Since its conception in the '70s, paintball has become one of America's fastest growing alternative sports. With an estimated two thousand fields across the country and close to nine million players, there's no denying the sport's popularity. By replacing bullets with marble-sized rubber balls of paint, the game simulates a day of hunting that requires not only good aim, but also careful planning and coordination. Here, John Osowiecki, field manager at Cousins Paintball in Staten Island, N.Y., offers some tips to help keep you alive on the paintball field.
Paintball precaution: Before you embark on your own version of the Most Dangerous Game (Richard Connell's story from which the creators of paintball drew inspiration), it's a good idea to wear goggles that cover the majority of the face and keep them on the entire time you're on the field — unless you think the nickname "One-eyed Joe" has a nice ring to it. These goggles are specially designed for the sport and are mandatory for anyone entering the field. Sturdy enough to take a paint bullet traveling at 300 feet per second, these masks don't mess around. Padded chest protectors are also a good idea —paintballs will leave welts.
Man in the middle: Before even thinking about pulling the trigger, you need to be fully aware of balls flying at you at an ungodly speed and know how to avoid them. Osowiecki says the first thing you should do is enter the field with a friend and stay near each other throughout the entire game. Make sure he is about fifteen feet to your left, while you maintain a boundary to your right. This way, you can be confident that there is nobody on either side of you so that you only have to look straight ahead.
The Art of Hiding: Another dodge-the-bullet strategy involves utilizing bunkers (pieces of manmade and natural cover) to their full advantage. A common mistake is grouping up in one bunker. "Two people in one bunker is one target," says Osowiecki. He suggests keeping a couple feet back from the bunker and examining all the possible angles from which you can be shot. Much like driving a car, peripheral vision is key. Another thing to keep in mind is to not stay in one spot while hiding. Instead, move from one side to the other and shoot at different levels from top to bottom. Keep your opponents guessing.
Ready, Set, Shoot: "Every time you shoot, there's obviously no guarantee you're going to be on target," says Osowiecki. "Individual paintballs can be off-balance or they may have a dimple, anything can happen—there's always a chance something can go wrong." For this reason, professional 'ballers use guns that shoot fifteen balls per second. "That way, they can be certain that at least one of them will hit the target." If your gun isn't equipped with sights, Osowiecki suggests looking along the side of the gun to see where the barrel is pointing while taking the first shot. Notice where the ball flies. Now continue to shoot and adjust your aim until it's right on target. This technique should be used every time you move to a new target.
Once you get the hang of it, you'll be in the zone. Osowiecki stresses that the main intention should be to have fun. "It's a combat simulation game, but that doesn't mean you show up to kill," he says. "As long as you keep that in mind while you're playing, you'll have a blast."