SHOT Show 2018 – Where’s The Hog Blog?

January 22, 2018

Right about now, a few thousand shooting and hunting media folks are gathered at the Boulder City Shooting Range, just outside of Las Vegas, to put their hands (and cameras) on a lot of brand new firearms. It’s one of the most enjoyable events at the SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, and Outdoor Trades) Show, even if it usually left me with ringing ears, a bruised shoulder, and minor whiplash.

The show itself begins tomorrow… the largest trade show of its kind. There will be acres upon acres of hunting and shooting gear, much of it brand new to the market. It’s an opportunity to see products most hunters haven’t even heard of yet. The first day, to me, is a little like waiting for Christmas morning… or, at least it used to be. But after 15 years or more, the shine starts to wear a little thin.

I’ve missed a couple of shows due to reasons outside of my control.  At the time I was pretty bummed.  This year, though, I’ve made a conscious decision to pass it up.  I’m just not interested in spending a week of my vacation time and the cost of a hotel and airfare to go to Vegas again.  It feels like I’ve put a lot more into it than I’m getting out.   I don’t think I’m going to miss it.

What am I not going to miss about the SHOT Show this year?

  • Black rifles, modern sporting rifles, military-style firearms
  • More black rifles, modern sporting rifles, and military-style firearms
  • Long range shooting equipment, marketed to hunters
  • The tacti-cool army
  • Black rifles, modern sporting rifles, military-style firearms
  • Pushing through shoulder-to-shoulder crowds to be ignored by vendors because I’m “just a blogger”
  • Being physically nudged out of booths by outdoor TV crews
  • Vendors and manufacturers who expect me to write a product review from a brochure
  • Black rifles, modern sporting rifles, military-style firearms
  • Paranoid conspiracy theories
  • Tone-deaf political diatribes
  • Walking miles through the maze of booths and tables to be stood up for an interview
  • Seeing the aforementioned interviewee being interviewed by a camera crew
  • Black rifles, modern sporting rifles, military-style firearms

It’s not all bad, of course.  There are a handful of people I only see at SHOT, and I do enjoy those meet-ups.  It is cool to see some of the new products.  Maybe, if I get motivated to get this blog up and running again, and maybe generate some sort of payout, it will be worth it to go again.  I don’t think the SHOT Show is going away any time soon.

To those of you who are at SHOT this week, enjoy yourselves!

Lead Ban Chronicles – New Lead-Free Gear Preview

February 8, 2016

Lead Ban ChroncilesA few weeks back, at SHOT, one of the new products I was particularly hot to see was the Iron Rig decoy weights.

I know, “decoy weights?”

Well, the thing about these weights is that they’re lead free.  Not only are they lead free, they’re being advertised as lead free, which means it’s not just an afterthought.

I’ve spent a lot of time writing and talking about the lead issue, but my focus (like many other writers) has been on ammunition.  The thing is, fishing tackle has been an ongoing topic in efforts to remove lead from the environment.  Push aside the politically driven arguments for a moment, and consider that an emphasis on fishing tackle makes total sense, since lead is arguably more ubiquitous in fishing than it is in hunting (and there are far more fishermen than hunters).

Before you break your neck trying to follow my train of thought, I bring up fishing because waterfowl hunters have, for ages, used fishing weights to anchor our decoys.  And these weights are almost always made of lead.  Hence, any regulation that affects the use of lead in fishing tackle will impact waterfowl hunters as well.

How likely is a ban on lead fishing weights in this country?  It’s hard to say, but if I must prognosticate, I’d say a national, general ban is still a long ways off.  However, on an incremental level, I think we’re already seeing it start.  Some states, including California and Washington, are already making moves to prohibit the use of lead (of any kind) in sensitive waterways.  The Federal agencies overseeing wetlands and wildlife are also looking at restrictions on lead in the waterways they manage.  It’s not unreasonable to expect some lead tackle prohibition in National Parks, National Monuments, and possibly National Forests in the relatively near future.

