Reprinted from American Handgunner Magazine, 1987 Annual

Paint Wars

[Back to Doc's] [Back to Main Page]

Splat! You're dead! In Paint Wars you're "dead" for half an hour
until the next survival game starts. This thrilling game of bush warfare uses
air-powered handguns and paint pellets, and it's a lot of fun!

By Fred Romero

The lone soldier quietly creeps up to the stand of trees that run along the well-traveled foot path. With gun in hand, he eases into position and quickly blends in with the surrounding foliage, thanks to his camo clothing and face paint. His assignment on this mission is to act as a sniper and pick-off any enemy troops that may try to attack his forces from the rear.

The soldier has always enjoyed the role of a sniper but, somehow, today seems different; he's all alone with no back-up and the situation could become ugly. Before the soldier has a chance to re-check his equipment, he hears the sound of men coming toward his position. In a matter of seconds three enemy grunts pop up into view. They are walking slowly with their weapons at the ready, knowing full-well an ambush could be imminent. The sniper can now feel the rush of fear and excitement as he squeezes his gun with both hands.

No matter how many times he's done this before- and there have been other times- the sense of pending action is always the same. The heart pounds and the breath comes short, shots will be fired soon and there will only be one victor. Just a few more yards and the enemy will be within range. They are close enough now that the soldier can hear them talking in hushed tones, but he forces himself to wait until he knows he can't miss.
The sun is hot and there is no relief from the small insects buzzing about. Beads of sweat start to drop across the sniper's face and they sting his eyes and blur his vision. The moment of truth is at hand and there is some doubt now about taking on three of them, but it's too late to turn back. Just as the sniper brings his gun up one of the enemy troopers catches a glimpse of movement in the brush and yells, 'Ambush!'

In the time it takes to blink, the air is filled with gunfire: Phoomp! Phoomp! Phoomp! SPLAT! Phoomp! SPLAT! SPLAT! As quickly as it started, it's over. The sniper took out all three men with four shots. Off in the distance, the sounds of battle rage on, but our relentless marksman is still alive. For a foolish moment he even thinks he might survive the war, that is, until he stands up from his cover and comes face to face with a young, good-looking woman dressed in full camo and pointing her gun, point-blank range, at his chest. The soldier knows it's too late to react, he's been had. The last thing he hears is: Phoomp! SPLAT!

In case you're wondering what's going on here, rest assured this is not an unfortunate encounter taking place in some bananna republic. On the contrary, you have just been privy to a scene that is played out in one form or another at least a thousand times every weekend across the country. We're talking about paintball wars, and nothing as exciting or as much fun has come along since you discovered the opposite sex.

It's a game that is literally sweeping the country, and people from all walks of life and backgrounds are getting together to play it. But before we go into the specifics of equipment, clothing and techniques, a few words about the players are in order. First, this is a gun-oriented magazine, so the chances of coming across a large number of anti-gun freaks concerned about the image of grown men and women playing with "guns" is remote. On the other hand, you may have your doubts about the sanity or motivations of some of the people who chase each other through the bushes each weekend. Rest assured that 99.9 percent of them are just average folks and not budding terrorists or gun-happy crazies preparing for combat.
As a matter of fact, even though the image of camo-clad Rambos skulking around the boonies with gun in hand may appeal to some frustrated, fringe area gun nuts, most hard-core survivalists and jungle fighters shy away from the paintball experience becuase it is only a game. The knowledge that computer salesmen and teachers (as well as dentists, students, housewives, airline pilots and cops, to name a few) make up some of the diverse cross-section of paintball players is an insult to the survivalist mystique and seems to keep the more macho types away.

This game is strictly for fun, and that's alright with the tens of thousands of everyday people who support the sport. Still, there is no getting around it. The camo clothing, face paint and lethal-looking weaponry all give the appearance of serious business. But that's all part of the attraction and it's one of the many facets that make the paintball game one of the fastest growing recreational activities around. The game, as we know it today, started in 1981 as a challenge between a couple of friends living on the East Coast. The point of contention was who would have the advantage in a battle of wits and stealth- a city slicker reared with the lessons learned in the streets, or a good ol' country boy wise to the ways of nature. As expected, a classic duel was in the making and the basic elements of a friendly survival scenario were drafted, albeit, with a few loose ends.

Quite by chance, one of the principals of the very first game heard of a special marking gun being used by the U.S. Forestry Service to tag trees and logs. The gun (Nel-spot 007) in question was powered by a Co2 cartridge to propel a .68 caliber gelatin ball filled with a water soluble marking dye. Bingo! Several of these guns were ordered for testing and, after ironing out some last minute details of score-keeping and rules, the game was played on a crisp spring day in New Hampshire. It turned out that nine people (representing a balance of city and country folk) played in that kick-off game and, as might be expected, a "woodsy" sort was declared the overall winner. But personal opinions aside, the word about the game leaked out and it's been a land office business ever since.

