Even in name, Athena Gun Club doesn't come across as your average shooting range. Nor does it feel like one upon entering the airy lobby off the Katy Freeway, its spa-serene atmosphere belying what takes place behind soundproof walls until a visitor glances to the right or left to see a plentiful array of handguns, machine guns, rifles and Tasers on display.
Similarly, Susan Cho, Athena's chief financial officer and wife of CEO John Boyert, looks the part of a glamorous secret agent from a Hollywood film. Wearing a smart black dress and red heels, she rattled off firearms facts, weapon statistics and self defense tactics — but it still came as a surprise that she actually does have a military background, as a West Point-educated former U.S. Army Intelligence Officer.
Boyert, a decorated military veteran and former U.S. Army Ranger, served as the chief counterinsurgency instructor for a private company after leaving active duty. In that position, he saw first-hand a failure in comprehensive combat instruction for defense contractors.
"The real litmus test was whether a female who had never shot before would feel comfortable coming back without a friend."
These factors play into the beginnings of Athena Gun Club, which formally opens its doors to the public with a grand opening on Saturday and Sunday, as a permanent facility to conduct the type of self-defense and basic handgun training for civilians, military personnel and law enforcement officers that Boyert had successfully run out of Top Gun following his move to Houston.
It didn't take long for him to outgrow that space, and financial backers familiar with Boyert's expertise wanted him to "go big" with his own facility — a decision that led to the club's self-proclaimed status as the largest gun range in Houston and the most expansive facility in the nation, with 26 indoor lanes that boast Action Target and digital retrieval systems, bullet traps, ammo recycling and an advanced ventilation system that mitigates the effects of lead.
"We're the only commercial range that uses this system," says Cho, who argues that even most law enforcement and military ranges aren't so well-equipped.
More than 150 firearms, including premium handguns, can be rented for a shooting session or purchased in the retail store, where handguns and accessories are set up in lifestyle vignettes to make the concept of gun-toting more approachable to the average consumer.
"The real litmus test was whether a female who had never shot before would feel comfortable coming back without a friend," Cho says of the concept.
Athena's instructors come from diverse backgrounds and are available for individual or group classes, offering everything from weapon essentials courses to concealed handgun licensure to gun cleaning and maintenance seminars. A simulator — equipped with real weapons and more than 300 realistic scenarios — helps users prepare for an unexpected event, like car-jacking.
For the high-end visitor, Athena Gun Club offers a VIP membership. With it comes exclusive access to a VIP lounge (accessible through a private entrance — and by a facial recognition scanner, no less — and complete with a cigar room, a conference room and ample leather chairs) and seven reservable lanes, plus a gun valet for storage of up to five firearms.
But even the regular customer can have a first-class experience on the 19 other lanes. Those waiting for a turn can sit in the lounge (equipped with flat screen televisions, comfortable chairs and vending machines) or a Wi-Fi cafe across the atrium.
Almost as good as a day spa.