On my only full day at SHOT, I had a chance to have a nice chat with Jena Muasher and Scott Griffith, the marketing team for Big Game International.  One of the first things I asked was what drove the decision to produce a lead-free decoy weight.  The general response was that the company saw the “writing on the wall”, and wanted to get ahead of legislation that would restrict the use of lead weights.  More specifically, they pointed to California regulations that appear to be on track to eliminate the use of lead tackle by 2019 (a contentious issue, of course, but not an issue on which I’m particularly well-informed).

So, why cast iron, decoy weights?

The simple answer is that it was an easy choice.  As Scott explained to me, the goal was to make changes that did not reduce performance.  Cast iron is heavy and relatively easy to cast in the sizes and shapes that are used for decoy anchors (it’s more of a challenge for smaller fishing tackle, which is another issue).  It’s also inexpensive, relative to lead, which actually enables a lower cost to the hunter.

Unfortunately, the weights available for display at the show are simply prototypes, so I wasn’t able to carry a handful home to test out before our season ended this year.  However, Scott and Jena told me the plan is to start getting these to market by summer, and promised to get some out to me to try out.  I’m particularly interested in seeing how these things hold up in the salty environment where I do much of my hunting (NC coastal salt marshes and brackish rivers).  You can bet I’ll be letting you know how it all pans out.



2016 SHOT Show – Day End Wrap Up

January 19, 2016

Well, the noise level is dropping by a few dozen decibels as the crowds are filtering out toward the taxis and shuttle buses.  Day One of the 2016 SHOT Show is pretty much winding down, although probably not as fast as I am.  I didn’t have high hopes of accomplishing much today, but I actually got around to more than I’d expected.

Apologies for the use of Press Pack images, but as mentioned earlier, I left my camera in NC.  I did take photos and video with the GoPro, but my USB port is being finicky.  In other words, real-time photos just aren’t gonna happen right now.

It started in the New Products room, which is usually one of the best places to get a feel for what I’ll see on the floor.  Well, unless you want one more of a million ways to customize your AR, I can’t say that this visit was particularly productive.  Scattered in and amongst the uppers, actions, barrels, and accessories, there were a couple of products I thought might be worth following up.  Unfortunately, a technical glitch cost me my list of products (you use a bar code scanner to mark the things you want, and then there’s a printer at the exit where they print out your list).  I’m pretty sure, for example, that I did not flag a $3000 thermal imaging weapon sight or the Century Arms C39v2 AK pistol.

Since the New Products list provides something of a map for my visit to the floor, I was left a little rudderless (and yeah, I could have shouldered my way through the khaki clad hordes to try another list, but really?).  So I wandered.  I had a couple of specific things in mind, so I figured while I looked for those, I’d just see what stood out to me.

garmin_rino650First of all, I slid by the Garmin booth to see what they’ve done with the Rino.  The Rino, for those who don’t know, combines a FRS radio with a GPS navigation system.  If you’re talking with someone else on a Rino, it will post their location on the map, which is a cool feature when you’re in big country or out on the water.   The latest version, the 650t, still does this with many performance improvements and extra features over the many years since I bought mine, and still lists for about the same MSRP, $549.   I do like the USB port for upgrades and updates, as well as charging.  I also like that it allows you to upload files to other Garmin users.  So when you tell your buddy to bring the horses, you can send a picture of the big bull you just shot, while the Rino transmits your coordinates for the pick up.

Earlier, I was bemoaning (again) the absence of nice wood in gunstocks.  Yes, the synthetic stocks are great stuff, but it’s still nice to enjoy the beauty of a well-finished piece of lumber.  Purely by accident, I stumbled into the Ithaca booth.  On display, right at the front, was one of their new bolt-action rifles, stocked in an classic piece of maple, tiger stripes and all!  When I spoke to the rep and complimented the beautiful work, he informed me that not only are they offering fine wood on their rifles and shotguns; they are offering custom stocks for other firearms as well.  Who knew?

