I'm not one to brag.

But... I was quite the virtual gunslinger back in the day.

A new business venture in Granger Township just off state Route 18 is custom made for a real gun-shy shooter like me who only honed his skills playing Duck Hunt with a Nintendo Entertainment System zapper light gun.

A visit to the Engage Virtual Range on Beach Road is as close as you can get to shooting a gun without the whole bullets flying and shooting yourself in the proverbial foot thing.

They don't allow outside guns. You have to use one of the range's own guns that look and feel just like the real thing.

The guns don't really fire — you just hear a click. But range instructors — one is a retired Ohio State Highway patrolman — treat them like the real deal so you don't just willy-nilly swing them around.…

They tell you the gun is always pointed down and away from those in the room, where there is a large screen covering the far wall that serves as the virtual range.

They also instruct you to not keep your hand on the trigger until you raise the gun and are ready to fire at a target.

It costs $40 for each hour to rent a range with an additional $10 fee for each fellow shooter who joins you.

Each session begins with a safety instruction about the simulated pistols that shoot lasers at the lifelike targets projected onto the screen.

The range is equipped with nifty sound effects that mirror the action on the screen.

If you hit a target — something it seems I rarely did — you hear a satisfying ping. When you miss, dust flies as the virtual bullet misses the virtual mark and hits the ground.

The sensory overload of a real gun range was the impetus for the virtual one. Its founders spent months working out the logistics before officially opening to the public earlier this month.

Chad Wilson said he and partner Cal Davis took their wives to a live-fire range for an alternative date night and let's just say it was a loud and noisy affair.

Wilson said the wives enjoyed the sport of target shooting but weren't too enthused to return again.

"It was scary for them," he said. "They were not comfortable."

So they came up with the idea of creating a space where folks can practice and hone their skills sans the gunpowder and eardrum-ringing noise.

Wilson said they set out to research what virtual ranges were out there and found the technology exists but was pretty much reserved for high-skill police and military training.

The balancing act, Wilson said, is offering the range to the general public — in addition to traditional skill shooting there are also entertainment simulations like a zombie apocalypse — while still attracting more serious shooters who don't have to worry about expensive ammo.

"We don't want to give the impression this is the next Laser Quest," he said.

Davis said you have to be at least 12 years old to shoot inside the range.

And this is where the whole initial gun safety training comes in before each session starts.

"We want to teach the correct techniques," he said.

They already are working with area police departments to conduct training inside of the virtual range — eventually there will be three inside of the Granger Township facility.

Davis said there are simulations that will be solely available for police training and not the general public.

Wilson said what's cool about the range's technology is it can create specific police officer training for, say, a hospital or school based on the layout of a particular building.

The eventual goal is to open one or two more such ranges in Northeast Ohio before rolling out franchises nationally to cater to gun enthusiasts or corporate outings.

Wilson added they are working with law enforcement experts to establish a protocol to spot any red flags in a potential customer.

"The last thing we want to do is help train someone who is going to go out and do something stupid," he said.

Another cool feature — if you are a particularly accurate marksman unlike myself — is the range keeps score of each round so you can see who wins in a group setting on a particular day or see if you improve scores in subsequent visits.

You have to visit engagevirtualrange.com to reserve a spot.

Since the guns are all the same with fixed sights, Wilson said, every shooter is on equal footing — particularly among competitive couples or coworkers.

"Some of our couples are very serious," he said. "They really get into it."

Let's just say in the end, I was a roundabout shooter.

On one particular target scenario I scored a 37.38 out of a possible 100.

I did, however, do much better on the retro Duck Hunt game until it hit a manic speed with more ducks than feathers flying across the screen.

And once again, the haunting primitive laugh of that darn animated dog haunts my sleep.

 

Craig Webb, whose gun couldn't shoot straight, can be reached at cwebb@thebeaconjournal.com.