AEG vs DMR vs Sniper - My Opinions on Different Styles of Airsoft
Long time no see, guys. I apologise for the absence, but I've been working super hard on getting my stream off the ground. There has been lots of experiments and I think I've found my niche, so now I can get back to writing.
As usual, this lockdown has me a bit stir crazy. Not because I need to go out and do all that stuff that I guess people my age tend to do, but rather because martial arts classes are cancelled as well as airsoft. Therefore, I'm going to continue to write about my favourite hobby and I felt this would be a useful topic to go over, both for new players looking to get into the hobby as well as veteran players looking for something a bit different. Now, bear in mind that all of my opinions are those of a woodland airsofter. I've done some CQB in Spain (and I am very much a pistol primary kind of player in CQB), but most of my experience comes from either woodland airsoft in the UK or airsoft in the mountains in Spain.
First, I will touch on AEGs
AEGs are the workhorses of airsoft. They are the core of the hobby and everyone should own one in my opinion, at least as a backup gun. I am only talking about the sub 1.1J AEGs here, or whatever your local equivalent is for full auto RIFs, as DMRs will be covered later.
These RIFs are incredibly versatile. These days, as long as you do at least a little research, you can pick up an AEG that will perform well out of the box for as little as just over £100. They generally won't need any after-market upgrade parts and will generally hit out to an effective range of between 40 and 50 metres. Due to this, I would definitely recommend, if you are looking to get into the hobby, you start with an AEG. Get a Cyma AK, a chicom chest rig and some comfortable black clothing and boom; instant Viet Cong loadout for less than £200 that will serve very nicely for your regular skirmish days. Also, aesthetically they are the most versatile too, as AEGs are the main RIFs in airsoft and you can get so many different types of AEG, from longer, DMR style rifles like the m14 or sr25, to the small submachine guns like the mp7 or mp9.
Furthermore, I recommend it as your first RIF or for everyone to own one because it's a more simple style of play. There's less you really need to consider when running an AEG and can basically just run around with a group of friends and shoot. You can make it as complex or immersive as you want, integrating small unit tactics or camo and concealment into your style of play. You can experiment as much as you want because the lack of a minimum engagement distance (known as an MED) paired with the rate of fire that full auto gives you is a very forgiving combination. The standard rifleman is the core of any airsoft team and will be, like their guns, the workhorses of the team. The snipers or support gunners may enable the riflemen, but it's the front line riflemen who get things done. It's the front line riflemen who win games.
When it comes to upgrades, they are a bit more complex than perhaps some other weapon systems, as you will have to contend with a gearbox for any power upgrades. However, there are a few very simple, inexpensive upgrades to consider if you want to push a bit more performance out of your gun.
Firstly, flat hop. You can do it yourself if you're particularly handy, or you can buy a flat hop rubber such as the Prometheus flat hop rubber. It's an incredibly easy upgrade to install and will start pushing your effective range to 50+ metres. Just be sure to also make sure you have a flat hop nub and don't lose it! Hop nubs are small.
Secondly, Deans connectors. Again, you can do it yourself if you are particularly handy (and own a soldering iron), or you can get a tech to do it for you. It's an incredibly cheap upgrade, but the Deans connectors are more efficient than the Tamiya connectors that come on almost, if not all AEGs by default.
There are a lot more upgrades you can do with AEGs, but I'm not an AEG guy, so I won't go into them in detail. I just wanted to give some upgrades that can be done cheaply and easily, as anything else is just pushing the limits of your gun more. However, as I said, most AEGs will run well without any tinkering required.
Overall, AEGs are incredibly flexible and usually reliable platforms to run, as long as you don't do too much tinkering. The lack of MED and full auto capabilities make them very adaptable to most situations and forgiving of errors. I recommend starting with an AEG if you are new to the hobby and would recommend using BBs between .25g and .32g, depending on what your hop up can handle.
Moving on from AEGs now to another type of AEG: The DMR.