Wild West Guns Co-PilotMany years ago, I found a customized version of the Marlin Guide Gun, manufactured by a company called Wild West Guns.  They’d turned an already solid rifle into a really cool (in my mind) piece of weaponry.  It was designed, initially, for bush pilots and Alaskan hunters who needed something portable (did I mention it’s a take-down rifle) in big bear country.  I think the one I looked at was chambered in .50 AE.  Anyway, the company has done a lot since then, and when I saw their sign on the booth, I had to slide by and drool a little bit.  The guns have gone through some iterations, but something I thought was really cool was that they now have their own chambering… the .457 WWG.  This is basically a magnum 45-70.  According to the rep I spoke to, it will also shoot standard 45-70 ammo, as well as (in single feed operation) .410 shotshells.  That’s a lot of versatility, and if you think of this as a backcountry survival rifle, that’s a lot of options available for everything from smacking small game and birds for the pot, to keeping the grizzly bears at bay.  It doesn’t come cheap, though, at $2979.00.  But what good things do?

There are a few other things that I will get to later, because they’ll take more than a few hundred words.  But if you want a teaser, one of those things is a new offering from Morakniv.  You may (or may not) remember I reviewed their Bushcraft knife a couple of years back.  This new knife, the Garberg, promises to be even stronger and more versatile.

I also spoke with the folks from DRT ammo about their non-lead, controlled expansion, frangible bullets.  I wasn’t all that thrilled with my previous frangible experience (it was not DRT ammo), but the rep told me that they’ve made some improvements specifically to resolve some of the issues I had.

Finally, I stopped by the NSSF Project Childsafe booth.  I’ve written about this project before as well, but I think it’s time to take another look.  I’ve planned an interview with a representative from the organization this time, and hope to offer a little more insight into what they are all about.  In the meantime, check them out for yourself.

That’s it for now.  They’re running us out of the Press Room.

2016 SHOT Show – Day 1 Updates And Additions

January 19, 2016

Well, here I am, ensconced in the Press Room at the 2016 SHOT Show.  As the week progresses, something in the neighborhood of 63,000 attendees will pass below and above this third floor sanctuary.  Well, it’s a sanctuary of sorts, since only press and our guests (interviewees and such) are allowed in here.  But then, it’s still crowded and noisy, but there’s free wi-fi and lots and lots of press kits, resources, and knowledgeable folks.  It’s also a great place to meet up with friends and contacts.

At any rate, like always, I’m doing a little pre-work before I hit the floor.  Since I have really limited time to browse the 630,000 square feet of booths and displays, it pays to have a plan.  In the course of my studies, I’ve found a little more info on some of the stuff I saw yesterday.

To begin with, if you want to learn more about the new Browning ammunition, they have a site just for you.  Checkout  It’s actually a pretty full line, which makes sense since Browning tends to have all their ducks in a row before they roll out any new, branded merchandise.  I think it’s an interesting choice for Browning, by the way.  I’d sort of expected some sort of merger with Winchester Ammunition instead of branding their own line.  But there ya go… I don’t sit at the back tables to understand these things.

The Browning X-bolt I was shooting yesterday is the Hells Canyon Speed bolt-action.  I guess it’s a new configuration, with a composite, camo stock.  I’ve sort of gotten over my lament at the disappearance of fine wood (it’s still there, but mainly in pricier rifles), and the weight and balance that can be achieved with the composite stocks is pretty amazing.  The 30-06 I was shooting weighs in around 6 1/2 pounds, and with the brake, really has minimal recoil.  I really liked shooting this rifle, and at a MSRP around $1200, it falls in the upper mid-range.  There’s a pretty wide range of short-action, long-action, and magnum chamberings as well.  Of course, retail availability may be a challenge, especially at first.

