SHOT 2013: After-Action Review

Farago remarked that this year’s big story about the SHOT Show was that the SHOT Show wasn’t the big story this year. The man is correct: politics completely hijacked the agenda and the zeitgeist of what should have been the biggest and best party in the industry. And big it was: 630,000 square feet of exhibition space, with 62,000 registered attendees. No wonder it felt crowded: that’s only a little more than one square yard per person . . .

But despite the crowds, the party-like atmosphere just wasn’t in the air this year. The chill started with the subarctic Media Day At The Range and the mood stayed cool even after the weather warmed up. Last year’s heady collective sense that we’re winning was replaced by grim speculation about whether gun rights would even survive the current political climate.

There wasn’t even any free beer in the press room, although Coast Knives (bless their kindly souls) still rolled out their own malt-beverage welcome wagon every afternoon at 4:30.

But enough pop psychology; here’s my wrap-up of how the industry put its best foot forward at SHOT 2013:

Rifles

Last year the SHOT Show was packed wall-to-wall with modern sporting rifles, all available for immediate purchase. This year? Not so much. Everybody and their uncle is making ARs, but nobody has any to sell. The production backlog is so bad that some high-end AR customers (who already sent in their deposits) have been told not to expect their rifles before early 2014.

The Tavor shines as one bright spot in the modern sporting rifle gloom, but politics and policy leave its future uncertain. This year, every silver lining has a dark cloud inside it.

Precision rifles continue to gain in popularity and precision. And price. Consumer-level hunting rifles like the Ruger American Rifle and the Remington 770 seem to get cheaper and more accurate at the same time, but they’re dull to look at and uninspiring to handle. They may indeed be the bolt-actions of the future, but I think I’ll stay in the past with my all-steel Model 700s.

Handguns

There were many new pistol SKUs on display this year, but very few new pistols. SIG Sauer offers more trigger configurations and finish options. Glock tweaked their grips and slides. S&W improved the M&P triggers. Some guns got downsized (Ruger’s LC380) and others got super-sized (Ruger’s SR-45 and the FNS Longslides).

I didn’t personally handle every handgun at the show (which would have taken weeks) but the only truly ‘new’ design I saw was the First Strike 9mm from Arsenal. The importer of record hasn’t received approval to bring them into the country for commercial sale, but she’s confident they’ll be in-country by Q3. Here’s hoping.

Shotguns

Turkey is producing an insane quantity of shotguns at a quality level and price point that put 1990s Chinese boomsticks to shame. These are probably the best of days for affordable pump shotguns, just like 2011-2012 were the best of times for ARs. Even if you don’t fancy one of these Turkish imports, their prices and numbers are keeping US-made shotguns more affordable. If you don’t already have a serviceable shotgun, there’s no excuse not to get one. And I mean right now.

Optics

Red dots haven’t changed much from last year. Long-range optics continue to evolve, and they’re bigger and better than ever before with 34mm main tubes and complex (but useful) milrad reticles that let you adjust your hold without touching the turrets. Computer-aided long-range scopes have taken huge leaps in practicality, although they’re still priced out of reach for almost all of us.

Low-powered variable scopes have crossed a major threshold: true 1.0x magnification at the bottom end is now common and affordable. This may start to cannibalize the reflex sight market, since 1-4x illuminated variables like the Bushnell ‘Throw Down PCL‘ give you a red dot and a magnified scope for $200. They can also keep you out of the ‘unlimited’ class of 3-gun setups, which means you won’t get eliminated quite so quickly.

Ammunition

Politics and policy continue to dominate the ammo headlines, just as they dominate almost everything else. The biggest story about ammunition is its scarcity compared to past years: 9×19 and 7.62×51 are hard to find in quantity, and 5.56×45 is simply gone.

Manufacturers are pushing their production lines as hard and fast as they can safely go, but don’t expect any big new players to enter the market. Russian makers are branching out into new U.S. sporting calibers, but those plans are being delayed while they crank out 5.56 and 7.62 rounds as fast as they can.

A few new calibers were introduced this year, but manufacturers need to face facts: the last new cartridge to really find its niche was the .17 HMR and that was 10 years ago. The brand-new .17 Winchester Super Magnum and the .22 TCM (not quite brand new) seem to perform well ballistically, but I wouldn’t bet any of my gun money on their long-term success. The odds are stacked against any new cartridge that doesn’t have huge military contracts behind it, and the still-niche 5.7 shows that even that is no guarantee.

Accessories

Soft-sided guitar cases and tennis racket bags have morphed into range gear and SHTF bags, and your neighbors will never know the difference. I think this is one of those face-palming “why didn’t I think of that?” great ideas, and I expect they’ll sell like crazy.

Zombies

Last year I was so sick of zombies I could puke, but this year the undead were basically just dead. I don’t really miss them, but I’d happily put up with all those stupid flourescent-green doodads if it meant that ARs and ammo were cheap and available again. And that NY, MA, CT, CA, NJ and other states weren’t trying to declare themselves unconstitutionally ‘gun-free’ states.

Well, that’s it. I’ve still got one or two articles to polish up and post over the next few days, but all the good SHOT Show stuff has been published already. After more than 200 articles published over the last week, I certainly hope we’ve gotten it covered by now.

Thanks for sticking with us!