The quotes are from various people in the arnies airsoft discussion on this issue I have recently become embroiled in a very heated community debate regarding headshots in airsoft.

I am going here present the full force of my argument and sound a call for what I believe is the most important change needed to the sport; the mandatory wearing of full face protection. Airsoft is a lot more than simply a target sport. Airsoft is the recreation of a conflict played out as a skirmishing encounter with a set of rules and structure. These encounters are essentially split into two distinct game types, which has lead to two different feelings regarding the issue under discussion. Firstly we have Urban/CQB environments. CQB is close, very close and shots to the head are very common indeed. Given the limited space available in CQB environments even un-aimed shots have a very good chance of striking the head. Urban is similar. The main difference between Urban and CQB is that in Urban range is more mixed. For whilst it can be as close as CQB in parts, such as in houses, it can also be almost woodland ranges in places. However, this does not in anyway reduce the amount of hits to the head as people are often shooting at shapes in windows or doorways and the natural defensive position is to hold the body behind cover and only show the smallest part of the head and gun.

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“Aim should always be centre-mass anyway. But if a head is all I can see, I will aim for it.”

The second type of environment is woodland. In woodland distance is rarely less than 20ft. Fixed position assaults do bring the players within that distance, but generally woodland players are less likely to be face to face with their opponents. This however, again, does not reduce the number of headshots because of the increased use of sniper rifles in open play and the targeting of the head by such players.

“I dont worry about headshots. Got one on me, take it. I expect the same in return. If its a problem, we won’t play together. To not take a shot on someone when its applicable is retarded. Otherwise dont call it “milsim”.”

The rule makers in CQB have long known about the problems of close contact and there are plenty of methods to reduce the risk of injury to the players. In some sites a helmet is mandatory (longmoor), in others all CQB environments are single shot (Spectre) and at some the choice is left up to the player who receives all the possible encouragement to wear full face protection (Electrowerkz). In these environments players know that headshots will not only happen, but are actually played for. The head is often the first thing seen of the opponent apart from his firearm and ‘selective’ targeting is impossible.

“I personally think head shots should only be viewed as a last resort option, only to be taken very rarely for one simple reasson. Airsoft is supposed to be, above and before anything else, fun. I you end up accidentally injuring someone by taking a head shot, it’s highly unlikely they’ll be having too much fun afterwards. Likewise, in my case at least, it’s highly unlikely I’d be having too much fun afterwards.”

The rule-makers in woodland rarely come into contact with such conditions, but still efforts are made to reduce injuries. Many sites require snipers to have a minimum engage distance and the direct targeting of the head is frowned upon as unsporting. Some require that guns are switched to semi in certain games or scenarios, or that people should ‘bang dead’ an opponent who is very close without firing. It is against this background that the arguments arise. The following are my thoughts on the subject of headshots.

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Why aim for the head?

“Ah, I’m not going to vote. I shoot at whatever I can see. If the head is the only part that I can see than I’ll shoot at it because that means one less person on the other team. If the torso and head is all I can see then I’ll aim in the general direction and hit something. I don’t really care which…”

Headshots are an important part of the game of airsoft. Airsoft is an attempt to make a ‘safe’ version of a real battle, where people can come and play out combat scenarios without being killed or injured. All aspects of combat are played out with weapons of all types and pyro’s taking the place of explosives and grenades. As such, in a real battle the fighters would of course aim for whatever comes into range first. Unsurprisingly this would include the head as a primary target as a shot to the head is usually fatal. I have yet to come across an airsoft site that has banned headshots all together. In fact I have only seen such a rule set in a paintball match and frankly I felt it made a mockery of the game. All rules in a true sport are pushed and considered for advantage. In the paintball game I mentioned; players showed only their heads and their guns in the open, safe in the knowledge that they were immortal this way. It made for quite a strange sight I can tell you!

“Since I play CQB and full face mask is required. I’m kind of appreciative if they go for the headshot as it doesn’t hurt a bit. But I understand where if people are not using full face mask then that would be dangerous. But since they have the option to wear full face mask. It’s their own fault for choosing not to. Maybe they like getting hit in the face.”

It is this aspect of ‘sportsmanship’ that also leads to targeting of the head in airsoft. Often in our sport people do not ‘take their hits’. This is considered the worst possible offence and rightly so. Some sites run a total ‘no second chances’ rule on this. We can all agree that there are many reasons why someone might not take a hit to the body, from the testosterone ruled rage reducing the pain of the hit, to the BB striking soft webbing and not making any noise nor being able to be felt, to plain outright cheating. The general opinion of such play is split into two camps. The first advocates ‘lacing the bastard’, which as I will claim later increases injuries and creates a bigger problem. The other opinion advocates shooting them in the head. Why? Because: almost everyone ‘takes the hit’ from a headshot. Even if the person cannot feel it, they will certainly hear it. Only the very worst of offenders will not walk after such treatment and at my club these people are found and banned (Marcus, I am looking at you).

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Isn’t shooting to the head unsporting?

“If it’s an issue for you to get shot in the face, wear a mask. End, full stop.”

As I mentioned, in CQB you have little choice regarding where on the opponent you place your shot. A vast amount of the game is played at a very fast pace and in an environment of large amounts of full contact fire. In such pressurised playing fields it is impossible to not aim at whatever target the opponent places in view. A player tends to find a style of play that works for them and sticks to it. The greater problem is this: airsoft hurts a lot. In CQB lacings are common and great pain can be both given and received by the players. This has led to the increased use of armour. I myself have a full level 3 armour set that totally protects my body from the rigors of ‘hardcore’ CQB. As my airsoft playing got better I slowly removed parts and now wear only a light jacket, gloves, cup, mask and helmet. However, the general trend is in the other direction.