Just one more note for Browning at Range Day.  I wasn’t patient enough to wait my turn with it, but the “reintroduction” of the Sweet 16 has made a big splash with some shotgun fans.  It’s not quite the A-5 our grandfathers shot, and the lines have changed a little, but watching it at work on the range suggested that it’s probably going to be popular.

Stay tuned for more, I’m heading to the floor!


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.

2015 SHOT Show – Links And Reviews (From Other Sources Of Course)

January 21, 2015

My friend, John, asked a good question (and spurred this post).  For folks who aren’t in the industry, where are some good places to see or read reviews of the new stuff at the 2015 SHOT Show?  Now, ordinarily, I’d say to read the Hog Blog, but as we know, I’m not there this year.  So, in lieu of reliable, first-hand reporting by yours-truly, here are some other places that you can find reviews and reports from The Show.

Another of my friends, Eric, runs  As you might guess, Eric’s coverage generally trends toward varmint and predator hunting.  His initial review of the Media Day at the Range highlights several new or revised configurations of the .17 caliber format, including Ruger’s prototype for the .17WSM (Winchester Super Magnum), and Savage’s brand new, semi-auto .17hmr (as well as the ammo CCI designed specifically for the semi-auto action).   I don’t know if he has plans to address air guns in his reports this year, but his site is also chock-full of great info and links for the air gun aficionado.  Oh, and by the way, Eric has a pretty good discussion forum on his site which includes an entire section for hog hunters.  I’m not active, currently, as I just don’t have time to follow forums right now.  But I do drop in to see what’s going on, and it’s a good place to go share information about the pursuit of sus scrofa.

The hook-n-bullet TV crowd has become ubiquitous at the Show… sometimes to the point of being something of a roadblock, as they set up lights and cameras right in the aisles for interviews.  As a blogger, I have been elbowed out of the way more than once when these guys show up, as everyone apparently wants to be on TV… or at least to get their products on camera.  I can’t help but understand that, but I think I speak for a lot of print and Internet media folks when I say, I think there could be a little more courtesy there.  Nevertheless, you can usually find pretty good content. In particular,  the Outdoor Channel has some focused coverage specifically for the show.  The Sportsmen’s Channel doesn’t have a specific link to SHOT news, but you can find some individual posts on their home page.  The Pursuit Channel doesn’t appear to be showing coverage at all, although you might check in to get updates about their viewers’ choice awards.

Ammoland is always well represented at SHOT, and their coverage usually runs the gamut.  Be prepared for a dose of political agenda when you read this site, but their writers are knowledgeable about their topics.

Guns and Ammo is also a regular at SHOT.  This magazine has evolved into a network of publications, each with a focus on different types of firearms, handguns, shotguns, and rifles.  The group also includes the venerable Shotgun News.

Oh, and before I forget, the official SHOT Show site has reviews, photos, videos, and news from the show.  Each day, they publish a pretty hefty newspaper for SHOT participants that includes a ton of information.  When I attend the show, I use this paper to build out my agenda of press conferences to attend and booths to visit.

A fairly unique and enjoyable place to see some excellent video reviews is Fate of Destinee’s YouTube channel. (And no, I didn’t think to ask where the site’s title came from… but don’t let it distract you.) Like last year, Destinee and her team are onsite and shooting live from the event. Unlike last year’s short, informative videos about lots of the cool stuff, these are extended footage of pretty much everything… Destinee is primarily into self-defense and tactical gear, but she generally does a great job.

(NOTE: This is what happens when I don’t preview the videos first. Apparently, Destinee has changed up her format a bit, and the half-hour or longer segments of rambling don’t do much for me… and probably do less for you. Skip to episode 5 in the playlist to see the actual SHOT Show coverage begin, and keep your finger on the fast-forward button.)

Of course, if you’re interested in a specific manufacturer, such as Winchester or Thompson-Center, you can always drop by their websites to see what’s they’re announcing.  Sometimes, though, the stuff they show at SHOT doesn’t make it to their website until after the show is over.