In fact, the rush of players and interest was so great at the beginning that a company was set up (National Survival Game, Inc.) just to coordinate the avalanche of requests for more games and playing fields. The rest of the story is now history. In the short period that people have been shooting at each other with paintballs, there are now at least four national franchises, with more coming. The game is so popular that on any given summer weekend there are about 100,000 players going toe-to-toe in well over 250 playing fields from coast to coast.
And lest you still think all this is only a passing fancy, consider the following: Game operators usually charge $15-$25 per person for a half day (four hours) of play on their field. With about 15-20 players on each team, and two sessions per day, that figures out to $3,200 per week or $12,000 a month. That's a cool $153,000 a year cash flow, provided the field stays open year around. These numbers are only approximate, but you can bet the farm they have not gone unnoticed by sharp-eyed entrepreneurs eager to cash in on the craze. For the record, business keeps getting better every month.

Very briefly, what happens at a "paint war" is this; people get together on weekends to play an adult version of "Capture the Flag." There are several variations to the theme but, basically, about 30 players split up into two teams and, after establishing their respective game plans, each team starts out in its own part of a large playing field. These fields are usually wooded, but lately desert-type areas have been pressed into service by eager players. A colored flag on a short pole represents "home base," and the object of the game is to protect your team's flag from capture by the enemy while, at the same time, trying to capture the enemy's flag and bring it back to your home base. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong! As in any combat situation, simulated or otherwise, great pains are taken to be sure no one gets a freebie. "If you want that flag, boy, you gonna have to work for it!"
Simply put, that means you (and your designated players) can expect armed resistance along any route you undertake to get to the enemy's flag. In fact, you will no doubt run into several enemy assault teams filtering their way through the same brush you're in while they work their way toward your flag. If you survive all the fire-fights, ambushes and assorted cutthroat enemy strategies lying in wait, you can also count on meeting fortified resistance at the enemy's base. Capturing the flag is only half the battle because you still have to truck that sucker back over the same ground you just came through. This means all those renegade, no conscience, back-stabbing bandits that shot it out with you going, will be waiting for you on the return trip. The game isn't over until you plant the enemy's flag back on your own home base without getting shot in the process.

Like we said before, "If you want that flag, boy, you gonna have to work for it." As in all organized games (and unlike real war), there are certain rules adhered to for order and safety. Even though paintball games are played in a variety of locations and settings, the following rules are always present in one form or another: If you are hit with a paintball and it splatters, you are considered "killed" and out of action and you must leave the field of play. All players must wear eye protection at all times. Usually, head shots are discouraged and penalties can be given for same. Other than that, you and your teammates are free to devise any low-life or under-handed method you can to move across no-man's land in pursuit of the enemy's flag. As an added control, referees are strategically placed throughout the playing field to monitor the action. The refs are usually in radio contact with each other and wear bright-colored clothing to distinguish them- selves from the players. They are there to keep the peace during any dispute over who shot whom first and whether or not a paintball ruptured.

In order to play the game you should become familiar with the hardware. Basically, all the guns available operate on a simple compressed gas principle; that is, the balls are propelled downrange by a small charge of Co2 gas supplied by a self-contained cylinder. All the guns are smooth bored and, quite frankly, their ballistics stink. If there are any serious complaints about the hardware from real-gun aficionados it's that one shot may go right where the sights are, and the next will come out like a Phil Niekro knuckle-ball. But that doesn't seem to take away from the fun, heck, you just get a little closer to your enemy before you pull the trigger.

Some of these guns can, and do, get quite sophisticated in design and application, but they all still basically operate in the same way. Handguns are by far the most popular tools for the sport, although there are some shoulder weapons that also show up at these weekend wars. Of the handguns, there are presently three brands that proliferate. The grandaddy of paintball guns is the Net-spot 007', a spacy-looking weapon that can hold 14 paint-filled gelatin balls in an integrated gravity-fed magazine, and fire as fast as you can pump the action and pull the trigger. The other two brands sharing the limelight are the Sheridan and the Splatmaster. All fire a .68 caliber ball and, while the Nel-Spot and the Sheridan are made of metal, the Splatmaster is constructed of a high-impact plastic.

If you go to a well-run playing field your first time out, you can expect to find one of these guns available for rent. They will be fairly stock, but that doesn't mean you won't see some privately owned models sporting all manner of add-ons and high-tech upgrades. We're talking major modifications here, folks.

Along with the "semi-auto" pump-type of handguns (that require the shooter to manually cock the gun for each shot), there are also at least two revolver designs in current production (CO, powered). One, the Crosman Spot Marker, holds six rounds and, the other, the Adventure 8, holds eight shots. Like the real thing, these revolvers fire a paintball as fast as you can pull the trigger. But also, like the real thing, they are severely limited in their available firepower before they have to be reloaded.

If firepower is your thing then, by all means, you will be interested in hearing about some of the more "deadly" pieces of ordnance that can be had, for a price. For instance, there are guys who convert their Nel-Spots and Sheridans from semi-auto pumps to real-action semi-autos by installing a humongous Co2 bottle to the frame via an ingenious skeleton shoulder stock. We've even seen these rigs fitted with "silencer" type barrel extentions and Aimpoint scopes!

