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Shot Show 2008

I travelled down to the Las Vegas area to take some pictures for a terribly exciting little project about 120 miles North of Las Vegas in the Atomic Test Range last weekend. However, while I was in Las Vegas, I met up with Aaron Rowe and shot some images of Shot Show 08 for Wired’s Danger Room. I’ll have more to say about the visit to the edge of the Atomic Test Range and Creech AFB in the next few days, but for now, I’ll share some of my experience down at Shot Show with you.

The day before the show formally started, there were a couple of opportunities to do live fire exercises, one with the media and one that was for current and former military and law enforcement individuals. Since Aaron was covering the media shoot, I stopped by the Nellis AFB Range for the military shoot sponsored by Remington Arms.

If you saw a U-Haul on the highway dragging its axles on the way down to Las Vegas, it very well might have been the folks from Remington who brought a not insignificant amount of ammunition for this shoot ranging from 9 mm all the way up to .50 BMG and some of the newer 6.8 mm rounds and plenty of my personal favorite, .300 win mag.

Remington also brought some of their newer Remington action rifles in Accuracy International AICS chassis making for a rather nice platform. I’ve always been a big fan of the Accuracy International rifles and their AICS. They are a premium item, but it is a platform that I’ve trained with and am comfortable shooting. The rifles were equipped with suppressors and one of the rifles even had a Schmidt and Bender scope making for a truly luxurious and very accurate experience.

The shoot was also sponsored by Bushmaster, a company who’s products I’ve had uneven experience with. DPMS was also present which made more sense after I found out that all three companies, Remington, DPMS and Bushmaster are now owned by Cerberus Capital. Regardless, Bushmaster and DPMS brought a number of AR variants to the shoot including both semi and fully automatic rifles. Bushmaster also brought one of their new .50 BMG rifles.

After a full day in the desert up at Creech AFB followed by several more hours in the open desert shooting, followed up by a dinner with Aaron and an evening Guinness, I was absolutely trashed and ready for sleep, not really knowing what to expect for the following day when Shot Show formally opened.

The morning of the show presented with an absolute sea of humanity from both the Shot Show and the PMA show. Because of this it was difficult to obtain shots of things given the crowds and lousy lighting in a mega covention center, but hopefully these shots will give you some flavor for what Shot Show is like. Note however, that the photos that I am including only cover an almost vanishingly small portion of the exhibitors.

Shot Show is certainly the largest exposition that I’ve ever been to with a total attendance this year of 58,769 comprising 30,686 buyers, 1,725 members of the press, 25,854 exhibitors and 504 guests all of whom contributed ~$76 Million US to the Las Vegas economy this year. It was crazy busy with an unbelievable number of people compounded by the proximity of the PMA show next door that I wished for time to go see and the Superbowl that brought even more hoards to Las Vegas to gamble and celebrate.

Honestly, I have to say that Shot Show was not nearly the freak show that I had anticipated given my exposure to local gun shows some 15 or so years ago. In contrast, Shot Show was much more professional with members of the industry, military and law enforcement attending to see what the next great thing is in the firearms industry. That is not to say that there was not some most excellent people watching possible as there were a number of interesting characters around, some of which had the most profane mouths I’ve heard since junior high. Also of note, there are lots of folks at Shot Show that have nothing to do with firearms per se, as they represent clothing manufacturers for outdoor use, birders like Bill Thompson, who I unfortunately did not have time to meet up with, wildlife conservation groups (apparently this year firearms and ammunition companies and sales reached $3 Billion US in contributions to wildlife conservation since 1991 through federal excise taxes on the sales of their products), and many other folks that contribute to an industry that generates $3.7 Billion US per year in revenues and encompasses businesses from all over the world. In fact, entire countries are represented at Shot Show with pavilions for Italian companies, British companies and German companies.

Disclaimer: I was raised around firearms and even have significant training in small arms, but the gun culture thing has always eluded me in that the fetishism that many people seem to adopt with firearms strikes me as bizarre. Granted, I understand the technical and artistic aspects of firearms, but they are primarily tools to be used for hunting, defense and sport, so the almost religious reverence that many in this crowd have towards firearms makes me a bit uncomfortable.

That said, there were some items at this years Shot Show that were intriguing, particularly the new Aimpoint sight. This little optic is intended to allow the operator to easily and safely peek around corners, observe and even target with any rifle bearing enough Picatinny real estate to house it and a standard red dot sight. It is a far more elegant, cost effective and reliable solution than many of the other optical systems I’ve seen including the high technology Corner Shot made in Israel. Aaron wrote about this optic with my pics in Danger Room here.

