Sometime in the late 1970s, a Wall Street stock trader named Hayes Noel got into an argument with his friend Charles Gaines, a writer, fly fisherman and bodybuilder best known for his books “Stay Hungry” and “Pumping Iron.” The question the two men debated was this: Who had the better instinct for survival, the savvy urban capitalist or the canny outdoorsman? The argument might never have been settled had not a friend of Gaines’s come across an agricultural magazine advertising something called the Nel-Spot 007. Sold by the Nelson Paint Company, the gun used gelatin balls filled with oil-based paint as ammunition. It was used by foresters for marking timber and by ranchers to mark cows.
To test the gun’s suitability for marking humans, Noel and Gaines held a duel at 20 paces. (Gaines won.) Then they set about designing a survival competition with the help of their friend Bob Gurnsey, a ski-shop owner. On June 27, 1981, the three gathered in a 100-acre wood in Henniker, N.H., with nine other men, each dressed in camouflage and shop goggles and armed with a Nel-Spot 007. The goal of the game was to be the first man to gather a flag from each of four widely dispersed stations without being shot.
The winner was Ritchie White, a forester so stealthy he never had to fire his gun. Duly settled in favor of the rural survivalist, the game might have run its course, but that fall, Sports Illustrated published an account of the New Hampshire competition written by one of the participants. Gaines, Noel and Gurnsey were bombarded with inquiries from readers who wanted to play. The three founded a company called National Survival Game and acquired a license from the Nelson Paint Company for all nonagricultural uses of the Nel-Spot 007.
Over the next 15 years, Gurnsey helped develop the game we know today, with specially designed guns, water-based paint, safety equipment, dedicated playing fields and liability insurance. “Insurance didn’t really exist for shooting projectiles at people,” says Debra Dion Krischke, who started working for the company in 1983. “That was one of the challenges.”
CreditSource: Sports and Fitness Industry Association
Critics derided the pastime as “morally obscene.” “They’re learning to get a rush out of going through the motions of killing another human being,” one psychiatrist said. Supporters countered that the game was no more antisocial than tag, hide-and-seek or capture the flag. One player told a reporter in 1982: “War is gross. But this isn’t war. It’s fun
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