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Gander Mountain Academy

The 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. 

Quick 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 bystanders.

With 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. 


Simulation Training

Gander 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.

The 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.

Simulation 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

The 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.

The 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.

Instead 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. 

The 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” course. 

In 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.


Live-Fire Range

The 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. 

Using 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

The 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. 

By 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 confront threats. 

In addition, there are other tools and weapons systems available in the 300-Degree training room. 

The 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 force. 

The 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 decision making. 


Police-Only Scenarios

Gander 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.

Another 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.

Jeff 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. 

Along 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 conditions.

The 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 Photos courtesy of Gary Morstad.

Published in Law and Order, Mar 2014

Rating : 7.3

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