So you've decided to make the leap into the extreme sport of paintball. You need a paintball gun, or "marker" as the industry has labeled them, but aren't sure what to look for. It's easy to imagine that a paintball marker works much like any airgun, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. There are a wide variety of types, brands and most importantly, technologies involved in paintball today that continue to develop the sport into an ever faster and more exhilarating experience. Knowledge is power and by arming yourself with some paintball education, your first purchase will be one that provides satisfaction for years to come.
Paintball markers have three "classes": semi-automiatic, pump action and stock class. Don't worry. This is simple stuff. Picking the right marker is just as important as buying a fishing rod. You will be spending a lot of time with this piece of equipment and its functionality dictates not only your level of enjoyment but partially your success in the sport you've undertaken. You might want to rent a marker at the local paintball field to help determine your style of play and what unit will suit you best. All fields will have a variety of markers available for rent and it usually costs only about $5-$10 more, which makes it an excellent resource when you're just starting out.
|The semi-automatic marker is the most common class of paintball guns on the market.|
The first and most common class of marker is semi-automatic. As the name indicates, these markers discharge a paintball every time you pull the trigger. They are available in an extremely wide price range for absolutely any budget. These are the markers most commonly found in "player packs," which are goggle system, marker and tank combination, and are available for one discounted price.
Pneumatic, also called "mechanical," paintball markers work very much like a real firearm. Unlike a firearm, their power source is a carbon dioxide (CO2) or compressed air tank which screws into the back. You have to cock, or arm, the marker one time and from that point forward it will discharge every time you pull the trigger until you run out of either paintballs or compressed gas. They are very reliable and are made of nothing more than metal, springs, nuts and bolts. If you have a problem, they are fairly easy to diagnose due to the simplicity of their design. They should be field stripped and cleaned after each use to maintain optimal functionality.
These markers can shoot relatively fast — four to nine balls per second (BPS). The trigger feels much like a shotgun or other realistic firearm since when you pull it, you are releasing a spring tensioned hammer from a sear. The hammer hits a spring loaded valve to release the compressed gas instead of a primer and gun powder filled shell as in an actual gun. The marker discharges a paintball and uses some of the released pressure to throw the hammer back into position where it is caught by the sear and made ready for the following shot.
The second sub-type of semi-automatic markers are called "electro-pneumatic." These markers are born of technology from the military and use an on-board computer to operate the marker. Sounds expensive, huh? It used to be the gold standard and very expensive, but electronic markers are just as affordable and sometimes cheaper than a mechanical model these days. The rate of fire is much faster with these markers and can reach frequencies of 25-plus BPS! Most commercial fields will require you to limit your rate of fire at 15 BPS or lower for safety and customer enjoyment reasons. (Who wants to get marked 25 times in one second?)
You might be wondering how someone could possibly pull a trigger that fast. The trigger pull on these markers feels like nothing more than a mouse click. In fact that's exactly what it is. You depress the trigger and activate a switch in doing so. The switch tells the on-board computer that you wish to fire a paintball and it in turn activates an electro-pneumatic solenoid releasing a burst of compressed gas down the barrel discharging a paintball. This whole process is very fast and can be multiplied or "ramped" using different firing programs. For instance, you can tell the computer that every time you activate the switch, you wish to fire a three round burst, or remain fully automatic, and the list goes on. Small switches inside the grip called dipswitches program the markers. This is how you tell the marker what firing program you want to run.
Electro-pneumatic markers are just as reliable as mechanical ones. They do require a battery, and some models are rechargeable. The battery must be full or at least very strong since these markers will malfunction with a weak battery. The one real difference between mechanical and electro-pneumatic markers is durability. Mechanical markers can get wet and even be submerged in water, whereas electronics will short out. Light rain is not a concern for electro-pneumatic markers but if you have "Rambo" aspirations and plan on emerging from a swamp to eliminate your opponents, then mechanical markers are the choice for you.
The second class of paintball markers is pump action. These work like a pump shotgun and need to be cocked every time before you want to shoot a paintball. It sounds labor intensive — and it is to an extent — but some would argue that the end justifies the means. You will shoot a lot less paint with a pump than you will with a semi-automatic. This is great for those on a budget or wishing to conserve for whatever reason. They are also considered very accurate. There are several brands on the market and they range in price very widely. You would think that a pump would be less expensive than a semi-automatic, but this is not always the case. Paintball enthusiasts who use a pump action marker are looked upon in the industry as purists and therefore are marketed towards with very high-end equipment.
The third class of marker is called stock class. This is a "retro" style of play generally reserved for the true connoisseurs. The sport of paintball was born from forestry marking guns, which fired an oil-based paintball to mark trees instead of using spray paint or plastic tape. They held only 10 balls and were powered by a 12-gram CO2 cartridge like a pellet gun would use. The sport has returned to its roots with ultra high-end markers holding only 10 balls and using 12 grams. The balls feed horizontally so you must point the marker at the ground when pumping. Compare this to an electro-pneumatic marker holding 120-plus balls and shooting over 15 balls per second! Stock class players play against opponents using regular semi-automatic equipment to hone their skills or participate in completely stock class games and tournaments.
Paintball is a super fun sport that can be enjoyed by persons of any skill level (including none). You don't have to spend a lot of money to get into it, and if you become addicted, there are products out there such as stock class markers to feed your need. Head out to your local paintball field this weekend and check it out. You may come home with a new hobby!