Is there Training Value?
by Evan Hafer
“I’m a former Green Beret.
I’ve gone on more direct action missions than I care to remember.
I’ve instructed firearms training courses for the CIA.
Still, I just got wasted by a non-military paintball player. And, I didn’t just get nicked by a random round. He out-maneuvered me and shot my ass off.
What did it mean??!!”
That was me, kicking myself, right after the first paintball game of my life.
We decided to run an experiment. Would a bunch of Special Forces guys beat the stuffing out of a larger force of average guys in a paintball game?
And, more importantly, is there actual training value in paintball?
So, we hit the ReadyMan paintball field with Mat Best and Jarred Taylor from Art15 Clothing, who you might remember from the theatrical opus “How to Be Tacticool” and the musical tour-de-force “Epic Rap Battle: Navy SEAL vs. Army Ranger.” Those boys are very funny and, sometimes, they’re rated-NC-17.
On the SOF team, we had myself, Evan Hafer (Green Beret,) Mat Best (Army Ranger) Jarred Taylor (Air Force TACP,) Logan Stark (Marine Scout/Sniper) and Jeff Byers (Navy SEAL.) We’d be playing against a thrown-together assemblage of ReadyMan members, including Jason Ross, and led by Jeff Kirkham (Green Beret.)
Our team figured out a quick “L” ambush and we deployed. The ReadyMan team broke into fragments and came at us through the forest.
Jason has played a lot of paintball in his life and had even played a little pro back in his twenties. While we traded shots with the oncoming ReadyMen, Jason looped around behind our team and mauled us from behind.
That’s not something we’d anticipated at all.
In paintball, a guy can do several things that he’d never do in combat. First, Jason broke contact with his own team and flanked. Flanking is definitely a legit move, but to break contact with your team can be suicide. What’s more, when he maneuvered in behind us, Jason put himself in his team’s field of fire.
That’s a fairly harmless move in paintball, since the effective range of paintballs is only about 65 yards and since nobody dies if you splatter a buddy with friendly fire.
In true combat, we wouldn’t necessarily do a sweeping maneuver on our own, nor would we step into a “Polish Ambush” where we’re shooting toward our own guys.
So, when Jason showed up at our six, we were caught with our pants down.
Paintball Lesson #1. Shooters will take much greater risks when they don’t think they may die.
We went on to play several other games and we did learn to hit the “Indigenous” ReadyMan guys much more aggressively. Only then did we begin to dominate.
As Jeff later pointed out, paintball drives a player to move too fast toward a fight. The better decision, more often than not in the real world, is to wait the situation out and carefully find an advantage. Paintball makes a guy want to rush into the breach, and that’s usually a bad instinct.
But in the second game, Logan Stark, our Marine Scout/Sniper, got in a gunfight with Jason where they traded about a hundred rounds each without anyone getting hit – and they were only thirty yards apart.
Paintball Lesson #2. Paintballs don’t fly like bullets. They start dropping fast after about twenty yards and you have to “walk them in” like you would tracer rounds. Your natural point of aim with an AR or handgun is going to be all wrong with a paintball gun.
During our last game, I met my good buddy and arch-rival, Jeff Kirkham, head-to-head. He and I traded a bunch of rounds through the trees with nobody taking a hit. Our instinct to hug the ground began to give way to the sloppy belief that even the smallest bush would stop a paintball. We became more and more bold. We traded shots until I whacked Jeff.
Paintball Lesson #3. There is no difference between cover and concealment. Just about anything will both conceal you AND stop a paintball. That is NOT true when bullets are involved.
For these three reasons, primarily, we were initially skeptical about the value of paintball as a training tool. It would be easy to inflict “training scars” where you learned wrong lessons about combat and developed instincts that might get you killed.
But, when Jeff and I sat down, later in the ReadyMan gun vault, we began to see the value more and more of paintball as a dynamic training tool for ReadyMen.
For one thing, if you “trained” carefully with paintball, you might be able to factor out the training scars by doing the following.
- Don’t take risks you wouldn’t take if the bullets weren’t real. Restrain yourself from taking bold movements that expose you to fire. Think of the “guns” on the other side as ARs and control yourself accordingly.
- Don’t let your paintball gun become a too-big part of your training. You wouldn’t want to pick up bad weapon habits from a paintball gun (such as poor trigger control, poor safety habits, wasteful use of rounds, etc.) and then drag those over to your home defense gun.
- Don’t allow yourself to use concealment (i.e. bushes, leaves, etc.) as cover. Move to hard cover (i.e. rocks, large trees, etc.) or hug the ground when engaging.
With those serious concerns out of the way, the positives of training with paintball may outweigh the negatives.
For one thing, we had more fun than a clown on fire. It’s pretty easy to talk your buddies into going out and playing paintball. Once out there, the exercise and fitness advantages are obvious. We ran our guts out all day.
On top of that, the dynamic team building was outstanding. Communication, coordination and movement win paintball games AND those same skills win gunfights. If you and your buddies can avoid falling for the reckless abandon of “playing” paintball, you can and will learn to work as a cohesive team – and that’s a very big combat advantage.
Another point Jeff made is that paintball drives target identification. Almost all shooters suck at seeing targets in the forest or bush. It’s very difficult to spot a camo-clad enemy in the wild, but paintballers train their eyes to see exactly that, and they are damn good at it.
Lastly, paintball does teach the basics of maneuver, if you can restrain yourself from getting in a situation where you’re pointing your “gun” back toward your friendlies. Flanking, suppression and maneuver prove themselves out in paintball just like combat. If you can avoid the training scars, those concepts hold in true war fighting as well.
Bottom line, we’d discourage ReadyMen from thinking of paintball as “training” if all they do is head to the local commercial paintball field and battle it out with the teenagers on a Saturday. In all likelihood, that’ll have a negative effect on your combat readiness.
But, if you’re playing paintball intentionally – consciously avoiding the training scars – it could be an awesome way to exercise dynamic combat with your preparedness buddies. There aren’t many ways to practice force-on-force training that don’t involve very expensive systems such as MILES, DITS or Simunitions.
At the end of the day, paintball and airsoft might be the average guy’s best bet for dynamic, force-on-force experience. Go out and hit it with your buddies, but set your own rules. Don’t play paintball like hopped-up teenagers.
Play like you mean it.
ReadyMan Pick of Paintball Guns: Tippmann X7 Phenom
Based on the trusty Tippmann A5, the Phenom carries the advantages of the A5 plus serious modify-ablitly. With after-market Tippmann Air-Thru Commando Stock and a remote tank, you'll begin to approach the ergonomics of an assault rifle.
The three-position selector switch gives you semi and full auto, plus Cyclone feed system increases your feed rate while reducing the risk of broken paintballs.
We've put in thousands of hours behind paintball guns and this is our pick for training purposes.