The thick, chest-high vegetation blocked out the sun and sounds of the field around it.
It was in that quiet, serene thicket that I found myself crawling on my stomach, Army-style, through a cool mud patch.
Suddenly, from a distance, came a barrage of sounds. It was as if someone was shagging softballs with an aluminum bat, except there was also a swooshing of air with each metallic thud.
While peeking through a small opening in the brush, I heard the noise again ... FWHUP, FWHUP, FWHUP.
Stalks shook, leaves fell and a sideways hailstorm of paint balls penetrated the vegetation. Returning fire, I retreated deeper into the thicket and felt the adrenaline pumping through my veins.
It was just another afternoon of outdoor fun at AEL Paintball, located just outside of Milton, PA, along Route 405.
AEL, a family-owned business, was opened in 2004 as a place in the community for both new and experienced paintball enthusiasts, according to owner Matt Pierce. "We wanted to offer a professional environment that brought players to the next level, all at a great price."
Pierce got into paintball as teenager.
"My older brother purchased a paintball gun (or marker) in the mid-1990s and hid it from our parents. While he was away at work, my friends and I would take it and play in the woods," Pierce said. "Now, since I own the paintball field, I've had lots of opportunities to try out new equipment and play with a wide range of local and visiting people."
AEL offers two playing areas. The Speed ball range is a large, open field laced with inflatable bunkers. There also is a wooded course with a combination of natural bunkers and those made out of wood, old cable spools, plastic barrels, pallets, trenches, moats, boats, and other materials. For one price, all the equipment necessary to play is available for rental. With that price comes the experience of trained paintball referees.
According to Pierce, paintball is a growing sport with a high ceiling.
"Paintball has been geared to a younger crowd, offering a fun and competitive sport that is different from the traditional options like baseball and soccer," he said. "Paintball can be played indoors and in several different scenarios outdoors, so it offers lots of options all year round."
AEL, owned by the same family as Blue Heron Sporting Goods, in Milton, draws people from both the local area and outside the state.
"Last year we had a group of kids from New York that were passing through and wanted to play for a few hours. Their group was 82 strong and tired of sitting on the buses. They were dropped off, given the rules, handed equipment and playing within the hour," Pierce said. "It was like a massive storm blew through the field. Kids were screaming and laughing, paint balls were flying, tactics and bravery were seen from both sides. The games were back-to-back, and it came and went just like a thunderstorm in June. It was a blast!"
As with any sport or activity, safety is the responsibility of the participants, according to Pierce.
"But by playing at AEL Paintball, you have the added benefit of trained staff to oversee all activities. We test-fire all markers before play to ensure they are at the proper speed, and all participants must wear a safety mask and use a safety device on their markers when not in play," he said.
"All paintballs are purchased on-site to guarantee that they are in good condition. In addition, our games are structured with clear objectives and rules, and the referee is available to settle any disagreements that may arise. Any sport or activity can be dangerous if the participants choose to make dangerous decisions."
For those interested in getting started and purchasing their own equipment, there are a lot of things to consider.
"There is a wide range of paintball makers available. Some brands focus on low cost, some focus on quality and some focus on flashy looks. Most of the mid-range paintball markers are very reliable. There are some accessories that improve the accuracy of your marker, but many that just improve the look or style," said Pierce. "In general, the price of paintball supplies has come down and is now less costly than equipment for many of the traditional sports.
"One of the best advantages that AEL Paintball can offer the local community is the ability to try out the games and different rental packages before buying your own equipment. The referees can help by offering expertise on the different makes and models of paintball supplies."
For more information, including rates, check out the program's Web site