On Target

The technology that makes the Tulsa-based U.S. Shooting Academy a leader in the firearms world is not easy to see among the mounds of earth that define the facility’s 35 ranges.
Most of it shows up in the hands of the world-class team of instructors who are at the forefront of firearms instruction.
But it is also apparent in the scope and high-tech design of the facility that has attracted those instructors and numerous clients and competitions to the 94-acre site.
Located in the Cherokee Industrial Park adjacent to the Tulsa Police Academy, the facility was built to be the premier firearms training and competition facility in the nation, said Thomas L. Fee, president and CEO.
“When we put this together, the intent was to get the best instructors with the best curriculum and build the best facility,” he said.
Before work started on the project two years ago, the planned facility at 6500 E. 66th St. North was already building a reputation in the shooting world. The United States Practical Shooting Association called asking to hold its National Handgun Championships in 2006 at the range, Fee said.
“We opened in September 2006 just for that event and then we shut down,” Fee said, noting that the USPSA nationals are now a regular event at the facility.
After moving half a million cubic yards of dirt and building a 9,000-SF main lodge, maintenance facilities and ballistic shoot house, the USSA, now 90 percent complete, will hold a public grand opening June 14.
“We had a soft opening in March 2007 when we actually started a limited curriculum,” Fee said. “This will be our first full year.”
The multi-million-dollar firearms training facility specializes in providing “the absolute finest firearms instruction to military, law enforcement, private security and civilians,” according to the facility’s Web site at usshootingacademy.com.
With 15 full-time employees and about 38 adjunct instructors, many of the staff are former and current military and law enforcement, including two former federal air marshals and Phil Strader, director of competition, who has more than 40 state, regional and national shooting competition titles.
Courses run from S.E.C.U.R.E. Kids and S.A.F.E Women’s Self Defense to Tactical Handgun Intensive and specialized military and law enforcement classes.
Fee said the facility this year will host five major competitions and a number of multi-discipline monthly matches including USPSA, IDPA, Action Pistol, Steel Challenge, Glock GSSF, three gun and rifle only competitions.
“We are covering about every level that you can imagine,” Fee said.
He said the facility, which he expects to draw 4,000-5,000 competitors and students this year, including 600 for the USPSA nationals in September, will ultimately draw 12,000-15,000 a year
“That’s where I see it going eventually,” said Fee, who is also president of Fee Oil and Gas, Ltd. and a competitive shooter.
“We draw students from all over the world. People fly in from Europe, from Canada,” he said. “As far as the military, it’s a nationwide deal.”
Fee attributed the level of technology built into the facility with helping to attract the military as clients and high-quality instructors.
“We have stuff here that they don’t have on big military bases,” he said, including “smart ranges that you can literally run with a laptop and a cell phone.”
“The instructor can use the laptop and design a curriculum based on what the student, or the squad or brigade needs to complete what they are trying to accomplish,” Fee said.
He said he believes the facility’s “Rogers Range” used to train federal air marshals, with seven positions, is larger than the Federal Air Marshal Service’s course with six positions.
“A lot of people think this is a very low-tech industry – load the gun, shoot the gun. The firearm has been around for hundreds of years,” Fee said. “But the way the weapons are designed these days, the optics and laser sighting systems, it is extremely high tech.”
Additional buildings planned for the facility include a defensive tactics center, with a pad room for hand-to-hand combat, a gymnasium, offices and locker rooms, and additional live fire shoot houses.
The existing shoot house, which is used for urban combat training, “can handle up to a .308 green tip military round,” Fee said. “Basically its like being in a house. It’s live fire and the instructors can set up any kind of scenario they want – a hostage situation, breaching a door, different entry points. With the technology in that building, it’s all recorded on digital camera feed and the instructor can sit down with the students, review the run, make corrections and send them back through again.”
On the smart ranges, USSA has a moving target system designed by Action Target of Provo, Utah, that has not been installed at any other training facility, Fee said.
“You can have four targets moving independently of each other. You can simulate anything,” he said. “Action Target is state-of-the-art as far as military bases.”
But the facility’s “crown jewel” is its 360-degree live-fire range, he said.
“There are some others around, but there is nothing like this,” he said. “It is basically a coliseum 125 yards across, bigger than a football field. It will accommodate an 18-wheeler through the entry point. We had the anti-tank TOW unit (Anti-Armor Tube-launched, optically tracked, wire guided missile Company, 4th Marine Division) here with Hummers with machine guns mounted on top, and they were able to go 360.”
The facility also has a Custom Shop for shooters in the market for a precision competition pistol or a one-of-a-kind carry handgun. Under the direction of pistol smith Kevin Toothman, the shop specializes in competition pistols for USPSA/IPSC, IDPA, and Action Pistol.
“Our custom shop builds the finest competition guns in the world,” Fee said. “They are the Ferraris.”
“Toothman is one of the last craftsmen left. He is he tops at what he does. His guns are known for their accuracy and reliability,” Fee said. “The worst thing that can ever happen when you are in competition is for the gun to fail. That is the killer. The guns are perfect.
Fee said the shop will only produce about 38 “full-blown roundhouse customs” a year. A top-of-the-line gun can cost as much as $4,600-5,000.
“It is very limited,” he said.” It takes about 50 hours to make each one. Everything is hand fitted.”
The location of the academy gives it an advantage over other training centers, Fee said.
“We are really lucky here in Oklahoma,” he said. “We are a gun friendly state in the middle of the country.”
He said most other facilities are remote and have fewer range options.
“You will be maybe two hours away from a major airport and your hotel will be 45 minutes to an hour away. Here we are 10 minutes from Tulsa International, six minutes from hotels in Owasso, 10 minutes from downtown,” he said. “Tulsa makes it different, unlike other places where you are literally just going to your hotel and then to the range an hour away, Tulsa is a destination town so people come here with their families.”
“One of the things that really sets us apart is we have everything in one place,” said Bret Kennedy, director of marketing and new business development. “It’s kind of a Disneyland for shooters –we have all the best rides in one spot.” ?

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