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So, You Want To Play Winter Ball?
By Larry “Oldest Sage” Strack

 Minnesota winters sure ruin a good paintball season.  It’s cold, snowing and you get tired of indoor paintball.  What are you to do?  I have been pondering this question for the past few years.  I’ve heard of a group of Canadians that played right through winter and I’ve seen articles on Doc’s web site of how to play in colder weather; fill your tanks half full, keep CO2 bottles warm between games, shoot slower and use cold weather paintballs.  Yup, I read it all.  However, I just couldn’t get a group together to try it and I wasn’t sure if it would be more trouble than it was worth.

Last fall the Farm Land Paintball Club Pump Contingent and Minnesota Militia discussed setting up a winter game.  The Militia had some experience with winter ops and wanted to play.  In January about 40 of us got together for a day of play in the cold.  There wasn’t a lot of snow on the ground and it was about 25 degrees Fahrenheit.  Pumps were selected as the marker of choice because of a slower rate of fire and less barrel breaks.  About half of the FLPB Pump Contingent used HPA as propellant; some used 12 grams and the rest CO2 in various sized bottles.  While most used Polar Ice paintballs, I tried Marbilizers for the first few games.  I was able to get off a lot of shots without a barrel break, but the Polar Ice worked much better and shot straighter.  After a full day of play, I was ready for the next winter ball game. 

I saw and learned many things during these games.  Layer your clothes because you’ll get pretty warm after a bit of running around.  Between games you’ll want to layer back up to avoid chills.  Good socks and boots are a premium in the cold.  Wear a pair of wicking socks under a good pair of wool ones to keep your feet warm.  A stocking hat and headband are good to regulate your heat while keeping your ears warm.  But, if you get to warm you’ll start fogging up your mask rapidly.  Speaking of mask, make sure your lens is in good shape (no cracks, etc…) and some sort of defog solution and/or fan to keep those lenses clear. 

As I mentioned above, paintballs designed for cold weather use are a must unless you really like to be at one with your squeegee.  If you have the cash, spring for an HPA tank and you’ll never go back.  HPA isn’t affected much by temperature, doesn’t make that white puff of snow each time you shoot and is easier to recharge when needed.  HPA is, however, more expensive.  CO2, on the other hand, is cheap and lasts longer per tank.  It’s downfall comes from it’s inability to change from a liquid to a gas in cold weather.  Without going deep into physics, CO2 is stored in your tank as a liquid.  At some temperature, about 30 degrees F, it has some difficulty changing to a gaseous form and it produces a much lower  pressure.  Most markers will only operate on gas while a few will accept liquid CO2.  No matter what, plan on using more CO2 in the cold than on a warm day.  To effectively use CO2, only fill the bottle half full and which allows more room for the liquid to turn to gas or borrow an old school trick of switching tanks between games.  Fill a small cooler with 2-3 inches of “warm” water to store your second tank while you’re playing.  This will keep the tank somewhat warmer and give you better performance.  DO NOT use hot water!  You will only find a damaged burst disk when you return to use the tank.  Last of all, keep your rate of fire very low.  12 gram cylinders are easily kept warm in a pocket but expect to get fewer shots than a warm day.  You can use a semi effectively if you can control you trigger finger.  A semi, however, will use much more CO2 because it uses the gas to re-cock the marker after each shot.  Pumps are much more suited for this type of play and are usually more forgiving of brittle paintball shells than a semi are.

The last thing I learned was that just because Old Man Winter is knocking on the door, your addiction doesn’t have to fad by playing in small, dark, converted warehouses.  If you’re a woods ball connoisseur, you don’t have to be forced to play speedball.  Gather up your warm clothes, adapt your equipment and find some friends that will play in the cold.  This may be a good time to look into getting a pump marker.  They work well in the cold and when you may be a little short on cash.  A typical day playing pump requires no more than 500 balls and some CO2.  You may find, like I did, you won’t want to go back.  The hardest challenge may be to find a few friends that will play on those cold, snowy winter days.  If you’re ever in Minnesota look us up for a game or two.  Good luck, play hard, stay safe and stay warm.          

By Larry Strack
MNpig.com - Feb 16, 2004


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