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Paintball Newbie

After years of putting it off, I finally take up the opportunity to run around in the woods with loaded weapons and shoot at other people. And it was fun!

My Sunday School class had an outing in June 2004 in an event which is becoming known as the "Spend 'n Splat" outing. All the women went shopping at a local metro Atlanta outlet center, and we men played paintball.

Having outgrown the need to prove my resistance to pain, I was initially hesitant to join in the paintball. The idea of potentially placing oneself in the path of a projectile traveling at 250-300 feet per second ran counter to the entire pain-avoidance habit I have carefully developed. A quick Google around the web revealed my safety concerns were mostly unfounded.

Considering "hospitalizable injuries," paintball is actually safer than volleyball, golfing, and fishing. Based on the statistics obtained on my first jaunt, I would say the chances of feeling some sort of discomfort is highest with paintball. Days later, I'm suffering more from the chigger bites than the welts.

Paintball is every grown-up kid's dream of playing war come true. Granted, when you played as a kid you didn't have to wear a mask and the incoming fire wasn't actually moving. And when you were hit, you could argue that maybe you weren't, but actually dodged the bullet at the last second. The rules change when the incoming fire moves at 200MPH. And stings. And most importantly, leaves neon paint on your clothes. Not too easy to talk your way out of that.

There I was, in my outdoor jean grungies, paintgun in hand, with several other camo-clad comerades in the woods, ready to play a grown-up version of "war." We were crowded around an 8 by 4 foot tarp stretched vertically between two fenceposts. It provided good cover, for two. There were eight of us. The squad "leader" split us into three groups; I was assigned to the right flank.

"OK, everyone put your guns behind the tarp!"

We all placed our weapons behind the plastic tarp. I was a bit nervous--it was a good, Christmas-morning kind of nervous, a sort of anticipation of something really cool.

"On count of three, we go. Ready?"

"Yeah!" we shouted. My adult sensibilities kicked in as my "squad" faced the opposing force, about 50 yards distant through light underbrush.

"Three!..."

Let me get this straight. There are 8 people over there with 1600 rounds of paint ammo in semi-automatic guns. Said rounds will cover 50 yards in about .5 second. That might hurt. So don't get hit...

"Two!..."

I've never done this before; do I even stand a chance? What I am doing out here in the woods in a long sleeve brown t-shirt, jeans, and hiking sneakers? Practically everyone else is in camo. I'm a sitting--well, running--duck. Duck, run... sounds good, keep it moving, stay low, stay behind cover...

"One!..."

One last thought... this is not a good idea...

"Go!"

I went. In a furious exchange of paint, both squads scattered from behind the tarps and dove through the underbrush. Pellets wizzed past us and splattered on trees. Amazingly, no one got hit in the first exchange. I crouched low and tried to cover the other right-flank squadmate. We scrambled into position behind some trees and started scanning for enemy targets.

At that moment, with adrenalin coursing and heart pounding, I knew for certain... this was the game I always wanted to play when I was a kid! It was playing Army for real, and it was sweet!

Two minutes later, a reality check came zipping through the underbrush as a neon yellow pellet splattered all over my left side, just above the waistline. It stung for a second, but when you're out there "in the game," you hardly feel it at all. Oddly, my first thought when I was hit: "Bring it on! Is that all you've got?"

Basically, paintball is awesome! There are 2 absolutely critical things to remember:

1) Keep your mask on.
2) If tempted to remove your mask for any reason, see Rule #1.

I don't care if you're getting hit by a feather; 200MPH is non-trivial against the surface of your eyes. I saw at least 2 cases in 3 hours of play in which the mask was a vision-saver for sure.

My advice: if you get the chance to play paintball, and don't know if you will like it, go for it.

  • Wear baggy clothing to reduce welts.
  • Long sleeves are a must.
  • Use the best insect repellent you can get to reduce chiggers.
  • Wear camo if you can; else wear only colors that appear in nature.
  • Gloves are a good thing. I didn't have any, and really wished I did. This was mainly so I could have crawled through the underbrush better.
  • Play against people who are good sports.
  • Remember: it's only a game.
  • Don't bother conserving ammo if it's your first time. Might as well fire off a lot of rounds since you're likely to get nailed early in the game.
  • Be a good sport and obey the ref, if applicable.

And keep your mask on.