2016 SHOT Show – Day 1 At The Range
January 18, 2016
It’s sort of a game I play at the airport before and after the SHOT Show. Waiting at the gate for my Las Vegas departure, I try to spot other Show attendees. Sometimes it’s easy. Tactical clothing or camo gear is usually a giveaway (although flying from Texas or North Carolina, passengers wearing camo aren’t necessarily winning bets). Other times, it’s polo shirts with outdoors corporate logos. Sometimes, it’s just a sense of the Industry types. That one is harder to describe, but they’re usually discussing strategies, show set-up, or client lists. I catch myself eavesdropping (hey, don’t say you don’t do it when you’re sitting by yourself at an airport), listening for names or brands.
And suddenly the plane boards. (As I boarded, I realized that I’d left the camera in my duck hunting jacket. Oh well… a blog about the SHOT Show and new gear doesn’t really need photos, does it?)
And I’m in Vegas (not so suddenly, but you don’t want to hear all that stuff in between). I travel with a big, soft-side, camo suitcase. Most of the time, it’s easy to pick out at baggage claim. Guess what. It’s not so easy at SHOT. Camouflage of every stripe is rolling onto the conveyor, in big bags and small. I almost grab the wrong bag… twice.
I’m up at 04:00, because time difference and stuff. Hotel rooms in Vegas generally don’t offer coffee pots, so I roll downstairs to get a cup in the casino. (There’s a Starbucks beside the elevator, but I don’t drink that over-roasted, overpriced crap. Sorry. If you like it, good on ya. I think it’s nasty.) A guy strolls over and pulls up the stool next to me, exaggerated motion and baggy eyes suggest he’s been making the best of his visit so far. He’s wearing a logo shirt with a brand I recognize. He mumbles a greeting, and has somehow made me out as part of the SHOT crowd too.
We chat for a moment, and my coffee comes. I’ve just dropped a couple of bucks into the poker machine, and I’m playing hands while we chat. He orders a coffee and two shots of tequila. The shots arrive and he slides one over to me. He seems like a nice guy, so I hope he’s not offended when I decline. He’s not… more for him. We talk a while, and I actually triple my money in the poker machine. But I’ve got stuff to do, so I make my excuses and exorcise myself from his morning. I feel for how he’s going to feel later.
That little story really has nothing to do with my morning at the SHOT Show Media Day at the Range. I just figured I’d toss it in.
I’ve looked forward to this for a while. It’s even valid to say that it’s the only reason I came to SHOT this year. I enjoy shooting, and getting my hands on the new stuff… sending rounds downrange and enjoying different trigger pulls, the slick action of well-machined bolts, the balance of a well-made firearm, and so on. I dig the innovation and creativity that meld with the gunmakers’ art.
I didn’t get much of that this year.
“Underwhelmed.” is the word that came into my mind, as I limped to the bus at noon. I just wanted to go back to the hotel. I usually stay until they shut down the range and chase us home, but not today. My bright-eyed excitement dulled within an hour, as I wandered through booth after booth of AR platform rifles, semi-auto handguns, and other tacticool stuff.
I get that people like these guns, and I’m fine with it. It’s like Starbucks coffee. It’s a taste, I guess, but it doesn’t suit me. A nice, classic cup of Kona or Jamaican Blue Mountain coffee, properly roasted… that’s my thing. And when it comes to firearms, give me a well-made bolt-action, or a nice lever gun.
There were a couple of nice lever guns, by the way. Browning/Winchester had a selection of models on hand. Most of the rifles weren’t new, though. Like the Model 94 some TV guy was shooting when I stumbled into the booth, the rifles were primarily on hand to showcase the expanded line of Winchester’s Deer Season XP ammunition line. The Deer Season XP ammo features a polymer-tipped bullet that is designed for rapid expansion. This year, they’re adding to the line to include ammo for lever-guns, including the 30-30, 45-70, and .44-40 (I believe… I’ll learn more tomorrow at the Show. This is where my camera would have been a handy thing.).
I also took a few shots with the Browning X-bolt, again, not a totally new design but I believe it’s a new model. It’s a lightweight rifle with an integral brake (as opposed to the old BOSS). I need to learn a little more about it, but it was amazingly light, and the 30-06 I was messing with shot like a dream… very little recoil and a really good trigger. More to come on this one, although I probably won’t be adding one to my safe.
Probably the coolest (on a very short list) things I got to put my hands on today weren’t really firearms at all. The Pioneer Airbow from Crosman/Benjamin is essentially a pneumatic speargun for use on dry land. It slings an arrow (sort of a hybrid crossbow bolt/arrow) at approximately 450 fps, and it’s amazingly accurate. The stock design is a little front-heavy, but it balances about like a quality crossbow. Unfortunately, it’s not legal for hunting in most states at this time, but there’s no question this thing will be deadly. And yes, for those of you who are thinking it… this is a gadget. While I guess the argument could be made that there’s a niche for the Airbow, it’s really just a cool, gimmicky thing. With an MSRP around $850, it’s not a cheap gadget, but for someone looking for something different, it definitely fits that bill.
My other “favorite” of the day was also from Benjamin. Several years ago, they rolled out the Rogue, a .357 air rifle. It was cool, but there were apparently issues. The issues have been resolved, it seems, in the new Bulldog. The Bulldog is a PCP gun that really slings the 145 gr., Nosler bullet downrange. The specs suggest that it’s pushing about 800 fps At the range today, I was ringing the steel buffalo target at 100 yards with relative ease. The trigger on the Bulldog is also pretty nice, compared for example, with the Marauder I’ve been shooting at home.
And, sadly, that’s pretty much it. I didn’t shoot any ARs today, although there were certainly plenty of opportunities. There were also a fair number of suppressors to demo, which is actually pretty cool as they gain more acceptance in the hunting world. The shotguns were nice enough, but the selection was the most limited I’ve seen in a few years. I didn’t have anything specific in mind, though, and nothing really stood out to me.
Maybe I’m just jaded. Maybe “traditional” sporting guns have had their day, and the ARs are just something we’re going to have to embrace. But this was the least exciting SHOT Show Range Day I’ve ever experienced.