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For beginner paintballers, some of the hardest choices revolve around buying your first paintball gun. Chances are, if you’re new to the game, you will want to rent a gun first to make sure you like the sport before spending money on it. However, if you are ready to bite the bullet, so to speak, and get your own paintball gun, we’ve got the perfect guide for you.
Once you’ve decided to purchase your first paintball gun, the fun part begins. This fun includes doing the research to find the marker the best suits your style of play and needs of your team. However, you’ll quickly find that doing so is much easier said than done.
With so many acronyms used on spec sheets and features available, it can be burdensome to find the best gun. That’s why we’ve taken the time to explain the process to you from start to finish so that you don’t get overwhelmed with your first purchase.
Styles of guns
Before you buy a particular gun, it’s wise to know what style of gun you need or prefer. As far as paintball markers are concerned, there are three main types;
Let’s look at these in depth.
Mechanical paintball guns are the most common form found in the market today. What makes them so popular is how easy they can be to use and maintain. Because of this, there is a vast variety to choose from; from guns made to resemble actual firearms to tournament-level markers.
Most often, mechanical paintball guns are powered by a compressed gas of some sort, though the most common gas is CO2. Tanks attached to the gun store this CO2, either through a 12-gram cartridge stored in the grip or a large tank attached to a gas line on the end of the marker. These guns work with a gravity-fed hopper that allows a single ball to fall into the chamber. Then, when the shooter pulls the trigger, it releases a hammer, and stored gas sends the bolt into the paintball, sending it flying through the barrel. This system is known as the blow-back feature because the pressure from the gas releasing caused the process to start over with each shot.
Electronic paintball guns feature a mix of the mechanical systems with electronic components to increase accuracy and firing rate. These new, high-tech, markers can take any shooter’s game to the next level. Originally, electronic guns were extremely high in price and, therefore, unattainable to many shooters. However, as technology has improved the development of this type of marker, the price has dropped considerably.
Electronic guns still use many of the same components of the mechanical markers, including the compressed gasses. However, they also include a circuit board that allows for electronic control over these parts. With this electric ability, these guns allow for increased firing modes, including full auto and 3-round bursts.
Additionally, some of the higher-end electronic markers will include an on-board display that allows the shooter to know the status of the gun’s gas and the number of rounds shot. Also, most electronic markers will enable a hopper agitator the allows for enhanced feeding of the paintballs.
Pump paintball markers were once the only style of paintball guns around. However, as technology grew and markers moved to a more mechanical style of shooting, pump guns were soon a thing of the past. However, over the course of the last several years, pump markers have been making a comeback. Many factors contribute to this comeback.
First, pump markers on the market today also employ the same compressed gasses as the other two styles, increasing the accuracy and precision of the guns. However, that’s where the similarities end. Pump guns are strictly a single-shot gun.
With that in mind, there is a new feature on some pump markers called auto-trigger. Simply put, this feature allows the shooter to hold down the trigger and only require a pump to shoot another round, versus pumping and then pulling the trigger. Still, it remains a single-shot gun.
Now, you may be asking why anyone would want a single-shot gun in a paintball game, and that’s a valid question. The main answer would be because, with the limit of one round per shot, you have to enhance your skills to be effective. With the other styles of guns, you can fire as fast as your fingers can move, allowing for a high rate of fire and more rounds shot at the enemy. Whereas, with a pump marker, you may only have the time to fire a couple of shots towards the enemy before they see or hear you and return fire.
As mentioned above, there are many different options available when it comes to the gas paintball markers use. However, they aren’t always interchangeable. In fact, if you use a gas that the gun isn’t made to use, you could cause irreparable damage after just a few shots.
CO2 was once the most sought after, and cheapest, type of gas system used in paintball guns. CO2 is simply Carbon Dioxide, which is a liquid gas that, when pressurized, turns into a gas. It’s this pressurized gas the expels the paintball from the gun.
The main reason so many have, and still use, CO2 is because of the price. Whether you are purchasing a box of the 12-gram cartridges or refilling a 20-ounce tank, you can have enough gas to play a full day’s worth of paintball for roughly $5. Therefore, once you purchase the equipment, this makes playing relatively cheap.
When CO2 turns from liquid to gas, it can get extremely cold. This change in temperature can chill the tank and your gun, possibly freezing the paintball itself. Unfortunately, the faster the gun fires, the colder the CO2 gets. The colder CO2, then, causes the pressure to drop resulting in an extreme loss of velocity.
