== Before you go ==
What’s the weather going to be? Is the show indoors or outdoors? If indoors, is it air conditioned (i.e. comfortable or cool) or not (i.e. warm or hot and stuffy)? If it is outdoors, take appropriate items such as a hat, sunscreen, etc. Wear appropriate clothing that will keep you comfortable. This includes a good pair of shoes because you will be walking – a lot. Before you get dressed, have a shower and use some deodorant. You will be spending the day in close proximity of a lot of people. This is not the time to be stinky . . .
If at all possible, take cash with you. Cash is king at gun shows because it will help you get a better price for two main reasons:
* Some vendors won’t charge you tax if you pay cash.
* Some vendors won’t charge you an extra 3-4% credit card surcharge if you pay cash.
Wear a backpack
Take a backpack with you. It lets you transport anything (well, most things) you buy and keep your hands free.
Bring a dolly or hand truck
If you plan on buying ammo, bring some kind of dolly or hand truck. Hauling hundreds or thousands of rounds of ammo by hand around the gun show for hours and then back to the car is a pain in the ass. A doohickey with wheels makes it a lot easier.
Bring your own water. Either wear a hydration carrier or put a few bottles of water in your backpack. It keeps you hydrated and feeling better while walking around for hours. It also helps suppress hunger so you’re less likely to eat overpriced junk food at the show.
Look for a coupon
A lot of gun shops have coupons for upcoming gun shows for a buck off of the entry fee. Alternatively, you can often either get the coupon directly online or even buy your ticket online for a reduced price. Spend five minutes online before you go to find the coupon or buy a ticket.
Take your cell phone.
It is really helpful to take a cell phone, especially a smart phone. It lets you
* find your spouse or buddies if you get separated
* do research online about prices/features/markings/etc.
* take photos of items, price tags/booths
Take your wallet
Make sure you bring your wallet with your cash, credit cards, valid driver license, and concealed carry permit if you have one. Forgetting your wallet entirely or one or more of these items can quickly turn it into a bad trip.
Prepare your sale
If you are an individual visiting a gun show and want to sell a firearm, first understand the law and be sure that what you are doing is legal in your state or city! Law enforcement visits and monitors gun shows. Don’t get into trouble! Do your research before you go.
Assuming it is legal to sell your item, do the following:
* Clean the item, for pete’s sake! Nobody wants to buy something that’s filthy. You’ll greatly increase your chances of selling the item by making it as presentable as you can. Twenty minutes of elbow grease can mean many extra dollars in your pocket.
* Print a legible sign in large letters. Do not handscribble on a piece of cardboard. Type it out on a PC, use a very large font, print it, stick it to the wall and stand 20 feet away from it. Can you still read it? Does it attract attention? Make it good. Attach the sign to your backpack and the front of your shirt for maximum exposure.
* If it’s a firearm, ensure it is unloaded.
* Look through your closet and see if you still have the box, paper work, manual, original parts you replaced/upgraded, any accessories, etc. – anything that makes the item more attractive to a potential buyer.
* If the item is heavy or you have multiple items, consider putting them on a dolly or hand truck for easier transporting.
Get a sitter
If you have babies or toddlers, do not take them to the gun show – get a sitter! They have no place at the gun show, they won’t enjoy it, they will hate the noise, they will make your experience miserable, they will piss off other visitors. Not appropriate.
A couple of months ago, there was a couple that brought their two toddlers pushing them through narrow isles packed with people in a double stroller! Unbelievable!
Get a buddy to come with
Depending on your personal preferences, you might enjoy going by yourself. However, a lot of people like going with friends and making it a social event. Consider inviting a friend to make the outing more fun. Also, if you are planning on buying something but are not very comfortable/confident about it, bring along a knowledgeable friend you can trust to help you out.
A buddy can help you spot the item you are looking for, help you find the best deal, and and act as your conscience if you’re about to do something stupid.
Plan your arrival
If you want to buy ammo, go on the first day and arrive at least an hour early to get in line. What little ammo is to be had right now, sells out within the first few hours.
If you don’t need ammo, but are hoping to buy guns or other items, go on the first day but arrive an hour after opening time. This way you avoid the initial rush but are still early enough to have the full selection.
If you are going just for fun, not really planning on buying anything, or looking for a cheap bargain, go on the last day. Chances are there will be less people and vendor might be a bit more likely to make you a deal for an item that didn’t sell.
== Parking ==
At some shows you might have to pay for parking at the venue. A lot of times you can park for less by not parking directly at the venue but across the street, or park for free a block or two away in a side street if you’re willing to walk a little bit.
When you park your car, make sure it is empty inside and does not have anything in plain sight that is valuable or might indicate that you have guns or ammo in the car. Put your stuff in the trunk to make your car a less likely target for burglary.
