Several years ago I heard about a study where researchers took a group of teenagers who had never fired a handgun before and put them on the range, with no instructions whatsoever, and told them to shoot at the targets. The results were predictable – bullets fired everywhere and not many on the paper, let alone the bullseyes. Then the researchers took those same kids and put them in front of video simulators shooting games, where they used simulated pistols to shoot at the on-screen targets. After a few weeks of practice from their couches, they took the group back to the pistol range and had them live-fire again. Do you want to guess their results this time? Spot-on shots by a new group of Eagle-Eyed Aimers.
Video Simulators: Do They Really Help With Range Work?
Does this mean all that time you’ve spent playing “Doom,” “Halo,” “Call of Duty,” “Battlefield 1,” and “Overwatch” means you can just skip your range practice? The answer is a qualified sort of. Dedicating your range fire time is almost always useful (when you do it right and don’t just waste ammo plinking away with no training plan).
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Video game time can be useful if you see it as a way to improve your accuracy, dry-firing skills (which is really what you’re doing, over and over), and helping you create a combat mindset, using the stress of the actual game to make you think and react. I would argue that video games alone won’t make you a better range shooter, just like range time alone won’t make you a video game pro. But the combo makes sense.
Video Simulation in the US Military
The U.S. military uses both commercially-made and in-house video games to train combat soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines. The thinking is that many young service members have experience playing video games already and the realistic scenarios that they can be put into – urban warfare, desert fighting, multiple attackers – is something they can adapt to more easily in the training process.
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Besides being cheaper to train on video simulators than in the field, military instructors can control the learning environment and prevent potential injuries or deaths that can come with live-fire combat exercises. And while the video games certainly can’t prepare a military member for what it’s like to take a life or watch a squad member die, the simulations can at least demonstrate those stressful moments.
What Video Simulators Can Offer
My range offers a number of video training scenarios, including variations on target practice, some fun shooting games, and police-oriented shoot-don’t shoot simulations. These were created by Laser Shot, Inc. Last week I ran through a few dozen, using their laptop and mouse to control what came through the projector. I was in a small windowless room where I could control the lights. The gun I used had a laser pointer in the tip and was a plastic replica of a typical .45 Model 1911, with a working thumb safety and a working grip safety.
The video scenarios from the Laser Shot software ranged from police shoot-don’t shoot situations, moving targets, hostage and good-guy targets, hitting metal targets squarely, and a “shoot the numbers in order” game. The police scenarios are quite realistic and reminded me of my cop days in San Diego, where we trained on the Firearms Training Systems (FATS®), created by Formula One racecar champion Jody Schechter back in 1984 and now owned by Meggitt Training Systems.
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I had heard the FATS designers would hire actors, or use staffers from their office, or ask cops to play the bad-guy roles in their vignettes. I remember being holstered up for a training session and as it started, the camera pointed me toward the front of a liquor store. All was quiet for several seconds until a robber burst out of the front door pointing a gun at me and shooting. I had my hand on holster the whole time but I never pulled my gun or shot back.
The range master shouted at me, “Why didn’t you shoot him?” I yelled back, “Because he looked like a cop!” And indeed he did, with the usual bushy police mustache, cop Rayban Aviator sunglasses, and wearing a green camo jacket I had seen dozens of off-duty cops wear when they were trying to look cool and undercover. The range master laughed and said, “You know, everybody gets killed by that guy in this scenario and they all said the same thing you did because he looks just like a cop.”
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What You Need To Consider
If you have the chance to use a video simulator at your range or a gun show, to get the best of that time, consider the following:
- Store your unloaded gun and all ammo outside the room, if possible.
- Change the light in the room as you go through the different scenarios. Make it as bright or dark or as low-light as you can, to give your eyes different reaction levels.
- Treat it as if it was a real scenario and use your verbal commands: “Stop! Don’t move! Turn around when I tell you to! Get on the ground! Drop your weapon!”
- Holster the simulated weapon in your holster (as best as you can, or borrow one of their holsters that fit). Draw from it and fire the plastic gun just like you would do with your real gun.
- Do the target shooting competitions with a buddy; it’s more fun.
- Correct your bad habits, like jerking your trigger, moving your barrel off the target as you track movement, or not setting your sight picture each time for distance shots.
- Practice shooting with both eyes open, since you don’t have the luxury of time to close one eye with some of the drills, just like in the real world.
- The police shoot – don’t shoot scenarios can really raise your pulse rate. These offer you a great opportunity to practice your combat breathing – slow, deep, and steady. Don’t grip your laser training gun too tight. Be mindful of any safeties you have to engage or disengage. Don’t get tunnel vision.
- Be accurate first, fast second, and don’t just spray and pray at the screen.