Long before I picked up a shotgun for the first time, my experience of shooting involved a NES Zapper and the Nintendo game Duck Hunt. A small box-shaped television would project a pixelated duck on to a convex screen made of thick glass, at which my friends and I would shoot wildly. Accuracy never felt like a major consideration to the game’s developers, and pointing the toy gun in the general direction of the TV would kill your target and send an on-screen pet retriever bounding off to collect the digital quarry.
Approximately 20 years later, the DryFire training system took the accuracy requirement a lot further. The system sent a laser dot across a wall in your house that early users would try to catch. While fun, the technology was still in its infancy and never recreated the clay shooting experience.
Two years ago, DryFire received a makeover. Software developer and distributor Wordcraft International re-launched the product after consulting with the shooting community about the flight of clays, how they react in different conditions and how much lead you need to break them. In doing this, the company became the UK’s leading target simulator. It now boasts over 2,500 units around the country, and businesses are catching on.
The first shotgun theatre is now located in Rotherham at the South Yorkshire Shooting Club. An air rifle range at its roots, the club’s owner, Trevor Horner – a canny businessman who also behind the Idleback shooting chair – argues that the industrial estate location is a benefit. “The object was to offer a shooting facility to an urban district rather than being limited to rural setting, and when DryFire became available, it was an obvious next step for the club.”
Built like a large home cinema room, the simulator projects a typical Olympic Trap layout with a picturesque wooded background on to a 5x5m wall. In the centre of the room is a table, on which sits a Marocchi shotgun with a laser pointer in its top barrel, a light magnetic electronic unit attached to the action, and a pressure sensor wrapped around the trigger.
The computer system is quite incredible. One laptop will easily run the DryFire program and you can save each shooter’s profile according to their height and choice of shotgun, including barrel length, preferred chokes, cartridges, point-of-impact and of-pull. This is a useful feature for a club like South Yorkshire that’s attracting an increasing number of shooters. Some come for coaching sessions while others use it for fun, but a lot of people have returned for second, third and fourth goes. Your personal profile records several thousand shots and can replay them to measure your development.
Trevor continues: “The system is there for novice shooters and sportsmen. You can come along to practise a single shot if there’s a target you’re struggling with, because DryFire tells you what the fault is. There’s also corporate and fun days we put on where we blend it with the airgun side of the shooting club.”
Once set up on the laptop, the product is easy to use. You aim at a dot in the centre to calculate your eye line in relation to the projector, and you’re away. You can select from a seemingly endless number of layouts for all disciplines, including game, and training options.
My first DryFire attempt was dismal. Just two out of 15 targets broke, and each shot gave detailed explanation about how bad I was: yet it had an addictive video-game like quality. After three goes, during which I amassed a total score of 8ex-40, it was time to figure out how I could improve. Andrea Roach, managing director at Wordcraft International, was on hand to offer assistance and showed me through the AimPoint feature.
Developed in the past few years after studying bucket loads of data about clay target flight lines, AimPoint provides the user with a travelling cross-hair on the screen that moves in front of the target to give you the correct lead picture in each situation. In addition to this, Andrea took me through the on-screen information that pops up following each missed or made shot: “The pointing error is the distance between the centre of the clay and the centre of the shot cloud. It tells us how far below and to the left we are away from this particular target. You can see how far the target had travelled by the time you pulled the trigger, and how many seconds it had been in the air for.”
My aim was the issue with most of the targets, but on occasion I had simply let the clay travel too far and lost too much power in the shot to break it. This is where talented shooters, or those with coaches, could break down the shot in detail and build up different ways of approaching certain situations.
After Andrea’s advice on a new choke setup, and the help of AimPoint, my scores started to creep up. One’s natural reaction on these systems is to aim at the clay no matter what – that’s what 25 years of pixel-based gaming does to you. But with the arrival of Nintendo Wii, the intuition of X-box Kinect, and now the lifelike clay simulation of DryFire, interactive computer systems have never been more clever.
If you approach the DryFire simulator at South Yorkshire Shooting Club in the same way you would a clay target at your favourite outdoor shooting ground, the experience won’t feel like a simulation, but a real and useful training system that can improve your target-hitting capabilities.