Rural Missouri Magazine

In dubious battle
Paintball comes of age at Slaughthouse and other Missouri fields

by Jim McCarty

A 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.

Head 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.

That’s when 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 inside.

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.

The “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 woods.

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.

“Those 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 State Games.

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 from hits.

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.

This glowing sign reminds players to stay safe.
To 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.

“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.”
Speedball 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 Slaughter-house can be reached at (573) 744-5777 or call (573) 893-4144 for the Jefferson City store and (573) 446-0442 for Columbia.


Rural Missouri | June 2020 Issue

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