goal of any quality training is to provide realistic, pertinent, and usable
materials for the trainee. In these days of shrinking budgets, training is
often the first area to suffer cutbacks.
Therefore, it is essential that training cadres find ways to provide the
best and most affordable training available.
decision making under stressful conditions is not always easy to replicate in
training settings, but is vital for officers to experience firsthand. Failure
to address training needs often results in negative publicity, lawsuits, and in
extreme cases, severe bodily harm to officers, suspects, as well as innocent
that in mind, the UW-Madison Police Department (UWPD) in Madison, Wis. has been
partnering with various public and private entities for many years. One of the
most productive has been a partnership with Gander Mountain
Academy. In the
summer of 2012, UWPD and our training association with the Shorewood Hills,
Wis. Police Department began negotiations with Jon Nysse, Director of Law
Enforcement Sales for Gander Mountain Academy.
Mountain Academy had just opened its Academy in the Madison suburb of DeForest
and invited police agencies to tour and utilize the tools they have available—including
the live range, virtual range, and simulators. The DeForest Gander Mountain
Academy is one of six across the country—others are in Spring, Texas; La
Crosse, Wis.; Lakeville, Minn.; Wichita, Kan. and Lake Mary, Fla.
facility offers training opportunities that were not available to law
enforcement in the Madison area prior
to its opening. Initial skepticism by department leadership quickly changed to
recognition of the value of the training opportunity after key management
personnel visited and utilized the Gander Mountain
Academy. From there,
UWPD developed a partnership to hold an annual in-service training at the
facility, as we were impressed by the operation from the start.
training has been widely used in the military and in law enforcement since the
mid- 1980s. The military initially devised many of the simulator programs for
training troops under life-like battle conditions. As the technology has
advanced and become more readily available and more cost effective, law
enforcement has been on the forefront of making use of the systems. The virtual range and simulators provide a number
of benefits for training. Combining the live-fire range under the same roof as
the simulators provides a unique training environment seldom available to law
enforcement in the past.
virtual range is set up just like a traditional firearms range—the lanes are
configured similarly, and the virtual targets are movable and have a number of
target themes to choose from. The audio
in the range simulates air handling units and the lights can be dimmed much
like a real range. Users are even given safety glasses and earmuffs, to further
simulate a live range atmosphere.
CO2 operated weapons systems are nearly identical in every way to the Glock
handguns, carried by the majority of UWPD officers. These weapons are actual
Glock handguns that have been modified to integrate with the video systems. They
feature a recoil/laser conversion kit that replaces the actual barrel. The
magazine has been modified to an aluminum frame, housing the 12-gram CO2
cartridge, which actuates the slide, giving the weapon perceived recoil that
mimics the Glock. Gander Mountain Academy also offers the Beretta 92
conversions on the virtual range, as well as conversions for the Remington 870
and the AR15.
of projectiles, the laser system indicates hits on the targets. The trigger
pull and recoil from the CO2 is almost identical to the Glock action. Rounds
fired from the virtual guns punch realistic “holes” in the targets. Like a live
Glock, you can rack the slide to actuate the weapon again, after magazine
changes. This allows officers to practice magazine changes in a very lifelike
manner. The targets are able to simulate ranges from 3 yards to 50 yards away. For
longer range shots, the range offers a “zoom” feature that allows the user to
see where they are hitting.
virtual range offers opportunities to work not only basic handgun skills, but
more importantly on weapons skills and handling, which are more difficult and
time consuming in a live range situation. We found the virtual range was a
perfect area to work on sight picture, trigger control, weak hand shooting, and
similar drills that are inherently lacking in just a “qualification”
addition, the virtual range offers the ability to train on reaction hand draws,
unsupported shooting, and reaction hand reloads (simulating injury to the
officers’ strong hand). Practicing these skills during a live-fire exercise can
be more risky, but the use of the simulator proved very enlightening and useful
to officers who had little practice at these skills previously.
