'Smart Rifle' shows off long-range accuracy, but raises questions of safety, sport

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by MARIE SAAVEDRA / WFAA

WFAA

Posted on November 1, 2013 at 9:30 AM

MINGUS, Texas -- Billed as the first in the world, a Texas-based company has created a 'smart rifle' that allows even novices to hit targets nearly 1,000 feet away. 

Manufactured by Texas company TrackingPoint, it makes promises unlike any other firearm in the market -- ones News 8 had to see to believe.

On a hill near the West Texas town of Mingus, we met Gary Smith, a sales director at TrackingPoint. He's part of the Austin-based start up whose founder, a hunter, dreamed of making aiming easier when it comes to long-range shooting.

“This is very revolutionary,” Smith said. “The system we have today is the result of about three-and-a-half years of product development and about $40 million.”

The first 500 rifles went on sale this January, featuring the Smart Rifle's brains in a high-tech scope. Rotation of the earth, spin drift, temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, uphill or downhill angles, and moving targets up to 10 miles per hour –– almost every variable is calculated by computer.

“The only thing the shooter has to do is make a wind call,” Smith said. “It can hit a target out to 1,200 yards.”

From there, the info is displayed on an iPad through WiFi. The rifle comes with both. Using a fighter jet's target-locking system, the shooter sets his r tag, match up the crosshairs and fire.

Experienced marksmen can forget the math. For amateurs, the learning curve just got shorter.

“This system really allows a shooter who doesn't have a tremendous amount of time in their schedule to get out and be proficient right away at shooting at long distances,” Smith said.

News 8’s Marie Saavedra had never fired, much less held, a firearm before filing this story. So to put the Smart Rifle’s accuracy claims to the test, she took a turn. Within the system, she hit all three targets on the first shot, at 250, 575, and 850-yards away.

For some, the fact that novices can turn into solid shots in seconds is a big problem. They call it a threat to safety.

“There’s no real words to describe how insane this is!” said Elliot Fineman with the National Gun Victims Action Council.

He calls the weapon a disaster waiting to happen.

“There's no defense against this. If I can hit a target from 10 football fields away, no one's going to catch me, and there's nothing you can do to defend yourself against it,” he said.

TrackingPoint's response is that any tool can be dangerous in the wrong hands and, as a luxury brand, there are hurdles beyond background checks.

“I would venture to guess that someone who's going to use it for something they shouldn't, they’re not going to select a gun of this size and weight and cost,” Smith said.

That cost starts, for the base model, at $22,500.

Still, those aren't the Smart Rifle's only critics. There is push back from hunters themselves, including Cody Chamberlin, a firearms instructor in Fort Worth.

“It's a purist thing,” Chamberlin said. “If you just go out and use electronic devices, you're not actually doing the real thing. You're cheating. That's my opinion on it.”

But there are hundreds who disagree with him, the majority being in Texas, where TrackingPoint has made most of its Smart Rifle sales. The company has sold so many that it's backlogged.

“Depending on which model you order, you're probably looking at January delivery,” Smith said.

That's not too long, especially if you have the money, but not the time.

“I think this is the future of firearms,” Smith said.

E-mail msaavedra@wfaa.com

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