The chance to spend the morning at Shootopia was so deeply out of my comfort zone, it felt oddly impossible to pass up. Which is how the Plus One (firmly in his comfort zone) and I found ourselves in the parking lot of Rustenberg Wine Estate in Stellenbosch to meet Sebastian Serfontein, owner of Shootopia and our guide for the morning.
A seasoned vet in the tourism industry, Sebastian keeps things tight – he’s light on the anecdotes unless prompted, and to the point with instruction. This is not a boot camp. The 4×4 ride up to the range has just the right momentum to make you forget about your low profile car in the parking lot that would have gotten stuck at this point and any gendered notions about shooting.
On a good day, you can see all the way to Seapoint from above the shooting range. With its varied scenery, Rustenberg is a popular film location, its landscape most recently used for The Battle of Gettysburg in a National Geographic special. A bit like watching the trailers before a feature, we became so engrossed with the scenery that we nearly forgot that we were here for Rambo.
The three main packages are named after popular action firm franchises: Die Hard, Rambo and Terminator. The Rambo package, the most popular, includes a small arsenal of weapons including the AK-47 and a Glock .40 Calibre.
However, the ‘movie shooting scene’ that I was more interested in recreating had a few less flying bullets and men in tank tops. It was more like the one where a preppy Ryan Phillippe shoots clay pigeon in Cruel Intentions. It seemed more my speed. It was not. I was once again the Plain Jane watching from the side-lines as my Plus One crushed most of my ‘pigeons’ and all of his with a smooth series of swift shots into the sky. Only he didn’t scream “Pull!” louder than the actual blast of the shotgun. “Why would I do that? He’s right next to me,” he quipped.
Why indeed? Sebastian tells us how many gamers, having mastered all the levels of Call of Duty and the like, came to Shootopia with the expectation that those skills would be transferable. Not by a long shot. A day at Shootopia won’t turn you into a sniper. The reality of shooting real, high calibre weapons vs movie/gamer expectation is quite radical. For one, the firing arms are very heavy. It is so easy to become desensitised when even the scrawniest movie star flicks up an AK47 and starts shooting. You feel the weight of that gun (a day later if you’re unfit like me) and the backfiring of the shotgun against your shoulder. Maybe this will take away the escapism of the silver screen for some. For me personally, it’s easier to get lost in the movie world when I understand the logistics.
There’s a select scope for silliness at Shootopia. After all, this is the place where you can shoot out the candles on your birthday cake that would in turn exploded if you don’t get them all fast enough. However, all this is rooted in a high regard for safety – starting with the ear muffs one wears when any shooting is taking place.
Don’t worry about being thrown together with strangers for a session. Shootopia can accommodate between 1 and 50 people at a time and an additional instructor is provided for larger groups. So the time you spend at the range depends largely on how long you take to pull the trigger and the amount of people in the group. The Plus One and I leisurely shot through the Rambo package in about 90 minutes.
My Calamity Jane moment came courtesy of the most powerful handgun in the world. The 500 Smith & Wesson is the most American thing I’ve ever experienced, almost cartoonish in its size. I only had one shot with this monster and after a morning of creating craters in the range with the AK-47 and Sebastian asking which target I had actually aimed for, I simply went for broke and squarely hit my mark.