Airgun vs. Airsoft: What’s the Difference?

By Published On: 14 August 2023Categories: Air Gun

If you’re new to shooting sports or looking for a safe and enjoyable backyard hobby, you might be interested in an airgun or airsoft gun. But it’s important to understand that these are two very distinct weapons. They differ in terms of everything from their power to the type of ammunition they shoot – as well as how they’re legally regulated.

So: what is the difference between airsoft and airgun? In this blog, we’ll take an in-depth look at both airguns and airsoft guns, and how they’re defined in the UK. We’ll discuss their unique features, similarities and differences, helping you to make an informed choice.

What Is Airsoft?

First off: what is an airsoft gun? The term ‘airsoft’ refers to a replica firearm that shoots small plastic balls rather than bullets or pellets. These small round projectiles are called BBs. (However, it’s important to note that they’re not the same kind of BBs used by BB guns, which are made of metal.)

Airsoft guns are generally designed to be safe, and are classified as toys in the UK. They are typically used for competitive games and target shooting. The power of airsoft guns is deliberately limited to prevent serious injury. However, airsoft pellets can damage the eye, so suitable eye protection should be worn.

What Is an Airgun?

An airgun, or air weapon, is a type of gun that propels metal projectiles (typically made of lead). The term includes both air pistols and air rifles. They are used for a variety of activities, from target shooting and competitive sports to pest control and small game hunting.

Airguns typically fire .177 or .22 calibre pellets, and are powered by compressed gas or air. They are not toys: airguns can deliver a significant amount of power, and are considered firearms if their muzzle energy exceeds a certain limit. (We’ll discuss this in more depth below.)

Airsoft vs. Airgun (UK): Key Differences

Let’s take a closer look at the main differences between airguns and airsoft guns in the UK.

Operating Mechanisms

Both airguns and airsoft guns fire projectiles using energy from compressed air or gas. However, they come in a variety of different power sources and operating mechanisms. For example:

  • Spring-piston or spring-powered airguns and airsoft guns use a compressed spring to generate small blasts of compressed air.
  • HPA airsoft guns and PCP air guns both operate using refillable tanks of highly pressurised air. PCP airguns have built-in reservoirs, while HPA airsoft guns typically use detachable external tanks.
  • CO2-powered airguns and airsoft guns run on disposable cartridges of CO2 gas.
  • Gas ram airguns are powered by a sealed unit of nitrogen gas, which lasts for many years. This mechanism is extremely powerful, so is not typically used in airsoft guns.
  • ‘Green gas’ airsoft guns run on a mixture of propane gas and silicone oil, which is stored in the gun’s magazine. This type of gas is relatively low-powered, so is not suitable for airguns.

You can also get electric-powered air weapons, which are powered by a rechargeable battery pack. Automatic electric airsoft guns (AEGs) are quite common, while electric-powered air guns are relatively rare.


Airsoft guns fire small, spherical plastic BBs which are typically 6mm or 8mm in diameter. Airguns fire metal BBs or pellets, which are typically made from lead (though there are lead-free options available). Airguns come in a range of calibres, with .177 (4.5mm) and .22 (5.5mm) being the most popular.

Airgun pellets and BBs are usually much heavier than the plastic ammo used in airsoft. This leads to more significant impact energy, which is ideal for target shooting and hunting small game.

Muzzle Energy (Power)

In the UK, airsoft guns are legally considered toys, and are limited to a muzzle energy of 1 joule (0.74ft/lbs) for safety reasons. By contrast, airguns are classified as weapons, and are much more powerful.

However, their power is still restricted by law. In England, for example, air pistols are limited to a muzzle energy of 6ft/lbs. Air rifles are limited to 12ft/lbs (though higher-powered rifles can be held on a valid firearms certificate).

Accuracy and Range

Thanks to their heavier ammunition and higher power, airguns generally offer greater accuracy and range compared to airsoft guns.

Due to this, airsoft guns are primarily used for target practice, recreational skirmishes and military simulation games. Airguns, on the other hand, are suitable for a broader range of activities including competitive shooting, pest control and small game hunting.


Due to their differences in build quality, accuracy, range and power, airguns are typically more expensive than airsoft guns.

However, this is not always the case. The price of individual models can vary based on many factors such as:

  • Manufacturer or brand
  • Materials and build quality
  • Accuracy and overall performance
  • Size and weight
  • Type of gun (rifle vs. pistol)
  • Power source
  • Ammunition and calibre

A high-end airsoft rifle, for example, may therefore command a much higher price than a budget air pistol.

Rules and Regulations (UK)

Anyone over 18 can purchase airsoft guns in the UK without a licence. The law on airguns, varies depending on the constituent country. In Scotland and Northern Ireland, all airguns must be licensed, while in England, airguns under the aforementioned power limits can be held without a licence.

It is illegal for anyone under 18 to possess an airgun, either by purchasing it or being given one as a gift. Minors can only use airguns in specific circumstances (e.g. at licensed gun clubs and under adult supervision).

However, you can give an airsoft gun to a child (or allow them to use one) regardless of their age. The only restriction is that the airsoft gun must be brightly-coloured and easily distinguishable from a real firearm.

Both airsoft guns and air weapons must be transported securely in a gun case or bag, and can only be used on private land (with permission). However, there are some additional rules regarding where and what you can shoot with an airgun. For more information, see our guide to UK airgun laws.

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For advice, queries or product recommendations, don’t hesitate to get in touch – our knowledgeable team will be happy to help.

About the Author: The Wolfman Store

After over 30 years experience in the Airgun trade, The Wolfman Store are delighted to announce our new website, enabling us to supply direct to the shooting community for the first time. Combining a vast stock of established favourites with exciting products new to the UK, The Wolfman Store will be striving to provide unparalleled service at the most competitive prices.

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