Media Day for writers was Monday, the day before SHOT Show 2016 officially opened. It's now called Industry Day, because at noon, buyers were invited too. It's under an hour away from Vegas in the desert, at the Boulder Rifle and Pistol Club. Over 170 manufacturers exhibited there, and a large percentage of them have guns to shoot, from Kriss submachine guns, to suppressed shotguns and every handgun and black gun you can think of, in every caliber and configuration. The long-distance part of the range goes well past 1000 yards, ample to wring out the best from firearms as well as ammo and optics. Over 500,000 bullets are launched downrange this day. Industry day is the premier shooting event in the industry, giving select professionals the opportunity to test new products for the upcoming year.
It was the first time I shot a Tracking Point, the uber-technical, sure-shot, can't miss $15,000 shooting system that does everything for you except find your target. I still don't get it. You have to pull the trigger on your wanted point of impact initially anyway, so unless the target is mobile after you set the trigger, it doesn't do anything for you except complicate things. They've been on the verge of bankruptcy again and again, and don't know how much longer they can keep this up.It was nice to get back to the room and shower off the desert crud. We ate well every night, and by the end of the week, there were far fewer oysters, lobsters, steaks, ribs, and pomegranate Grey Goose martinis in the world.
The show started Tuesday morning, and it's always packed like sardines. It takes a day or two for people to realize they CAN'T STOP IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ISLES AND CHAT! The same people probably drive that way, also. It's interesting to notice how the demographic has changed over the years. Back in the early nineties there were lots of beer-bellied, NRA-cap wearing bearded vets talking about how their favorite load for their K frame is still 2.8 grains of Bullseye under a 148 grain double-ended wadcutter (mine, too). There were lots of scantily clad women everywhere. Penthouse had a stock car there with models almost wearing clothes straddled all over it. Realtree had gals in short shorts sitting in treestands on telephone poles a dozen feet in the air. There were always models signing posters.
Enter the year 2016. Most vendors wouldn't dare alienate the largest continually growing segment of their business now: the female shooter. Very few anorexic models appear now, and the male contingent is much healthier-looking, with lots of tattoos and the look of experience using firearms and gear in bad arenas. The LE-Military contingent is displayed not only in the attendees, but in the vendor workforce, too. Lots of real people that actually use the gear, inter dispersed with posers of all sizes and shapes. Much of the consuming public now put a premium in how things look and how sexy they are instead of how they function. People don't need to spend three grand on a Kryptek-camo AR with fancy gimmicks and gadgets they think they need, weighing down the gun and making a nice platform clumsy, complicated, and questionable in terms of reliability. Instead, they need to spend $700.00 on the gun and $2,300.00 on ammo learning to use it. Jumping off soapbox now.
I usually treat the first day or two of the show as a greyhound. I run up an isle, turn left, run up an isle, turn right, and repeat hundreds of times, taking notes constantly. Then when I'm done covering the whole show, I retrace my steps and concentrate on the notes I previously took. Then I do it again. I usually walk the whole show at least three times during the week. Bring good shoes. I carry a backpack because it's much easier on my back when the weight is distributed evenly, as opposed to carrying a bag filled with swag (Stuff We All Get). I end up with several bags of loot and catalogs every show, and make sure to have enough time to ship them back to me at work in Northbrook.
Years ago when I was decades younger I'd go out and stay out till the wee small hours, but those times have been past for a long time now. The day's show over, go back to the room, put on some nice clothes, and meet some people at a superb restaurant, then without too many shenanigans, get back to the room and crash, making sure I get enough sleep to do a great job the next day. In my line of work, this is my superbowl.
Here's a quick synopsis of some of the most pertinent observations from SHOT Show 2016.
Suppressors were everywhere! Lots of new manufacturers and new offerings from established ones. Cans are legal in 42 states right now, and in most of those they're legal for hunting.
Sig Sauer had the best booth at the show. They really knocked it out of the park. Most of you know I really enjoy high quality airguns, and the first thing I noticed at Sig was their airgun line. These guns are absolute perfect copies of their real guns, including weight, controls, size, and even trigger pull! I've sold hundreds of Sig 226 pistols in my life, and even I would not be able to tell one of the Sig 226 air pistols from a real one. Superb. I hope these will catch on as training aids instead of silly airsoft guns, or even Simunition guns, paintball guns, or even any laser training aids. I suppose there are those who enjoy those laughable (except for Simunition) platforms, but I'm not one of them. Not only did Sig blow me away with their new airguns, but their new Electro-Optics division of sighting devices is new and strong! Red dots in various configurations, magnified optics, and the superb Kilo 2000 rangefinder and image-stabilized compact spotting scopes. Then of course they have their outstanding firearm line saturated with everything from large caliber long range guns to SBRs and pistols, a new suppressor line, and even their own Sig branded ammo. Sig really rocked the show. Great job.
Armasight had another great booth. They're friends, but every year their booth gets more impressive. Their technology is cutting edge, and the firearms that were displayed there under their night vision and thermal products were the stuff of dreams. Knight, Cobalt, Remington, Barrett, and others with the best available everything on them. Ridiculously hard core. Even the glass on these guns were from US Optics, S&B, Leupold, and others. Nothing less than the very best of everything on the guns and in their booth. That's how Armasight rolls.
Browning's new hunting clothing looks superb, and their flashlights have always been favorites of mine. They also have their own Browning branded ammo.
Kalashnakov USA had a very good booth, with their new 9mm AK pistol, but the ALFA rifle, a modern version of the ubiquitous AK looked fantastic. Hartman red dot sights were represented there, and I'd like to try one soon.
Colt is trying to stay alive and had a few new models. US Optics is poised to regain some of their lost favor with consumers. Hard core optics for sure. I shot some of the new Minox tactical scopes at range day. Very high end and looking to break into an already crowded market with no sense of humor. Leapers has always impressed me. I've known them for years, and even though they're considered more entry level, they are smart and experienced, and always have new offerings, often for new guns earlier than most others can do. They seem to be able to turn pretty quickly. And the difference between their handguards and others' costing many times more, is often really not that apparent at all. Crosman has a new PCP airgun that looks good. The Schmidt & Bender booth was jammed every day with people drooling over arguably some of the finest optics ever made. Zeiss had a good showing, also. I liked the Walther carry pistols as much as the FN compacts, but not as much as the Ruger SR9c. I'd buy one if I had a need. I saw my old African hunting buddy Jon LaCourte, formerly with Nikon, now co-owner of Tract Optics along with John Allen. It's a direct-to consumer line of binoculars and riflescopes, and I wish them the best. Modular black guns were sprouting everywhere, with easy to change calibers. Speaking of calibers, the 300 BLK and 6.5 Creedmore were everywhere. EOTech has a new line of magnified higher-end riflescopes. Curious how folks will take to them during the ongoing controversy about POI shift in extreme temperature conditions with their holographic weapon sights.
Overall, the outlook was very positive for the industry. Stock levels are steady and sustainable. Several former European firearm concerns like Kalashnakov established manufacturing plants in the US, and generally produce a superior product. Hopefully we'll see plentiful .22LR this year after a long absence.