WAXAHACHIE — With a tactical airsoft field believed to be the largest in Dallas-Fort Worth, 878 Airsoft is taking the first-person shooter found on a video-game screen to the outdoors.
Labeled as a family-friendly experience, the 878 Airsoft training area spreads over 170 acres of diverse terrain that includes grassy plains, creeks, ponds, trenches and woodland brush.
“It’s real-world terrain out here and it’s a thinking person’s game,” expressed Chad Hults, owner of 878 Airsoft. “In paintball, you’ll be in an arena shooting people, but here, they not only do that but players will also run around, interact with people, and figure out the information given.”
“We try to make it like a real-life video game for the younger generation. The parents love it too because they’re tired of the same old thing over and over and we always give new and different challenges to keep things fresh."
According to the Airsoft company, the mainstream military mock game has grown in popularity since its derived Japanese heritage in the early 1980s.
The game consists of players that engage their opponents by shooting round plastic, biodegradable pellets at each other with a firearm typically called an “airsoft gun.”
Migrating from Europe, the sport has found a home in the United States with its “entertainment appeal” over the last 15 years, rising in popularity with youth.
“We do a lot of almost theatrical, movie-level stuff for people who want that excitement for them and their kids,” explained Dan Altman, marketing and community outreach director of 878 Airsoft. "We’ll have games with actors who don’t carry anything and you have to interact with them to get information to know what your next task is or who the leader is of the town and try to figure things out. It really is an adventure for the whole family."
The 878 Airsoft property holds three "towns" of buildings, which includes the newest additions of the two-story Stein Tower, complete with office space, living rooms and a sniper's railing for incoming intruders.
From abandoned cars to secret chambers and giant tires to take cover in, the Waxahachie field is gaining popularity with players hailing from Louisiana, Oklahoma, Missouri, Mississippi and Texas.
"We have players from all over because of how different our terrain varies," Altman related. "It’s easy for snipers to hide, use a Ghillie suit or storm an enemy's territory."
What started as a fun activity between father and son has turned into Hults and Altman’s full-fledged airsoft sporting establishment, first opening their doors in January 2016.
“What made us want to start was our sons,” Altman recognized.
With his son’s friends, Altman built a mini playing field near their home in Midlothian in 2010. Though the area was later condemned for the construction of 14th Street, Hults welcomed the gaming community to his property with arms wide open.
“It started out of an event that got canceled because another field got pulled out from underneath him [Altman] and I said, ‘I have 170 acres, you can come play here,’” Hults explained. “And he said, ‘Okay.’ Then after the event, he was like, ‘Want to open up a field?’ and I was like, ‘Sure.’ And that’s where it all started.”
Now located at 4020 Farm-to-Market Road 878 in Waxahachie, Hults and Altman embrace an assortment of players who participate.
From military veterans to dads bonding with their sons before hunting trips or even avid video gamers, Altman said the course offers plenty of opportunities regardless of gender, age or upbringing.
“We get a lot of single moms that bring their boys out, and they play, and bond with a group of the same age players and they end up coming back,” Altman said. “And the mom’s are like, ‘This is awesome!’”
“I also encourage the girls to play because they’re actually tougher than the boys are,” Hults laughed. “When they get to shoot the boys, they’re like, ‘Ha-ha,’ and the boys grunt, especially when you have a 12-year-old girl shooting a 16-year-old kid, it’s like, ‘There’s no way she shot me!’”
And for those who are either too young to play or would rather spare the pain of ammunition, Altman also noted their newest addition to their gaming arsenal — Nerf wars.
“For the younger kids, we started doing Nerf games once a month for the kids or people who don’t want to get shot,” Altman affirmed the accommodation to a team’s playing level.
When it comes to safety, Hults and Altman are strict on the rules, enforcing gun safety protocols and protective equipment while players are on the field.
“It teaches them a lot of how to be responsible, how to operate outdoors, how to take care of their friends and that nobody gets hurt,” Altman noted. “There are real hazards outside, and so we tell them to be careful and focus on that, but at the same time we want them to have fun while they play.”
“We had one birthday party for a 12-year-old and put him in charge,” Hults recalled a moment. “At first he was like, ‘I don’t know if I can do this.’ But once we encouraged him and he started doing it, you’d be surprised what these kids can do - they end up taking charge.”
Hults goes on to express another unique “team building” aspect by saying that 878 Airsoft allows weekend overnight camping to inspire family bonding.
“Players will camp all weekend, and we encourage that because it makes it more family-friendly. So we allow campers, tents, and motor homes out here,” Hults described.
Inviting those that are interested, both Altman and Hults extend an invitation to the community to play the game and connect with others.
“I’ve coached my kids in a lot of things from basketball to football, and Destination Imagination - and those are the things you always teach, but you never get to be alongside your child,” Altman pointed out.
“With this, it's great because you’re participating beside your child and they love it because they can shoot you sometimes,” he chuckled.
Looking towards the future, Hults and Altman plan to develop an airsoft summer camp for next year, as well as work with more military veterans and add onto their town’s infrastructure.
“We’re excited about what’s next. This sport is a huge confidence builder, and it’s a great family thing to do together. We’re open to the community and want to be apart of it, and be a place where all ages can come and have a great time together,” Hults finished.
To connect with 878 Airsoft for upcoming events and game schedule, visit 878airsoft.net or call (972)-247-7638.
Chelsea Groomer, @ChelseaGroomer