TacPro Shooting Center, the North American distributor of Accuracy Internation was also present with an assortment of AI rifles and stocks, but they had one item of note that I am actually quite interested in, their M14AICS. This is a chassis system for the M14 rifle which, while an old design dating back to the 1940’s is still in use among active duty Army and Marine Corps snipers and counter snipers as well as a number of special forces groups as well as target shooters worldwide. The M14 has long suffered from old design wooden stocks that the fundamental barrel, trigger box and receiver are hosted in leading many people to design new replacement stocks from aluminum, composites or wood. However, this is the first replacement for the stock I’ve seen that actually seems to do the job without all of the other compromises necessary with competing designs. It also maintains the kinesthetic placement and feel that the other AI rifles and AICS platforms have which is important in preserving accuracy.

Of course there are celebrities of a sort here at Shot Show as well with R. Lee Ermey, the Gunnery Sergeant in Stanley Kubrick‘s movie Full Metal Jacket who was there for Glock and the famous six shooter Joe Bowman was signing posters and posing for photographs for Ruger. Joe is shown here with Beth, a photographer Aaron and I met at the show working on a project designed to document gun culture.

There was also lots of ammunition manufacturers present showing every kind of caliber you might imagine including environmentally friendly rounds without lead in the bullets.

Armalite was there showing off their wares including their version of the SASS rifle which came in second to Knights Armament Company primarily due to exiting contract and infrastructure arguments. While Armalite’s Super SASS is in .308, they also have a .223 caliber version, the mini SASS.

Barrett Firearms was showing off all of their wares including a more modern version of a rifle I used to own a bunch of years ago, the M82. Now Barrett appears to be shipping a ballistics computer semi-integrated into a Leupold scope giving you information on aim compensation, temperature and barometric pressure changes, all of which can affect shot placement.

Heckler & Koch was certainly present as they sell principally to the military and law enforcement communities. However, they also do a relatively brisk business selling sidearms to the civilian market. One notable advancement that H&K made was building a piston impingement design into an AR platform making for a more reliable, accurate rifle with less maintenance issues. The advent of this rifle design has certainly been interesting and controversial as it has outperformed competing gas operated designs currently used by our armed forces. The question to the military from many including senators has been why not replace the older M4 designs with the newer H&K piston designs given the dramatic improvements in reliability. It is a controversy that is still raging with the mainstream armed services though a number of special forces groups able to acquire their own preferred platforms are purchasing the H&K rifles. It is also interesting that this design has been around for a few years and many in the civilian markets have asked H&K to release the rifles into the civilian market, only to be rebuffed or even worse, ignored by corporate H&K. Granted some of this can be blamed on the first President Bush signing legislation that effectively curtailed much of H&Ks business in the USA along with many other arms manufacturers, but other companies have not stood still and most of the manufacturers of AR designed rifles are now marketing their own piston designs, effectively eating what could have been H&K’s breakfast, lunch and dinner. I talked with a current VP of marketing at the show and he insisted that there were no plans to release the HK 416 and HK 417 to the civilian market despite many rumors that H&K would. It’s too bad really as they are nice designs that are quality built with typically precise German engineering.

H&K also had on display their new HK45, a modification of their HK USP designs. I have quite a bit of time with the USP and have been reasonably happy with the design over the years, so did not understand what all the fuss was until I held this weapon. The HK45 has a new, slimmer grip and feels very much like an ergonomic 1911, one of the best sidearm designs ever. I don’t know if I will ever own one, but it is mighty impressive.

H&K also showed off their MP7, a personal defense weapon designed to replace both sidearms and carbines for many vehicle crews. It fires a proprietary 4.6X30mm round designed to penetrate body armor more effectively than current .223 rounds, yet still remain very compact.

One of the companies that is currently earning much of H&K’s potential business is FNUSA who has aggressively gone after the military, law enforcement and civilian markets with a number of their platforms. They had a big presence at the Shot Show and were even giving out schwag in the form of customized 9mm sidearms to journalists with our names on them who were covering the Shot Show. Since I was not able to make the media day shoot, I missed out on this little item. However that said, I am pretty seriously impressed with some of their other platforms including the SCAR. The SCAR won the US SOCOM competition for a new rifle for special forces back in 2003 and has been in continuous development ever since. Also, even though this is a gas-operated design, the SCAR it is a bit more evolved than the coelenterate like M4 which in a manner of speaking defecates where it eats. In contrast, the SCAR has separate chambers for gas blowback and round chambering and given that all internal parts are Teflon coated, the rifle only needs 3 drops of oil for lubrication. Interestingly, statistically the SCAR performed almost identically to the HK416 in all of the dust tests that showed the inherent weakness of the M4 design. FN has announced that this rifle platform will also be made available for civilian purchase with the .223 SCAR-L being made available in the summer of 08 and the .308 SCAR-H being available to civilian markets in early 09.

