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What to expect as a first time paintball player

  • Players take aim at their opponents during a round of paintball at Merrimack Valley Paintball in Epsom on June 23, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Players take aim at their opponents during a round of paintball at Merrimack Valley Paintball in Epsom on June 23. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Players take aim at their opponents during a round of paintball at Merrimack Valley Paintball in Epsom on June 23. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Jacob Dawson and teammates give a thumbs up before the start of a paintball game at Merrimack Valley Paintball. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff

  • Players take aim at their opponents during a round of paintball at Merrimack Valley Paintball in Epsom on June 23, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Players take aim at their opponents during a round of paintball at Merrimack Valley Paintball in Epsom on June 23, 2018. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Elizabeth Frantz—Monitor staff

  • Jacob Dawson moves into position during a paintball game at Merrimack Valley Paintball in Epsom on June 23. Elizabeth Frantz / Monitor staff



Monitor staff
Friday, June 29, 2018

Running through the woods, a light rain coming down, ducking around pallets, dirt piles and wooden spools larger than myself.

“He’s out!” yelled the ref at the top of the hill in the middle of the field, signifying the end of the round.

Paintball. The growing sport of teams facing off to shoot each other with air rifles and balls of paint has its origins in the Granite State.

If you’ve never played, you’re not alone, I hadn’t until this weekend. Thanks to much time researching and three rounds at Merrimack Valley Paintbal, I can’t wait to play again.

Tony Fiore is the owner of MVP. On Thursday, he showed off the new property located on Route 4 in Epsom. His passion for paintball showed, through the work done on the 73-acre spread and his knowledge of the sport.

New Hampshire roots

Paintball guns, or markers as they were originally called, were first used as a quick way to mark trees for cutting and cattle for butchering. The Nelson Paint Company built the first CO2 powered markers called the Nelspot 007.

Markers fire a gelatin capsule about the size of a quarter filled with a water-based, non-toxic and biodegradable paint that bursts on impact. The Nelspot only held about a dozen paintballs and used a 12-gram CO2 tank inserted into the handle.

In 1981, in Henniker, the story goes, a few friends made a bet. Who has the better survival skills and natural instinct: a city-based financier or the country boy? They gathered up some paintball guns and ammo, then went out into the woods to play a game of capture the flag.

Simulating real combat is part of the game’s experience. At the end of the game, the country boys took home the win and the sport of paintball was born. And more specifically, the variation of “woodsball” was born.

As the years went on, paintball grew rapidly in popularity. Growing with it were different ways to play the game. Woodsball can incorporate many different play styles, like single elimination, protect the president, capture the flag or king of the hill.

Speedball is now a popular variation played worldwide and has a national league in the United States, the NXL. Speedball is usually played on an open field or turf with inflatable bunkers strategically set around the playing area. Teams of five compete to hit all the opponents with paint. Speedball is also a spectator sport.

Equipment

Modern-day paintball guns come in many shapes and sizes. Typically, they look pretty different from a real rifle, with a large air tank coming out the end of the grip and a large hopper on top of the gun. When I was playing, there were many types of paintball guns around and some looked like real firearms, but the air tank really gives it away.

At MVP, Fiore said they have a 270 feet per second limit, about 180 miles per hour. He said this is standard for a paintball gun. Guns can range anywhere from a few $100 to more than $2,000. Electric modifications on professional-grade paintball guns allow for much faster rates of fire through an elongated trigger and using the tactic of “walking the trigger.”

Currently, MVP’s fields are new and under construction. There are four woods-based fields available for play, with plans to increase that number to 12, plus a speedball field. MVP will be the largest paintball facility in New England once construction is complete.

“This is just the tip of the iceberg for us,” Fiore said during a tour of the property.

Safety first

I’ve never played paintball in my 21 years on this Earth so far, but I played a lot of Airsoft as a kid and teenager. Similar to paintball, Airsoft is a military simulation game but the guns are more realistic, often confused with real firearms, but instead fire a 6 mm plastic ball at velocities more than 400 fps, which do not splatter paint on you. It feels like a bee sting on bare skin.

One of the most common questions about paintball is “Does it hurt?” And the most common answer is “It depends.”

“Paintball is definitely geared more towards the rugged, outdoorsy-types, so it depends on people’s pain tolerance,” Fiore said.

I’ve been hit with countless Airsoft rounds, but never a ball full of paint watching it come flying at my face. So when Fiore offered to let me play a few rounds on Saturday, I was on board.

There are some things to know about paintball before jumping right into a match. Keep your facemask on at all times near the firing range and playing field; keep the barrel of your paintball gun pointed down unless you’re shooting; keep the barrel cover on your gun when the round is over and at the staging area; have fun.

Throughout his time playing paintball and owning MVP, Fiore said there are a few more lessons he’s learned. You should prepare yourself in your mind that it is going to be challenging. It’s intense, the paintball guns make a “pop” every time they shoot and when the balls explode on the bunker you’re hiding behind, it’s nerve-racking. It does feel very real, he said.

“Never judge a book by its cover. Especially women players. I’d love to go into battle with them in a heartbeat,” Fiore said. He said it always amazes him how effective some people are at paintball who you would never expect to be. Young children are no exception. A smaller target that is able to move faster gives a large advantage.

