There is an interesting development happening in the gun world and it resembles what has occurred in other shooting sports: a move back to the retro. In the sport of paintball, there is a movement that is shying away from the newly developed rapid-fire, high-tech paintball guns. These weapons throw out an enormous amount of paint downrange and have changed the sport for better or worse. There is Speedball where combatants shoot at each other in a McDonald's playland-like field of inflatable bunkers so the players don't get a boo-boo. And there is Woodsball where the players, as the name suggests, blast away at each other in the woods.
This leads to stock-class paintball which is defined as, “Stock class aims to retain the way paintball was at its birth: before electronic markers, high rates of fire, and overshooting. Players often play stock class for different reasons: some grew up playing paintball this way and don't like the direction the industry has taken the sport, some play this way to save money, and some simply enjoy the challenge of not being able to rely on a fast marker to get eliminations. The common theme among all stock players, however, is a desire to play in a limited fashion. That is, to intentionally put oneself at a disadvantage in relation to other players on the field.”
Stock-class paintball guns resemble the guns from the early days of the sport: they needed to be cocked, had a horizontal feed, and used a 12-gram gas powerlet. It forces the player to be more careful with taking a shot and puts more of an emphasis on stealth, strategy and all-around sneakiness.
This is very similar to other shooting sports with intentional handicaps : the hunter that takes up muzzleloading; the archer that forgoes a compound and uses a recurve bow, or a clay pigeon shooter intentionally starting from the low-gun position rather than shouldering the shotgun before the call. All of those examples go back to the early days of the sport.
The same is happening with stock-class paintball which aims to “retain the way paintball was at its birth.”
The birth of paintball, the very first game ever played, was chronicled by the late outdoor writer and novelist Robert F. Jones in Sports Illustrated in 1981. He described their weapons: “Our pistols were large-bore Nel-spot 007s, CO handguns manufactured by the Nelson Paint Company of Iron Mountain, Mich. for the marking of cattle. The guns fire dye-filled plastic balls about half an inch in diameter which burst on contact, thus marking the “victim” with paint. Effective range, we were told, was 30 yards—a long shot for even a finely built conventional handgun, especially under “combat” conditions.”
Which leads us to vintagerex.com, a website dedicated to paintball history and collecting old paintball markers. What is interesting is that the authors of the website have developed a Blue Book of paintball gun values. The information provided is similar to the Standard Catalog of Firearms: the researcher can look up the manufacturer, model and information about the gun. The prices are categorized by fair, good and mint conditions.
By the standards of today's paintball guns, the Nel-Spot 007 used in the first-ever game is an antique. And a collector's item. It's part of the evolution of the paintball sport, which is still very young and the idea of collecting a vintage paintball gun resembles the market of collectible firearms. As the players mature, the market for old paintball guns will grow.
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Great article, here are some catalog scans from back in the old days of paintball, I was partners in a company that had the 1st paintball catalog on the newsstands.