The DMR is usually a longer AEG that is upgraded internally to hit higher power limits and strike out to longer ranges, with the trade off being an MED and being locked to semi automatic only. I say usually because any AEG can be turned into a DMR with the right upgrades, though aesthetically it would be weird to run around with an SMG that you have locked to semi auto only. I have also seen people using the mk23 pistol paired with a carbine kit as effective DMRs, so it is a fairly wide net to cast.
I feel that the DMR is the middle ground between a full auto AEG and a bolt action sniper rifle. You opt for a bit of both, a jack of all trades of sorts, at the expense of being a master of none. You get a higher rate of fire than a bolt action sniper rifle and a longer range than a full auto AEG, both effective and maximum, however you do not quite get the same range as a bolt action sniper rifle and your rate of fire is lower than that of a full auto AEG. They are best suited for squad support, hanging with your riflemen buddies for close protection, but offering them that extra long range hitting power. However, that isn't the only way to use them. You can also opt to use a DMR in the same way as a bolt action sniper rifle, as the range deficit is minor with heavier BBs and rhop patches, and the rate of fire increase can be highly beneficial in certain scenarios.
What I will say about DMRs is that you will need to have a decent sidearm that you are comfortable using, as well as some spare magazines for that sidearm. Using a DMR you will often come to rely on your pistol as MEDs are not small. At my local site, we run a 30 metre MED for DMRs as well as bolt action sniper rifles, so whenever there are targets in that 30 metres you have to drop down to your sidearm. If you want to be an airsoft DMR or sniper, don't cheap out on your sidearm; you will likely hit more players with it than your primary rifle.
Going for a DMR platform is not for the faint of heart, as you will need to upgrade pretty much every aspect of your AEG to get it performing to the level you will want it to. I wouldn't recommend it as a starter gun, as it will require a lot of upgrades which will involve opening up that lovely AEG gearbox; this isn't a walk in the park, but is very doable if you have some experience taking apart airsoft RIFs. A DMR that isn't done right will usually have similar range to a full auto AEG, but with an MED and lower rate of fire. A DMR done right will have similar range to a bolt action sniper rifle, but way higher rate of fire and, depending on the site, maybe a lower MED. DMR upgrades are like bolt action sniper upgrades, but harder.
Overall, DMRs are a good middle ground between a normal AEG and a bolt action sniper rifle. They can be used both as a squad marksman and as a dedicated sniper and, if tuned correctly, can be incredibly powerful tools in an airsoft skirmish. I would recommend looking at getting a good quality rhop for a DMR build and using .32g to .4g BBs.
Next, I will talk about bolt action sniper rifles
The iconic weapon of the sniper, the bolt action sniper rifle is as close to a precision instrument as you can get in airsoft. One thing to remember is at the end of the day you are firing a small piece of plastic that weighs a lot less than a gram, so it will never be a true, precision instrument. These rifles are generally the highest powered, with my local site having a 2.3J limit for bolt action sniper rifles, a whole 0.7J above the 1.6J limit for DMRs and 1.2J above the 1.1J limit of regular AEGs.
Bolt action sniper rifles come in both spring and gas variants (though I really want to HPA a KJW m700...), which each have their benefits and drawbacks. The bolt action sniper rifle is quiet and will generally be used in a similar way to the DMR, though perhaps the other way around. A sniper will tend to not stick with their team, but rather will operate through stealth to disorient and pin down the enemy team; knowledge of a sniper in the area will change the way a team moves forward. However, these can also be used as a squad marksman rifle much like a DMR and it will still be effective; being surrounded by riflemen with AEGs is a much better close protection than relying on your pistol.
Unless you're John Wick, maybe.
The benefits and drawbacks of spring vs gas essentially comes down to reliability versus silence and an easy bolt pull. In warmer countries, gas snipers reign supreme, as gas power will vary with temperature; here in the UK, gas rifles are a lot less effective during the winter over here, however I imagine in hot weather they can find themselves running hot. Spring sniper rifles will always work, as the only thing that affects its power are the internals and your ability to pull a bolt back. Furthermore, gas sniper rifles will need to be constantly tweaked as the temperature changes, so that silence and easy bolt pull do come at a price.
