Darren Jones is about to make hitting a one-square foot target at 250 yards look easy. The gun barks and a fraction of a second later you har a satisfying clagh as the bullet strikes the metal target. To prove it's not a fluke, he fires the bolt-action .338 Lapua rifle two more times. Then we walk down range just outside of Austin to check the target. The impact marks form a neat cloverleaf.
"We just shot a quick three round group at 250 yards.. and we put all three roiunds int an area about the size of an inch." He says.
It would've been more remarkable if he hadn't been able to do that. You see this isn't just any rifle. This is the top of the line offering from the Austin-based company called Tracking Point. At first glance it's clear this is not your grand pappy's deer rifle..
"This is just a better way." says Jones.
Tracking Point started with a very accurate rifle and then got busy. They mounted a video scope on top of it that can magnify up to 36 times. They put an infrared range finder under it and then created a ballistic computer to make the custom made ammunition hit with remarkable precision. The computer compensates for range... wind, atmospheric conditions, rotation of the bullet and even the rotation of the earth. Then it only fires when the rifle is aimed in the right spot. Why you may ask? The company's founder went on an expensive African safari and missed... several times. So he went looking for that better way.
"We have a lot of things in our society that amply our natural ability to do things. we have smart phones, smart cars, smart devices that make us better at what we do, so why not apply that to a rifle." said jones.
It has wifi so a spotter can watch through the scope looking at an ipad mini. Darren gives me a demonstration. He puts the white dot on the target. His the red laser range finder button to tag the target. Blue crosshairs appear and drop down and to one side to compensate for the range and everything else. Then he raises the cross hairs... When he pulls and holds the trigger the crosshairs turn red. When he lines them up with the tag, BANG! The gun fires itself.
How accurate and easy is it to use?
After less than half a dozen dry runs. I try first at 250 yards. The gun startles me when it fires. and a loud CLANG rings out.
Then at 500. Bang! Clang!
Then 750. Bang! Clang!
Finally, a man-sized target at one thousand yards. The fourth time I've fired this gun for real. Bang! The spotter sees the target jump. Almost four seconds later I heard the clang through my hearing protection.
It was first round hit. He says I had an 80 percent chance of making the shot with this rifle compared to a traditional one.
"The probability of hitting a target at 1000 yards by a trained shooter, a long distance marksman 1st shot out of the bag, just pull it out and shoot it is a about ten percent or less."
I just did it in one shot.. and I'm not a sniper... The scope will even track moving targets...
Jones admits Tracking Point has it's critics from hunters...
"I've heard it's cheating." he says.
To late night comedians like Stephen Colbert. Who did a hilarious segment on the rifle.
Jones say the scopes are password protected to prevent them from falling into the wrong hands and are only sold to people who pass a criminal background check. He says critics are exaggerating it's capabilities.. he says you still have to read the wind and more...
"It's not automatic. It's not a guided bullet. It doesn't shoot itself. You still have a place a good tag. You still have to pull the trigger and tell the bullet where to go.
Hunting is positioning. Shooting is positioning you have to be in position to make the right shot. That's 90-percent of the game.
The gun isn't cheap. The entry level model is $22,000. The one I was shooting costs $27,500. The packages come with the ipad mini and 200 rounds of ammo, which are custom tailored to the line. It costs about $7.50 every time you pull the trigger. But every time you pull that trigger, you can pretty much count on a hit. Tracking Point's sales are only in the hundred, but they say they are on backorder status.