Embarking on his first game of paintball, senior airsoft player learns snap-shooting tactic

I stood with my knees bent, slightly pumping up and down. Hot and heavy adrenaline flowed through my body. In my hands was a sleek silver-and-black gun that looked like it had been pulled from a science-fiction movie. In front of me was a maze of wooden barriers, spindle wheels, and barrels.

(Photo used by permission of Van Vleck)
Senior Christian Van Vleck and other participants hid and fought in small buildings during their paintball games.

From within my face mask, I could hear only my heavy breathing. On both sides of me were dozens of people, decked out in masks and anything from loose black jerseys to jeans and a jacket. Adrenaline continued to pump through my body, and I began to tense up in anticipation. The referee, clad in his bright yellow vest, held up an electronic whistle.

“Players, are you ready? Game on in three… two… one!” The whistle blew.

My body sprang into motion, fueled by the adrenaline that was building up beforehand. I wove my way through the maze of barricades and cover at a sprint, my gun hanging beside me in one hand. I passed a barrier made of tires, a formation of plywood wheels and stacks of industrial pipes. Ahead I could see the enemy players dispersing as they made their way to the nearest cover. Several paintballs streaked by my head.

I realized I needed to get cover, and fast. I had sprinted to over halfway across the field, way ahead of anyone else on my team.

I dove down into a small ditch in front of me protected by a wall of tires. Paintballs exploded against the cover in front of me. As I hit the ground, I shouldered my compact paintball gun, taking aim at a player who was running to a nearby cover while firing at me.

While in reality only a few seconds passed, time seemed to slow down. As I raised the gun to my cheek, I realized that the bulky mask and the hopper (ammo compartment) mounted on top of the gun prevented me from aiming as I’m used to, which involves the use of sights or a scope.

My first two shots flew feet above the player’s head. I had seconds to readjust my play style to something new, or I’d end up getting shot by him first.

Another paintball exploded in the dirt next to me. Readjusting the position of the gun, I rapidly hammered down the ultra-sensitive trigger. A stream of paintballs arced out of the gun, leaving colorful explosions on the player’s shoulder.

I took a deep breath. It was hardly 30 seconds into my first paintball game and I had been the first to eliminate an enemy player – and the day had only gotten started. I didn’t have much time to ponder, as more paintballs whizzed by me or exploded against the tires protecting me.

An hour before the game started, I had entered West Coast Adventure Park (101 Jackson Rd., Plymouth) to see rows of cars parked along the reception area.

As I exited my vehicle, the distinct yet familiar scent of dust and paint entered my nostrils. I had been here before for airsoft, but never for paintball.

Many people think the two are very similar, and on the surface they are. Both are games in which two teams of players attempt to eliminate each other with projectile-firing weapons.

The main difference between the two is the projectile itself. Paintballs are colorful, 20mm in diameter, filled with paint as their name implies and explode upon impact, leaving behind a colorful mark. Airsoft guns fire plastic BBs that are a much smaller 6mm diameter. This difference sounds small but affects the way the two games are played.

Paintballs are bulky and have an inconsistent finish, which results in a short effective range of 20 feet and inconsistent accuracy. The smaller airsoft BBs fire faster and have a much more polished finish, and therefore have an effective range of anywhere from 100-300 feet depending on the gun model. Airsoft BB’s also have a much more consistent grouping and accuracy.

These two differences greatly affect the play styles of the two sports: paintball focuses on speed and fast, reflexive shooting at close distance, while airsoft focuses more on a keen aim coupled with strategy and an understanding of angles.

Another key difference in the projectiles also affects the play style: paintballs leave a mark while airsoft BB’s don’t, which requires the players to be honest and honorable and call themselves out if they get hit.

This method obviously has its downsides, but most of the time players abide by the honor code. Changing over from one rule system to another was one aspect of the game that didn’t come so quickly to me at first.

Paintballs exploded against the tires in front of me. After attaining the first “kill” of the game, I was beginning to feel pretty confident. I fired multiple times, lobbing the paintballs in an arc since the range was so short.  None of the shots hit their targets.

I jumped over a mound of dirt and sprinted towards another bunker closer to the enemy. As I slid into the bunker, I felt an impact on my waistline.

“Hit!” My hand shot up instantly, my instincts from playing airsoft kicking in. I walked over to the “dead box” where the eliminated players waited.

The referee looked at me with a puzzled look in his eyes. “Where’d you get hit?”

(Photo used by permission of Van Vleck)
A paintball player hides behind one of the barriers while looking out for any approaching enemies.

“On my belt,” I replied.

The ref chuckled to himself. “The ball didn’t break; you’re still in play. Go back to your end of the field and get back in the game.”

Old habits die hard, I guess.

I ran over to my team’s end of the field and rejoined the fray. A group of a dozen kids, none of whom looked older than 12, was huddled behind the bunker farthest away from the frontline, wildly lobbing paint into the air without any chance of hitting an opponent.

I sprang back into action, sliding behind an elevated wooden bunker on the far right side of the field. My fingers drummed the trigger as I lobbed paint on the enemies below from my higher elevation.

A long firefight began, in which I would fire at the enemy until they got a shot off back at me, causing me to duck back behind my bunker. From there I would try to pop up and get off some shots until the paintballs started flying my way once again. I managed to pick off two more enemy players.

Another player had taken cover in my bunker when he was pelted in the facemask by a barrage of paint. I shifted my body so I could see who shot the player, using his body as cover.