Also, because of the chilling process, many shooters see puffs of white clouds or a substance that looks like snow coming from the barrel. The snow-like substance is dry ice that has formed in the barrel from the moisture and cold temperatures in this process. This effect is especially evident the colder the temperatures are outside.
With CO2, you have to completely empty the tank before being able to get a decent fill. This requirement usually means the shooter must carry a backup tank, adding extra weight to their gear belt/bag.
HPA stands for “high-pressure air” and was originally made using pure nitrogen, thus why some still refer to it as nitro. HPA tanks are pressurized to their rating, usually 3000 psi and then regulated down to 850 psi before entering the gun.
HPA was created to combat the drawbacks of using CO2. No matter how fast your shoot, or what temperature you are playing at, you will have no issues with the HPA messing up your gun. Additionally, once you purchase the actual HPA tank, most fields will refill it for free, considering it is generated instead of bought from a third party.
Another reason that draws players to HPA away from CO2 is the bonus of a pressure gauge on the tank. With CO2, the only way to see how much you have in the tank is to weigh it. Therefore, you only know you are out when your gun doesn’t fire anymore. HPA tanks give the shooter the ability to know how much remains with a quick glance.
Another nice benefit of using HPA is the ability to refill without having to empty the tank. Flexibility like this allows for a topping off in between games and prevents you from having to carry an additional tank on your person with playing.
Unless you have a pro shop, or your range has HPA available, chances are you won’t be able to get your tank refilled. Some try using tire shops or automotive shops, but their generators only reach 300 psi or less, not near enough to fill the 3000 psi in the HPA tank.
Also, HPA tanks tend to be considerably larger, and more expensive, than CO2 tanks. This larger size is a difference that tends to prevent most beginners from taking advantage of it.
The barrel of your gun is one of the most integral parts of the marker when it comes to accuracy and precision. It can also be one of the most confusing when it comes to picking a gun, especially when you add in barrel porting and length, as well as the material used to make the barrel.
The material used to create the barrel can affect not only the overall weight of the marker but also the accuracy of the shot. Different materials will offer different benefits, depending on the style of gun you chose. We’ll briefly discuss a few of the common materials used.
Aluminum barrels are possibly the lightest barrels around, making them the most common found in paintball shops. These barrels tend to be extremely affordable, making them the go-to for many beginner players. The main fallback, however, is that aluminum is not a very sturdy material and can bend accidentally.
While Ceramic barrels are nearly as lightweight as aluminum, they are considerably for fragile. However, one reason some shooters prefer ceramic over other materials is that these barrels are self-cleaning. This feature means that, should you have a broken paintball in your barrel, ceramic barrels will clean it out with the next shot.
While stainless steel barrels are some of the most durable, and easy to machine, barrels on the market, they also add a considerable amount of weight to the gun. Stainless steel barrels can take any amount of wear and tear and continue firing the same as if it just came out of the box. Many, though, are beginning to turn to stainless steel for that reason alone.
Carbon Fiber barrels are some of the best on the market. Not only are they extremely lightweight and durable but are also easy to maintain and clean. Additionally, carbon fiber can be smoothed down to the point that there is nearly zero friction transferred to the paintball, allowing the paintballs to retain more of their speeds.
Your style of play determines the length of barrel you need. Shorter barrels allow your marker to remain short, providing increased maneuverability in close-combat scenarios. However, shorter barrels do tend to be less accurate. On the other hand, longer barrels tend to be more accurate, especially at longer distances, but take away from the stealth of the gun.
It’s not like actual firearms, where the longer barrel allows you to shoot further; at least not for the same reasons. In paintball markers, chances are you won’t have any rifling in your barrel; the paintballs are round so that rifling wouldn’t work (though there are shaped projectiles coming onto the market). However, where length enters the discussion is how long the paintball can remain in the barrel to reach its maximum velocity.
This extra time in the barrel is what causes longer paintball barrels to shoot further. If the paintball it allows to reach its maximum speed before exiting the barrel, it will fly further faster, therefore being more precise and accurate.
When you see the term “ported” on the description of a barrel, it’s referring to tiny holes that have been drilled, or “ported,” on the end of the barrel. These small holes can serve two purposes. First, they help in causing the gun to shoot more quietly by expelling some of the pressure before the paintball escapes. Each manufacturer has their own design in the porting process, depending on how quiet you want your gun.
