By: Brad Walker, Recoil Magazine | Photos by Taylor Lange (@taylizphoto).
Welcome to Gone Shootin’, a column that profiles some of the best, least-known training venues around the country.
Hospitality. From the Latin, hospitalitas. It’s not the first thing you consider when deciding where to go train, but maybe it should be. There are many great ranges and training facilities out there, but these days when attending a class is the closest thing many of us come to taking a vacation, hospitality ought to be right there alongside the capabilities of the facility and the quality of instruction.
Thankfully, 88 Tactical of Takemah, Nebraska, has all three in full measure. It’s not quite a 160-acre bed and breakfast with guns, steel targets, and an apocalypse bunker, but it’s damn close.
Listen—training should be hard and realistic, but it should also be enjoyable. Comfortable lodging, good chow, the opportunity to interact informally with the instructor cadre and, of course, the chance to build camaraderie with fellow students should be a part of that training whenever possible.
Enter founder Shea Degan and crew.
Sign on a wall at 88 Tactical: “The fire’s hot, the brew’s cold, and we’re glad you’re here.”
88 Tactical takes its name from a brevity code used by the nearby Omaha Police Department and other regional agencies — Signal 88 for “all secure.” The entire goal of its cadre is to train you right, feed you well, and make you feel at home so you can enjoy your stay. It’s easier to do this now than it used to be. The original lodge was rundown, battered, and dirty. Over the course of several months the 88 team refurbished it, dug out and expanded the range, dropped a couple of bunkers below ground for billeting, and started on a separate bunkhouse to augment the aboveground cabins. We think it speaks volumes of their mindset that they put as much effort into preparing great kitchen facilities as they did into designing the range.
BUNKERS, BUNKBEDS, AND BULLETS
Under normal circumstances, students going to classes away from home shack up in a hotel or other nearby hostel or campground close to the training facility. Just as often, it’s the student making the trek alone, leaving the family at home while going to learn new skills or put rounds downrange. 88 Tactical has a few measures in place to keep the family connected and close by, if not directly involved in the training.
For the student traveling solo, larger groups, or teams, 88 Tactical has a couple of underground bunkers that are rated for nuclear fallout. No, really. We know what you’re thinking — bunkers? Yes, but stay with us. These bunkers are very roomy and well-equipped, providing conveniences like a kitchen, bathroom with shower, and lounge area. Each sleeps 12 or more people with ease, with bunks built onto the walls, barracks style, and a foldout couch in the lounge area. They’re surprisingly comfortable and honestly pretty damn cool too. Don’t plan on communicating with the world at large once you’re on your subterranean rack — there’s no signal down that deep.
Don’t fancy staying below ground? Bringing a significant other or some kids along? 88 Tactical has two completely furnished cabins on site to accommodate your family while you’re out getting your learn on. Each cabin is virtually identical, with a fullsize bed and a set of bunks for your smaller, future shooters or any friends you may have tagging along. Each also has such amenities such as heating and air conditioning, a flat-screen TV, and a private bathroom complete with a shower.
Spouse not big into shooting or just wants to take a drive into the city? Nearby Omaha offers a plethora of great local restaurants, shopping, and entertainment. Someone like wetting a hook? Summit Reservoir State Recreation Area is just down the road (you can camp there too) and the channels coming off the Missouri River are teeming with fish.
Other lodging is currently under construction. 88 Tactical is working on remodeling a large bunkhouse on site for additional sleeping quarters during special events. When complete it’ll have a number of private and semiprivate rooms for attendees.
88 built these facilities so the student gets the total package when attending a class. They’re not relegated to sleeping on cots or trudging back and forth to a crummy hotel room every night. No one has to coordinate what restaurant to meet up at. They’ve met every need, creating what for us was a first-class experience without requiring students to pay first-class fares.
Author in the lodge with cadre.
CLASSES AND CADRE
Degan’s cadre teaches citizens, law enforcement officers (LEOs), and military personnel of all ages, all based on what they call “reality based behavior conditioning.” In addition to the firearms, combatives, and bushcraft classes you might expect, they also focus on instruction for families and schools. This takes such forms as anti-bullying/anti-abduction seminars for children to youth gun safety classes for kids as young as 7.
Other more “traditional” courses run the gamut from handgun, shotgun, and carbine to precision rifle, as well as VCQB (Vehicle Close Quarters Battle). Other classes include “Active Killer Interdiction” and even “Range Management.” The former, most recently as of this writing seen hosted by NYPD, is typically taught to LEOs responding to events like San Bernardino and Paris. The latter is also taken on the road for the benefit of agencies and other training institutions.
Instructors run the gamut of backgrounds, from Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces to veteran LEOs and salty medics. Most held some sort of leadership position in their former career; students can expect to learn from Green Beret team sergeants, SERE specialists, FBI HRT team leaders, and on occasion, foreign instructors of similar backgrounds.