So that should keep your browsing appetites sated for a while.  As promised, I’ll share any news or updates I get in regards to new gear, guns, or ammo.

2015 SHOT Show – News From Afar

January 20, 2015

No, I didn’t change my plans at the last minute and make it to Vegas for SHOT this year, despite some mental acrobatics to justify the trip and figure out logistics (followed by a little bit of pouting).  But I’m getting reports already, and while it’s not just like being there, at least I’m not completely in the dark.

Yesterday was the Media Day at the Range, which is always a big event for me as it’s the opportunity to put my hands (and trigger finger) on some of the newest offerings from all sorts of firearms manufacturers.  And this morning, at about this time, I should be rolling out of my hotel bed and staggering down to get breakfast before hitting the first day of the Show itself.

Some people have asked, “what in the world could possibly be new with firearms today?”

It’s a good question, and truthfully, there aren’t too many big changes or offerings across the sporting arms market.  I’m pretty sure that the range day would have shown me a handful of cleaned up versions of older models (Browning, Winchester, etc.), and maybe a few new players. There will be some new optics, some new ammo, and some new packaging.  But that’s, honestly, about it.  It’s been a small solace to me that I know I’m not missing out on a ton of innovation.  Even the AR market seems to be hitting a certain plateau, because while there are still all sorts of add-ons and gizmos, there are only so many ways you can put together a lock, stock, and barrel.

Still, there’s always a surprise out there… something I’d really like to have put my mitts on… like Crosman’s new Benjamin Bulldog, a .357 caliber, PCP air rifle.  After the short-lived rollout of the Rogue, a few years ago, a lot of airgun fans have been watching to see what came next.  The big bore air gun market is coming ripe, as more states are considering permitting these things for hunting applications.

This video is loaded with advertising hype, of course, but it’s an interesting look at this new rifle in action.

I’ve got a couple of friends out there at the Show this week, and of course I’ll be following the wires to keep up with any significant news, cool products, and more.   When I know, you’ll know.


More From SHOT Show 2014 – Benelli Ethos

February 3, 2014

Give me an old-fashioned twice-barrel any old day.  Photo by Holly Heyser.

Give me an old-fashioned twice-barrel any old day. Photo by Holly Heyser.

Somewhere along the lines, I asked if you guys wanted to hear about anything particular while I was at the SHOT Show this year.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get the time on the floor that I’d hoped, and even at the Range Day, I didn’t shoot everything that burned powder… so my coverage was comparatively narrow.  However, someone did ask about the Benelli Ethos.

First, my ad nauseum moment… I am not the biggest fan of semi-automatic hunting guns.  It’s personal taste, primarily, as the old complaints about reliability and maintenance have been (more or less) addressed in the modern variations.  But I don’t much trust them, and there’s just something about the enhanced ability to spray-and-pray that leaves me unenthusiastic about their use for hunting.

But it’s not about me, and autoloaders have become pretty much a staple in the world of waterfowling, as well as amongst turkey hunters.  You’ll even see them in the hands of the occasional upland hunter, although such heretical disregard for tradition and appearances will certainly earn the scowling disapproval of the purist.  The guys who love these guns have made some reasonably solid justifications for the choice.  Of course there’s the fast follow-up shot, but there’s also the fact that the operation of the semi-auto action tends to soften the thumping of those heavy, magnum rounds so popular with the duck, goose, turkey, and pterodactyl hunter.  I mean, seriously, a three and a half inch magnum to kill ducks?  You guys do realize that it’s not self-defense, right?  Maybe if you weren’t touching off artillery rounds you wouldn’t need something to soften the recoil.

But I digress.

