In dubious battle
Paintball comes of age at Slaughthouse and
other Missouri fields
speedball team training at Slaughterhouse makes the break to open
a match. Speedball is the fastest growing segment of paintball, with
teams competing in frequent tournaments and the Show-Me State Games.
Time was running out
for the three men hiding behind makeshift bunkers on the heavily wooded
hillside. The enemy had them pinned down. The staccato beat of heavy fire
slammed into the wall, pouring down like rain on the hapless men. Surrender
or die seemed to be their only options.
Suddenly one of the three makes a break for freedom. The guns swing to
cover him. He takes a hit to the hand. Three rounds stitch a deadly pattern
across his chest.
“Clean hit,” yells Scott Bruns, a man whose only weapon is
his authority as a referee. He leads the casualty across the field, dripping
blue “blood” from his “wounds.”
Save for the clothes and strange weapons, this could have been a scene
from a real firefight. Instead it was just friends playing the sport of
paintball at Scott’s Slaughterhouse
Paintball near Freeburg.
Slaughterhouse is one of about 35 paintball fields that have popped up
faster than dandelions in Missouri. Paintball pits masked opponents armed
with gas-powered guns shooting balls filled with washable paint.
Like a lot of paintball players, Scott was dubious when a friend asked
him to play.
shots are common but harmless provided players keep their mask on
at all times. The paint washes off with water.
“I played one
day and was pretty much hooked,” says Scott, a member of Three Rivers
Electric Cooperative. “It’s kind of addictive once you get
in there and start playing. It’s good exercise.”
He had just bought an old slaughterhouse located near Freeburg, intending
to use it for his building-restoration business. Pretty soon the friends
were playing in the woods on the 15 acres of land around the slaughterhouse.
But rainy weather got them thinking about moving inside. Scott cleaned
out a few rooms and the action moved indoors.
he got the wild idea of using black lights, fog machines and a sound system
left over from his days as a musician to create “Cosmic Paintball.”
Paintball players who come to his field can now choose between outdoor
play on two fields or having a wild night using glow-in-the-dark paintballs
The indoor play is what drives players to this field, Scott says. “A
lot of people won’t touch a field unless you’ve got something
different.” Paintball got its start in the early ’80s when
two friends decided to test each other’s stalking skills.
What started as a
two-man challenge with participants shooting timber marking guns is now
the fastest growing extreme sport, says Ron Schieferdecker, owner of Splat
Paintball stores in Columbia and Jefferson City. “It’s
growing faster percentage-wise than even soccer. I knew the sport was
growing, but right after I got started it just exploded.”
Like Scott, Ron played one time and dropped $600 on equipment two days
later. He also quit his job as fleet manager for a Chrysler dealer and
jumped into paintball full time.
“woodsball“ field at Slaughterhouse offers many places
to hide. Players can rent markers like this Tippmann A-5 and a mask
for a small fee.
A peek inside one
of his stores reveals how far the sport has come. Ron’s inventory
includes guns from dozens of manufacturers and accessories like paint
grenades, mines, rifled barrels, gas tanks and masks.
While a newcomer to paintball can get started for as little as $85, Ron
has one gun at his store, an Angel G7, that lists for $1,500. This marker,
as the guns are still called, is capable of firing 30 balls a second using
nitrogen as its propellant.
Ron uses his Tippmann A-5 as a platform to test the many options available
to today’s paintball dueler. He estimates he has $1,000 in the gun
and modifications like a rifled barrel, electronic trigger and sound-activated
hopper to hold paintballs.
Paintball can be played in dozens of different ways. Some players prefer
woodsball, which can be played on a commercial field or in any patch of
Some fields, like Battle Creek in Kingdom City, offer scenario games that
require players to complete team challenges. One scenario played last
winter let players disarm a pretend missile before time ran out.