Again, I would not recommend this as a starter gun. The rate of fire with a bolt action, mixed with the need for upgrades to really start performing noticeably better than a basic AEG, an MED and a reliance on a sidearm make starting with a sniper rifle generally a terrible idea. A sniper rifle is generally an investment, and is a very different style of playing than with a normal AEG. It's a lot more restrictive in what you can do and still be effective. Hell, I find myself slinging the sniper rifle and advancing with my pistol more often than not.
Overall, bolt action sniper rifles are restrictive and highly specialised, but highly enjoyable to those who enjoy that style of play. You will need a good sidearm to go alongside your bolt action sniper rifle and will definitely benefit from a ghillie suit or leaf suit. As with DMRs, I would advise looking into a high quality rhop and using BBs between .43g and .48g.
As a bonus, I will also talk about another type of RIF. The pistol!
I'm going to be biased here and say that everyone should have a pistol. A gas pistol. And it should be a Tokyo Marui. I love pistols, but I'm also an airsoft sniper so I use mine a lot.
While you can get electric pistols, I do not like them and will always opt for a gas one. They generally have lower power output than gas pistols and most gas pistols have that satisfying blowback action when you pull the trigger. While not as essential for a rifleman with a standard AEG, for a sniper or DMR a good pistol is your lifeline and you will often find yourself getting more hits with your sidearm than your primary. Also, due to their size, I feel that pistols are the kings of CQB. Usually when you're up close you're limited to semi auto anyway, and in CQB a decent pistol will have more than enough range to deal with any threat.
However, these have drawbacks too. Gas power changes with the temperature and you may even need to use different gas for different times in the year. I will always recommend Tokyo Marui pistols because they will work in all weathers (in the UK at least) due to their plastic slides and general TM pixie magic. I've seen a lot of people using WE pistols and just using more powerful gas in cold temperatures, but the number of times I've been in a skirmish and watched people with WE pistols despair as their pistols refuse to work, while I'm cycling through an entire magazine with my 1911 with no issues.
In terms of upgrades, I know people talk up the fact that you can upgrade a mk23 to shoot sniper weight BBs at 70+ metres, but honestly gas pistols don't need too much doing to them. Tokyo Marui ones can be left well alone, but the upgrades I generally go for are the hop rubber and a tightbore barrel. While I have upgraded my mk23 to shoot .4g BBs to long range, I never use it as a sidearm as I think using that weight BBs for a RIF that is meant to be used up close is just too dickish. However, it does mean I can run around with just my mk23 and a rubber knife pretending to be Solid Snake and still be effective in a skirmish.
Overall, I believe everyone should have a reliable sidearm and should practice with it. They're fun to shoot and essential for snipers, though they can also be used as a primary weapon if upgraded correctly. I love pistols and would generally recommend using .25g BBs if used as a sidearm. I would recommend .4g to .48g BBs if using an upgraded one as a primary.
I would comment on support guns too, but I don't use them so I won't talk about something I have no experience in. What I will say is that a support gun is not just a normal AEG with a big box magazine. Support gunners should be using their large ammo capacity to spray enemy positions and keep their heads down, allowing the riflemen to move up without getting shot. Support guns are meant to support the rest of your team. You are not Rambo (unless you actually are, in which case go for it).
I also won't talk about GBBRs (gas blowback rifles) as, again, I have never owned one or used one. I imagine they're similar to AEGs, just more immersive and with more reliance on being good with semi auto due to gas cooldown and 30 round mag capacity. Also, temperature affecting power. People do own GBBRs and I've heard people talk to their praises, I'm just not the write person to comment on them.
I think I will leave it there for now. It's late, I need to shower and I have work tomorrow morning.