Secondly, some barrels have a second set of holes “ported” approximately halfway down the barrel. This second set of holes is designed to add backspin to the paintball. The backspin, in turns, causes the ball to spin through the air, increasing its distance and accuracy; similar to the rifling in a firearm.
The standard paintball is 0.680 caliber. However, some of the higher-quality of paint can differ in sizes, with calibers up to 0.697. With that in mind, if you are attempting to shoot a paintball that is 0.697 out of a barrel that is bored at 0.680, you’ll break every shot before damaging your gun. Therefore, ensure the barrel on your weapon is bored to match the paint you will be shooting.
What to consider before buying
Besides the style of gun and the options available for barrels, there are some questions you need to ask yourself before you purchase a paintball marker. The way you answer these will determine what type of gun you want to buy.
How often will you play?
If you are someone who is going only to play occasionally, or someone who will only play in their own yard with a few friends, there’s no need to buy a high-dollar gun. Just purchase the style of gun you want to use and go with it. If you’re this sort of player, there’s no reason to have a gun entirely made of metal; a high-grade polymer will give you the durability and sturdiness you will need for backyard skirmishes.
On the other hand, if you plan on playing every weekend, or competing with other advanced players, it may be wise to get a marker that will stand up to this amount of use. These guns will likely be partially, or entirely, constructed of aluminum for durability and will require some maintenance to keep them in working order.
Also, weight becomes an issue when playing for extended periods of time. You want a marker that is easy to carry and shoot, even if you play all day long. We recommend that, for extended play, you get a gun that weighs less than five pounds. However, some of the higher-end markers weigh in at less than two.
What style of games will you play
If you are looking to get into speedball, where you play on smaller fields with blown-up obstacles, you want to find a gun the shoots fast and accurate. This style of the game will have you going through paintballs considerably faster than other forms. Therefore you want a gun that can withstand heavy use. Accuracy, however, isn’t as important as firing speed in speedball as you’ll most likely be within 25 yards of your opponents.
Woodsball style of play, however, can call for a different setup. Woodsball players tend to go for a more tactical look in their markers, as well as the option to add increased optics and accessories. Woodsball players also look for guns that are more accurate at longer ranges as the field of play can be up to several acres wide. Guns made for woodsball play will have a railing system built on for the accessories the shooter wants, as well as longer barrels. They also tend to resemble real-steel guns more than speedball guns do.
Also, similar to different roles on a special-forces team, many woodsball teams assign roles to their members. One member may be the sniper while another will be the gunner. Therefore, a sniper’s primary need in a gun is a good range of fire while the gunner needs the gun that shoots the fastest. Therefore, buy the weapon the meets your role on the team.
What many beginners don’t take into consideration is where the manufacturer places the hopper on the gun. There are two options; Center-Fed or Offset. Center-fed guns have the hopper situated in the middle of the marker, allowing for the shooter to aim from either side of the weapon effectively. Offset designs, however, limit the line of site if you attempt to aim from the side the hopper is on.
Hopper placement is important if you are going to be in a close-combat style of play or want the ability to aim around either side of an obstacle. Imagine you are a right-handed shooter attempting to aim around the left side of an obstacle, but your hopper is on the right side of your gun. An ill-placed hopper will significantly reduce your ability to aim your weapon properly and will likely result in you getting shot by exposing more of your body.
What’s your price range?
Your desired price range will inevitably determine what level of gun you get. Having a price range doesn’t necessarily mean that you get what you pay for; there are many high-quality guns at an affordable price. What this does mean, however, is that higher-priced guns tend to have better features and a significantly better build than their cheaper competitors. Therefore, stick to your price range and find the best gun at the best price for you.
Buying a paintball gun for the first time can be a scary and daunting task. With the different jargon used and available features, is can quickly turn you away from buying; but it doesn’t have to be that difficult. If you take the time to properly research the available options and find the best gun for you, you’ll find it to be incredibly rewarding, especially knowing you are playing with your own gear.
Remember, the looks of the gun aren’t as important as it’s functionality and overall performance. The looks can be changed, for the most part, while transforming a poor-performing gun into an excellent weapon is rather difficult. It’s best to go for performance first and then looks. In the end, though, the best gun for you isn’t going to be the marker you friends say is the best; it has to be what works for you.
That’s why it’s an excellent choice to find the gun you want at your local range and rent it for the day. Test it out and see how you two work together. This testing will allow you to see how the gun operates in person instead of on paper. Then always remember the most important rule of paintball; Have Fun!