The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Gone Shooting: Aimpoint’s One-in-a-Million Range, The American Sportsmans Shooting Center

We note that the Facility is in the process of being sold. More details coming soon. – RECOIL Staff


A reasonable person might think Aimpoint, famous for its red-dot sights, is focused solely on making those sights. That’s an understandable conclusion; Aimpoint is the industry leader in the holographic weapon sights that’ve revolutionized combat and law enforcement marksmanship. From Aimpoint’s relatively large first sight, designed long ago, to the M68 Close Combat Optic, to the T-2, to the tiny sight released last April for hunting shotguns, Aimpoint has long been designing accurate and durable optics to make our good guys deadlier and safer. Aimpoint is even equipping M2 .50 caliber machine gun and Carl Gustav recoilless rifle gunners with red dot sights that have integrated ballistic computers. Producing incredible red dots sights that we trust our lives to is what Aimpoint does.

But as it turns out, Aimpoint does more than produce sights. The company also owns and runs a state-of-the-art marksmanship training facility. And that facility is the only one of its kind in the nation.

The American Sportsman Shooting Center, located in Grapevine, Texas, is one of the most unique ranges we’ve ever seen. It’s not the biggest, it doesn’t have the most bays, and it’s not the most visually stunning or complex; most importantly, it doesn’t have to be. What makes the ASSC so unique and valuable are its capabilities.

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The ASSC consists of only three main areas: a small simulation room where shooters can practice basics and learn important hunting tips, an underground zeroing room, and a range with live-action animation and video projected onto a white backstop. Each room offers shooters opportunities they can’t get elsewhere.

The first stop for a serious shooter, or novice who wants to start off right, is the simulation room. In this small room, shooters fire a laser-fitted, non-functioning weapon at simulated static targets, moving targets, or moving animals. All the simulations in this room are computer animated. A program tracks the shooter’s shot placement plus muzzle movement before and after the shot, and shows both point of aim and point of impact. Even for experienced shooters, a post-shot replay that shows your muzzle’s trace before you fired is eye-opening. Shooting is all about the basics, and we haven’t seen another shooting simulation that reinforces good fundamentals as much as Aimpoint’s.
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In the simulation room, shooters choose between numerous targets; from tin cans on a fence to paper targets on a spinning wheel to steel plates to pigs, deer, bear and other game– even rhinos. The game targets aren’t just static images on a wall and won’t go down from just any hit; only vital area hits will drop them. Fortunately for inexperienced hunters, there no need to guess where the vital areas are since each type of animal can be shown up close in a semi-transparent mode with heart and vital areas highlighted, which means hunters can practice shot placement for whatever specific animal they hunt. As an added bonus, the simulated animals are programmed to behave and react in a realistic manner. If a shooter misses a deer it keeps running, but certain types of bears will charge. We were surprised to learn just how hard it is to get a lethal hit on a charging bear.
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If the American Sportsman Shooting Center only had that one room, it would still be worth a trip for the big-game hunter. Someone spending thousands of dollars on the hunting trip of a lifetime would be smart to visit the ASSC first and learn the specifics of the animal they’re after. Aimpoint’s program can show them their game’s physiology, behavior and max speed, giving them the opportunity to practice the right lead for a vital organ hit on that animal.

But the simulation room is just step one of a trip to the American Sportsman Shooting Center. The next stop is the zeroing room, a small room one floor below ground level with a hundred-yard zeroing tunnel. Shooters zero from a bench, with an attentive and skilled Aimpoint staff member watching them shoot and interpreting their results.

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Of course, we’ve seen a zeroing tunnel before. While anyone can appreciate the lack of wind, it’s still a chore to pull and mark your zero targets before shooting your next string (especially when the target is a hundred yards away, and you have to wait for other shooters to finish, and you can only go downrange during cease fires, etc.). Aimpoint has that problem licked; target impacts are tracked by a sophisticated sensor system that displays hits on a computer monitor at the shooter’s position. The zeroing program marks every shot and group, corrections are made on the spot, and the shooter can reengage almost immediately. According to Aimpoint’s staff, experienced shooters have been able to zero their weapons within minutes in as few as two rounds.

After zeroing, shooters reach the American Sportsman Shooting Center’s raison d’etre: the main range, called the Cinema Room. The cinema room’s backstop is a white 12’x30’ screen where a projector displays static targets or videos of moving targets. We’ve all seen shoot/don’t shoot video simulations with blanks or laser-equipped weapons, and we’ve seen big simulators like the military’s Engagement Skills Trainer (or the older FATS Fire Arms Training System) that use pneumatic weapons and interactive video, so a video simulation isn’t that novel. Not only that, the range isn’t a huge production; it’s fairly small at only thirty yards, with spots for only four shooters. With lights on and video off, there’s nothing noteworthy about it. But don’t let the lack of bling deceive you.