Smak Zone Paintball
in Patterson opens only four times a year for massive wargames involving
hundreds of players, some operating paintball firing tanks. Kansas City’s
Jaeger’s Paintball Complex offers inside play in underground caverns.
But the fastest growing aspect of the game is speedball, which pits teams
of five to 10 players matching skills inside a netted field. Inflatable
bunkers offer concealment for this intense, fast-paced game.
Speedball players, who often carry sponsorships from stores, fields and
manufacturers, shoot thousand-dollar markers and spare no expense.
“These guns are capable of firing 30-plus balls a second,”
says Splat’s Ron. “That’s twice as fast as an M-16.
They shoot a constant rope of paint.”
Owner Scott Bruns tests his aim on the inside course. Black lights,
fog machines and glowing paint add to the excitement here.
games go pretty quick,” adds Stacy Meyer, who works full time at
Slaughterhouse. “If you hit three minutes you are lucky. There’s
just enough time between games to get off the field, clean up and get
ready to go back.”
College teams play speedball and TV networks like ESPN are covering major
tournaments. For the last two years speedball has been part of the Show-Me
Many speedball teams come to Slaugherhouse to train for tournament action.
Because the field sits right next to busy Highway 63, travelers often
stop to watch the action.
While new fields are in the works statewide, few offer the kind of excitement
Scott created at Slaughter-house. The action is especially intense during
nighttime indoor play when rock music pounds, the fog machine creates
a surreal atmosphere and barrels, pallets and other hiding places glow
from the blacklights.
It’s not uncommon for players to lose track of the time. One group
played until 5:30 in the morning.
Newcomers can play here without buying any equipment. For $10 an hour
Stacy will set them up with a marker, mask and 100 paintballs with additional
paintballs available for an extra fee. The field offers Army surplus flight
suits if players want to protect their clothes and padding to limit bruises
Can a sport that lets opponents shoot each other be safe? Those involved
in the action say yes, provided safety is stressed.
“I haven’t seen an injury a person wouldn’t get playing
horseshoes,” says Scott.
keep things that way, strict rules are enforced at Slaughterhouse. Players
get a lecture from Stacy on field rules before they can play. Before
they walk out the door gun barrels are plugged, safeties engaged and
masks put on. Players that get hit must keep their masks on until play
stops and the refs call for barrel plugs.
glowing sign reminds players to stay safe.
“When they first come to the field they get a little tired of
us yelling at them to keep their safety gear on,” Scott says.
“But soon they are preaching to other people, ‘keep those
masks down, keep that barrel plugged.’ ”
Velocity is checked on all guns before play. Scott and Stacy say they
will test guns for free. This is one advantage commercial fields have
over playing on private property.
At Splat Ron pushes safety as well, encouraging newcomers to spend a
little more for a quality mask rather than trust a cheap one that probably
will fog up in winter weather.
“Everyone I come into contact with is very safety-related,”
he says. “We understand that playing the sport is a privilege
and it just takes a few bad apples to cause us problems. Especially
with new players we really try to go over the safety aspects.”
players hide behind air-filled bunkers to escape the rope of
paint from these high speed markers.
A hit from a paintball
leaves a round bruise. Occasionally a ball breaks skin or an ambitious
player skins a knee. But as long as eye protection is worn the sport
causes fewer injuries than football, Ron says.
“When they hit they sting,” says Ron, whose 13-year-old
daughter has joined the sport. “But you get out there playing,
the adrenaline starts running through your veins and you just don’t
feel it that much.”
While paintball has made the leap to sport status, those taking part
expect it to keep growing. “I don’t think it’s hit
its peak yet,” says Scott. “I hear a lot of people say
there’s going to be so many fields around it will be bad for
business. I don’t see that. I think it’s just a matter
of time before schools have teams.”
For a list of Missouri paintball fields log on to www.pbreview.com.
Slaughter-house can be reached at (573) 744-5777 or call (573) 893-4144 for the Jefferson City store and (573) 446-0442