STRAIGHT FROM THE HIP
A WORD FROM THE "BIG SHOT" - SHOOT LAS VEGAS' ERIC BRASHEAR
Interview by Marla Santos
Photography by Laura Grier - Los Angeles, CA
“I know what you’re thinking — ‘Did he fire six shots or only five?’ Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement, I’ve kinda lost track myself. But, being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and would blow your head clean off, you’ve got to ask yourself one question: ‘Do I feel lucky?’ Well, do ya, punk?”
“Dirty Harry” Callahan (Clint Eastwood) uttered one of the most famous movie lines in history as he aimed the monster Smith & Wesson Model 29 revolver at the punk. The handgun is still popular today, and considered the most famous firearm in cinema. Firearms used in the movies have made an impact on our minds, like the famous toll booth scene in The Godfather, where Sonny Corleone (James Caan) is gunned down by several Tommy Guns or like Tony Montana (Al Pacino) in Scarface shouting: “Say hello to my little friend!” as he brandishes his M16. The Uzi, the Beretta 92’s, and the Glocks, made famous in movies throughout the world, have made us inquisitive about how it feels to hold and actually shoot that kind of powerful gun.
Thanks to Eric Brashear and his new company, Shoot Las Vegas, you can now have that “out of your dreams” shooting experience. He has created a custom-built, climate-controlled, 53-foot mobile shooting trailer, where you can shoot 70 of the most famous guns used throughout history: the guns shot in movies, TV shows and video games. His shooting events are divided into six shooting stations: Western, Law Enforcement, Gangster, Big Guns, Military and Sniper, giving you choice of the guns you want to see, hold and shoot. Metal targets are placed at varying distances, including some Tannerite exploding targets on the ground. Adding the cherry on top to this adrenaline experience, they use photo-booth technology for taking close-up photos and videos of every gun you experienced that day. The videos and stills are taken from the firing line while you shoot, creating an instantaneous memory keepsake that you can tweet, text and email right then and there from the shooting trailer.
After spending ten successful years in the arcade game business with his company, AGR (Amusement Game Rentals), Eric Brashear decided to move on from corporate events (like bringing in mechanical bulls to casinos where the insurance coverage was in the millions, and in his words: “It’s not Disneyland. There’s definitely an inherent risk of getting hurt,”) to something even more exciting – Shoot Las Vegas. Eric tells us about how he first got started working with guns and what exactly goes on at these shooting events, besides a major adrenaline rush!
SMARTY: Tell me about one of your shooting events.
ERIC: There’s one group from Canada that’s been back five times. That’s the same owner with the same 40 people, which is really a testament to how cool the program is. I don’t think guns are legal in Canada or England. There’s another group from England we’ve had an event for recently. They were high-fiving us and even made the bus driver honk as they were leaving. It’s very gratifying to do the events that we’ve done. It’s so outside-the-box that it’s just not what people are expecting. The gentleman from Canada likes to blow up cars – so we line up 4 dead taxis and put 8 pounds of Tannerite in them and then blow them up. That always creates a nice level of excitement! We also offer upgrades for our corporate groups to shoot a 50-caliber Ma Deuce, which is a 50-caliber fully automatic machine gun, and it’s pretty intense to shoot. Lotta fun!
SMARTY: Tell me about the packages you offer.
ERIC: We offer six packages: Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, VIP and High Roller. The higher the package, the better value it gets. With the Bronze package, you can choose one gun from each of the six stations to shoot, and you’ve got up to 12 different guns in any given station to choose from (7 in the Sniper). You can kind of personalize your experience. The next level up is the Silver package: you can choose 9 guns (1 from each station, plus three wild cards). Gold is 2 guns per station, and so on, 3-guns, 4-guns and then High Roller is 5-guns per station. 30 guns is $999 and it’s probably one of the best values around for shooting packages. People will come to Las Vegas and they will gamble, and go to clubs, but the thing they will be talking about when they leave is the shooting experience that they had. It’s typically at the top of their list, because it’s just such an unusual and exciting thing!
SMARTY: What is the key to planning an exciting and successful event?
ERIC: The thing that people really get excited about in a special event is just how over-the-top you could get – how far you could exceed their expectations. Early on in my career, I learned: ‘How can we take this to the next level? How can we make this better? What if we took a retired genuine Nascar and we gutted it, and we took the electronics out of these sit-down racing games that are really popular and put them into a giant genuine retired Nascar?’ And we did just that, and we ended up projecting images on the windshield of the car – so people could get into a genuine retired Nascar and race Nascar software on the game – and people loved it!
SMARTY: How did you become interested in shooting guns? And what made you realize that was going to be a fabulous event?