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The shoot/don’t shoot scenarios we’ve seen in the past were extremely brief, with no more than two or three blanks fired in any scenario. The FATS system and Engagement Skills Trainer we trained on in the military presented more complex scenarios, but were still very sterile. Even with pneumatic-operated weapons there is no real recoil, nobody flinches from the muzzle blast of the shooter next to them, nobody gets oily and dirty, weapons don’t malfunction, and reloads are usually quick and easy with what feels like an empty magazine. While those simulations without question provide training value, they’re just not very realistic.

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But the video capabilities available at Aimpoint’s range give shooters the opportunity to practice drills and scenarios they just can’t work on anywhere else, because the cinema room is all live fire.

As in the simulation room, shooters have multiple options for static targets, moving paper targets, plates, or animals. Unlike the fundamentals room, the hunting targets can be real video recordings of animals in the wild. This means hunters wouldn’t be shooting at a computer simulation of an animal – with any sacrifice in realism that entails – but could instead practice hunting images of real animals moving exactly like real animals. Those real animal targets can be packs of wild pigs running through woods at rock-throwing distance and giving a shooter the opportunity to gleefully dump a mag, or a single deer slowly meandering through a meadow hundreds of yards away and demanding all the precision one can muster.

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The program used in the range shows the shooter point of aim/point of impact for every shot fired, just like in the simulation room. The shooter also has the option of letting the video run through and then replaying it to show all the hits, or having the target animal briefly freeze after every shot and instantly display shot placement. Animals that take lethal hits will also fall, and fade away. Hits are tracked through a sophisticated system that provides instant feedback, without a shooter having to ever go downrange and mark targets. Because the shot tracking system requires the range to be fairly dark, shooters can’t use laser sights or weapon-mounted lights. That’s a minor price to pay for such an advanced training system.

The cinema room is unlike the simulation room in another, very important way: in the cinema room shooters practice home defense scenarios and target discrimination with multiple moving and hostile/friendly targets. Aimpoint has a generic living room scenario with targets that pop up, move quickly through doorways or spring up beside non-shoot silhouettes. A single iteration of that training scenario requires a shooter to simultaneously exercise basic marksmanship skills, moving target acquisition, target discrimination, speed reloads, and maybe even malfunction drills. And while the scenario uses a generic living room, it’s possible for Aimpoint to build home-defense scenarios using images of customers’ own homes. We don’t know of any other range where a shooter can train with live rounds in their own simulated bedroom.

The home defense scenarios, or any tactical scenario, can also be more interactive than the hunting simulations. In the hunting simulations, the animals generally either keep going after a miss or drop from a lethal hit (except for that big mean ugly bear that charged us after every miss or poorly-placed round). But the tactical scenarios are engineered to have threats react in specific ways to specific shots. For example, a bad guy advancing with a knife will fall dead from a vital organ hit but only flinch from a hit on his non-weapon arm, or drop the knife and surrender from a hit in his strong arm. That means a bad guy in a scenario in your living room will respond to your shots more like a real human than video game target, which is invaluable training for a worst-case scenario.

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By now we should all know that home invaders probably won’t run in terror at the sound of your shotgun being racked, and only certain hits will instantly incapacitate an attacker. While a criminal who’s a coward at heart might flee if a .25 FMJ zips harmlessly past his thigh, a determined or intoxicated attacker won’t care a whit for anything that doesn’t immediately remove his physical ability to kill you. The scenarios at the American Sportsman Shooting Center train you to defend yourself against the determined attacker, not the terrified coward.

But on the subject of tactical scenarios, we have to address the ASSC’s one shortcoming: it just doesn’t have much in the way of tactical training. The American Sportsman Shooting Center is oriented toward sportsmen, just as the name suggests. It certainly seems to be a fantastic place to train and prepare for hunting. The staff is capable of and willing to create tactical training scenarios for law enforcement, the military and private citizens. But it doesn’t offer much more tactical training than the home defense simulation I described earlier.

Yet.

Aimpoint’s staff was very clear: they can create almost any simulation customers want. Assuming there are no copyright issues, they can even use movie scenes as training scenarios (here’s where we had visions of taking down evil cowboys at the OK Corral in Tombstone or defending the Tenaru River from Japanese infantry in The Pacific). Aimpoint could create perimeter defense scenarios where four soldiers have to engage multiple attackers while yelling over gunfire at each other and reporting by radio; the possibilities for realistic scenarios are nearly limitless. The American Sportsman Shooting Center is already a hunting paradise, and seems poised to become a tactical training paradise as well.

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Sure, you might say, that all sounds cool, but how much does it cost? The answer is, It’s not free but it’s also not too expensive. $50 buys you an hour in the cinema room or half an hour in the simulation room during the week, and the price goes up to $60 on weekends. The zeroing room is $30 for a half hour during the week, $40 on weekends. Those prices are all for non-members; memberships can be had for $250 annually, and that cheapest membership knocks $25 off the range rates plus provides a few other bennies. The ASSC also offers affordable shooting courses, as low as $75 for a basic carbine class.

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As we said earlier, there is – literally – no other range like this in America. You can find the American Sportsman Shooting Center at 1960 Enchanted Way in
Grapevine, Texas, call it at (817) 310-8382, or look it up on the web at www.sportsmanshootingcenter.com.

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