This is my hunting nightmare.
I’m two days into the trip of a lifetime, and deep in the mountains of some exotic location the biggest, most beautiful elk/bear/moose/lion has just stalked into a clearing across the valley.
I have a clear shot, but the animal won’t stop moving. Just as it’s about to reach the other side of the clearing, I pull the trigger… and miss.
Like many North American hunters, I’ve never practiced shooting at moving game. My local range isn’t outfitted with moving targets, and my experience hunting deer has only given me two or three chances to harvest a walking or running animal.
Enter Aimpoint’s new “shooting cinema.”
The American Sportsman Shooting Center in Grapevine, Texas, is the only live-fire shooting cinema in the United States, and I had a chance to visit last week during the facility’s first writer’s event. Their proprietary technology tracks where a bullet hits their backstop video “screen,” allowing shooters to practice with real firearms on hundreds of scenarios that depict all kinds of wild game.
Believe it or not, shooting cinemas are fairly common in Europe. Europeans hunt driven game, so they need to practice shooting moving animals before they can ethically (or, oftentimes, legally) get out in the field. Aimpoint cut its teeth in Sweden, so the company has deep ties to the European hunting community. They knew Americans might also like the chance to hone their hunting skills in a shooting cinema, and the result is an absolute blast.
Before getting out on the range, our hosts let us practice with a laser and screen system set up in their presentation room. They outfitted a .22 caliber AR-15 with a laser that tracks where the shooter hits the target. It’s basically an ultra-sophisticated arcade game, but it gave us a chance to practice shooting moving animals without the recoil and noise of live ammunition.
The system could be calibrated to simulate shooting at a variety of distances and track both trigger pull and point of impact. It could also track “shooter’s wobble.” Turns out, I have one—big time. I watched in horror as the system traced with a small green line the path of my muzzle before I broke the shot. I don’t know how I ever hit anything.
Fortunately, Aimpoint also invited to the event their new brand ambassador, Tatiana Whitlock. Tatiana gave me a few quick pointers, corrected my stance and my breathing, and had me hitting my targets in no time.
Next, we went down to the “shooting tunnel,” a one-hundred-yard zeroing range located underneath the facility. The shooting tunnel is equipped with an acoustic targeting system that tracks shot location, displays point of impact on a computer screen, and automatically measures group size. It’s capable of handling any round size up to .50 BMG.
As someone who can’t seem to get to the range on a calm day, I would have loved to spend an entire afternoon in the shooting tunnel developing loads. Sadly, we had to keep moving.
After zeroing our rifles, we got out to the shooting cinema. We started with pistols and a basic falling steel target game. Along with images of animals, Aimpoint’s system can be programmed with a wide variety of games and scenarios. After felling a few steel targets, we advanced to moving human silhouettes. We ended the pistol session shooting those same moving silhouettes in a living room. Reds were bad guys; blues were friendlies. It was tough, but I got the hang of it before long.
While the American Sportsman Shooting Center styles itself primarily as a training center for hunters, their technology also has great potential for use by law enforcement and self-defense trainers. The ability to track and replay hits allows shooters and trainers to identify and address problems quickly, and the system’s infinite scenarios keeps shooters from getting “good” at any one situation.
After we finished with the pistols, we moved back to the rifle range. Like the laser simulator, the live-fire range can be calibrated to replicate both short and long ranges. The facility is also equipped to handle almost any caliber from .17 HMR to .505 Gibbs (though the system sometimes has trouble picking up .22 LR). We started with target games and worked our way up to images of animals.
There are two types of hunting simulations. The first uses animated animals that fall over when hit in the vital areas. The second uses live action footage of wild animals. These videos freeze and show the hit location when the animal is hit in the vitals. Both simulations are helpful, but I enjoyed shooting the live action footage the most. It’s tough for an animation to replicate precisely how animals turn and run, and the live footage gave me the opportunity to practice on a huge variety of game animals.
If you’re wondering exactly how the system works, join the club. I asked, but “proprietary” means “if I tell you I’ll have to kill you.” The system uses some combination of light detection and magic. That’s about all I could get. I assume it works something like a chronograph, which uses optical sensors to measure the speed of a bullet. They’re able to project images on the screen/backstop and triangulate hit location using light sensors.
However they do it, they do a great job. I had a blast in the short time I was there, and anyone who visits on a regular basis will no doubt improve their shooting tremendously. If you’d like to visit, you can schedule range time on their website. They also offer a membership program.