February 3rd, 2010

SHOT Show Report: Final Thoughts on the 2010 Show

Today we wrap up our coverage of the 2010 Shot Show. Jason and I visited scores of booths, inspected hundreds of new products and interviewed dozens of industry insiders and “old friends”. We can’t package all the highlights into a single blog post, but here are some “short takes” on SHOT Show items of interest — the new stuff we really liked and some odd but noteworthy elements of the “Shot Show Experience”.

Most Important New Technology — Burris LaserScope
AccurateShooter.com doesn’t give product awards, but if we did, the new Eliminator LaserScope from Burris would be a leading candidate for “Best in Show” honors. This unit employs modern technology to make the shooter’s job easier. A built-in laser rangefinder finds the distance to your target. Then the scope consults a ballistics table, pre-programmed for your cartridge. The scope’s “brain” calculates the precise holdover for your ranged target distance and displays a bright, red dot on the vertical cross-hair. That dot is your calculated correct point of aim. Just put the red dot on the target and squeeze the trigger. For a varmint hunter, this scope could be the best thing since sliced bread. Shoot all week and never touch the elevation knob. We just wish the Eliminator was offered in a higher-power version — say a 6-24×50. Currently the Eliminator is offered only as a 4-12x42mm optic. The Eliminator is far from perfect, but its technology really could render other conventional hunting riflescopes obsolete.

Burris Eliminator riflescope

Important Brass Developments
For Benchrest shooters, the big news was Norma’s introduction of 6 PPC brass. According to Lou Murdica, who has tested the early production brass, this new brass is “outstanding” and is fully competitive with cases fire-formed from Lapua 220 Russian brass. Norma’s production of 6 PPC brass demonstrates that the Swedish company is very serious about benchrest shooting and the American market. We had a long, productive conversation with the CEO of Norma, and we could tell he is committed to expanding Norma’s place in the American market. Expect some major developments in the months ahead, including a joint project with AccurateShooter.com. Norma also showed us the 300 Norma case which we feel will eventually be an important chambering for long-range shooters. This case has “just right” capacity to drive the 200+ grain, high-BC 30-caliber bullets.

Norma 6mm PPC brass

Unnoticed Excellence — The Barrel-Makers
Flashy new products get the media attention at SHOT Show every year. But we think the most important “back story” involves American barrel-makers. If you want to do a story on EXCELLENCE in today’s gun industry, you need to focus on the elite barrel-makers. Companies such as Bartlein, Broughton, and Krieger continue to make better barrels every year, with new features such as gain-twist rifling, and 5R rifling. Just this Friday, I witnessed a .308 “tactical” rifle with a new Krieger 5R barrel fire two successive three-shot groups that were each just a ragged hole — and the first two out of three shots in each group literally went through the same hole at 100 yards. And that was during barrel break-in with an untested load and untrimmed brass “right out of the box”. America’s top “boutique” barrel-makers are now producing extraordinarily good products, yet they are rarely mentioned by the popular print gun magazines. At a time when we see recall notices from companies such as Ruger and Remington on a regular basis, our American custom barrel makers are building the best barrels in the world, indeed the best barrels ever made.

A Contrast in Style — American vs. European Optics-Makers
Among the major optics makers, the difference between American and European marketing styles was painfully obvious. Leupold and Burris had fast-talking, glad-handing salesmen, who, for the most part, knew very little about their product line and even less about optics engineering. By contrast, Zeiss and Schmidt & Bender staffed their booths with real optics engineers with Ph.Ds, many of whom were directly involved in the design of the products on display. At Zeiss we spent nearly an hour talking with Stephan Albrecht, the German engineer in charge of the new 20-75X Diascope spotting scope and the new Diavari Flourite riflescopes. During our conversations with Stephan he actually solicited our feedback, took careful notes and promised to explore some of our suggestions. We also were able to share our field test results directly with Eric Schumacher, President of Carl Zeiss Optical, USA. By contrast, Leupold’s decision makers and top-level engineers were nowhere to be found, and when we voiced our (now annual) plea that Leupold stop building scopes with canted reticles, we were greeted with nothing but blank stares. Leupold’s reps couldn’t comprehend the canted reticle problem, even after I pulled a scope (with 3° canted reticle) off their display rack and showed them.

