Dispatches from the Warzone: Rad cat reports from behind enemy lines
A sunny Sunday morning, I was driving down Shermantown Road in Saunderstown and turned in to the very quiet Smith’s Berry Farm. I didn’t stop to pick blueberries, but continued south down the rocky dirt road, deep into the heart of the green farm, until I reached a campsite on the border of the woods. I checked my phone to see if I was at the right place, and a picture appeared that showed a group of people in goggles, face shields and black tactical gear worn over their brightly colored summer dresses. That picture was taken where I stood: The Warzone!
Warzone Paintball & Airsoft spreads across 37 acres of various terrains of flat lands, high hills, tall trees and shady brush. Boasting seven major fields, including House to House (a dizzying layout of square open-top huts surrounded by trees bearing multicolored masks that instill paranoia at every angle) and Porkchop Hill (a fort for the taking where the defenders fire down upon an all-out siege coming from 360 degrees). The organizers, Jeff Stein, Ron Dog and Dingus, who have been running Warzone since 2010, set up a variety of games ranging from elimination to plant-the-flag scenarios.
Charging and diving between trees while avoiding hundreds of zooming paintballs in clouds of smoke grenades? Who the heck would do something like this? Everyone, apparently! Kids as young as 10 years old, bachelorette parties, international travelers and league-playing pros all visit the Warzone from winter’s final frost through the last fallen leaf of autumn.
Ron Dog, who spends his working days diving for quahogs in the bay, took me on a hike to show me some of the locations he built, while regaling me with awesome and hilarious stories about players at battle.
Stein brought up the aspect of play most important to them: safety. “We never had and never will have any eye injuries,” he said. To this end, they upgraded their rental gear to include anti-fog thermal masks to reduce the blinding condensation that sometimes urges players to remove them during gameplay.
As someone who has never played paintball, I wanted to know the best way of getting involved. “Go to a field and play,” said Stein. “Rent the guns. Then rent the upgraded guns. See what you like and don’t like. Get a sense of what you need to have the fun you want.” Stein gave a tip on purchasing equipment once you know what you want and need. “Do not go online,” he warned. You might save money on the initial purchase, but you’ll lose those savings if you have to ship back a gun for repairs or take it for service at another store.
His local recommendation was Rhode Island Paintball & Airsoft on 1175 Post Road in Warwick. “You can talk to the owner, Matt, about what it is you want to do. Matt does it all. He has everything [from] entry level to high end to used equipment.”
Buying from a local shop has two main benefits: First, if your equipment breaks, Matt will show you how to fix it and save money. Second, according to Stein, “Online stores don’t care about the community-at-play.” By purchasing locally, not only are you supporting the local community stores and fields, but the investment provides better equipment and guns and provides more funding for advertising that draws more players to the fields.
As community support grows, Warzone is exploring additional fun activities, such as zombie hunts and western shootouts, and families with young kids are welcome. The first field visible at the entrance is a netted court with netted bunkers for those who fear getting hit. “[New and young] kids can stay in the hut and see anything coming, so there’s no risk of getting shot up close,” said Jeff. And the Warzone crew accommodates those too nervous for the field with fun activities like target practice.
I didn’t have a chance to gear up, but after firing several rounds from their various rental guns, including a powerful six-shot revolver, this rad cat is down to paint like a Rambo Bob Ross. Hey, happy little trees — I’m your worst nightmare.
For more information, warzonerhodeisland.com or watch their social media accounts for info on special events.