Airsoft combat 'is one of the funnest things I've ever done'

Airsoft combat 'is one of the funnest things I've ever done'
Kris Knutson, a regular at Tac-Ops Air-Soft in Northeast Portland, said he always wanted to join the military but never did. He said this gives him a chance to live that dream in a way. Photo by Shannon L. Cheesman, Producer/Reporter.

PORTLAND, Ore. - On the outside, it looks like any other warehouse you'd find in one of the city's industrial districts.

But what's inside is a full-on combat zone where folks armed with Airsoft guns go on military-style missions, act out scenarios (like trying to disarm a bomb) and learn how to work as a team to complete their objectives.

Tac-Ops Indoor Air-Soft, located at 5063 N.E. 122nd Avenue, just recently opened up for business about six months ago. Owners Wade and Nora Wilson, who also operate JJ Jump in Clackamas and Vancouver, said they decided to get into something like this as kind of a side project.

"The reason we got into the business is because our kids were totally into it," Nora explained.  "We're still working out all the kinks and everything but it seems to be very popular," Wade added. "We've been mobbed at times."

Wade said when he and his wife started the business, they knew Airsoft had gotten popular in the last several years but they didn't quite realize there was actually a culture associated with the sport.

They soon learned that it's a hit not only with pre-teens and older teenagers, but adults as well. Both current and ex-military members have become fans too and Wade and Nora said they even have police officers and firefighters drop in. And then there are the ladies from the nearby Shari's restaurant that come in every week and the group from IKEA.

"It's the kind of sport that's for all people," said Nora.

"When I first started working here I didn't really expect to get into it," said Oleg Zaytsev, one of the range safety officers who keeps a sharp eye on the participants while they're in 'combat.' "I just thought 'oh man, Airsoft - little kids coming in here. And then I saw people coming in with like equipment and the whole nine yards. And I'm like, wait a second, this is awesome."

'With the video games they don't feel anything - here they feel the hit'

For kids (older than 10, the Wilsons recommend), it's a way to get them off the couch and away from a television or computer screen.

"It's like taking Modern Warfare or Call of Duty or any of these video games that they're playing and we're actually making them move instead of sitting in front of the computer," said Wade.

Of course some folks would argue that having kids shoot Airsoft guns at each other just promotes more violence, so we asked Wade and Nora what they would say to that.

"Every person is going to have their own personal opinion about guns, about war, about violence," said Nora. "The kids are going to play, so I'd rather they come and play in a safe environment where we can actually teach them vs. just letting them run around in the back yard shooting each other."

"And you know, the last time I checked being in the military is an honorable thing and not a negative thing," she added. "A lot of the kids that come here, they look up to those guys."

"The other thing is that there are consequences here," said Wade. "With the video games they don't feel anything. Here they feel the hit, they know they've been hit. I think it kind of subconsciously gives them the idea that you're not invincible like you are in the video games. There's actually a consequence for this."

'The amount of respect in the Airsoft community for the military is profound'

Thirty-year-old Kris Knutson has been stopping by Tac-Ops every week for the past several months. He said once he tried it, he was instantly hooked.

"It's one of the funnest things I've ever done," he said. "It's like I'm a kid again but I'm doing grown-up stuff." And fitness-wise, it's been good for his body - he said he's lost 10 pounds since he started.

Of course acting like a kid again can have a down side. Knutson said his girlfriend just doesn't get it at all. "She understands that I'm into it but she teases me because I have friends that can still get grounded," he said with a laugh.

For Knutson, though, it's more than just a chance to be young again. It's about getting a taste of what it's like for our military members who are in the line of fire.

"The amount of respect in the Airsoft community for the military is profound because now we understand what it's like," he said. "One day I came here with two guys who were in artillery and they were in Iraq. And they were like 'this is pretty much what it's like running around through Fallujah.' Another day a guy came out and said 'I'm glad I didn't join because I'd be dead.' "

'It better have an orange tip, it better be in a bag and it better be unloaded'

Now of course replica guns, specifically in connection with crimes, have been in the news recently and Mayor Sam Adams is even considering banning them from public display.

Under his proposal, you could carry one around in a case and you would still be allowed to fire it in your own yard (as long as you don't shoot pellets or paint balls into neighboring properties). You just would not be able to display the gun publicly, which could alarm a police officer, or anyone else for that matter.

We brought up the topic with Wade and Nora to get their thoughts. They said they are 100 percent behind the mayor and his proposed ban. They much prefer that people use replica guns in a safe environment, like what they have set up inside their warehouse, and keep them out of public view.

"One of the things that we tell all of our customers is that if they are going to bring a gun in here it better have an orange tip, it better be in a bag and it better be unloaded," said Nora. "And we tell them they should not drive around with a gun in their car that looks like a real gun."

"If we see one without an orange tip, we tell them that we highly recommend they put one on their gun so they don't get shot," said Wade.

"I think it's like anything else in life," said Knutson. "You're going to have those people who break the rules, don't have any respect for it and they ruin it for everyone else."

Matt Rowell, an Airsoft firearm expert who we talked to a few weeks ago, said he agrees with the mayor's idea as well, as long as it does not become an all-out ban on replicas.

"You know, when someone is springing up or suddenly pulls out a weapon that looks like a real gun, our officers have very few options other than to defend themselves," Rowell said.

The City of Beaverton has had a similar ordinance in place for five years and according to police there, it is working quite well. Spokesman Mike Rowe said he has noticed that there are fewer crimes committed with them and there have been no officer-involved shootings involving fake guns since the rules went into place.

All photos by Shannon L. Cheesman, Producer/Reporter