ATTENTION TO DETAIL
88 Tactical is a short drive from Eppley Field, Omaha’s Airport. The ride will take you through the rolling upland hills and golden cornfields of Burt County, Nebraska, before hitting the sleepy little town of Tekamah (the local rally point for provisions, booze, and other essential supplies). Its almost Norman Rockwell-esque quality can be a strange contrast to some of the pipe-hitters who come to train, but the town has a great relationship with Degan and his cadre. You’ll see this firsthand if you choose to partake of the phenomenal eats at Winner’s Grill.
The Tekamah facility is impressive and the ground immaculate, if somewhat incongruous. One doesn’t typically find this sort of modern training facility so far out from metropolitan areas. It’s a relaxing, pastoral scene, and though frequently interrupted by bouts of gunfire and the occasional raucous student profanity we think they may just be onto something when it comes to inviting spouses and significant others.
Though everything was green and lush while we were there, the region does receive a generous amount of snowfall during winter months. Bear that in mind if you plan on attending training during that timeframe.
THE FUTURE OF 88
The future of 88 Tactical lies in the expansion of its cadre, on MTTs (Mobile Training Teams), and, most of all, the Range and Readiness Facility they’re building nearby in Papillion, an Omaha suburb. Located immediately adjacent to I-80 and Highway 370, they’ve started to refer to it as a “Guntry Club,” and not without reason. Among its amenities and resources, the new 27,000-square-foot facility will boast 20 indoor shooting lanes, a 70-foot training and interior/exterior rappel tower, private cigar-friendly VIP lounge, classrooms, a 3,000-square-foot simulation area, gym facilities, pro shop, cafe, and in-house gunsmith. According to Degan they’ll be franchising such facilities in several other states soon.
88 Tactical’s new complex will be world-class, without a doubt, but they’re working to ensure it isn’t intimidating. They want to cater to everyone from the explorative weekend shooter and novice gun enthusiast to experienced shooters and the high-rolling corporate types who wear a Rolex while putting rounds downrange.
Shea has a vision, and he and his team are on a mission to make this facility more than just an advanced, badass place to train and learn. They want to make your visit here an experience like no other.
“88 Tactical refuses to be incarcerated by archaic doctrine. Our mission is to affect a sea of change in the existing paradigm of flat range and line drills to reality-based behavior training and adrenalized, asymmetrical scenarios. In other words, teaching you skills that will make a difference when the moment of truth arrives. This is the spirit and intent with which we created our revolutionary curriculum,” says Shea Degan.
Our visit to 88 Tactical was an extraordinary experience. Hospitality, amiable host-housekeeping-cook-instructors, and an outstanding facility ensured that. It won’t be for everyone. The beds down in the bunker are comfortable, but reminiscent of USN shipboard accommodations, and that long, scenic drive will not appeal to some folks who’d prefer to show up, train, and return immediately to a nice hotel. For the rest of us, though, it’s worth checking out. They’re as gracious as they are passionate about teaching, and they might be just the sort of place you should be looking at when you consider a training vacation.
THE MAN BEHIND THE SCENES
Jason Wright isn’t just a lead instructor and director of facilities at 88 Tactical; he has been with 88 Tactical since its inception, and he is a vital part of the heartbeat and bloodline that keeps the company running smoothly. From the start, Jason has tirelessly and silently labored over 88 Tactical’s training facility. He wears many hats, from instructor to range management to groundskeeper to carpenter. Jason truly has his hands on almost every aspect of the company. But he won’t tell you that. His quiet candor and humble demeanor speaks volumes about who Jason really is. He’s a deeply trusted and highly valued and respected asset at 88 Tactical — just don’t cross the red barrier into the kitchen and you’ll be fine.
THE STORY OF 88
Shea Degan, cofounder and CEO of 88 Tactical and a native of Omaha, Nebraska, was a college graduate who was working as a deputy with the Douglas County [Nebraska] Sheriff’s Department, yet, like many law enforcement officers, was forced to take on additional side jobs working security around his local area. As time went on, he began hiring other security personnel to work his current security contracts, and in 2003, Shea’s private security company, Signal 88 Security, was born.
After years of methodically building Signal 88 into the No. 1 grossing, privately franchised security company in the country, Shea sold Signal 88 Security and used his extremely successful company and lessons learned from business and law enforcement to springboard him into his next venture.
Shea joined forces with longtime friend and special operations forces veteran, Trevor Thrasher, in 2009 and began writing their own individualized and specific training doctrine based off of years of vast experience rooted from both their law enforcement and special operations background. After perfecting their drafts and ideas, Shea and Trevor created 88 Tactical Group in 2010 and began training students from the local community and all over the country. Over time, 88 Tactical has grown exponentially and has slowly expanded its team of shooting instructors to bushcraft experts, SERE specialists, and training professionals.
Photographer Taylor Lange on the range.