“Don’t underestimate young players,” he said. Often times, Fiore has found that younger players are better at strategizing and hiding.

“Wear drab-colored clothes that you don’t mind getting dirty,” Fiore said. Hiking boots are preferred, but anything with good ankle support is always best. The paint will wash off.

“The most fun of paintball, I would say, is making friends. But there’s also working with a team,” Fiore said.

At MVP, Firoe said you don’t need to bring anything except a good attitude. For $35, you can rent a fog-resistant facemask, a paintball gun, ammo pack and 100 paintballs. All day entry and unlimited air refills are included. But 100 paintballs go by very fast. You can buy a case of 2,000 starting at $60, or 500 at $18, there are three different grades available. Chest and back protectors and camouflage jumpsuits are also available.

MVP does not allow players to bring their own paint except on the designated BYOP (bring your own paint) days on the first Sunday of each month.

By New Hampshire law, no one under the age of 18 is allowed to own a paintball gun. At MVP, players need to be at least 10 years old to play. Everyone is required to sign a waiver for each visit.

If you’re worried about your child getting hurt playing paintball, I wouldn’t be. Fiore said paintball is one of the safest sports, much safer than football and hockey. The most common injuries in paintball are those of your own doing, like tripping and falling or rolling an ankle. With no contact between players, and the facemask rule strictly enforced, the main worry of an eye injury is very slim.

Game time

After being outfitted with the gun, mask, paintballs and ammo belt, I needed to confirm the velocity on a chronograph. Fiore fired a couple rounds with the gun which were clocked at just over 260 fps. Perfect.

Two referees walked us over to “ambush alley.” The field was surrounded by nets that prevent the paintballs from overshooting into a different game. Scattered around the space and in between the trees were various bunkers made from dirt piles, pallets and plywood, old oil drums, wooden spools and old vehicles.

I played a best two-out-of-three series of single elimination with two teams of four. You’re considered “out” when a paintball hits you anywhere on your body and bursts, except on your paintball gun. If the ball bounces off of you and does not burst, you’re still in. If you get sprayed with paint from the ball hitting something nearby, you’re still in.

I was on a team with a young boy, his father and another man. We were facing off against four teenagers.

The refs instructed us to go to either side of the field, we couldn’t see the other team from the start point. The ref confirmed when both teams were ready to play.

“Three, two, one!” he yelled. I quickly ran over to a bunker and crouched behind it. There was a hole in it and I could see someone from the other team through it. Not clear enough for a good shot; I needed to conserve my 500 paintballs while I feel out the other team.

My team started dropping like flies. The little boy got hit twice, once in each leg and his father quickly followed suit. I started to move toward the left side of the bunker and then I saw a barrel about 30 feet away pointing right at me.

A couple pops later and I felt a thud on my left side about halfway up my rib cage. Yellow paint was all over my navy blue shirt. I hadn’t even fired a single shot yet.

I’ll put it this way, the impact didn’t really hurt. You’re not focusing on the pain that at that moment, you’re trying to shoot other people, not get shot. It’s truly amazing how quickly adrenaline kicks in. It does a wonderful job of numbing the pain and keeping you focused. The impact itself really didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. I do have a red spot about the size and shape of a baby carrot.

Our last teammate took a shot off the top of his mask.

We switched sides and started again, with a vengeance.

I thought maybe switching things would work out better for this round, so after the countdown, I bolted to a dirt pile to the right side of the start point.

I quickly saw an opponent and kept firing on him while a teammate worked his way around to get him out. I stayed to the edge of the field and worked around to two pallets with plywood attached standing upright in a V shape. Another enemy player is out.

Feeling the rush of a victory coming on, I spotted the last two opponents who were engaging the rest of my team. Slowly, I moved around some trees until I had a clear shot of both players.

“Oh, look out here,” one of the sidelined players said to another from behind the net. Rapidly pulling the trigger over and over, I took out both players before they realized what happened.

At the start of the third round, it was whatever team won, won all. I went back to the left side. Although this time, I ran up to a large wooden spool and planted myself there. I had a good angle on a few different enemy players, so I was able to keep shooting at them and keep the pressure up.

Slowly, one person from each team would get taken out until there was three of us left and two of them. I could hear an opponent firing nearby and saw him about 25 feet away. One of my teammates got their third player out. It’s three-on-one now.

Two refills of suppressing fire later and my teammates flanked to get him out.

My official paintball record now stands at one win, no losses with two eliminations and one hit.

Fiore was right when he told me one of the best parts of paintball is that feeling of momentum when you know your team is ahead. He was absolutely right.

To sum up my experience, paintball is a lot of fun and if you haven’t tried it, you’re missing out.

It’s a great way to get outside for some non-traditional fun. Fiore also said it’s more than that, its the connections you make along the way. He will see a lot of father-and-son teams come out. This makes paintball and multigenerational sports exciting, instead of the parents just watching from the sidelines.

MVP is open yearround with Monday to Friday being reserved for private groups and the weekends open for play from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fiore said when they aren’t hosting anyone during the week, MVP works on building the fields.

“I’ll always tell my customers to come back in a month and see the changes we make,” he said.

More information about MVP is available online at mvppaintball.net.

(Jacob Dawson can be reached at 272-6414, ext. 8325, jdawson@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @jaked156.)