In the interest of my reader(s), I am willing to shoot pretty much anything (especially if someone else is buying the ammo), so I found myself at Range Day, standing at the Benelli tent.  With me was my friend, Holly Heyser, the blogger formerly known as NorCal Cazadora.  Holly’s gone and gotten all professional and such, and is now Editor of the California Waterfowl magazine.  She also does some freelance work, and a fairly regular column in Shotgun Life.  And there’s other stuff, but I really didn’t intend to write a whole post about Holly.  The point is, Holly has been deeply bitten by the waterfowling bug (I used to have that disease, but I’m mostly over it now), and she is not a bit put off by shotguns that shoot as fast as you can pull the trigger.  The other point is, with Holly around, we could take pictures of one another shooting… which is much easier than taking selfies while trying to break flying targets.

So the Benelli…

The Ethos is a beautiful gun.  This is something Benelli has always done well, so it’s no surprise there.  Semi-autos have evolved a bit since the humpback Browning or the old Remington 1100, and the Ethos is a sleek, streamlined beauty compared to those old-timers.  It’s also very light, weighing in around six and a half pounds.  Compare that to around eight pounds for the 1100, or over nine pounds in the Browning A-5.  (Browning/Winchester have introduced newer semi-autos to compete in this weight class… but this post isn’t about them right now.)

Holly shooting the Benelli Ethos.As soon as a gun was freed up, I handed it off to Holly and fired up the camera.  Watching her handle the gun, it was easy enough to see she was pretty pleased… despite her professed dedication to her Beretta.  In fact, I think that if the Beretta had been watching her with the Ethos, it would almost certainly have jammed on her next hunt out of pure spite and jealousy.

When Holly finally surrendered the gun, I figured I’d have a go as well.  I hefted the thing in my hands, getting a feel for the weight and balance.  It had just the right amount of both.  Then the guy started giving me shells.

The Benelli Ethos shot distressingly well.  I’m no great shakes as a shotgunner, by any stretch of the imagination, but I broke some clays.  The gun just went where I thought it should go, and it didn’t seem to take much effort at all.  Worst of all, the guy kept feeding me ammo so I had no choice but to keep shooting the damned thing.  I swear, I almost came to like it.

So we were only shooting target loads, but it is worthwhile to mention the gentleness of this 12 gauge shotgun’s recoil.  Compared to my old 311, or even my M37 Featherweight, this was like leaning my shoulder into a feather pillow.  I could imagine a day of dove hunting with this thing, and coming home without so much as a purpling of my shooting arm.  Is such a thing possible?

OK, before I get completely carried away, there are a few more notes of note.  First of all, at this point, the Ethos is only available in a wood stock (AA grade, satin walnut).  I expect the market will drive them to something synthetic and camo-cool, but right now this is what you get.  Personally, of course, I like wood stocks and in my experience under some pretty nasty conditions, they serve just fine.

You can have your gun with a pretty, engraved nickel action, or you can get it simple and anodized.  Both seem almost too pretty for the average duck marsh, but I guess a lot of guns start out that way.  Neither is so flashy that I wouldn’t take them hunting, but the anodized looks a little more utilitarian.  A little TLC will go a long ways toward keeping this thing both beautiful and deadly… and I believe we could all give our guns a little more TLC.

There are a lot more details for the technically minded, but if you really want that sort of thing there are myriad reviews available all over the web, or you can just go to the Benelli website to learn for yourself.  The last detail that I found pertinent, however, was the price tag.  If you have to ask…

So the fact is, the price of quality firearms is going steadily skyward.  I haven’t really been in the market of late, but just from conversations with folks who have, a thousand bucks isn’t going to get you into a new semi-auto these days.  The Benelli Ethos MSRP is right at $2K… a little more for the nickel, and a shade less for the anodized.  I’m guessing you’d do pretty well to pick one up off the store shelf for $1750 or so… depending on your dealer’s connections and profit margins.  That’s a lot of ducats, in my mind, but it seems to be the way of the future present.  I found Beretta, arguably the closest contender in the field, around the same price point.  Remington’s higher-end alternative to the 1100, the Versa-Max, is coming in close as well, with an MSRP around $1730 (depending on features).  On the other hand, Browning’s new A5 and Winchester X3 are coming in a shade under $1500.






