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Anyone who has idly fantasized about blasting away zombies while watching "The Walking Dead" can repel an uprising of the undead at a new virtual shooting range in Dyer.

F.I.R.S.T. Shot opens at 1033 Sheffield Ave. in Dyer Friday. The name is an acronym for Firearm Interactive Range Simulation Training.

Retired police officer John "J.P." Roe, who has 28 years of law enforcement experience, is opening the state-of-the-art facility, which uses virtual simulations for handgun training for concealed carry permit holders and law enforcement officers. F.I.R.S.T. Shot also has a number of entertainment scenarios where people can use replicas of handguns, shotguns and AR-15 assault rifles to gun down cowboys, zombies, criminals or floating balloons.

It's not an actual gun range because no bullets are being fired, but it's more than just a video game since the simulations feature videos of life-sized bad guys who were played by actors.

"There's no live fire training," Roe said. "You can shoot virtual zombies, cowboys or go through a town like 'Escape from New York' where people are coming to attack you. It's virtual reality entertainment."

Groups can come in and rent the shooting range — which can be used by up to four at a time — by the hour. For parties, there's a side room with a large television and refrigerator so people can bring in pizza, beer or food from nearby restaurants such as Sheffield's or Doc's Smokehouse.

It costs $30 to rent per half hour or $50 per hour, with $10 per additional person and additional charges to use the shotgun or AR-15 rifles. Roe said he is open to negotiating prices for larger parties to celebrate a birthday or some other occasion. Scenarios typically last around 5 to 7 minutes, and will be updated every three months to ensure fresh attractions.

One of the most popular contests during a test run for friends and family was a head-to-head competition on shooting balloons that rise from the bottom of the screen.

"It's life-sized with a 12-foot-by-8-foot screen," Roe said. "You're actually confronting the images. It's actually actors that are interactive on the screen, playing sheriffs, outlaws and bandits. You can be the good guy in a city overrun by bad guys. You can be on a zombie extermination force. There are life-sized bad guys in front of you. There's actual recoil with the gun shots. You can shoot 55 gallon drums that explode in a ball of fire. Where else can you make something explode?"

South County Guns, a gun store at 2133 U.S. 41 in Schererville, also has virtual firearms simulation training. Roe said he planned to refer walk-ins there when he's booked.

Roe first encountered virtual reality simulations while working as a police officer in Illinois, but said many are outdated and involve only 10 or so scenarios where the only options are "shoot" or "don't shoot." He's working to provide more sophisticated simulations to local police departments where they could talk down a suspect and defuse a potentially dangerous situation. 

"I have fielded a lot of phone calls from Chicago, Northwest Indiana and the south suburbs," he said. "A lot of officers want this type of training in off-duty times because it sometimes isn't available during on-duty hours. It's when to use deadly force and when to deescalate a situation. Everyone's seen the 5 o'clock news."

Roe said his training system prepares law enforcement to "maneuver through fluid, rapidly-evolving situations." 

"When I started out, the training was shoot or don't shoot. Now we have more non-lethal options like Tasers, pepper spray or even your voice," he said. "Officers learn how to interact with the public, when they can resolve something with verbal judo or when deadly force is needed in an armed confrontation."

Roe and his senior instructor, Mark Alvarado, offer similar training to civilians on when to use deadly force in self-defense. People can take interactive scenario training, the National Rifle Association basic pistol course and an Illinois concealed carry permit class, for which they would complete the live-fire portion at a gun shop in Glenwood.

Even before it opened, people have been booking appointments or buying gift certificates.

"Our insurance agent said you're not really a gun range and you're not really an arcade," he said. "It's a unique thing we're doing in this area. We want to be a regional source of entertainment and training."

Eventually, Roe hopes to grow the business to have several simulators and more employees.

"I'm taking a crawl-walk-run approach to growth," he said. 

F.I.R.S.T. Shot is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. 

For more information, call 219-515-2197 or visit


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.