13 August 2021

Walt Disney World 50 for 50: Establishing the Whereabouts of Territories and Targets

The Frontierland Shootin’ Gallery opened with the gates of the Magic Kingdom in October of 1971 and, as one of the few attractions open during those early years, it was extremely popular. The feel-like-a-western-lawman-or-outlaw was not without its problems, however. Over the park’s first decade the Gallery needed constant maintenance of the rifles and targets.  The problem was that the original rifles actually shot metal pellets and the targets would get worn clean of paint from said metal shots. Not to mention concerns over guest safety where a ricochet here and there that would catch an unsuspecting guest or because we know children definitely never pointed the rifles at anything other than the targets. The factors combined caused WED Florida to consider alternatives.

Planning began in 1982 to redesign the Frontierland Shootin’ Gallery. During this phase, there were plenty of concepts and ideas proposed. One piece of a proposal presented to park management was an advertisement for the Hawken, a .54 caliber cap lock rifle produced by the Frontierland Arms Company. It would create authentic firing sounds, but would utilize light sensors instead of the pellets, with the targets having a sensor of their own for recognizing a hit. It’s the system that has stood the test of time in the Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade, basically, an early form of laser tag, without an opponent.
Another piece of the proposal included a redesign of the scenery that guests would be firing into. A map was generated to show off what the layout could be, including potential targets and geographical landmarks. Like the Hawken advertisement, this map was presented to park management by WED Florida in 1982 in order to encourage the redesign of the Frontierland Shooting Gallery. The descriptors also gave hints of some of the effects that could be triggered during a session, such as ghost prints, falling rocks, and dynamite.

While not all of the design elements of the map and the new rifle were featured in the new attraction, many did make the final cut. When the Frontierland Shootin’ Arcade debuted on September 24, 1984, the Hawken’s place as the weapon of choice in Frontierland was secured and the spirit of the West was still invoked in landscape and featured elements of the panorama.

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