Bursts of color splatter everything in these woods - brush piles, decoy helmets posted on fallen logs and trees along a rushing stretch of Big Walnut Creek south of Columbus.

Bursts of color splatter everything in these woods - brush piles, decoy helmets posted on fallen logs and trees along a rushing stretch of Big Walnut Creek south of Columbus.

Paintball is a battle, and these four acres are a battlefield.

After a siren sounds, teams of up to 20 converge with facemasks and guns calibrated to shoot small balls of paint around 285 feet per second. Players take refuge behind towering oaks, squat in front of wooden barricades or belly crawl through gnarly undergrowth.

Land Paintball Park offers two smaller courts for quick, shoot-'em-up action. The woods, though, is for strategy. Games take up to 10 minutes as teams gradually pick off opponents through advanced tactical maneuvers.

Slip up for a second and you'll be taken out. Most hits feel like a bee sting but don't last as long. The first hit's always the hardest - especially if it's in the forehead.

"I always tell people to prepare for the worst," jokes Naaman Nakanishi, the friendly owner of the Obetz operation. "That way when you get hit it's not as bad as you think."

Before getting popped in the face early Saturday morning, I acted a lot like that waify, bookish dude in Saving Private Ryan who stumbles around dropping all the ammo. Soon after impact, I was sliding and shooting my way to several victories, happily spraying paint into the countryside.

For those wary of shooting guns, paintball involves an intensity level closer to an Xbox 360 than actual military combat.

"We've had players as young as 10 and as old as 80," says Nakanishi, who outfitted private groups for years before setting up a permanent full-service operation.

The combination of exercise, adrenaline and teamwork has wrought leagues and tournaments across the world. ESPN recently started airing more exclusive paintball tournaments, and the sport's international popularity nearly landed it a spot in the Olympics.

"It's a true extreme sport," says Allen Hubner, a tournament veteran who works and plays regularly at Land. "For me, it's getting even better. They keep throwing things out to tinker with."

Paintball guns, commonly called "markers," have advanced in complexity, speed and accuracy during the past decade. Good ones will fire as fast as you can feather a hairpin trigger, while high-end electronic chambers load more than 50 balls per second.

Those without gear who want to spend a day in the field can purchase Land's $40 intro package, which includes rental mask and gun, 500 paintballs, air refills and admission. Spare paint bags start at $17, air fills at $4.

On more crowded days, large-scale combat is the norm. Other times, smaller groups play capture the flag and a game called President, in which four bodyguards try to escort an unarmed player through a field of assassins.

Chad Lytle was one of about 15 first-time players who came from nearby Leave A Mark church and left with the paintball bug.

"It's unreal," he said, patting me graciously on the back after shooting me in the forehead. "It's above what I expected. It's more fun with a big group than with just a couple people."

Beginner Basics

Those heading out for the first time should heed the following tips. Your forehead will thank you.

Flank your opponents. Running up the center makes you an easy target.

Get down and stay down. Keep your head, feet and limbs behind cover.

Look for extra ammo. If you run out of balls, check established hideouts for strays.

Be patient. Much of paintball is a waiting game, and winners are often those who conserve ammo and avoid stupid moves.

Clean the barrel. Lower-end rental equipment means balls often break in the barrel and lead to misfires.

For more outdoor adventures, click to the Venture blog