Keep in mind that you cannot carry a loaded gun or loaded magazines into a gun show. Either lock up your carry gun in the car or safely unload it, store the ammo in the glove box, and carry the empty gun with you.
== Entry ==
If you carry a gun, you have to get it checked and zip-tied. There should be multiple safety check stations at the entry where somebody will check that your gun is empty and then zip-tie the action. Depending at what time you arrive, you might have to wait in line a little while for the safety check.
== Browsing ==
Get a rough idea of the layout of the show before you start browsing. Find out how many buildings/rooms/areas there are so you can schedule your time if you only have a few hours.
If you plan to see everything, have a system for browsing. Start at one building/room/area. Methodically serpentine your way through each, using the grid layout to your advantage.
When browsing, try to adhere to the flow of traffic through the isles. Stay on the right, be aware of people around you, and be patient if the place is packed. Don’t storm through the isles like a rhino on speed, and don’t stop in the middle of the isle to have an in depth discussion with your buddy about last night’s game. Be courteous to other visitors.
When you find something you might be interested in, do not buy it immediately – period! The only exception is if it’s the “one-in-a-million unbelievable deal of the century this will never ever happen again and the guy behind me will grab this the moment I turn my back on this and I am dead certain of it and will regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t get this RIGHT NOW!”
Do not buy anything until you have browsed the entire gun show. Chances are multiple vendors have the item you’re interested in for different prices. You can save yourself quite some money if you comparison shop first.
If private sales are legal, be sure to check out the individuals outside the gun show and/or roaming the venue, trying to sell guns. You might get a better deal from them instead.
When you find something you might want, make a note to yourself of the item, its price, the vendor, and the location so you can compare later and find your way back to it if you need to. A camera phone comes in handy for this. If you take photos, either do it inconspicuously or ask politely for permission so you don’t piss people off.
When you find something you are interested in but have questions about it, you can ask the vendor but take the response with a salt lick! It could be that
* the vendor will tell you anything you want to hear to make that sale
* the vendor does not know and just makes something up on the spot
* the vendor does not know and honestly says so
* the vendor does know and gives you a honest and correct answer
Do your research either at home or find a quiet corner and use your smart phone to find the answer before you purchase.
Always ask if you can handle the firearm before doing so. If you got permission to handle it, you should still ask for permission to operate the action, dry fire it, or disassemble it.
When you do handle a firearm, follow the safety rules. Treat the gun as if it was loaded, keep your finger off the trigger, and always point the muzzle in a safe direction.
Treat the vendors and their wares with respect. They went through a lot of time and effort to put their stuff on display there. Try putting yourself in their place. You probably wouldn’t like countless strangers disrespecting your property or wasting your time with stupid questions or pointless arguments.
== Buying ==
When you decide to buy something, consider the following tips:
Talk to the vendor about the item. Get a feel for the deal. If the vendor is friendly, answers your questions about the item and maybe even its history where applicable, allows you to dry fire, helps you disassemble, hands you a bore light for bore inspection, etc. it goes a long way to help make a confident decision. On the other hand, if the vendor is rude, doesn’t answer questions, does not allow dry fire or disassembly, or lies to you, then you know it’s time to walk away.
Having a friendly chat with the vendor can help. Of course you don’t want to waste his time or talk his ear off. Establishing a little rapport can be helpful though. Be friendly, polite, respectful, and try to make a quick connection.
For example: today I looked at a German pistol. I mentioned that I am from Germany, and it turned out he had noticed my faint accent and was wondering about it. We had a little chat, established a little rapport, and I ended up getting a better price on the pistol and not getting charged the credit card surcharge.
Almost every price at the gun is negotiable. Well, maybe not that $5 bag of beef jerky, but you get the idea. If you ask politely and/or make a reasonable offer, chances are the vendor takes a few bucks off.
Ask whether the marked price is the cash or credit price if it is not obvious. If it is already the cash price, you can try to haggle it down a little bit. If it is the credit price, ask what discount he can offer if you pay cash instead. If the vendor normally charges tax, ask if they can skip that if you pay cash. Note: This does not work for all items.
The worst that can happen is that the vendor gives you a polite “No, sorry, I can’t go lower than that.”
What usually happens is that you get a better price and walk away happy.
Show your CCW
In some states, you can significantly speed up the purchase of a firearm at the gun show if you present your valid and current CCW in addition to your DL because it bypasses the background check. It’s less hassle for the vendor and they usually greatly appreciate it.
== Exit ==
If you plan to come back later or the next day, you can usually get your hand stamped so you don’t have to pay again for entry when you return. This also works if you want to take your heavy or bulky item back to the car, and then return to browse the rest of the show.