Crawling on his
stomach through the
South Carolina woods with
a gun aimed at his enemy on a recent Sunday, James Goey was living his idea of the ultimate hobby.
Goey is just one of many people in the Upstate -- and across the country -- who are catching on to a game called airsoft, a game in which players participate in the simulation of military or law-enforcement combat with replica military firearms and military-style tactics. The firearms used can be made of metal or plastic and usually fire 6 mm or 8 mm spherical projectiles -- known as BBs -- that weigh 110 to 600 milligrams.
Most airsoft BBs are standard plastic pellets; others can be starch-based biodegradable, metal-coated, graphite-coated (often used by snipers) or steel.
The game is popular in Asia where it got its start because firearms are difficult or impossible to obtain because of local laws. Because of this, most airsoft guns, accessories and aftermarket upgrade parts are made in these countries. The hobby has a huge online presence that fuels its growth.
It was that online community, as well as the weapons, that drew in Goey.
When a friend showed him a gun and explained the game, Goey decided to give airsoft a try. But at the time, very few people were playing the game in the Upstate, so he started playing with a few friends in the woods behind his house. It was ultimately a trip to Dalton, Ga., where he played with more than 120 people that got him really excited about the game. He now has his own team -- Wolf Pak.
"We were hooked after that," he said, while his fellow Airsoft players nodded in agreement.
Mark Schreiber, 32, organizer of the S.C. Airsoft Association from Simpsonville, said only a year ago there were just a handful of players in the area, but now there are more than 100 in the Upstate and double that in the state.
"It's still kind of new," Schreiber said, "especially in the South. But I can guarantee you that in a year we will double or triple the number of players that we have now. It's growing week by week and day by day."
Scott Mills, 42, and his son Richard Mills, 26, enjoy the hobby together, and travel from their home in Newberry to various Airsoft events. Mills realizes that people might think his hobby is silly, but Airsoft players are the first to mock themselves.
"It's playing army men," Scott Mills whispered with a smile.
While Airsoft is just now entering the radar of Southern sports and hobby enthusiasts, the average person on the street has probably never heard of Airsoft.
Various aspects of the game draw in Airsoft players.
Larry Davis, a high-school student from Greenville, got involved three months ago when he realized the short-term cost of playing Airsoft was cheaper than paintball, a gateway sport that draws in many Airsoft players.
"I can buy 5,000 rounds for $5 dollars at Wal-Mart but only 2,000 cost $75 in paintball," Davis said, while he showed off his gun from Japan.
If you ran into any of the Airsoft players on the street you might be fooled into thinking they are military. Davis was outfitted right down to his snakebite kit and boots, not to mention the Kevlar hat and bulletproof vest.
Mark Waggoner, 37, from Easley is also a newcomer to the hobby. Waggoner served active duty in the army for 10 years, so you might think he'd be tired of all of the guns, but his love of the game was evident during a recent game. He acknowledged that he is one of the "older players" in the group, but praised the younger players' discipline and knowledge. He dispelled what might be some people's first impression of Airsoft -- a bunch of guys running around shooting off fake ammunition carelessly.
"You would be surprised at how mature the players act out here and how responsible most of them are," he said.
Responsibility is a key issue, since many players have to be careful where they have their guns, even just taking them to a game in their cars on the weekend. There have been cases of Airsoft weapons being mistaken for their real counterparts.
Airsoft does have a few drawbacks, most notably that players get so immersed in the game they might not realize the financial burden. Waggoner pointed out that Airsoft is "just like any other hobby" where people don't realize the long-term accumulated costs.
There is also a fee that players must pay the owner of the facility where a game is played. At big events that draw teams from all over a region, that fee can reach up to $150, such as events held at actual military training facilities. Typical local fees are much lower.
But the fees don't stop more and more people from jumping into the Airsoft scene.
Valerie Adcock, one of two female Airsoft players at a recent game, said there are usually only a couple of women at the events. She and her boyfriend, Kyle Chanko, play together -- what some might consider an unusual date.
"I know I'm good at it, and I like the whole hide and seek thing," Adcock said.
Her boyfriend agreed.
"I just like to play games with other people," Chanko said. "It's a good community."
And the exercise and fresh air are a bonus, even if the price is ammunition whizzing by your head.
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