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Futuristic rifle turns novice into sharpshooter

It all goes back to "Top Gun." In the heads-up display on Maverick's Tomcat, you can see a computer compensate for human aim with precision laser guidance and careful calculations. How long before that technology made its way to to a conventional hunting rifle? It's here now, with a price tag of $17,000 to $21,000.

We came to Las Vegas the first week of January, the way we always do, for the Consumer Electronics Show. The vast trade show features over 3,300 exhibitors, and covers 1.9 million square feet. But there are no shooting ranges at CES. To check out TrackingPoint, we had to drive out to the hills outside of town.

As someone who not only isn't a marksman but pretty much avoids guns altogether, I approached the TrackingPoint rifle a bit gingerly. However, when the company's president, Jason Schauble, walked me through it, I realized that as long as I paid attention (and observed the basic safety rules of firearms), I would be able to hit that target without trouble. Not 15 minutes later, I did — at a distance of nearly seven football fields.

How does it work? A laser rangefinder identifies the target, and tells the gun where to aim to hit it, given conditions such as humidity, wind, and the typical ballistic drop you'd expect from a bullet shot from a gun at such a distance.

You pick your target by dropping a pin on it using the camcorder-like zoom lens. When you want to shoot that target, you line up crosshairs inside the scope with the pin you dropped. The weirdest thing is, when you squeeze the trigger, it doesn't fire. You have to squeeze the trigger and line up the crosshairs with your mark. When you do, the gun goes boom, and the target takes a bullet.

No matter where you are on the gun debate, the technology used is an impressive system. The rifle will be available soon from TrackingPoint. Watch the video above for the whole story. 

Wilson Rothman is the Technology & Science editor at NBC News Digital. He'll be at the Consumer Electronics Show through Friday in Las Vegas, so feel free to tweet him up at @wjrothman, and join our conversation on Facebook.