Natchez group of paintball enthusiasts takes to the woods this season for a different kind of hunting

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 2, 2000

A twig snaps to his left, and Lee Staggs stops suddenly, becoming completely still and allowing his camouflage to blend seamlessly to his surroundings.

Without a sound, he slowly turns toward the noise, gun raised cautiously. He clicks the safety off.

He takes a tentative step and the world erupts with noise. He takes fire from all sides and is mowed down in a heartbeat. The woods are suddenly calm again. For now.

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Don’t worry; the deer haven’t mastered the art of gunpowder just yet. In fact, although he seems dressed for the part, Staggs isn’t a hunter. At least not in the traditional sense.

Staggs is among a growing number of paintball enthusiasts – people who essentially hunt each other with guns that fire paint-filled plastic balls. If one is hit and the ball breaks, that person is clearly marked and &uot;dead&uot; – but only until the next game.

&uot;It’s the closest thing to war you can get and still come home,&uot; said Staggs, a Vidalia resident.

On roughly every other Sunday, the wooded property of Curtis Moroney – also a paintball enthusiast – becomes a war zone. And like any army, the soldiers are looking for new recruits.

&uot;The more, the merrier,&uot; said Kevin Strahan of Natchez. &uot;We’ve always got a few extra guns. We just want to get as many people involved and playing as we can.&uot;

Those that already play all said they do it for the same reason – adrenaline.

&uot;I like the action,&uot; said 14-year-old Ray Parker of Natchez. &uot;It’s the most fun in the world. It beats any of the other stuff – bungee jumping, skydiving.&uot;

&uot;It’s just a blast,&uot; said Dr. C.C. Barnes of Natchez, a dentist on the weekdays. On Sundays, though, he looks more the part of a Vietnam-era bush soldier, methodically wrapping a long strip of green cloth around his head to protect his neck from the stinging paintballs. &uot;It’s a good work out, good exercise.&uot;

&uot;There’s real strategy to it,&uot; Barnes added. &uot;You don’t just run through the woods and shoot whoever you see.&uot;

&uot;You don’t?&uot; Barnes’ 11-year-old son Alex asked, spraying a tree trunk with a short burst of rounds.

&uot;He doesn’t last very long,&uot; Barnes muttered.

&uot;It’s a team communication sport,&uot; Staggs said. Good teams work together to achieve the point of the game, he said. &uot;In some of the serious games, we’ll all have radios and attack plans.&uot;

Most games involve a simple premise – usually capturing a flag. How a team goes about capturing said flag can be as complicated or simple as the team wants it to be.

The same can said about a new person’s involvement in the sport, Strahan said. A person can buy all the necessary weaponry and equipment for around $200, he said, but some high-end guns can cost as much as $10,000.

&uot;And the more you shoot, the more you want to buy,&uot; he said.

However, several used guns can be purchased for less than $100 from the people that already play in Natchez, Strahan said.

&uot;We invite anybody to come out and play with us,&uot; Barnes said. &uot;Men, women or boys. We’ve got people from 9-years-old to over 40.

&uot;And I’ll probably play until I’m just about dead.&uot;

For more information, call the Natchez Bicycle Center at 446-7794 or go to