For the past few weeks, I've been experimenting with a computer-based system designed to record and analyze shooting results for everything from range sessions with long-range rifles to dryfire in the home or office. It's the OCATS (Optical Computer-Aided Training System) from Out West Systems of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Yesterday's Outdoor Wire (http://www.theoutdoorwire.com/story/1352964665hujasfmn4ww) carried a release about Out West's newest system - a dryfire only rig priced under $500.
Since getting a test unit from Out West Operations Manager Jim Cline, OCAT offerings have been announced in configurations that offer options that are affordable for almost any shooter's budget. The add-on design of the system allows you to start small and expand the system.
The OCAT unit I have is an ingenious blending of computer, software, web cam and spotting scope to create a system that allows you to shoot (live or dry-fire) record and then analyze your results. Using the camera as a stand alone, I used the included laser cartridge to record dry fire. Coupling the camera to the spotting scope, I was able to shoot and measure live-fire results out to 125 yards (the maximum length on the range I was using).
The biggest benefit for live fire is spending more time at the shooting bench and virtually no time walking to/from targets. I also got instant results on the computer screen that made it possible to do real-time analysis on everything from breathing and trigger control to choosing the best ammo for my rifle.
The system uses proprietary software (PC-based) and computer referenced targets. Simply connect the system components, calibrate the computer to the OCAT target you choose (adjustments on the camera and software is simple and fairly intuitive) and start recording your data.
The ability to make small adjustments to the web camera coupled to the included spotting scope allowed me to quickly center up the target and get a calibrated image. At that point, shooting and measuring was as simple as making a shot and glancing over at the computer screen to see the results. If you don't want to come off your rifle or pistol, you also have the option of having the computer "announce" the shot result ("hit" or ".75 left, .25 high") via the computer speaker or use a mini-plug audio cord and hear the shot announcements in your digital shooting muffs.
That ability is not only very cool at the range, it allowed me to practice dryfire at home without disturbing anyone.
The OCAT sytem I've used arrived completely equipped and ready to go: targets, laptop computer, software, web camera, image adapter/coupler for the spotting scope, a tripod for the spotting scope and a sunscreen for your computer monitor was fitted -comfortably- into a single range bag. The included tripod even velcroed on top.
OCATS has been in development for just over three years. Cline tells me he and his business partner didn't want to call attention to the system until it was reliable and ready to go.
I haven't seen anything they've missed. The one issue I had was navigating the PC based computer system (I'm a longtime Mac user). Once I had the common sense to use the manual, the process of setting up, calibrating and recording information was virtually goof-proof.
This is a system that does much more than record your shooting systems. It allows you to build a database of information, generate diagnostic reports and work on your shooting fundamentals with immediate feedback.
One of the information options I found most helpful is the OCAT's line-tracing function.
You see your shot (live fire or laser) and a line tracing showing the direction of movement of the gun as the shot was fired.
Using my copy of the Army Marksmanship Unit's Training Target, I could compare that the line tracing and diagnose virtually some basic flaws impacting my accuracy.
The USAMU's Training Guide image. Unfortunately, sportshooter.com is no longer online, but their version of the training guide lives on.
A few quick notes about using the diagnostic chart. It assumes three key things: you are using the correct chart (left or right-hand), firing one-handed, and have a perfect sight picture.
It isn't designed for rapid fire and can't diagnose multiple problems (is your low left a trigger jerk/slap or the combination of a push forward and too-little finger on the trigger).
But it can help establish the essential basics of a good sight picture and solid trigger control. If your training has plateaued, here's the advice that moved me from awful to mediocre: get a qualified instructor to watch you shoot and diagnose your problem(s).
There is absolutely no substitute for solid coaching.
But the data you collect with OCAT can help your instructor focus on your unique problem(s). In fact, the OCAT system might be just the thing for an instructor or a range to offer its customers to enable them to maximize their practice time.
With the ability to create and save individual shooter profiles, OCAT could be an affordable equivalent to the video coaching and measurement that is an accepted tool in golf, tennis and other sports.
But when it comes to getting better as a shooter, there's just no substitute for spending time on a trigger.
With OCATS you can dryfire using the included laser and establish good trigger control and sight picture.
As legendary competition shooter Rob Leatham is quick to point out, dryfire is an essential part of his practice, but there is no substitute for live-fire training. That's because nothing (at least nothing available today) simulates recoil.
That's true for rifles, pistols or shotguns.
OCAT is the first affordable
system I've seen that allows me to record and compare all my practice sessions- live or dry fire.
The Analyzer function allows you record shot strings that not only measure the distance from the target center, but the times between shots. If you're shooting competitions like Steel Challenge, time between shots is one area where you can leak fractions of a second. If you're a hunter, the ability to quickly make an accurate followup shot is equally essential.
If you prefer precision shooting, you know it's virtually impossible to tell where individual shots hit the target. OCATS accurately plots and numbers each shot. No guesswork and no arguments about what shot went where in your "single ragged hole."
OCATS also has a two-shooter competition mode, but I didn't use it. I did use the OCAT system lock-on symbol so I could use my preferred 25-yard smallbore rifle target. A bundle of special OCAT targets is supplied for dry or live fire. They can be photocopied, so you should never run out of targets.
I like the fact that system components aren't proprietary, only the software. The included notebook computer (ASUS A53) and spotting scope (Celestron Ultima) can both be used as stand-alones. Ditto the tripod. The laser cartridge was the "Ultimate" from Laser Ammo Training Technologies and can also be used with its (included) reflective targets if you can't setup the full system. You can also buy additional components that convert the laser cartridge to a boresight. It requires no modifications to guns, and there's no chance of leaving it in your gun and accidentally loading a live round.
As tested this full OCAT System is priced around $1500. Not inexpensive, but with the ability to practice and record the results of live or dry-fire sessions and analyze those sessions individually or collectively, you might find it quickly paying for itself.
Learn more about the Optical Computer-Aided Training System (OCATS) at www.OutWestSystems.com or contact Outwest Systems Inc at (855) 697-6228 or info@OutWestSystems.com.