DeForest live-fire range is somewhat short at just 30 feet. While this distance
may not be the most challenging for long-range weapons, it works very well for
close-quarter combat training. A surprising
feature of the live range is the ability to accept rifle rounds up to the 300 Win
Mag rifle caliber. This allows for training using the 223 Rem and 308 Win rifles
issued by most departments. Departments with specialized units such as tactical
teams can use most of their tactical arsenal.
a smaller target to simulate distance, we were able to approximate the conditions
of a longer rifle range. The live range also features police-style red and blue
lights and the ability to shoot in low-/no-light situations. In all, this is
great for live fire with flashlight or tactical lights on both handgun and
rifle. The live-fire range is also equipped with radio systems that enable the
instructors to communicate inside and outside the range, to address any
concerns or issues.
180- and 300-Degree Simulators
180-degree simulator features 8’x10’ “target screens” on three sides of the
room and offers a variety of shooting range simulations. This room features
marksmanship and skills targets that range from steel “pop-ups” to various
skills targets. This is a very popular portion of the training for officers, as
they can challenge each other in shoot-offs for speed and accuracy, using the
“Number One Gun” training scenarios. The scenarios in this range are more in
the entertainment arena, but can develop weapons handling and decision-making
skills in shoot/don’t shoot scenarios.
far, the most valuable part of the Gander Mountain Academy training experience
is the 300-Degree simulator room. This room offers linked 8-foot x 10-foot
target screens that almost fully surround the officers. This feature allows
multiple targets to approach—from all directions—and forces the officers to be
fully aware of their surroundings. It also keeps them moving to cover or to
addition, there are other tools and weapons systems available in the 300-Degree
system recognizes the simulated Electronic Control Devices (TASERs) and OC pepper
spray simulators that are nearly identical to those carried by officers on
regular patrol. Using the same type of technology, these weapons systems are
interactive with the scenarios and simulate actual use of less lethal
system reacting to less-lethal devices gives the officer the ability to quickly
make decisions based on the threat, transition to alternate weapons, and
familiarizes them with where and when to use the alternatives. It also helps
the officers to be familiar with where all the tools on their belts are, and
more quickly access and deploy them using muscle memory and a reduction
transition time. Officer actions are recorded to show shot placement, and there
is an ability to review the video on the spot for assessing skill levels and
Mountain Academy offers “Law Enforcement Only” scenarios that are not available
for civilian use or viewing. In addition, the targets for virtual range can be
saved and e-mailed to the officer or training coordinator to show performance
improvement or identify necessary follow-up training. The scenarios for the
300-Degree room can be electronically stored and instructors can move to a
separate debriefing room to discuss the scenarios and actions officers took,
for enhanced individual training assistance. This feature removes the stigma of
having to address concerns in front of other officers and gives the ability to
work with each officer on their strengths and weaknesses.
great feature of the Gander Mountain Academy is there are large classrooms
available so that additional topics can be covered all in one location. There
is no longer a need to start training at one location and move to another location
for classroom training. Our officers have been very appreciative of staying for
an entire training day without having to relocate.
Kersten, manager of the DeForest Gander Mountain Academy and his staff are
excellent to work with. They have been very willing to open the store early to
get training days started, and accommodate the movement of equipment and instructors
prior to the training. All of the staff are helpful both during the planning
stages of training and in day-to-day operations during training sessions. They
are friendly and very knowledgeable about system operations and coaching
officers, in conjunction with police trainers. Best of all, Gander Mountain
Academy was very willing to help bring the cost of the training within range of
other training venues in the area.
with regular live-fire training, Gander Mountain Academy provides a very
realistic and challenging training environment for enhancing officer skills.
The decision-making skills needed in everyday duty assignments can be practiced
in a safe setting, and officers have the ability to work on training needs and
skills in realistic circumstances that are similar to the work they do everyday
on the street. Rarely are we afforded the opportunity to train under these
addition of Gander Mountain Academy to our network of training opportunities
has greatly enhanced the training experience officers can utilize to protect
themselves and the public they serve. While some local and large police
agencies have this sort of simulation available, this provides an opportunity
for medium-sized and smaller departments within driving distance of one of
these facilities. For those agencies near other Gander Mountain Academies
throughout the nation, I encourage you to check into the possibilities they
might bring to enhance your training experience.
Jerome E. Van Natta is the Training
Sergeant with the University of Wisconsin-Madison Police Department and may be
reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Photos courtesy of Gary Morstad.