This article by Troy Thompson at the Lakeville Patch describes the fantastic firearms training experience that Gander Mountain Academy provides. Click the link below for more information. The full article includes photos and video!
I was shot from behind on a recent hazy morning in Lakeville. The assailant appeared from a hidden staircase as I was walking to my parked SUV. I had encountered a gang of thugs feigning car troubles and suddenly I was surrounded. While distracted by the man brandishing a tire iron, one of his accomplices was able to take me out before I could wheel around and take aim with my .40-caliber Glock.
I wasn’t hurt. The only evidence on my body from the blind-side gunshot was the stress-induced sweat contained in the palms of my hands.
Billy Hieb, the manager of the new Gander Mountain Academy in Lakeville shook my hand to confirm the suspected sweat.
“You’ve really got to keep your head on a swivel in here,” he said. “The virtual range, the one-eighty and the live firing range … there we’re training bones and muscles. This room is designed to train you brain. Everything’s different in here.”
The parking lot scenario took place in one of the Lakeville Gander Mountain Academy’s 300-degree simulation rooms. The room is just a small part of the store’s new $2.5 million firearms training facility that combines state-of-the-art technology with high-caliber professional instruction. The 10,000 square foot facility is only the third such offering in the nation—the first in Minnesota—and part of Gander Mountain’s new strategy to capitalize on its claim of being the largest firearms retailer in the nation.
“It really is a game-changer in terms of firearms training,” said Jess Meyers, a media and public relations specialist working with the company, “both in the level of technology and level of instruction available to consumers for the first time.”
A tour of the Lakeville facility quickly backed up Meyers’ statement.
The live-fire range allows customers to bring in their own firearm and ammo and take advantage of a safe and secure target range. Hieb says an instructor is in the range at all times to ensure safety when being used and are also active in providing instructional and safety tips for users.
Firearms are secured in locked storage while not in use and a metal detector guards the entrance to the virtual ranges to help ensure only the facility’s modified laser firearms are permitted in that area.
“This isn’t the O.K. Corral,” said Hieb. “We don’t allow you to just walk around with firearms. It’s closely monitored and controlled.”
A safety video must be watched before customers are allowed to use the facility and full safety, training and certification courses are provided in the facility’s classrooms.
“Our main goal is safety,” said Hieb. “We want to teach people how to handle their firearm safely and kind of change the culture. Make no mistake. This isn’t a gun range, it’s a gun academy.”
In addition to the live-fire range and classrooms, the facility also has an eight-stall virtual range and 180-degree and 300-degree high-definition screen rooms.
Once inside the virtual range or scenario rooms, customers will be instructed on everything from grip, stance and firearm mechanics, to situational awareness and how to deal with external distractions.
Customers use real modified Glock 22s and Baretta 92s equipped with CO2 cartridges and laser “bullets”. The CO2 cartridge provides the recoil action and must be changed just like the real firearms when the “ammo” runs out.
A variety of target-practice screens are available in the virtual range and can provide static or sequential drills. Computers analyze your shot patterns and can even email you your target sheets for further analysis. Instructors are there every step of the way to help correct any perceived deficiencies.
Hieb says most of his instructors come from military and law enforcement backgrounds.
“It’s not easy to find that qualified instructor,” said Hieb. “But within those two fields there are a plethora of them, and I stole the best.”
Gander Mountain Academy teamed up with VirTra Systems to supply much of the technology. VirTra Systems is the leading supplier to law enforcement agencies and the military with its virtual scenario simulators. Gander Mountain Academy represents the first civilian application of that technology according to Hieb.
“Lakeville Police Department is completely engaged with us,” said Hieb. “They want to start moving forward with utilizing some of our technology and simulators for the Lakeville Police Department.”
Hieb said Chief Vonhof and “most” members of the police department had already toured the facility. Chief Vonhof was not available to comment on this story.
“It’s nothing like they’ve ever done,” said Hieb. “It’s great training for them.”
Hieb said the facility has “secret” scenarios that are reserved for law enforcement personnel, but that civilians won’t lack for realistic experiences that will test their reactions in simulated real-life scenarios.
“The goal is to immerse yourself in the scenario and we definitely accomplish that with three-hundred degrees,” said Hieb. “You find yourself in that convenience store, or whatever scenario. It’s humbling to some.”
He’s right. There is a certain humility to getting shot in the back as I found out earlier.
Hieb says he has already had some families come in to try out the 180-degree simulators that feature a variety of range configurations and drills. Groups are allowed in the simulation rooms but no minors are allowed in the scenario rooms due to mature themes.
The benefits of the simulators are many, says Hieb.
“We can spend days and days on the live-fire range basically shooting from a static position,” he said. “But now all of a sudden in these simulators, you get to move around and there’s stuff behind you…it brings it to a whole new level.”
Customers can have a YouTube video of their session emailed to them and also sit down to review their performance with instructors following each session. Rooms can be reserved and are priced per block of time, not per person.
In addition to the Lakeville location, Gander Mountain Academies are also currently operational in LaCrosse, WI, Lake Mary, FL, and Madison, WI. Two more locations are set to open later this fall in Spring, TX and Wichita, KS.
The Lakeville Gander Mountain Academy will celebrate its official Grand Opening Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 6 and 7. An open house and tours of the facility are planned along with luminary appearances such as Tony Oliva and Carl Pavano from the Minnesota Twins and the Landry family from the History Channel’s “Swamp People.”
You can contact Gander Mountain Academy at 1-888-5GANDER or visit their website for complete details.