When it comes to being a zombie paintball target, the trick is to wear pads. Lots of pads: a variable combo of hockey and soccer gear, plus foam or bubble wrap and other kinds of cushion – all of it tucked under a spooky costume.
“It’s pretty rare for a paintball to squeak through and give you a good one,” said Doug Hallenbrook, a manager at Boston Paintball. “But it’s a fun thing, running around and being a zombie and having all these people screaming.”
As the season of hayrides and apple-picking rolled in again this year, area farms were embracing the more extreme take on cold-weather New England fun: shooting zombies with paintball guns mounted on trailers.
Boston Paintball is one of several to embrace the trend, running a zombie paintball attraction in the woods in Maynard this season called Project Hope: Undead Outbreak, the area chain’s second annual zombie offering.
And behind the scenes, many daring fans of the undead were stepping up to frighten customers and be pelted for the cause.
Mike Bouhabib, a paintball veteran of 12 years, said he would mostly forego the pads when he plays the part of a zombie for the attraction.
Rookie actors pack in cushions and gear, the Boston Paintball staff member said, but he mostly just wears a paintball uniform.
He estimated a zombie paintball actor gets hit about 100 times a night.
“I’m pretty used to getting shot. It’d take five or six shots before I go down” he said. “We remind the participants: When a zombie is laying on the ground, stop shooting them.”
Hallenbrook has taken his share of hits. During tests to get the guns’ speeds (they’re turned down lower than usual) and the zombies’ padding just right, he volunteered to be a target.
“I was patient zero,” he said.
In addition to character costumes, actors wear protective thick latex masks that stretch over helmets and goggles – consequently, all his zombies are bald.
He said all the extra effort helps the company compete as the market for zombie paintball has exploded.
“Haunted houses, haunted hay rides, corn mazes, that industry has taken off in the last five or 10 years,” Hallenbrook said. “And they’ve kind of adapted paintball as an additional attraction. It’s a really neat thing.”
But the key, he said, is in making everything work so it’s a fun ride for customers and no one gets hurt.
At family farms looking to go zombie, there is definitely a learning curve, said Virginia Schwarzenbach, “agri-tainment” manager at Warner Farm in Sunderland.
Now in its second year, organizers of the Zombie Night Patrol ride have taken notes, she said.
“The first year it was a little hard to hold on to our zombie actors. After three or four weeks of being pelted with paintballs it wasn’t a very delightful experience for them,” Schwarzenbach said.
So to keep her staff of 20-30 actors safe, and keep them from quitting, staff at Warner (also the home of Mike’s Maze) devised a “foam-based protection” system, built by hand into costumes to soften the blow.
And the crowds keep coming.
“The public is loving it,” she said.
Other places to shoot zombies
Allstarr Paintball’s “Zombie Hunt 2015” – Webster, MA
Connors Farm’s “Hysteria” – Danvers, MA
Field of Screams’ “Zombie Paintball” – West Greenwich, RI
BattleGroundz “ZombieZ” – Attleboro, MA