FN also showed their space age design carbines the P90 in both military and civilian forms as the PS90 and for everyone wanting to live out their Master Chief fantasy, FN has the bullpup design F2000 and FS2000. Also given the proliferation and understanding of the advantages that non-lethal weapon systems provide, FN also showed their FN 303.

Sig Sauer is also aggressively going after military, law enforcement and civilian markets with their product line. I have some limited experience with Sig designed weapon systems (mostly sidearms), but was pretty impressed with Sig’s new 556 DMR rifle with a 24″ hammer forged barrel. It is aggressively priced and I hope at some point to be able to spend some time with one.

GAPrecision shared a booth with Badger Ordinance. I own a GAPrecision rifle in an Accuracy International AICS and believe GAPrecision to be a seriously underrated talent in the gunsmithing business. They perform beautiful work representative of true craftsmanship and I cannot recommend them highly enough. Below is an image of one of their rifles with some Badger Ordinance “accessories” including a for laughs beverage holder that hooks onto a Picatinny rail.

Gemtech, a manufacturer of beautifully built suppressors up in Idaho showed off some of their wares including their suppressor for .45 and a really elegant box design for H&K’s MP7. There is a certain prejudice against suppressors here in the US as people think they are designed to fire guns surreptitiously. However, the reality is that they do not really “silence” the report so much as they dramatically reduce the sound of the report, and in fact, some more forward thinking European countries require suppressors to be used for target shooting so as to reduce noise pollution. There is another concern that I have with respect to non-suppressed firearms as well including the concussive effects of particularly larger caliber weapons. It is not uncommon for people who fire many rounds of larger caliber weapons unsuppressed to complain of headaches and other diffuse neurological symptoms. I worry about issues of retinal detachment as well of people who are required to fire these large caliber weapons with continuous exposure and wonder about the potential beneficial effectiveness of suppressors on their health. Anyone who has fired a suppressed weapon knows how much more pleasant, safe and accurate the experience is and I would hope that they would be more common in the future.

Knights Armament showed up with the full range of products including their contribution to the SASS crowd, the official SASS.

Aaron also interviewed both the principal engineer Nitin Naik and also the owner of Kahr Arms, Justin Moon, it turns out a son of the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. I won’t say much more about this interview here to allow Aaron to publish it on Danger Room first. Kahr also owns the Thompson gun design and is continuing to produce a modifed design rifle and now pistol for enthusiasts.

Magpul was one of the hotly anticipated exhibitors this year due to their new Masada rifle and people were stacked 3 and 4 deep around their booth. Apparently Magpul has licensed the production of the Masada to Bushmaster who will be making some modifications prior to production. I do not have any trigger time with this design, and it seems robust and well designed, but it is definitely lacking the refinement of the Sig, FN and H&K rifles. It will be interesting to see how their production rifles function.

Of course there are all sorts of technologies being demonstrated at Shot Show aside from firearms. Most notably, imaging in thermal and infrared scopes is quite popular now given that image intensification technology has allowed significant downsizing of the packages from just a few years ago. Thermal imaging scopes are quite expensive (~$20,000), but there are some users who can dramatically benefit from compact thermal imaging.

I mentioned that clothing manufacturers are present in great numbers at Shot Show. Mossy Oak was a particularly prominent exhibitor who had a model who could hold impressively still for long periods of time at their booth. He was quite friendly and Beth talked him up, getting him to pose while she took many pictures.

Aaron also interviewed the folks from First Choice Armor and in the interest of his interview being again, posted on Danger Room in the near future, I’ll refrain from saying much about it.

And what would a big trade show be without the booth babes? This particular woman actually does about 9 shows a year for Aimpoint and was most kind to Aaron and I as he chatted her up while I snapped a couple of pictures. It seems absurd really that companies should resort to this sort of exploitation, but I guess they know the statistics and can bring in people by installing promotional models. Nice trigger discipline by the way…

Finally, I give you Aaron and myself who worked so tirelessly reporting on this years Shot Show for Wired. Thanks Aaron and I’ll look forward to working with you in the future.

Categories: Events.

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One Response

  1. great blog! ran into it when looking for pics of a SIG 556.. couldn’t help myself from reading it :P
    You guys must have had the time of your lifes there

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