I did something this weekend that I haven’t done in a very long time: I spent the day in school. The subjects were not the usual, such as reading writing and arithmetic, but rather situational learning with terminology such as head shots, scoring shots, center mass, targets, recoil and even (dare I say it and school in the same sentence) gun. Seriously, I spent the day attending the Gander Mountain Academy in Madison, Wisconsin. Never heard of it? That’s because it is a brand new firearm training program/shooting facility located in only five Gander Mountain locations in the world. It features classroom, live-fire and virtual training instruction and, after getting put through the paces, my assessment is that it was really, really cool.
The Academy concept is unique in that it seeks to provide a comprehensive firearm training experience, all under one roof and in such a neat and tidy manner that it can take place within (most) city limits i.e. wherever a Gander Mountain store is located. Think “Hogan’s Alley” without the prep, mess, or even cleanup of hundreds of spent cartridges.
The Academy experience can be broken down into three distinct phases of instruction: the first is a classroom portion. It features concealed carry and hunter’s safety classes (which satisfy legal requirements for both activities in most states) alongside introductory all the way to advanced shooting courses.
The second section is your classic (though top of the line) live-fire range, which can accommodate all pistol calibers. The third (and most technologically impressive) is the “virtual” range where participants can practice a number of different training scenarios with simulated weapons.
And believe you me: this is not your typical “laser tag”/DART system, projecting quirky, low-resolution “targets” on a flickering computer screen. This is a super hi-resolution, super high-tech facility that utilizes technology formerly reserved for the military and police task forces (and that’s the reality of it).
The most common weapon used for the simulations is a Glock 22 (thought they have many others). It’s an actual Glock 22 just with the firing mechanism removed and replaced with a laser fire system and, of crucial importance for quality training, a CO2 powered recoil system. The “weapon’s” recoil system replicates the actual recoil from a 9 mm handgun cartridge.
You can choose one of several rooms, one with a 180-degree screen and another with a 300-degree screen. There are hundreds of simulations to choose from—you can choose to shoot classic targets, skid plates, bouncing balls, sporting clays and in the context of a number of different shooting courses i.e. trap or skeet, IPSC courses, and simulated tactical training, all without need for the normal protections such as muffs and glasses, or the consequences of errors.
What does that mean, no consequences?
Well, in one of the courses that I ran I was in an office building with numerous doors. The doors opened at random, presenting me with various scenes. One was a woman with a cell phone; another, a delivery person with a white paper bag. The next was a man with a revolver, actually in the process of raising it up to shoot at me. I gave him two to center mass and one to the head. Then I shot the guy behind the next door that had a stapler in his left hand.
Oops! That’s why they call it practice, I guess.
I ran another scenario where I was in a gas station convenience store (and it really felt like I was in a convenience store). It was really unique because in this scenario I was not the intended target: a man pulled out a gun and shot the cashier. Drawing my gun (I am just minding my own business in a convenience store, right?), I put him down right away.
I also took some time to play some of the sporting games. I shot pheasants and ducks with a replica 870. I ran the metal plates course with an AR-15. Mostly, I had a lot of fun.
You can go to Gander Mountain’s website here if you’d like to learn more about The Academy and participating Gander Mountain store locations (we hear the other four facilities are in Lake Mary, FL, La Crosse, WI, Lakeville, MN and Spring, TX with an plans for an upcoming Academy in Wichita, KS). You can also get the skinny on rates and discounts. Then, take my advice. Sign yourself and your friends up for an afternoon and be prepared to have your mind blown.