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People are now wearing such amounts of armour and combat vests that hits to the body are not felt at all. In fact, such players need a full lacing before they will even walk. Is this a problem with cheating? No, it is a natural reaction to the essential pain of airsoft and the fact that we all have work to go to/women to sleep with and both bosses and babes hate huge welts over your body.

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I played once, one time only, before I got a helmet. I played with full face from the start. Pain is not my friend and my wife hates the injuries I was returning home with.

“Too right it’s unsporting! As XXXX says, most of us don’t play for the pain and don’t play to cause others pain – to deliberately hurt someone is sick and anyone with that attitude should be be banned from sites.”

What this trend has led to in CQB is a direct targeting of the head of the opponent. Especially when using pistols or single shot. If one does not shoot them in the head there is a fair possibility that they wont take the hit at all and nothing is more aggravating that winning a battle but being laced by the opponent after they are dead “because they didn’t feel it mate” etc. This has become a vicious circle and one which the marshalling team at my site do everything in their power to prevent. With a firm limit on FPS, players will use whatever advantage they can gain. This is not unsporting. This is the key to a sport. Take fencing. A hundred years ago one was not supposed to block fencing attacks and certainly not counter attack. This was considered un-gentlemanly. Compared to the sport today, such antiquated notions are comical. Moreover, and even more relevant fencers never wore masks. It took many many deaths before fencing became a proper sport and took the safety of its players seriously. The last death in fencing was in the 80’s and unsurprisingly masks are essential. This is because as the art evolved into the sport people became competitive. Once this happens, safety can no longer be a matter of choice; it must be mandated.

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My argument is essentially this: If airsoft is going to survive as a sport and even become fully recognised, we must be safe and this must be in the rules.

Why not just ban headshots?

“I always headshot when assaulting. End of.”

BB’s rain down in all directions during play. On both woodland and CQB, support weapons and very fast firing guns are commonplace. Woodland players often fire burst way in excess of CQB players and some CQB players have guns that fire over 42 BB’s a second! In such play, can we really not expect some BB’s to hit the opponents head? No. Some anecdotal evidence: In one game I was playing I saw a very nasty accident. A guy wearing only shooting glasses (professional ones held on with an elastic band mind) took a burst from 20ft away. Now the burst was aimed in his general direction as he had stepped out into fire and not specifically aimed at his head and indeed most of it missed him. But from my vantage point of next to him in cover I saw the BB’s that missed pass behind him and bounce off the wall. One in particular then passed back over his shoulder, very close to his ear, and entered the lens of the glasses at the rear. It then bounced back off the lens into his eye. The effect was devastating.

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So why not make goggles the mandatory standard?

“If a head is all you can see then you are aiming to eliminate the opposition from the game before they eliminate you. You are either doing this because that is your objective or they are preventing you from completeing your objective. I do not play this game to cause pain but if a head is all I can see then that is what I am going to fire at. Don’t like it? Get a full face mask. I did.”

Far more common than the serious danger of eye injury is teeth damage. Both in woodland from sniper fire or lacings and in CQB. One chap, who I had warned about this simply smiled at me and pulled up his scarf to cover his mouth. “I won’t open my mouth,” he said. In the very first game he came around a corner to come face to face with me. We both instinctively targeted each other, but I was faster and shot him in the chin with a single BB from my pistol. The red welt was clear and I again said that he should borrow a full face mask. Again he simply smiled, thanked me for shooting him only the once and went to regen’. At the end of the night he was still smiling, but with one less tooth. He had run screaming into a full auto barrage of fire and had had the bottom of his front tooth shot clean out. A very clear circle of white was missing from his mouth. I shook my head at him and told him where the nearest cashpoint was. He smiled again and left the venue.

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Full face would have saved him that injury. Nothing else, not ‘avoiding shooting the face’ or ‘banning headshots’ or even ‘penalising the player who shot him’ would have had any effect on the damage. And consider this, I had directly (albeit instinctively) targeted his head whereas the lacing that took his tooth had not. I contend that it is not the targeting of the head, but the lacing that causes the most injuries.

The arguments against full face, are they not convincing?

The arguments I have read and heard in my time against full face protection range from the pitiful to the stupid:

  1. “I can’t see down my sights”. This is very easy to fix, by the simple purchase of a riser.
  2. “It doesn’t fit my load out.” Wannabies and geardos are the scourge of this sport. I have even seen people with goggles on their helmets, but only shooting glasses on their face! This is just asking for injury.
  3. “I wear a scarf.” Scarf’s don’t stop anything.
  4. “I will close my mouth.” This is perhaps the stupidest argument. When shot most people let out a mandatory noise, it is the word “hit!” In 99% of sites you have to say this sound. Try shouting hit with your mouth closed. You can’t, this so called argument is stupid.
  5. “I am over 18 and can do what I like.” Well, I am over 30 and I can’t. I can’t leave my fencing mask at home, I can’t spar at Karate without a floor mat and I shouldn’t be able to sign away my safety at airsoft.
  6. “I play woodland, we don’t need full face.” I play all types of airsoft and I have taken head shots in woodland that have scared the crap out of me. Only two weeks ago I must have been hit with an 8mm gas rifle (we suspect the M1 Garand) because I clonked me in the face from what seemed like MILES away. Woodland play is often not crono’ed, and as far as I am concerned an injury from a ‘woodland’ AEG can be much worse than a CQB one.

So what are you suggesting?

I say that all airsoft players should be forced to wear either full face protection in the form of a paintball or mesh mask, or in the form of a goggles/neoprene combination. It is only when we take safety seriously and mandate protection for our players that this fledgling sport has a chance of mainstream success and national recognition. Images of people without teeth, bleeding gums and shot out ears hurts our sport and we must do something about it.

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Regards,

Basho

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