Smartgun gives novices sniper skills

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By Aaron Smith

AUSTIN, Texas (CNNMoney) — A new company in Texas is selling a precision rifle with a unique technology that allows even an inexperienced shooter to hit a target 10 football fields away. The price tag is a staggering $27,500.

Tracking Point describes the weapon as a smartgun, with a trigger wired to the scope so that the gun won’t fire until it’s locked on the target that’s been tagged.

“There are a number of people who say the gun shoots itself,” said Chief Executive Officer Jason Schauble, a former Marine captain who was wounded in Iraq. “It doesn’t. The shooter is always in the loop.”

The TrackingPoint rifles, which are Wi-Fi enabled and have a color display so users can post videos of their shots on Facebook or YouTube, started shipping in May. Schauble said his company is on track to sell as many as 500 of them this year, to clients that he describes as “high net worth hunters” who want to kill big game at long range.

TrackingPoint claims that the gun took down a South African wildebeest at 1,103 yards, a company record.

The company also has a deal to sell about 1,000 of the guns to Remington, which is Schauble’s former employer. But the Remington model will be less expensive, running about $5,000 each. TrackingPoint’s total sales for the year are expected to be about $10 million.

Lifelong hunter and construction executive Bob Ellis is one client who raves about the rifle. “I have not shot anything like it ever,” he said in an email to CNNMoney. “The distance and accuracy of the rifle is a big WOW!”

Founder and chairman John McHale is a serial entrepreneur who’s started several companies that were ultimately sold to Cisco, 3Com and Compaq, which was later bought by HP. Early in his career he worked on weapons accuracy systems for tanks. The idea for TrackingPoint came to McHale while he was on African safari and frustrated by his inability to shoot a gazelle at 300 yards.

Schauble is well aware of the damage that guns can do. His right hand is partially paralyzed after he was shot with an AK-47 during combat in Iraq. He wears black “kill bracelets” commemorating dead friends. He admitted that TrackingPoint’s technology is “controversial.”

Government agencies contacted the company last year for a demonstration of the weapon at a shooting range at the Quantico Marine Corps Base in Virginia. But Schauble says that the Department of Homeland Security didn’t express any concerns that TrackingPoint’s weapon is more of a threat than existing firearm systems.

Homeland Security and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives declined to comment to CNNMoney.

But the weapon has some “scary implications from a security perspective,” said Rommel Dionisio, a gun industry analyst for Wedbush Securities.

“There are a handful of snipers who can hit a target at 1,000 yards. But now, anybody can do it,” he said. “You can put some tremendous capability in the hands of just about anybody, even an untrained shooter.”

Indeed, novice shooters from CNNMoney tried the gun and did hit targets 1,000 yards away.

What sets the TrackingPoint rifle apart is its high-tech electronic scope that automatically accounts for distance, gravity, wind speed, humidity, the rotation of the Earth and other variables that can influence whether a bullet hits its target.

The TrackingPoint scope allows the shooter to “tag” a target by placing a red dot on it within the crosshairs. Even when the safety is off and the shooter’s finger pulls the trigger, the rifle will only fire when the crosshairs are locked on the red dot, making it relatively easy for even an inexperienced shooter to hit a target at long range.

Tracking Point charges from $22,500 to $27,500 for the different versions of its bolt-action rifle, which has a five-round magazine using .300 or .338 caliber ammunition.

Schauble hopes to land a contract with the U.S. military. He said that American soldiers could benefit not only from the long-range accuracy, but also the rifle’s Wi-fi communications features.

“From a patriotic standpoint and as a veteran, I would love every soldier to be better armed today, and this technology could get them there,” he said.

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