ERIC: I’ve always had a couple of guns, handling bulk cash for the last thirty years. I rarely went out and shot – just felt it was the kind of thing to have. A couple of years ago on New Year’s Day, a friend called up and said: “We’re going to go shooting in the desert. Why don’t you come with us?” I said, “No, I’m not a shooting-in-the-desert kind of guy.” She was very persuasive and she talked me into it. It turned out her boyfriend had brought out a dozen very cool guns – stuff I’d heard of before, I’d seen in the movies and on TV – but I’d never had the opportunity to shoot: AK47’s, AR-15’s, exploding targets, all this really cool stuff – you know, Sniper Rifles. I was just blown away – figuratively and literally. It was so much fun! As I was driving home, I was thinking about how reluctant I was to go – what an amazing time I had, and I was thinking: ‘There’s a business here.’ So I did what I do best, the outside-the-box thinking, to create something unique and different – because there’s so many great facilities in town – there’s no sense in trying to go head-to-head with them and compete. So I really needed to come up with something that was a lot different, and a lot more creative.
SMARTY: Shooting outside, sometimes with triple-digits temperatures in the summer, was certainly something to consider.
ERIC: I came up with the idea to get a mobile marketing trailer because they expand. This one folds down, so it becomes doublewide, close to 700 square foot rectangular shading (19 feet x 53 feet). It’s worked out really well, because we have two big air conditioners that would power a medium-sized house, each of them. Because we’ve got the big shooting windows open, it’s kind of inefficient to cool it, but at least we are able to control the climate in there. Plus, it makes a fantastic impression and it really adds to the experience. You can walk into this shooting environment that’s just so outside-the-box. People are like, “Wow! This is just amazing!”
SMARTY: How many people can shoot at once in the truck?
ERIC: We can accommodate up to two shooters at a time per shooting station. We would have to have a fairly large group for two shooters at one time to be at each of the six stations. We feel pretty comfortable, based on what we’ve seen, that we can have 50 people, including the shooters and spectators in the spectator area of the trailer. We set up a lounge area just outside of the trailer. And then we have our hospitality trailer across from that which has the restroom and all that.
SMARTY: That’s incredible, because at the other shooting ranges (the inside ones that I’ve been to) you don’t really get to see somebody else shoot.
ERIC: That’s really one of the things that’s lacking in an indoor range. You’re really sort of segregated. Some of them have spectator windows. It’s not quite the same, because you can’t really talk or interact. You’re not really up-close and personal when you’re behind the glass. The tremendous upside to the indoor range is the climate control – so we really tried to marry those two benefits, by creating the luxury of an indoor range with a trailer and then the enormous benefits to shooting outdoors.
SMARTY: You’ve got six shooting stations with 70 guns designed around firearms used in movies, on TV and video games. Were you a movie buff? How did you make that connection that this is what people would really get excited about, seeing these guns that are used in the movies?
ERIC: It was really interesting – one day after I went shooting I decided that we were going to start that business. We were sitting there watching TV, and we were watching the movie, Desperado. I’ve had two guns for years, and one of those guns is the Ruger P90. Well, if you’re familiar with the movie, Desperado, when Antonio Banderas goes like this (gesturing Antonio’s move), and the guns come out of his sleeves, my girlfriend happened to notice, she said: “That looks just like the gun you have!” And so we looked it up on the Internet. And it was the gun that I have! And I thought that was so cool: ‘That’s the gun I have, and it’s in the movie.’ So, I thought that would be real neat if we could tie all the guns in with cool movies. And I’ll tell you: 70 guns – and just creating the movie posters, doing all the research for all that stuff – probably two-to-three hours per gun to do that – and a lot of decision-making process goes into it. So I’m glad it’s done.
SMARTY: But what a lot of fun!
ERIC: Yeah, it was fun! I learned so much, too, from doing it.
SMARTY: And you’ve got the posters up at your events that tell what movie each gun was shot in – so if somebody doesn’t quite remember – it helps make the connection.
ERIC: Yeah, it really does, because if it’s just a stunt model B – you know… (shrugging) but if it’s Mr. 9mm from Pulp Fiction, that really lends that “cool” factor. And plus, with the posters there, you can just use your Smartphone and take a picture of that movie poster which shows you what the gun is, what the movie is, a picture of the gun, and all that. It really sort of two-fold brings the “cool” factor, as well as helps you document your shoot.
SMARTY: Of all the famous movies with guns, what was the one gun that you were most anxious to try and how did you feel after shooting it?
ERIC: Probably the one gun that I was the most anxious / nervous about shooting was the Smith & Wesson 500. I’ll tell you kind of a funny story. I bought the Smith & Wesson 500 at a store here locally. The Smith & Wesson 500 is the largest, most powerful production handgun in the world. Whereas, we all knew that the Dirty Harry gun (the 44 Magnum) used to be the most powerful handgun in the world. Now the Smith & Wesson 500 is, (just ‘cause it’s 6 numbers higher), it’s actually three to four times more powerful than the 44 Magnum. So I bought the gun, bought some ammunition. It was getting dark. I raced out to this area in the desert where we shoot. I set up a camera, because I wanted to catch myself shooting for the first time (laughing). And I was nervous and holding it, and just wondering what this was gonna be like… and pulled the trigger… And in an instant, realized (because it’s an enormous explosion) I forgot to put my ear protection on – ‘cause I was just so anxious and nervous about shooting. And that’s a mistake I’ll never make again.
