BEND, Ore. - Airsoft guns are looking so much like real ones police officers have a hard time telling them apart. But young airsoft players and their parents say it is a safe sport and a worthwhile experience.
The call of the battlefield beckons many in Bend. Bend Airsoft is hosting airsoft battles in an area clearly marked for the event.
"I never knew it was going to be this much fun," said 13 year-old Daniel Stroemple.
Ross Keys, founder of Bend Airsoft, said, "You get here once and you're hooked.,"
One of the key elements, on the field and off, is safety. Keys briefs everyone in the game on how to stay safe.
"Treat your gun as if it's real -- don't point it at anybody, unless you're ready to shoot," Keys said. "It's not about being out here, pretending to kill people. We're out here to have fun, build teamwork and accomplish objectives."
Education on firearm safety starts on the home front.
"For me, I'd say it goes back to parents," Keys said. "Parents are responsible. They should be teaching their kids."
In the case of the Seymours of Sisters, it was a learning experience for the whole family.
"We didn't really know what it was when our son first started doing it," Jeff Seymour said. "We were pretty reluctant about it."
Jeff's 13 year-old son, Colten, is a two-year veteran of airsoft wars. At first, his parents, who don't own guns, were worried.
"Our main concern was that he was playing with guns. Even though they were toy guns, there was still some concern," Seymour said. "But once we started to understand the safety precautions he was taking, we became more comfortable with it."
The only way to stay on the battlefield is to know the rules.
"We do treat it as a real firearm," Daniel said. "We keep the barrel towards the ground, magazine out. When transporting it, keep them in a gun bag so they're not mistaken."
With real guns looking fake and fake guns looking real, officers have to assume the worst.
"In a quick exchange, you don't really have time to assess whether or not what you're looking at is a real firearm or not," said Deschutes County sheriff's patrol Capt. Erik Utter. "If their intent is to raise that and shoot at you, you will be behind the 8-ball every time."
How you act with a weapon can be the difference between life and death - mentality engrained on the airsoft battlefield.
"If we saw a police officer, we would probably put our guns down, raise our hands, to let him know that we aren't actually armed," Colten said.
Where you are with a weapon, real or fake, can be just as important.
"I think you have to take into consideration what the circumstances of the call are," Utter said. "If I get a call of a suspicious person hanging around a school, that's going to elevate my level of concern, vs. 'Hey, there's a suspicious guy along the perimeter of the woods who looks like he may have a firearm.'"
With an all too real-looking weapon, it's all too easy to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
"The kids aren't allowed to run around town playing airsoft. Plain and simple," Seymour said.
Keys said, "If you're out walking around town with an airsoft gun, that's a bad move."
Parents of the young airsoft veterans say they believe that with all safety precautions in place, a backyard battlefield beats the one on the couch.
"Screen time, I think, in our society is completely unregulated," Seymour said. "I think kids experience way too much screen time. When he comes back from these things, he's completely exhausted. That's another reason why I am 100 percent for it."
Colten said, "It's a great way to be outside and be active, and it's a really fun thing to do."
It's a hobby with its share of risks, but a wealth of lessons.
"The skills that they're learning are real-world skills that they're going to be able to use as adults," Seymour said.
Daniel said, "It's a game for kids and all, and the guns look realistic. It will teach you how to use a firearm, especially if you haven't handled one before."
Keys invites anyone interested in the game to join Bend Airsoft on Facebook. In order to play, you need to sign a waiver -- and if under 18, you need permission from a parent or guardian.