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PHWAP!

There's nothing like the sweet sounds of the outdoors, with trees swaying in the breeze, birds chirping and insects buzzing.

Oh, and don't forget the "Pop! Pop!" of paintball guns firing in your direction.

To satisfy the occasional desire to shoot at friends, family and coworkers, there's a safe way to do it at Gator Extreme Paintball in Hudson. Owner Tim Altman has run the park for two years, averaging 50 to 60 people a day on weekends. In the busy months more than 150 could visit in one day. The fields regularly host bachelor and birthday parties.

"We've had people in their 60s come and play," Altman said.

Gator Extreme offers 27 acres of paintball fields with nine courses, including a beat up trailer park, a field with a two-story log cabin, a mock graveyard with wooden boards that form a place to hide, and a mock war scene with trenches and sandbag bunkers.

Paintball is a series of games that involve guns shooting small paint pellets on blasts of pressurized gas or air. The style of competition varies from a simple tag game to capture the flag and even organized tournaments. Gator Extreme sometimes has a weekend-long package with a specific theme and missions to accomplish.

"It's just a little bit more than just going out and shooting people," Altman said.

For a $10 entry fee players gain access to the fields for a day. Gator Extreme also offers air tank refills and has a complete pro shop. For those who have no equipment and just want to try things out, $20 gets a rental package with admission, mask, a gun and a tank of carbon dioxide as propellent.

The park is open seven days a week but requires reservations and groups Monday through Friday. It is open to all on the weekends, and individuals join a team.

Games require many skills to be successful, with stealth as important as the ability to aim.

"On the paintball field, everyone's equal," Altman said. "When managers come out with their employees, it breaks down barriers, makes people work together. ...

"You know when you go out and fish and hook a big one? It's that kind of adrenaline rush."

Safety rules that are enforced.

"We'll have kids here that are 10 years old," Altman said. "Parents want to know that everything is organized and safe. Children under 18 need to have a form signed by their parents or guardians.

The sport keep growing, making it one of the most popular extreme sports. With 5.9-million competitors in 1998 and more than 9.8-million people playing in 2003 according to the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association, there is plenty of demand for equipment. More than $390-million ws spent last year.

"There are more paintball stores now than I can ever remember," Altman said.

For those interested in paintball as a hobby, an investment is required. Here are some tips for getting started:

+ A good set of goggles is probably the most important piece of gear. A quality mask provides safety and a clear line of vision. "You want something that you can see clearly with that doesn't fog up," Altman said.

+ Shop around for a decent gun. Guns aren't cheap, but deals can be had for under $100. Look for quality construction. "You don't want it to break the first time you use it," Altman said.

+ There are two types of tanks that plug into a gun to propel the paintballs: carbon dioxide and compressed air. Carbon dioxide is the most widely used and is inexpensive, but compressed air provides the same amount of pressure.

WANT TO GO?

WHO: Gator Extreme Paintball, 11122 Houston Ave., Hudson.

WHEN: The park is open Monday to Friday with reservations. On weekends the park is open 9 a.m.-4 p.m.

PRICE: $10 entry fee, $20 for rental package with entry included, $5 to $7 for all day air tank refills.

CONTACT: Tim Altman at (727) 862-2222 www.gatorpaintball.com.

Do you have what it takes to storm a makeshift paintball tank? If so, Gator Extreme Paintball in Hudson has something for you. Simulated contests are played daily.

Paintball players, above, use guns that fire a blast of compressed air or carbon dioxide. They dart around the course, hiding behind obstructions while waiting to blast an opponent. Competitors wear the facemasks and goggles to protect their eyes from the paintballs, and strict safety rules are necessary to make sure a game doesn't get out of hand.

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