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“Everything is bigger in Texas,” and we’ve got a road trip mapped out for you that echoes that sentiment.

Texas’ American Sportsman Shooting Center

While the Dallas, Texas, area offers a lot in terms of food and fun, I recently traveled there specifically to visit the American Sportsman Shooting Center (ASSC). Located in the suburb of Grapevine, the ASSC offers a unique shooting and training experience. Owned by Aimpoint, the ASSC is the country’s only full-sized, live-fire “cinema range”—patterned off the shooting “cinemas” found throughout Europe. Located five minutes from DFW airport, the center offers three specific training ranges. My hosts, Shane Johnson and Jennifer Steele, are very knowledgeable, excellent instructors.

The first range is a 100-yard, single- firing-point tunnel that is used to zero rifles and evaluate ammunition. The tunnel, like the live-fire range, is rated for calibers up to .50 BMG. One of the unique features is an acoustic-based video system that plots each bullet strike on a computer monitor. This negates the need for posting or retrieving paper targets. The system provides immediate feedback and maximizes the customer’s shooting time.

A small classroom is the setting for the center’s laser-based training range. Here shooters use either a sporting rifle or an AR converted to project a laser beam onto the screen. I have spent a lot of time using laser-based systems for law enforcement training and was familiar with the concept. But I was surprised by the wide variety of scenarios that were available. The hunting scenarios included all big-game trophy animals, aerial fowl, predators and, of course, hogs. Additionally, there are a number of shooting drills to teach fundamentals on traditional targets like bullseyes.

I was most impressed by the feed-back and analysis that the system provided to the shooter. Being in Texas, the first thing I asked for was a hog scenario. The system can project hogs as they would appear from 25 to 200 yards. My first attempt was not a sterling example! The system allowed Jennifer to show me the track speed of my barrel as it compared to the target. The replay also showed where my point of aim was when I pulled the trigger, and the point of impact. The “kill zone” on the hog is narrowly defined, as is the appropriate lead for each distance and speed. The system will even give the shooter a 3D representation of the path of the bullet and the path of the point of aim. This is a far cry from laser tag and, in a very short time, my hits improved by 80 or so percent. And on top of everything, the 200 shots I took did not cost me anything.

The jewel in the crown of the ASSC is the live-fire bay, which is also projection based. Shane Johnson is the wizard behind the programing, and he gave my shooting skills a workout! As with the laser simulator, scenarios included hunting big game, fowl and hogs. But this range offers the advantage of allowing the shooter to use their own rifle with live ammunition. Again, feedback includes the correct tracking of a moving target and evaluating shot placement. If the shot does not hit a “kill zone,” the target continues to move, or in the case of a mama grizzly bear, turns and charges the shooter. Even though it is a video, it will get your heart pumping.

Tactical Training

When the ASSC first opened, the original intent was to focus on the sportsman and hunting market. But it didn’t take long for law enforcement and tactical shooters to realize the benefits of a cinema/scenario-based, live-fire shooting experience. Each simulation features various options to train for an armed confrontation and the use of deadly force. The most sophisticated of these include an appropriate video response that is dependent on where the “suspect” is struck. A center-mass or cranial hit will result in the suspect falling to the ground. However, if the suspect is struck in the leg, the system adapts and the suspect may collapse but will continue to engage the shooter. Multiple adversaries, mixed in with non-threat actors, make this situation as realistic as possible.

The ASSC also serves the needs of local law enforcement agencies. In one case, Shane assisted an agency in the filming of an active-shooter exercise at a school. The film was then edited to provide a number of simulated options. For example, a suspect may surrender, flee or engage the officer. During the scenario, the number of students that appear from a specific doorway may vary, as will the location of the suspect. While not available to the public, this is representative of the capability and services that the ASSC can offer to government and corporate clients.

State of the Art

My time at the ASSC was both enjoyable and a learning experience. As a visual learner, seeing the replay of my shots, especially on moving targets, enabled my level of competence to improve in a very short period of time. I can also attribute this to the excellent instruction of both Johnson and Steele.

The ASSC offers various membership levels as well as rates for individual training for non-members. Plans are underway to improve and expand the services offered, and I look forward to returning to Dallas very soon. For more information, call 817-310-8382 or visit sportsmanshootingcenter.com.

Where to Get Good Grub

Hard Eight BBQ

You can’t come to Texas and not eat barbecue. Being from the South, I have eaten at my fair share of barbecue shacks. But Hard Eight is a family-run restaurant that is unlike any of them. There is no hostess and there are no waiters. Just inside the front door, I found myself standing in front of a grill with a smorgasbord of 12 different meats. I sampled the pulled pork, brisket, shrimp poppers and sausage. You pay by the pound and then pick up your sides. The cornbread salad is a house specialty along with jalapeño sweet corn and mac and cheese. I had to pass on dessert, as my eyes were bigger than my stomach when I ordered at the grill. I did sample the Oreo Mudpie that was almost fatal. Besides, I’ll take an extra portion of Texas brisket over banana pudding or peach cobbler anytime. The atmosphere reflects the family’s history of ranching and bull-riding, which is where the name originates. Hard Eight has four locations in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. (hardeightbbq.com)

