re on a budget, you may want to go for a non-blowback replica.

Share your new interest

There are a number of websites and forums where you can discuss replicas. However, there is one that I discovered when I began shooting replicas and I still regularly visit: the Umarex Boys Club (UBC) forum (you’ll find a link at the end of this article). Despite its name, this doesn’t only cover products from German replica manufacturer Umarex, it isn’t just for boys and it isn’t even really a club. It is a forum where you’ll find a wealth of information about replicas and shooting and a great many helpful, welcoming and experienced people who may be able to help you if you’re stuck. This forum also has some great competitions where you can download targets, shoot them with your replicas and compare your scores with those of other members.

If you are starting (or just thinking about starting) getting involved in this hobby, I heartily recommend visiting this forum. 

Conclusion

So there you have it, the four steps to replica joy:

  1. Make sure you understand and comply with the laws where you live.
  2. Follow the safety rules at all times.
  3. Choose a replica that fits how you want to shoot – do you want accurate target shooting at longer range? Perhaps go for a pellet shooting replica. Do you want something that’s as close as possible to the experience of using a firearm? Maybe you want a CO2 or green gas powered BB shooting replica? Do you want something that’s quiet? Maybe an electric or Duster Gas powered replica?
  4. Join a forum such as the UBC and share your new interest.

Here are four recommendations for your first replica covering a range of prices, four different sources of power and pellets, 4.5mm steel BBs and 6mm plastic airsoft BBs. Clicking on the link will take you to a full review of each on this site.

Umarex Browning Buck Mark URX. This a relatively low-cost (around €50), single shot, break-barrel, spring powered, pellet shooting replica. It’s an inexpensive way to find out whether you enjoy shooting replicas and it’s also powerful and accurate, though it doesn’t have blowback and it doesn’t really replicate the function of the semi-auto original.

Umarex Parabellum P.08. This is a heavy, metal, CO2 powered replica with blowback that functions in almost precisely the same way as the iconic Luger and looks just like it too. It’s also loud, powerful and reasonably accurate but it shoots steel 4.5mm BBs, so you do need to be careful about ricochets. Available for around €100.

Tokyo Marui Glock 26. This is an excellent visual and functional blowback replica as well as a great shooter of 6mm airsoft BBs. However, like most products from this high-quality Japanese manufacturer, it’s all-plastic and therefore quite light. It also uses Duster Gas, so it’s fairly quiet and not especially powerful. Cost around €150.

Umarex H&K G36C IDZ. Although this site mainly covers handgun replicas, I do occasionally look at replicas of other types of firearm. This is a relatively inexpensive AEG with blowback that shoots 6mm airsoft BBs. It’s a good visual replica of the original compact assault rifle, though it is a little light, but the full auto capability is great fun and this is adequately powerful and accurate for enjoyable back-yard target shooting. Available from around €85.

Whether you decide to begin with one of these or something entirely different is, of course, up to you. I have suggested these four simply because I own examples of all of them and I know how they handle and shoot. If you’re not sure or you’d like some advice, you can always drop me an email by using the “Contact” form on this site.

Whatever you decide to go for, get out there, get shooting and have fun!

Related Posts

Airgun law in the UK

What makes a great replica pistol?

Which is the best replica, Part 1

Which is the best replica, Part 2

How to hit what you’re aiming at

How to make your BB shooting replica more accurate

Links

Umarex Boys Club Forum

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s