Choosing The Best Barrel Length For Your Airsoft Rifle
June 9, 2018
As players get more experienced in airsoft, they tend to get choosier with their primary rifle than they once were. Most players start off playing airsoft with an M4A1 platform rifle with a 14.5-inch barrel, or an AK47 that has about a 16-inch barrel. For military use, 14.5-inch barrels are standard benchmark for barrel length when talking about a good balance for accuracy, weight, and maneuverability. Since the standard issue M4 in the military uses a 14.5-inch barrel, many airsoft replicas feature this as well, as most manufacturers aim to replicate standard service rifles.
The philosophy of use for rifles changes somewhat when the mission is more specialized. Anyone who has seen any kind of recent media featuring Special Forces groups or otherwise, Tier 1 Operators, the rifles are often shorter than the standard issue rifle. This is replicated in airsoft when more serious and experienced players build impressionist kits. This is more commonly seen with the MilSim aspect of airsoft. But why do the High-Speed guys use shorter rifles? Why does the standard infantry soldier use longer rifles, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of each?
– Why Change Barrel Length?
To answer these questions, one simply has to look in to the mission and role these two groups are trying to fulfill. The standard soldier is meant to complete a wide array of objectives in an equally wide range of operating areas, from Urban combat areas to wide open deserts or in mountains, this means the rifle has to meet a wide range of specifications that allow the weapon to be used in just about every situation a soldier might be put in. Conversely, Special Forces units are, as the name suggests, more Specialized in what they do. Their rifles reflect that. The rifles of most SF units are often optimized to be compact and light weight, rifles such as the MK18 Mod 1 and HK416 fit this bill with their 10.5 or 11-inch barrels and customizability with accessories. These rifles shine with their maneuverability and general ease of use in close quarters. Even with shorter barrels, these rifles have the ability to engage out at longer ranges than just point blank, granting the Operators a bit of versatility.
Okay so that all sounds great, but what does it mean for airsoft? Interestingly, a lot of these ideas translate over pretty well, and the guys who do MilSim regularly, and/or build impressionist kits are often on the leading edge of replicating for airsoft what is being used in the real world. So clearly it works for a lot of people, but what are the pros and cons to having such a short barrel?
For those who aren’t “In the Know”, a short barrel might appear to be solely used for close quarters or indoor fields in airsoft. But once you get in to the finer aspects of building a rifle, you will find that this isn’t always the case. Generally, every weapon platform has its place in airsoft, but they aren’t always necessary. I’ll use my personal experience as the example for this.
I personally have run in to this conundrum, as I have a VFC G28, which is a purpose-built Marksman platform. It features a 16-inch barrel with the 7.62/.308 platform, and also weighs 9 pounds without any attachments. Start throwing attachments on it and that number starts climbing. The rifle shoots 300 feet with no issues out of the box and is semi-locked, which places this rifle firmly in to the Marksman or sniper category. I also have a heavily modified Elite Force Avalon M4 by VFC that replicates a certain youtuber’s “Block 3” MK18. The M4 weighs about 5.5lbs without any accessories, has a 10.5-inch barrel, as well as having full auto, but here’s the kicker, before you, reader, start yelling at your monitor “Colin, you’re comparing Apples and Oranges!” I say Nay-Nay. My M4 has an effective range of 300 feet like my G28. The problem I often run in to is that I want to use my G28, but why use the Marksman rifle when my short-barreled rifle can do the same job, and one is arguably more effective overall?
– So What’s the Point?
The difference between the two is a couple of things, the G28 is purpose built to be accurate at long range, and the M4 is built to be a versatile assault rifle. The G28 has a longer barrel, which lends itself well to slightly higher velocity for every BB weight when built properly, as well as tighter groupings across the board. This means if someone is peeking out from cover at long range, the BB has a shorter flight time, and is less likely to veer off course during that flight due to lack of stabilization within the barrel. Meanwhile, the aforementioned M4 was built to compensate for the short comings of the shorter barrel and specializes in use with heavier weight BBs to take advantage of the specific build it uses.
Longer barrels in airsoft, as stated before, facilitate more stabilization for the BB, slightly higher velocity and increased overall accuracy, but this comes with the trade-off of being a bit unwieldy and a longer barrel means more material, and thus more weight, as well as just moving around a larger weapon. Shorter barrels, conversely, allow for lighter weight, more compact weapons that make moving around a bit easier. Finding the right barrel length is more about building a rifle that fits your play style, or otherwise team role as a player. Personally, I run my G28 when I’m running with friends who want a dedicated long-distance rifle, and my MK18 is used for weekend skirmishes, or when a more versatile rifleman is needed, as the MK18 has a closer minimum engagement distance than the G28 but can still engage out at range. Pick a rifle that fits your needs during a game, and don’t be afraid to be the person that has a rifle that is slightly longer for accuracy reasons, because it can be beneficial over the standard rifle that everyone else is carrying, and as we all know, it always feels good to out range an enemy player, or score a tight angle hit because you took advantage of the properties of a well built rifle.