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Preview – Better Shooting Through Technology

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Photography by Straight 8 and Kenda Lenseigne

TrackingPoint and RIANOV Take Aim at the Future of Long-Range Shooting

Until someone markets the fabled “phased plasma rifle in the 40-watt range,” today’s firearms are about as refined as they’re going to get. While this may seem like heresy coming from a gun rag, since Borchardt developed an effective self-loading mechanism in the 1890s, we’ve not really seen much in the way of paradigm-shifting technology since then. Sure, there have been advances in materials technology, but nothing has really fundamentally changed the way we either look at, or employ, guns. Line up the sights, press the trigger, rinse and repeat.

The adaptation of consumer electronics to the gun industry has been painfully slow. Almost everything else we use on a daily basis has a user interface — our cars, our TVs, hell, even our washing machines talk to us — but guns seem to be stuck in the 1950s. That’s now changing. So, we decided to take a look at a couple of innovations that might just gain consumer acceptance and, in doing so, shape the way we view our guns.


Pflugerville’s Finest
TrackingPoint (TP) has certainly led the way when it comes to making precision shooting a trending topic in social media. Because of the unusual intersection of technology and guns, the company has waged a marketing campaign that targets both special-interest audiences, with dog and pony shows tailored to each one. It’s been wildly successful, with TP’s YouTube channel being the most viewed among firearms manufacturer and features on its targeting system aired on CNN, Colbert, Bloomberg, Businessweek, and so on.

In the firearms media, writers have been courted with the usual chaperoned hunts and range trips. One other magazine, which will remain nameless, went so far as to print a puff piece written by TrackingPoint’s marketing director and passed it off as editorial, right next to a full-page ad bought by the company.

At no time in any of the reports, however, has a representative of the media made any sort of assessment of the TP system when pitted against a regular old firearm. Consequently, no one has ever answered — or even asked — whether the juice is worth the squeeze. With TrackingPoint debuting its new line of semi-auto rifles, we reckoned it was about time.

At the heart of all TrackingPoint Precision Guided Firearms (PGF) is a ballistics computer, mated to either a bolt or semi-auto rifle. The guns themselves are all top-shelf and were no doubt chosen to maximize the mechanical accuracy of the system, but all real innovation has gone into the electro-optical package. With 150 years since the adoption of the centerfire cartridge, there’s not a whole lot more that can be wrung out of that technology…

Instead of looking through a conventional sight, the shooter on a PGF observes the target on a display at the rear of the Networked Tracking Scope, which houses a camera and laser rangefinder. Its on-board computer receives input from a suite of sensors and will calculate a ballistic solution based on range, inclination, temperature, elevation, barometric pressure, spin drift, cant, barrel wear, and Coriolis effect. Ammunition is matched to the gun and loaded specifically for it by Barnes to tight tolerances, again in order to maximize mechanical accuracy.


To engage a target in the system’s Advanced Mode, (i.e., the one that has gotten all the attention) the shooter first ranges it by placing the display’s crosshairs either on or close to its location and pressing a button mounted on the trigger guard. From here on in, the computer takes over and calculates a firing solution which results in the crosshairs changing color and leaving the target, coming to rest somewhere lower down in the screen. Once a range has been established, the shooter will then “tag” the target by repositioning the crosshairs and pressing the button a second time, designating the point he wants to hit. This tagging process is as important as actually making the shot in a conventional firearm, as the PGF will then lock onto the designated position, using pixel recognition software to keep the tag in place, even if the target moves at speeds of up to 15 mph.

To send lead downrange, the shooter pins the trigger to the rear and moves the rifle in order to place the crosshairs back onto the tag location, which is marked with a red dot. When the sight recognizes that the reticle is over the tag spot, a solenoid releases the striker or hammer and the shot is fired. Because the shooter’s physical input is minimized when the primer is struck, jerking the trigger, poor breathing technique, or an imperfect hold is not a barrier to making the shot.

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