SHOT Show 2014 – Meeting Folks and Other Stuff

January 17, 2014

SHOT Show Crowds

With crowds like this, it’s easy to understand how PR folks can have a hard time remembering names and faces.

It’s funny, or maybe not so much, how thoroughly people in the industry can forget who you are in a short year or so. Of course, I realize I’m not Pig Man or Jim Shockey, and my little ol’ blog doesn’t pull down zillions of hits and heavy shares on social media sites. Still, it sort of bummed me out to greet a few former industry contacts at SHOT this week, only to get that total look of, “who the hell is this and why is he bugging me?”Actually, in most cases the look is more like, “oh crap, did I promise this guy something and fail to deliver?”

But I get it. These industry people shake a lot of hands and do an awful lot of smiling… and promising… over the course of SHOT. On top of that, most of them start hitting the show circuit in January and don’t really slow down again until late spring. SHOT is only one of many, including ATA (Archery Trade Association), Safari Club Annual Convention, NRA Convention, and the big daddy of them all, the IWA Outdoor Classics show in Germany. And at every one of these shows, there are hundreds of guys like me.

So I try not to take it too personally, even from folks with whom I thought I’d established a personal relationship. I have to remember, part of these folks’ job is to make you feel special… even when you’re not.

With this in mind, though, I was very happy that some of my old contacts did recognize me. Mike Stock, from Winchester Ammunition took a few minutes from a very busy day to come say, “hello,” and to introduce me to the new media representative. There’s not a ton of time for small talk on the floor, but we caught up a little and then got down to business of making sure I had what I needed for testing. In the coming months, I hope to be trying out the RazorBack XT in 30-06 and possibly some of Winchester’s brand new Long Beard XR turkey loads.

A couple of notes about these Long Beard loads… first of all, it’s pretty cool technology. They’ve managed to encase the pellets in a resin which eliminates all air space between the pellets. As a result, the pellets don’t really have room to move around until they exit the muzzle. This means there’s less deformation of the pellets, resulting in tighter patterns and better terminal performance at longer ranges. While I’m not crazy about shooting turkeys out to 60 yards, this load is optimized for that eventuality, and based on the pattern I got at 40 yards, I have little doubt it’s realistic. This stuff is pretty impressive. My only concern, as it is with all of the super-tight turkey loads and chokes, is those really close shots where there’s barely any spread of pellets. You’ll need to be dead on with your shot. But patience and picking your shots are always the keys to successful hunting.

I thought the picture would be better with a person holding the rifle instead of a rack, so I enlisted the help of Gary Landsborough, from the Triggers and Bows retail shop.  Thanks, Gary!

The Benjamin Trail Nitro Piston 2 – I thought the picture would be better with a person holding the rifle instead of a rack, so I enlisted the help of Gary Landsborough, from the Triggers and Bows retail shop. Thanks, Gary!

Someone else who remembered me was Laura Evans, the media rep from Crosman. Laura worked with me a couple of years back when I wanted to try out the Marauder. We’ve had a bit of correspondence over the last two years, and she greeted me immediately when I walked up to their table at the range. Later, on the show floor, she introduced me to Crosman’s social media guy, Chip Hunnicut, with whom I look forward to working on several projects… including some field time with the new Benjamin Trail Nitro Piston 2. The new rifle offers a few improvements over the original Trail series, one of which is the new “Clean Break” trigger, a two-stage trigger which is similar to the one I like so much on the Marauder. The new rifle is also pretty easy to cock, especially compared to my experience with the much older break-barrels I’d used before.