Schmidt & Bender

Federal FCPA Sting Rocks SHOT Show
In the mainstream media, SHOT Show 2010 will be remembered for one thing — the “Big Bust”. On January 20th, FBI agents arrested 22 gun industry employees and executives for alleged violations of the FCPA (Foreign Corrupt Practices Act). Those arrested, including one of Smith & Wesson’s Vice Presidents, were charged with trying to bribe FBI agents posing as African government officials. This “high-visibility” bust culminated a DOJ sting operation two years in the making that involved 250 federal agents.

Accuracy… Who Needs Accuracy?
There’s a curious thing about SHOT Show. It’s touted as the greatest gunshow in the galaxy, but one thing is sorely missing — really accurate rifles. Heaven forbid there would be a true benchrest rifle or rail gun on display! Many of our readers own more true 1/4-MOA rifles than you’ll find at the entire SHOT Show. We know this is a trade show, but still you’d think somebody would want to show off a really impressive rifle — say the National Championship-winning F-Class rifle or a record-setting rail gun. It would be like having a Top Fuel dragster on display at a car show. But no, what we have instead are acres upon acres of 1-2 MOA factory guns. That’s disappointing to say the least. It’s sort of like going to an air show only to discover the Blue Angles have cancelled and there won’t be any jets at all.

Pop Stars vs. Legendary Marksmen
At every SHOT Show, I’m struck by some odd ironies. This year I walked past one booth which was absolutely mobbed with people trying to meet an attractive young female celebrity — a contestant from American Idol. Fighting through the throng, I continued down the aisle to the McMillan booth. There was David Tubb, quietly chatting with a McMillan rep. Mind you, David is an 11-time National High Power Champion. He has also won National Silhouette titles and scores of other matches. He is arguably the greatest competitive rifle shooter in American history. Yet hundreds of people walked by without even noticing David. Think of the irony. Imagine if Michael Jordan was sitting in a booth at a sports convention. The place would be mobbed. Yet David has certainly dominated his sport the way Jordan dominated basketball. Jordan won six NBA Championships. Tubb has won ELEVEN National Championships (and he’s not done yet). Yet the vast majority of SHOT attendees don’t seem to care about legends like David Tubb, or about shooting excellence in general… they would rather wait in line to meet a “wannabee” from American Idol than learn something from a truely legendary marksman. Sometimes I DO wonder about our priorities.

Too Many Black Rifles?
After Obama was elected in November 2008, there was a surge in demand for semi-auto, military-style rifles, partcularly AR-platform rifles. Manufacturers of all sizes, from Remington/Bushmaster, to small fabricators, ramped up production of AR uppers, lowers, and complete rifles. Now, 15 months later, demand is slacking off, and there is an over-abundance of ARs. We perceived a notable lack of interest in AR rifles at SHOT Show, unless they had some new bells and whistles. Retailers seemed much more interested in big-bore bolt guns and handguns, or in the completely new semi-auto designs such as Remington’s ACR.

Bring Back the Convention Center
For 2010, SHOT Show was hosted at the Sands Expo Center, behind the Venetian Hotel complex, instead of the Las Vegas Convention Center. On paper, this seemed like a good move. The Sands Expo is nearer the strip and closer to popular hotels. In practice, the Sands Expo proved a poor location for SHOT Show. Outside the main hall, booths were crammed into conference areas with low ceilings and bad lighting. A very large number of exhibitors were assigned to the first-floor “Dungeon”. There, access was difficult, the lighting was bad, and low ceilings and concrete floors worsened the background noise problem.

Just getting into SHOT show was a challenge. For the majority of visitors staying in hotels on the strip, one had to walk through the maze-like interior of the Venetian to get to the Show. This was annoying to say the least. On 3 out of 4 days I took at least one wrong turn, and on Day 2 I got thoroughly lost. I saw plenty of folks with SHOT Show badges walking in circles, completely disoriented — the Venetian is a building where you can’t walk in a straight line for more than 150 feet or so. And once inside the SHOT Show proper it was very easy to get lost as well. Pete Brownell was heard to say that he needed a map just to find his own booth.

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