Another player was charging at my bunker, gun blazing. I shot once and then sprang back as the player in front of me took the brunt of the attack. When I peeked back around, I saw a yellow paint splatter in the middle of the player’s stomach. That was the fourth player I’d eliminated that game.   

“We got a pretty good turnout today,” Hunter Portillo, the referee, told me as the group walked back to the staging area. Hunter was short and half-Hispanic, as evidenced by his lightly tanned skin and dark hair. He turned his head to face me. “Over 50 paintballers. We also got a private party of about 10 people.”

I looked over at the crowd of paintballers, a dozen of whom were teenage girls.

“They’re part of a church group that came here,” Hunter explained.

As we passed into the safe zone, we put the barrel covers back on our guns and removed our masks. It felt great as the stuffy mask came off, and I felt the cool wind on my face. I took a deep breath and ruffled the sweaty hair that was plastered to my head.

I’ve known Hunter for a few years because of airsoft, and he has always been trying to convince me to try paintball. Now that I had, he took this opportunity to teach me some advanced-level paintball tactics.

“This one is called snap-shooting,” Hunter said. He held the gun tightly to his short and lightweight body, the air tank pressed into the dip of his shoulder. His line of sight was parallel with the gun barrel.

“In paintball, a lot of the gunfights get real close. You have to expose as little of your body as possible compared to the person you’re gunfighting against.

“So what you wanna do is keep your feet in place, standing a foot back from the cover, and snap sideways without moving your feet, fire one shot, and get back behind your bunker.”

Hunter walked up to a powerline pole and demonstrated the technique a few times, then handed the gun to me. I tried snap-shooting a few times, with Hunter making small comments about correcting my technique.

Lunchtime came soon after. I bought a mozzarella Hot Pocket and blue Gatorade, then walked over an unstable wooden bridge to the shaded area where all my belongings were. I sat down on one of the low tables and began to eat.

I talked to a couple of the employees and players I knew from airsoft, and they were all asking me about my first paintball experience.  I told them that paintball was a fun and fast-paced sport, but the range and accuracy of the paintball guns frustrated me since I was so used to the precision of an airsoft gun.

“All walk-on paintball players, we’ll be heading up to the Village in 10 minutes. All walk-on paintball players, that will be in 10 minutes,” Hunter said over the speaker system. I got up from the table I was sitting on and began to reload my gun, ready for round two.

Several rounds into playing up the Village field, fatigue began to set in. I was crouched behind a fallen tree, a bead of sweat running down the surface of my goggles. The mask was beginning to dig into the bridge of my nose. The sun was beating down onto the un-shaded Village.

In the center of the field was a small walled town with multiple two-story buildings. Outside of the walls, downed trees, barricades and barrels provided cover for the attacking team, which I was currently on. The goal of my team was to eliminate the defenders that were holed up inside the village.

I walked in a low crouching position from the fallen logs, taking cover behind a five-foot tall wooden barrier. From there I got in the snap-shooting position Hunter had taught me.

I spotted another player inside the entrance of a house, and a gunfight began between us. I was able to peek, get off my shot, and return to cover before his paintball came anywhere close to hitting me. After a few shots I managed to hit him in the back. I then ran into the building where he was and began firing at the other enemy-occupied structures.

(Photo used by permission of Van Vleck)
Van Vleck shows a cut on his shoulder left by a paintball.

I stood with my back against the wall, which had a hole the size of a soda can in it. Suddenly I felt a sting on my shoulder. I craned my neck over and spotted a splatter of yellow. This was the first time I had been hit, and it hurt less than I thought it would, even though the person had shot me from a rather close distance.

I exited the building with my hand and gun raised over my head to show that I had been eliminated. I was walking to the dead box when I felt something strike the back of my head.

I turned around and felt wet paint in my hair. A girl, dressed in the blue jersey and sleek mask of an expert player, had shot me in the back of the head, remarking that I played like an airsofter.

Most of the time airsofters and paintballers enjoy a friendly rivalry, yet still hang out and converse with each other in between games. However, occasionally people take the rivalry too far.

The next round we moved onto the next field, Ravine, which, as the name implies, was located in a densely wooded ravine. My goal was to get back at the girl and prove to her that even an airsofter can beat a frequent paintballer at her own game.

Hunter blew the whistle, and the two teams converged on each other in the maze of trees and trenches, rapidly lobbing volleys of paintballs. I initially stayed back, spotting the girl in the blue jersey from a distance.

As soon as I saw her, I hopped into a trench at a dead sprint. I tried to crouch down low so the top of my back wasn’t exposed, and pointed my gun outwards to the top of the trench. The girl was hidden behind a sizeable wooden house, using snap-shooting and other advanced tactics to engage the other members of my team. She was still oblivious to my presence.

I reached the house she was taking cover behind and turned the corner to face her. I got off two shots, and then she brought her gun’s muzzle to face me. I dodged sideways in anticipation, furiously drumming the trigger. Her shot had missed, while I had lit her up from boots to mask. Immediately she turned to me and threw her hands up.

Although her facial expressions were concealed behind a sleek and expensive mask, I assumed she was either angry or frustrated due to her frantic hand gestures. Not that I cared. I hoped she had regretted her comment and actions.

Revenge can be so sweet.

At this time I played another few rounds until late into 3 p.m. I returned my gun, mask and ammo pods to Hunter and then said goodbye.

I had finally played both paintball and airsoft, and drove home sweaty, sore and bruised, yet blasting music and with a smile on my face.

By Christian Van Vleck

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