Speaking of the Marauder, this year Crosman has updated this great rifle and made it even better. The new version is streamlined a bit and set in a synthetic stock. As a result, the rifle is much lighter than the old version and will be a bit handier in the field. As much as I like my original, wood-stocked version, I do think it’s a little bulky for packing around on foot.

Another note about Crosman… While I was talking to folks at the Crosman tent at Range Day, I heard that there is interest at the company in developing something in the big bore lineup. While the Rogue, Benjamin’s .357 rifle was an interesting proof of concept, it wasn’t quite what the company wanted it to be and you won’t be seeing it in the catalogues any more. However, the “folks in the office” recognize the opportunities that big bore airguns offer, and there will probably be some news along those lines in the future. I’m pretty stoked at the idea of something that I can realistically use on hogs and axis deer (air rifles are still not legal for game animals here in Texas, although some other states like Missouri and Alabama do allow them).

My SHOT trip was short and bittersweet this year, as I had to pull out and head back to Hillside Manor on Wednesday afternoon. I left a lot of sights unseen, but it was good to get out there and renew some of those industry contacts, as well as some friendships. I’ve got a lot of cards and notes to follow-up, and this trip should result in some good stuff for the blog over the coming months.



SHOT Show 2014 – (Real) News From The Floor

January 15, 2014

First of all, apologies.  It looks like, for some reason the comments are closed on that last post.  And yes, it was a joke… but not much of one.  The zombie craze itself has sort of tapered off, but the tacticool mania is still running full bore.  I’ve probably spent as much effort sidestepping booths of uppers and lowers and custom barrels and lights and rail systems and…  well, read that sentence and you might get the sense of it.

I have had an opportunity to make a few rounds on the floor, mostly getting back in touch with old contacts or establishing new ones.

On the lead-free ammo front, just to get that out here, there’s not really a whole lot to report.  The major manufacturers are pretty much holding stable.  Winchester has expanded their Power-Core offering to 12 calibers, and their RazorBack XT is now available in five.  They still offer the lead-free .22 LR ammo, but haven’t really made any changes or upgrades to that line.  Federal/CCI is, similarly, holding pretty steady with their current line.  The Federal Trophy Copper seems to be fitting the demand, although like everyone else, shipping and supplies have been a little slight.  And Remington seems pretty happy with the Copper Solids.

I did have a chance to stop by and visit with the guys from DDupleks, a company out of Latvia that makes steel shotgun slugs.  They’re one of the few offerings available for smoothbore slug gun hunters.  Sterling ammunition also offers a similar steel slug.  I hope to get some of these and give them a go.  My friend, Dan used the DDupleks a year or so ago and did his own, first-hand review, but I still want to do my own research.

There is a new guy in the game (who’s card I will have to relocate) who is making bullets out of a zinc alloy.  According to the manufacturer, this alloy offers characteristics that are very close to lead.  Even more important, he says, is the fact that this material is about half the cost of copper, which means lead-free ammunition could become much more economical.  As always, I have to take a wait-and see attitude.  Zinc isn’t new in the ammunition world, which makes me wonder why it hasn’t been done before.

Two years ago, when I attended my last SHOT Show, I was introduced to Cutting Edge bullets.  At the time they were still in development, but the line has matured a bit and now offers a wide range of CA-certified lead-free bullets.  Unlike most of the other lead-free bullets, these are designed to explosively shed their petal on impact.  From photos I saw, they do this with a lot of force in a pretty spectacular way… maybe even too spectacular.  But I’m going to give some of them a go, and I’ll find out for myself.

And, just for a little gun lust… I saw this beauty from Cooper Rifles!

I'm a sucker for a nice rifle with a mannlicher stock, even if the sad truth is that I don't have a single one in my safe.  This Cooper would make me happy, though.

I’m a sucker for a nice rifle with a mannlicher stock, even if the sad truth is that I don’t have a single one in my safe. This sweet thing (the rifle, guys, the rifle) from Cooper Rifles was fairly drool inducing.

More to come later… I promise.


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