Nick & Sam’s

A member at the ASSC turned us on to Nick & Sam’s and arranged for a last-minute reservation. Chef Samir Dhurandhar helped make our visit a memorable dining experience. Cold appetizers included an exquisite presentation of traditional caviar along with prime steak tartare. We also sampled the roasted bone marrow served with a red onion marmalade and herbed bread crumbs. After all that, we went light on the entrees by ordering a small filet and a lobster and California roll with a peanut glaze. The evening was topped off with a dessert sampler of a traditional key lime pie, a chocolate chip cheesecake, and a Southern key lime pie. Other specials included imported Kobe beef, fresh seafood, and a wine list of over 450 selections. Founded in 1999, Nick & Sam’s has become the place for fine dining in Dallas, and it should be added to your list. (nick-sams.com; 214-871-7444)

Historic Gun Shops

Ray’s Sporting Goods

Ray’s Sporting Goods is Dallas’ oldest gun store, having been in business since 1949. The selection of modern long guns and handguns was as extensive as I have seen in several years, reaching all price points. Ray’s is an NFA dealer, and I was able to examine several SBRs and suppressed pistols. Ray’s also had something that is missing in many stores: full-service gunsmiths. The gunsmiths at Ray’s provide a full range of services. As many readers know, the pre-owned firearms market is not what it used to be. One item that caught my eye was a 6-inch-barreled “no dash” Smith & Wesson Model 57 in .41 Magnum. The gun was exceptionally clean with a very reasonable price point. (rayssportinggoods.com; 214-747-7916)

Jackson Armory

Upon entering this store, I was transported back some 40 years to the way gun stores used to be! Jackson Armory is, by far, one of the best gun stores I have ever visited. The store was founded in 2003 by retired Judge David Jackson with the goal of providing “Old World service.” The store’s inventory is 90-percent used, with an emphasis on World War I and II firearms. I counted 11 original P.08 Lugers, several Mauser Broomhandles and an assortment of Webleys. The store also has a variety of engraved pistols, including several Colt Pocket .32s, S&W revolvers and newer presentation-grade 1911s from Wilson Combat. For those with an affinity for Colts, the current inventory included no less than 10 Pythons of assorted barrel lengths and finishes and a couple of Diamondbacks. Springfield M1903s, M1 Garands and M1 Carbines lined the wall in between an assortment of vintage sporting guns. (jacksonarmory.com; 214-363-2767)

A Little Bird & Big Hogs

What can be more fun than flying in a Vietnam-era OH-6 Little Bird and gunning down feral hogs? Not much! Hog Birds is a relatively new aviation company in North Texas that specializes in aerial hog hunting and eradication. Corey Allen is one of the founding partners who purchased and restored the company’s 1969 Hughes OH-6 Cayuse helicopter.

Aerial hog hunting is not for the faint of heart or the inexperienced. Greg Coker is the chief pilot for Hog Birds. Coker spent 15 years as an AH-6 pilot in the 160th SOAR and helped develop an aerial marksmanship program still in use with the military. Coker also has extensive firearms experience, and his instruction ensures a successful hunt.

While a for-profit business, Hog Birds is dedicated to supporting the veteran community. Just prior to my visit, Hog Birds participated in a large hunt for vets. Coker’s helo killed 200-plus hogs on the very first day! Hog Birds also offers training as well as eradication, aerial photography and general aviation support. (hogbirds.com)

Tourist Traps to Fall For

The Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as his motorcade drove through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas. As I walked down the sidewalk from the Texas Book Depository, a chill ran down my spine. An “X” has been painted in the middle of the street to indicate the location of Kennedy’s car when he was shot. The Sixth Floor Museum is where tourists can view the corner window where Lee Harvey Oswald fired the shots that killed Kennedy and wounded Texas Governor John Connally. Of course, conspiracy theorists have several tables set up to share with visitors their version of what really happened. In 2003, Dallas approved a construction project to restore Dealey Plaza to its exact appearance in 1962. Visitors will now see street lights and signs that were used in 1963. From a tourist viewpoint, I came away amazed at really how small the space is along with a sense of standing where history was made. (jfk.org; 214-747-6660)

George W. Bush Presidential Center

For many of us, September 11, 2011, was “our Pearl Harbor.” That’s why you have to visit the George W. Bush Presidential Center when you’re in the Dallas area. Located on the Southern Methodist University campus, the center chronicles Bush’s early life growing up in Texas and his eight years in office through multimedia and traditional displays of memorabilia, documents and photographs. However, the 9/11 display and videos are the most moving and central to telling the story of “W’s” time in the White House. A small rotunda features a beam from the World Trade Center that stands over 30 feet tall. Lighter displays include interviews with W’s daughters, where they share the softer side of their father. The center features an exact replica of the Oval Office, and visitors are allowed to sit at a reproduction of the Resolute desk for photos. Admission is only $17. (bushcenter.org; 214-200-4300)

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