SMARTY: Ear deafening?
ERIC: Yeah, ear deafening with the Smith & Wesson 500! So after my ears stopped ringing, I ended up doing it again. It’s fun to experience it, but not something you want to shoot on a daily basis.
SMARTY: Tell me about the photo technology that you’ve setup.
ERIC: One of the things you can get in an indoor range is you send that paper target down the clothesline and you can shoot, and you can bring it back and say, “Oh, look what I hit.” And you fold it up, take it home, and maybe you put it on your wall, but more often than not it goes in your closet or in the trash. I wanted to create some sort of keepsake, some sort of memento that people could have that again was outside-the-box, and a little more so than just a paper target. So we embedded a photo booth system into each of our shooting stations, using a high definition camera to catch the great angles of your shooting. Usually, if a person comes along to take videos or pictures of you shooting, they get a back view, but there’s no way they can reach around to get to the front. Our cameras are positioned on the other side of the firing line, so you get those great perspectives. We have WIFI hot spots on the trailer, so every picture taken of you, and videos as well, are there. So if you’re shooting a fully automatic machine gun or even a handgun, to be able to capture that on video and then be able to post it to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest it, email and text it live from the shooting trailer right then and there is awesome. It’s a great feature that was enormously expensive to add, but we don’t charge extra for it. It’s well worth it!
SMARTY: People should love that! I noticed that you don’t have any paper targets. Nothing with bad guys or terrorists, no animals, and they were all non-violent.
ERIC: That’s right. That’s my philosophy, and it comes a lot from my corporate events background. My expertise is putting on corporate and group events, and one of the things I’ve learned, especially with the stigma of shooting, is that there’s a difference between shooting and killing. I understand hunting, although I’m not a person that could shoot an animal, which seems kind of odd since I own a lot of guns. What I really structured the business for was to feel what it felt like to just fire the gun and hit that little target over there. It’s not about protecting yourself or killing the bad guy, like Osama Bin Laden. There are people for that. We shoot at steel targets of our logo. It pings when you hit it and you see it move and swing. The advantage is that you don’t have to stop shooting to replace the paper targets. Some of it is the politically correct aspect of it, but a lot was about the whole philosophy behind Shoot Las Vegas, which is to experience what it’s like to shoot the guns.
SMARTY: When you shoot the Sniper guns, there are little boxes that explode when you hit them. That was great fun!
ERIC: That’s always a great surprise for people. Actually Sniper is my favorite station.
SMARTY: It’s something that a normal person never, ever gets to experience, shooting sniper guns.
ERIC: You can rent a Sniper Rifle at an indoor closed range, and shoot it into that metal trap, but it’s not the same as shooting it outdoors. You can shoot it lying prone or shoot from sitting in a chair, and it’s definitely more exciting when hitting the explosives.
SMARTY: Talk to me about safety.
ERIC: We have two staff members that work in every station. The guest will come up and put in a request for what guns they want to shoot. The order goes to the staff loader and the loader actually loads the gun. There’s always some risk when loading a gun, so the guest doesn’t do that. The staff member does that. When the firearm is loaded, he aims the muzzle down and then the range safety officer does one-on-one supervision and instructs him how to pick it up, how to hold it properly, and tells him what to expect when he fires it. He stands right there within arms reach and is always 100% focused on the shooter while they are shooting. That’s a fairly unusual setup for any shooting range. We’re more about that you’re having a good time, doing it properly and that you’re safe. It’s obviously a dangerous sport. There are things other than just the gunshots. There’s bounce back from bullet fragments that you could be hit with, and that’s why we have you wear eye protection. We have two EMTs and an ambulance that are on standby at every single event, so in case of any injury, regardless of how minor, the EMTs will tend to that. We want to make sure it’s absolutely safe.
SMARTY: Women have become much more involved in guns and shooting lately.
ERIC: It’s funny, but sorry guys, a lot of women we’ve seen are better shooters than men. They take direction better and are more focused. We just sent about 7 or 8 guns out to be “pinked” with pink Cerakote coating on them. We have some duplicates, so if you want to shoot a pink one you can, or shoot a black one.
SMARTY: Do you have an age limit?
ERIC: Teenagers are welcome, but the cutoff is age 18.
SMARTY: If you had a teenager, would you allow your son or daughter to shoot?
ERIC: Yes, I would. When I was a teenager at my grandfather’s, he had a drawer in his nightstand by his bed and I used to lie on the bed and watch TV while they were in the den. I can’t tell you how many times, because I was intrigued, I took his loaded firearm out of his nightstand to play with. The one thing I learned from firsthand education, and now I realize how crazy it was, that I had zero gun experience and I was picking up a loaded firearm for the first time unsupervised. I would wholeheartedly allow my children to come out and shoot, because it’s a safe environment and it satisfies their curiosity and I think that’s a big deal. “What would happen if I pull this trigger right now?” Much better to do it at the gun range under supervision than in my grandparents’ bedroom with the TV on!