Add to this a large capacity arnmo well or magazine, and you're more than ready to rock 'n' roll. But by far the hottest item on the market today is the Model 85 by Para-Ordnance Manufacturing, Inc. This little beauty is the spittin' image of a MAC II and, are you ready for this, is capable of full-auto fire! Unlike all the other guns in the paintball arsenal, the Model 85 doesn't rely on gas for its power. Instead of firing loose paint balls in a gravity-fed tubular magazine, this Canadian made pistol accepts .38 caliber balls encased in a plastic shell (resembling a small rifled slug cartridge).

The rounds are fed into the gun by means of a box magazine that fits into the bottom of the grip, and they are fired by detonating a primer. That means the gun is cycled by blowback with rounds being fed and ejected at the rate of 1,200 rounds per minute! In a routine battle of semi-auto pumps, this item is going to come as quite a surprise to the hapless player that walks within range. Not that you will ever get into the game this deep, but there is also rumor of a paint
"grenade" and a paint "mine" for the more jaded players who wouldn't be happy with anything less than ultimate equipment. We can only imagine what kinds of armament will show up on the playing field a few months from now.
Clothing for paintball wars is optional, but almost everyone who plays swings toward the full camo look. For those of you who missed the Southeast Asia Games or didn't do time in one of Uncle Sam's uniformed services, the use of carefully blended camouflage clothing and equipment will go a long way to ensure survivalbility in combat. Even though paintball wars are not real, the idea is still to see and not be seen. Camos, sleuthing and cunning all pay big dividends when it comes to blending into the surrounding brush. Even non-military types get the picture when they see how a pair of blue jeans can stand out in the field.

Surplus stores have enjoyed a brisk interest in camo togs since paintball games have caught on, and new items specifically designed for the sport are coming out all the time. On a recent outing to a Southern California playing field, we saw a couple of players who went to great lengths to insure their concealability. These guys had painstakingly glued and sewed layer upon layer of camo strips to a one-piece outer garment, as well a their full-face headgear. When suited up, the "Bushmen," as they called themselves, looked for all intents and purposes like an unimposing lump of vegetation when they stood or knelt beside a clump of weeds or branches.

If you think you might like to pursue you curiosity about paintball games, here's what you can expect: First, find out where the local action is by asking around. A lot of gun shops are starting to cater to splat-fans, and they not only sell paintball hardware and equipment, they also have flyers and brochures about nearby playing fields and leagues, too. Once at the field, you will see the regular players milling around the staging area either preparing for the day's battle or licking their wounds from a battle already fought.
It'll probably look like a scene out of Apocalypse Now, but don't be put off by the heavy war theme- it's all in fun, remember? Next, find the boss-man in charge of coordinating the games and introduce yourself as an interested new player. The chances are good that you will be allowed to play (space permitting) and, for a nominal fee ($15-$25) you can partake of a half day of sport and equipment rental. Usually, you can expect to receive one gun, several tubes of paint balls, a couple of Co2 cartridges, a set of goggles and sometimes a face mask. Along with the loan of the equipment, you will be given detailed instructions on the use and care of the gun, the layout of the field and, of course, the rules of the game.

The one thing that will impress you at first glance is the overall concern for your safety. Although the guns and paint balls used are virtually harmless, there is always a chance for injury if someone gets careless. That's why goggles are worn and referees are present at all times. The game is for fun, not injury or damage. You stand a better chance of getting hurt by an over-zealous tumble on your part than from any impact from a well-placed paint ball.

Where is the paintball game going and what can we expect to see in the future? We can only speculate but, as we said before, this sport is headed for big things. People everywhere are getting involved in paintball almost faster than the system can keep up with the demand. Even though paintball is still in its infancy, there are national tournaments held as well as an International Paint Gun Championship. The organization and marketing of paintball is something the powder-burners could take a lesson from. A whole new front is opening up out there that represents fresh interest in an area that will, in all likelihood, have an impact in the real-gun world, too. Many of us have felt a certain amount of frustration whenever our dedication to real guns was questioned. Now, some of that same heat is falling on the paintballers.

As with us, it's usually due to misinformation and ignorance. If you have the least bit of a childhood sense of adventure and fun, then you owe it to yourself to spend a few hours in the brush dodging paintballs and trying to ding a buddy. And if this sounds silly, just remember the adage, "Don't knock it 'til you've tried it."

For more information on the paintball game, you can contact:
National Survival Game, Inc.
Box 1439 Main Street,
New London, NH 03257

Frontline magazine
P.O. Box 2710,
Huntington Beach, CA 92647

Splatter magazine,
323 S. Franklin Bidg., Suite S-421,
Chicago, IL 60606-7096

Airgun News and Report magazine,
P.O. Box 711,
Comanche, TX 76442.

You may also wish to read The Official Survival Game Manual, by Lionel Atwill,
Pocket Books,
1230 Avenue of the Americas,
New York, NY 10020.

[Added Note: All the above publications have long since folded and closed down.
Mail sent to these addresses will be returned undelivered.]

Copyright 1987, American Handgunner Magazine and Fred Romero, all rights reserved.

Doc's Machine & Airsmith Services makes no claim to the copyright or ownership of this article. Reprinted here for informational and historical purposes only. For further information, please contact Doc's Machine. Reprinted here 4-02-04