NEW PORT RICHEY — They're shooting at each other. Seriously.
They're in head-to-toe camouflage, they're carrying replica AK-47s, sniper rifles, assault rifles and pistols, and some even have grenade launchers. They run through woods, dive into bunkers, even crawl up a small river.
They duck, squat and roll away from flying pellets, yelling like they're actually at war.
They're playing airsoft.
"I tell everyone that they have to try it," airsoft organizer Ben Bush said. "You can't explain it. It's something everyone has to try to understand it."
Bush runs airsoft games and sells the equipment out of his future father-in-law's hobby store, Xtreme R/C and Hobbies Inc. in New Port Richey. He has found a property with thick woods and a field, which also has two run-down double-wide trailers for players hide in, along with bunkers, bridges and a swing over a small river.
Players team up, use military tactics — even though most have no military background whatsoever — and either try to eliminate everyone on the other team, or defend a territory from a threat.
Players actually get shot with BB pellets from the battery-powered guns that create an airforce that fires the gun. Getting shot can leave small welts. Wounded players either have to call a medic or go to a "rebirth" point so they can return to the action. Players get one rebirth each game.
"It's grown men playing a kid's game. It's army — everyone played army growing up," Hudson resident James Bateman, 37, said. "You're looking at realistic-looking weapons, realistic tactics, and it's really just a bunch of guys getting together and having a damn good time."
There are other rules as well, such as the 20-foot rule — which means not shooting within 20 feet. Instead, whoever has the drop calls for the opponent to surrender.
Generally, everyone abides by the honor system. If you get hit, you admit it.
"This is something I started because of my team, that way my team would have a home base," Bush said. "The location (here) really fell into place, and compared to what I charge, I wanted to be inexpensive, too."
This really is what Bush wanted. The 26-year-old said he was going to join the Marines until he was in a bad car accident. Times archives show that Bush suffered severe head injuries leaving the Moon Lake Volunteer Fire Department in September 2000. He was an 18-year-old volunteer on his way to get food for his co-workers.
Today, airsoft fits in where the Marines might have.
"Everyone has their own reason to play," Bush said of the game. "Some people do it to get away, others to have something fun to do. There isn't much grown men — or women, for that matter — have that they can do that's fun like this. You may get a couple of welts, but you get exercise and it's fast-paced and intense.
"It is grown men shooting at each other."
Holiday resident Bill Sanders, 33, just switched from paintball to airsoft a few weeks ago, looking for a new challenge. Sanders feels airsoft is more accurate. He got hooked on airsoft so quickly, he already sold off his paintball gun.
"You can see those paintballs coming at you out there," Sanders said, "but here, it's more a challenge because you don't see the pellets, and it's just a better form of play."
Bateman calls airsoft a good way "to blow off some steam after a stressful week of work" but that comes from the adrenaline kick.
"There's plenty of rush when you're sneaking through the woods," Bateman said. "I was talking to guy who was in Special Forces over in Iraq, and he said, 'This is the closest thing you'll get to being over there.' I've never been in combat, but I believe him with his dead-on description."
And even with the realistic feel of the guns and intense combat, it is still a game.
Sanders certainly wants to keep it that way, too.
"You've got to hide and sneak around and I like to do that, which you can't do in paintball," Sanders said. "When you get pinned behind a tree or a bunker, that's a real rush, because then you're like, 'Wow, this is as close I'm going to get (to real combat)' — this is as close as I want to get."
Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 544-1771.