The Beginning of Bob “The Axe Man” Hildebrand

I got my start like many others in the airsoft world, I started with paintball.

I started playing paintball around the year 1996 at my local field, Target Zone Paintball, located around Poso Creek in Kern County. Target Zone was a good field, the staff was friendly, and it was a pretty great place to meet people and make new friends.

Paintball was great for a lot of things, it got me out of the house away from my Star Wars card games, and my Warhammer 40k miniatures, but the one thing I cherished about it above all the others was the rush I got from simulated combat and the excitement I felt when my team won and I survived. The only thing that I felt was lacking from my experience is that extra amount of realism, which is exactly where airsoft came into the picture.

About a year after I got into paintball, I played in my first paintball tournament at which point someone showed me a magazine called Action Pursuit Games, which I believe was a rather popular paintball magazine at the time. I immediately ordered a subscription and a couple months later while reading through the magazine at a friend’s house, I saw an ad for airsoft guns, namely an MP5-A3 and an MP5K. I was immediately sold! Something like this was what I had been dreaming of ever since I picked up a paintball gun.

After looking around on the internet for a week I realized that there weren’t any reputable dealers for airsoft guns that I could find in the United States, so I was forced to look overseas for my first purchase. The absolute first thing I noticed was how expensive airsoft guns were compared to my Spyder paintball marker; $150-$200 for a basic Spyder paintball marker and $250-$300 for a Classic Army MP5 Version 1. The way I rationalized it to myself was that paintball costs $40 just for a days worth of paintballs but the same amount of rounds for an airsoft gun runs about $5 and I don’t even need to buy C02 to power it. I figured that if I shopped around, found a really good deal and ordered overseas, I would save money in the long run on ammo. But, that’s where I made my first mistake.

Whenever you order overseas, no matter how good the deal may seem, you should always factor in your shipping costs and whether or not customs will seize your order. If you don’t do this, you may end up paying more buying something overseas than you would if you were able to find a reputable dealer in your home country, but I digress.

For my first gun I ended up buying a KSC G18C, then, after a few weeks of getting my friends interested in airsoft by having them test fire my G18C, I purchased a Classic Army Version 1 MP5-A2 (the one with the SEF fire selector, not the Navy style fire selector) so that we could have our first set of 1 on 1 games.

After this there was no going back, just about all of us immediately stopped playing paintball and started saving up for more airsoft gear. Thankfully since paintball normally cost us $40-$80 to play on any given day (ammo, gas, and rentals if necessary) most of us were already part of the way toward being able to purchase an airsoft gun.

Once we were all equipped and had played a few games on our friends private ranch, we happened to meet the leader of a church group that was getting some of his congregation into airsoft as sort of a monthly team building event. This group was called CVAC, which stood for Central Valley Airsoft Club. It was definitely not a very exciting name but, as a group we had a lot of fun, ran two 24-hour operations, and generally tried out a lot of basic things that have come to inform my airsoft experience over the following years, like how to properly use communication equipment.

Regardless, during my time with CVAC I took my first early steps into buying and swapping gear to go with my airsoft gun. As you can see in this photo, even though I can carry water, a number of magazines, and my side arm, I am about as far from tacticool as you can possibly be.

Essentially I went to my local Army/Navy Surplus store and stocked up on a Y-harness, attendant magazine pouches, a cheap camelback, as well as an M-12 pistol holster (AKA “The Suicide holster”, named as such because of the amount of time it takes to draw your pistol, which I learned much to my chagrin).

CVAC, as a group, generally held our airsoft games in the Sequoia national forest with the tacit approval of the park rangers, in addition to holding some of our 24-hour operations on a private ranch. One thing that I should probably mention is that even though we were out there with our airsoft guns, I always ALWAYS kept pepper spray (Read: Bear spray) in my car or on my person. I learned through my hunter safety classes and from growing up in a farming family that one of the few ways to turn around certain animals and prevent them from hurting you (read: Bears) is to hit them with a dose of pepper spray. It’s generally something they haven’t encountered before and has a higher probability of saving your life than say playing dead would or even shooting one in the face with a handgun, believe it or not.

So, one day as we were driving out of Sequoia national forest from an airsoft game, a California Black Bear ran full throttle across the road just a few feet from the front of my F-150 farm truck. I was a bit shaken but once the people in the car behind me stopped and got out to see what was up (probably not a smart idea) I grabbed my pepper spray and jumped out too just in case the bear was still around. Probably no more than 3-4 minutes after it happened, we all saw the same bear clawing its way up the next hill over, which was almost 2 miles away. I have no idea how fast that bear was booking it, but it must have been the fastest two miles I’ve ever seen anything run, let alone a California black bear.

Remember, never EVER try to outrun a bear… just make sure you outrun your slowest friend. (That’s a joke… until it happens to you)

Ok, Bears aside, the next evolution to my airsoft experience was getting a full length rifle, a Tokyo Marui M16A2, and experimenting with different forms of camouflage. I headed down to my local Army/Navy surplus store again to see if there was any face paint I could use. I should probably note that I had yet to make the decision to pursue acting as a career at this point in my life and thusly I was not as concerned with getting shot in the face as I should have been, so camo face paint seemed like the next logical thing to do.

I must say camo face paint can be incredibly effective when applied properly, but because I have a propensity to sweat profusely, it did get rather annoying to use on days when it was hot and in Kern County it gets pretty hot pretty often. So, while camo face paint did work incredibly well both on and off the field (you can see me scaring my sister after a day of airsoft in this photo) I started looking for something a little bit more effective and quite a bit more comfortable.

In my next article I will cover the first few airsoft operations I attended as well as my experience building my first ghillie suit. Until next time, I am Bob The Axe Man, get out and play!

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