After Charles Gaines and Hayes Noel argued for a month, they decided to resolve their conflict the old-fashioned way. They agreed on a weapon duel at 20 steps.
It was the late 1970s, and Gaines, a writer and fly fisherman best known for writing Pumping Iron a book that later became a documentary that helped Arnold Schwarzenegger verbally argued with his friend Noel who would be better equipped as a survivor. Gaines believed that someone with outdoor skills like himself would excel. Noel, a stockbroker on Wall Street, believed his urban flair would prove to be superior.
After going back and forth while on vacation at Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts, Gaines returned to New Hampshire and discovered something in an agricultural catalog. It was the Nel-Spot 007, a pistol that was operated with carbon monoxide (CO2) and was used to mark trees or cattle with a gelatin ball filled with oil paint. Gaines thought that would make an interesting combat simulator. Instead of testing survival skills with ammunition, they could test them with blobs of paint.
After Gaines and Noel got the guns, they fought a duel that Gaines had won ̵
These contradicting tales could not settle their arguments, and so the two friends decided that a larger, more complicated experiment was appropriate. By coincidence, they created the paintball game.
Weapons that shoot projectiles with compressed air are nothing new. In the 1940s, Britain's commercial cargo ships used steam-powered cannons to fire grenades at enemy aircraft. When they were bored, the sailors used the cannons to shoot potatoes or bottles of beer. Much later, sports teams used t-shirt cannons that operated on the same principle to distribute clothing to fans in the upper decks.
The idea of using CO2 for paint came from the Nelson Paint Company in the 1960s. Hoping to assist rangers in marking trees that were not within easy walking distance, the dealer launched Nel-Spot 007, which shot the gelatin balls with a loud shot. Farmers also used it to display farmed cattle. (Because the paint was used for marking, the pistols were and still are usually referred to as paintball markers and not as paintball pistols.)
When Gaines first became aware of the device in 1979 or 1980, it was outside of still no practical use for agricultural purposes. Together with Noel and another friend, a ski shop owner named Bob Gurnsey, the trio decided to arrange a combat simulator with the Nel Spot 007. The duel had proven that a hit with the paintballs did not result in serious injury. (Gaines also reportedly tried it with his wife Shelby, who reported that "it didn't hurt too much.") Gurnsey developed a rudimentary set of rules for the competition that the three men and nine other competitors would attempt to capture flags from four stations on a 100-acre field in Henniker, New Hampshire, a location near Gaines’s home. The goal would be to grab the flags and get to a marked exit without being shot.
In order to maintain the central idea of their debate, Gaines and Noel tried to recruit a cross-section of personalities for the event. There were nature lovers like a forester and a Vietnam veteran, as well as budding tacticians like an accident surgeon and an investment banker. Everyone was armed with Nel-Spot 007, safety glasses, camouflage, paintballs, CO2 cartridges, a compass and a map.
The competition was held on June 27, 1981. Lurk behind leaves and do their best to take the flags without being bombarded by paintballs. Gaines grabbed two flags before getting stuck with a green beret hidden in an abandoned woodshed. The trauma surgeon shot almost half a dozen players in the end. In the end, however, it was ranger Ritchie White who emerged victorious and used a stealth strategy that allowed him to covertly grab all the flags and get out without firing a single shot.
Did the event resolve the debate between? Profits and Noel? Not really. But they had too much fun to take care of it. So was Bob Jones, a participant and author of Sports Illustrated who published a story about the competition in 1981. Along with other reports from TIME and Sports Afield Gaines, Noel and Gurnsey were flooded with letters and requests for more information about the rules of the game and the equipment required.
When they saw a business opportunity, they founded the National Survival Game, a company dedicated to the burgeoning pastime. Gurnsey refined the rules further, while the other kits, consisting of the Nel-Spot 007 and the paintballs, were assembled. Gaines was able to negotiate a weapon and ammunition licensing agreement with the Nelson Paint Company for non-agricultural purposes.
They soon licensed the National Survival Game brand to franchisees who opened paintball fields and organized competitions. In 1982, a World Championship was promoted with the National Survival Game, and enthusiasts modified the weapons to include pump action shops, larger magazines, and automatic shooting. Since other organizations appeared alongside National Survival Game, the more common name Paintball was introduced. More importantly, the paint was made water-based rather than oil-based for ease of cleaning.
While paintball became more popular in the 1980s, not everyone was on board. In New Jersey, the guns were considered firearms because of their ability to fire projectiles at high speed. To get a paintball marker you needed a firearm permit. And even if you had one, you could face legal problems if you "shot" someone else with it.
The problem was not resolved until 1988, when a paintball enthusiast, Raymond Gong, sued Monmouth County Attorney General and Prosecutor John Kaye to remove the weapons from the New Jersey Gun Control Act. Judge Alvin Milberg asked for a demonstration and watched how a human target was hit about a dozen times without suffering an injury. The defense also proved that the CO2 cartridge used in a paintball marker is not comparable to a real firearm cartridge, a term used to describe ammunition. Gong won and was able to open his own paintball field.
Gaines sold his stake in the National Survival Game early, leaving the business to Noel and Gurnsey. The activity has since grown well beyond its original ambitions to engage in a friendly debate. Players spend more than $ 169 million annually on equipment. Despite the inherently aggressive nature, it doesn't appear to be particularly risky. Only 0.2 injuries were reported per 1000 participants. It's not quite as popular as it was in the early 2000s, but there is still a great need to prove your survival skills with a targeted paintball.