Farm visitors armed for shootouts, leave satisfied

Paintball business | Owner says the adrenaline rush has even the quietest of customers sharing their battle stories

Shooting people has become a divisive issue on the Manning farm.

George likes it. It has given rise to his first viable business venture: paintball.

Edna hates it. She grew up in a Mennonite household that believed in pacifism.

“I just feel that it’s kind of a brutal and violent thing and I just have a little bit of an issue with that,” she said.

George shrugs off the criticism of his Merrill Dunes paintball and laser tag business.

On the surface, it appears to be an anti-social activity where the object is to kill one another. Delve deeper and you’ll find a hobby that unites the participants.

“People come in after a paintball event and they’re wired, they’re adrenalized and they talk. Even the most quiet person will have his war story. As a result, it’s a tremendous mixer,” said George.

Those bonding moments tend to be more profound with paintball, which involves more pain, bruising and mess than laser tag.

“The reason is the fear factor with paintball because when you go out with paintball, you know there is a risk of getting hit and you’re a little bit scared and the adrenaline flows and that makes everything much more memorable,” said George.

The paintball operation on the Mannings’ 80-acre farm located south of Saskatoon got its start 16 years ago after George and Edna’s two sons got their first taste of the extreme sport during a hockey windup.

One of the boys prodded his dad to set up a paintball field on the back of their property.

“It was a father-son lark. It’s one of the few things I’ve done, I guess you could say, that was successful. It’s not as if it’s Facebook or anything but it has generated more revenue than just about anything else that I’ve done.”

George was raised on a grain farm on the outskirts of Rosetown, Sask. He said the paintball business has similarities to farming. It allows him to avoid the nine-to-five lifestyle he abhors.

“I’m a typical farm boy who was spoiled by freedom and just like a wild horse doesn’t like to get put in a fence. I’m not prepared to sacrifice freedom for a zoo cage,” he said.

Edna grew up on a small cattle and chicken farm near Sonningdale, Sask.

She takes care of the yard, works in the garden and tends to their chickens, milk cow and 16 head of cattle. Creating wholesome food for the family is her passion.

“A lot of my time does go into food preparation because we grind our own wheat to make bread. The meals are made more or less from scratch,” she said. “We’re kind of into the organic side of things as far as our own food supply.”

During the winter months, Edna keeps herself busy freelance writing for various publications.

She distances herself from George’s paintball business and keeps her objections to herself.

“I do my job and he does his job. I just keep my mouth shut,” said Edna.

George used to operate a welding shop on the farm. At one point, he created a toy manufacturing business but it was a flop.

“The toy business was incorporated and built up tremendous losses,” he said.

Paintball has rescued the corporation while allowing George to pursue his passion of making cool stuff for people.

There are two separate paintball fields on the farm and a third laser tag field is in the works. George recently purchased a mechanical bull that will be used in conjunction with the laser tag field.

The business employs up to four part-time staff during the peak summer months, including their daughter, Lindsay. George has enough guns and masks to equip 100 people at a time.

The fields are constantly evolving with different obstacles to hide behind.

There are 1,200 garbage dumpsters, 20 buses, two massive wooden towers, parts of an old army tank, an aircraft fuselage and a bunch of trenches and wooden structures.

George derives as much pleasure from designing the fields and building the structures as he does from running the business.

All of the paintball customers are private groups. He refuses to accept walk-in traffic because one bad egg can spoil the experience for everybody.

“It’s a band of brothers experience. They’ve done this thing together. They’ve got all these exciting little incidents. They’ll talk about it two weeks later,” he said.

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