Saturday | April 25, 2015
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New virtual shooting range offers entertainment, training

The town has been overrun by looters and thugs. Only you, armed but alone, remain to save yourself and the community. The warning — “Stay alert! Be ready!” — flashes across the screen.

This is not an actual apocalypse. This is The Range, a new simulated shooting range in Kailua-Kona.

The Range, the only facility of its kind on the Big Island, offers a new variety of entertainment. It provides safe, realistic practice and recreation for hunters and gun owners. It also fills a demand for video games on a larger and more lifelike scale. Its clientele includes residents seeking big-screen entertainment and officers training for law enforcement.

Dee Anne Kaniho Thompson, the facility’s owner and main operator, said she is happy so far with The Range’s popularity.

The simulation’s real guns, surround sound, and wall-to-wall screen mimic a real shooting experience, but the weapons are equipped with laser beams and CO2 blowback cartridges instead of projectiles.

A projector in the simulation room displays a scenario on a 204-inch drywall screen. It may show a zombie apocalypse, a Wild West shootout, or the streets of “Chaos City.” It can also be set to display targets at different distances and in challenging conditions such as crosswind. The guns fire a laser at the screen, and an infrared camera registers the shot.

“It’s very realistic,” Thompson said. “Some people get really surprised when they come in.” Yet, unlike real shooting, “there’s no real way of getting hurt.”

Thompson said some customers at The Range are police and security officers, but estimated that between 85 and 95 percent of the company’s current business is from the general public.

She hopes to expand The Range as a training tool. The program includes more realistic, graphic scenarios available for officers with valid identification. It can also be configured for players to use simulated Tasers, batons or Mace.

“It’s one thing to just go shoot at a target, but it’s another thing to have to make split-second decisions,” Thompson said. In one law-enforcement simulation, the officer is confronted with a civilian at an ATM, who reaches into his pocket and pulls out either a gun or a wallet. The officers lose the round if they shoot when they should hold their fire.

Thompson also sees room for expansion in the visitor market, especially with Japanese tourists because of Japan’s strict gun restrictions.

Plans for a public live-fire shooting range in West Hawaii have been in the works since 2007, when the Board of Land and Natural Resources approved the concept for the Puuanahulu Shooting Range. Thompson said she supports the idea of a “real shooting range” on the island, but there are no confirmed dates of when the live-fire range might move forward.

Catie Cullison, the Puuanahulu Shooting Range’s project planner and planning consultant with PBR Hawaii, declined to speculate about when the range might open. The facility’s master plan, which was expected to reach completion in early 2013, is still being modified, she said.

Thompson and her husband had initially hoped to start a live-fire range, but could not find land zoned correctly, Thompson said. They purchased the simulated system from Ti Training, a Colorado-based company that produces training systems for law enforcement and, more recently, for entertainment.

Ti Training Director of Sales Kila Otte said the company has sold more than 450 law enforcement training simulators across the U.S., primarily to police departments. It has sold another 200 simulators internationally, mostly at U.S. State Department training sites.

In January, responding in part to rising ammunition costs, Ti Training expanded their technology to the entertainment industry. They have sold about 50 of the commercial packages so far this year, Otte said, and the entertainment simulators are one of the company’s fastest-growing sectors.

At The Range, customers pay about $20 for one session in the simulator, which usually lasts between 15 and 20 minutes. Weekend sales, prepay cards, family packs, and memberships offer discounted rates.

Muranaka, who works for a pest control company in Hilo, comes to The Range about once a week to practice shooting.

“The cost is normally less than what I would spend with a box of ammunition at a real gun range,” said Jay Muranaka, a frequent customer at The Range. “I get to shoot a lot more, with much more interactive scenarios than just paper targets,” he added.

The Range is part of the next-door Threat Operations Tactical, which opened in March 2012, selling tactical gear and gun accessories. Many customers seek specific brands carried at Threat Operations Tactical, such as Maxpedition, Intova, and Spyderco, Thompson said.

The store carries bags and backpacks for concealed carry, hiking, and daily use, ranging from $10 to $200. Knives range from $14 to $160; flashlights range from $40 to $195. The store also sells cargo pants, which Thompson said are popular with Humane Society workers and plumbing companies. About half of the store’s business comes from placing orders for customers, Thompson added.

The Range, located at 74-5543 Kaiwi St., is open Tuesday through Thursday from noon to 8 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from noon to 10 p.m. For more information, call Threat Operations Tactical at 326-7141.