Virtual Reality: Shooting simulator offers safe, interactive alternative to live-fire practice

Retired Navy SEAL Jesse Barnett knows the difference between firing a weapon at a gun range and engaging a moving target that may be shooting back.

“A traditional range is like a bowling alley: You go up, get your lane, load your gun and shoot your piece of paper,” he said. “You’re not being challenged to turn and face the target, to come up from a carry position. You’re not being challenged with multiple [targets] at different angles, next to somebody or something you don’t want to shoot. When I put people in those situations, it’s miss, miss, miss, miss—including professionals.”

Consistent, repeated practice is the only way to hone those skills, he said, and that’s far too dangerous to attempt with live ammunition. So Barnett is harnessing the power of technology to teach Hoosiers how to master their weapons.

And with more than 11 percent of the state’s population licensed to carry a gun, according to the Crime Prevention Research Center, we all could be safer for it.


Muscle Memory

Drawing on his experience as a SEAL and military instructor, Barnett opened his Poseidon Experience shooting simulator last year in an office park near Interstate 69 and 96th Street.

The 6,000-square-foot facility is equipped with the same technology used to train law enforcement agencies: real weapons loaded with compressed air and a laser transmitter that “hits” targets on a life-size projection screen. Computer software serves up thousands of possible scenarios, including worst-case options like an active shooter in a school. Video cameras capture the action, so instructors can show their charges what they did right—or wrong.

“I was blown away by dynamic, robust, top-tier training,” said Fishers resident Keith Schmidt, 44. A firefighter and paramedic at Indianapolis International Airport, he visits Poseidon Experience a few times a week to keep his skills sharp. “Here, you can shoot and move in stress-free environment. If you’re going to make a mistake, this is the place to do it. … Some of the things you see at the [traditional] range are kind of scary.”

Mistakes may not be lethal at Poseidon Experience, but Barnett and his team emphasize safety anyway. Every visit begins with a skills assessment, and clients must demonstrate that they know how to properly handle a weapon before they’re allowed into the dimly lit shooting theater.

“You’re literally making neuro pathways that connect your thought process to the physical reactions and establishing muscle memory,” Barnett said. “Our emphasis is on doing it perfectly.”

Although Barnett believes simulators like his are “the future of firearms training,” he isn’t advocating the end of live-fire ranges. Rather, he said the Poseidon Experience allows clients to achieve a level of confidence and competence they can draw on when needed.

Fishers resident Alexis Bolden spent much of her short summer break with Barnett and his team, preparing for her first year at the U.S. Naval Academy. Even after a year at the Citadel, the 2015 Cathedral High School graduate said she learned a lot about firearms safety and proper techniques.

“You can go to a range, walk in and shoot,” said Bolden, 19. “Here, they teach position, stance, aim. They teach the science behind it … You can really see what could go wrong. I feel much safer now, but I had fun at the same time.”

About 40 percent of Barnett’s customers are individuals like Bolden and Schmidt looking to improve their marksmanship. The rest are groups in search of unusual outings, including corporate team-building activities.

Team Building

Carmel-based Bastian Solutions brought about 20 of its managers to Poseidon Experience in May to blow off steam, and organizer Brandy Kinser said they had a great time rotating through several different exercises. After learning the basics, the group broke into teams that competed against one another to break down and reassemble weapons, for example.

The shooting theater was a highlight, immersing participants in video-game-like scenes that required them to demonstrate leadership and communication skills in addition to accuracy.

“They customized everything for us,” Kinser said. “It was a nice choice. Everyone was glad we went.”

Barnett also provides less-entertaining training options to organizations of all kinds. He’s a training provider for the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy, for example, and offers a church security program designed to make the notoriously “soft” targets less vulnerable to attack.

He also has developed an “active shooter” curriculum that helps businesses and individuals understand their options in such worst-case scenarios.

“The big thing you’ve got to establish is situational awareness and tapping into that inner warrior,” he said. “If you’re in situation like Orlando, do you cower in the bathroom, gambling if that person isn’t going to aim at you? Or do you coordinate a little defense and pick up a garbage can, throw at that person and attack? You have to understand your options.

“Just like you have fire plan, an earthquake plan or a tornado plan, unfortunately today we also have to have an active shooter plan.”

By Andrea Muirragui Davis
Photos by John Wright