After several years break, this January, the planets aligned and at the very last minute, I was able to book my flights to attend the United States SHOT Show. For the sixth year running, it was held in Las Vegas, at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, which forms part of the huge Palazzo/Venetian casino complex.
Spanning four days, the SHOT - or Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade - Show is a yearly happening in the US, representing the largest such event in the world. The scale is absolutely amazing, with this year’s show attracting 64,000 attendees, which is second only in attendance to 2014’s massive 67,000.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), the trade association for the American firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting sports industry, owns and sponsors the event. “We know from long experience that attendance at the SHOT Show is a reflection of the state of our industry,” said NSSF senior vice president and chief marketing officer Chris Dolnack. “This second-highest attendance is in keeping with what we saw in the past year - that our industry is in good health and that manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers have a positive outlook for this year.”
The $8 billion industry has seen rapid growth in the past few years, powered by newcomers to the shooting sports. More than 20 per cent of firearms owners are in this category, in that they have purchased their first firearm within the past five years. Women continue to be an undeniable market force too. During the show, at a packed press conference, the NSSF released the report ‘Women Gun Owners: Purchasing, Perceptions and Participation’. Women - whose involvement in target shooting and hunting, as well as interest in owning a firearm, continues to grow rapidly - now purchase about 25 per cent of industry products.
More than 1600 exhibiting companies filled the convention centre and rooms in the adjoining Venetian Hotel. Total show exhibition space was more than 640,000 net square feet (13 acres) of product display, with more than 150 new companies exhibiting. That converts to 20km of aisles, which I would need to cover in the two days that I would have at the actual show. That’s a lot to take in, so please forgive me if I missed anything.
However, as one of 2500 media representatives attending, I was able to attend the Media Day at the Range the day before the main event on behalf of Australian Shooter. This is held about 40 minutes’ drive out of Las Vegas at Boulder Rifle and Pistol Club, where media can test shoot many new-release products, including a lot of products most Australians could only ever dream of owning due to our current regulations.
There were quite a few new bolt-action rifles that should prove popular in Australia. Winchester has a new budget-priced entry-model rifle to complement its Model 70 series. Low in price but high in features, the XPR rifle is an all-new design. It has a robust, full-diameter bolt featuring three locking lugs and 60-degree bolt lift. It is coated in Nickel Teflon and operates smoothly with no binding. The XPR receiver is made from precision-machined bar stock and the chromoly steel barrel is free floating, features a recessed target crown and is mated to the receiver, with a barrel nut allowing for fine tuning of headspace. An advance polymer stock with flat profile interface pads (bedding), an inflex technology recoil pad, removable box magazine and Winchester’s MOA trigger system finishes the rifle off. Available at launch in .270 Win, .30-06, .300WM or .338WM, expect a medium-length action and more calibre choices in the near future.
Ruger had an interesting new-calibre listing for its M77/17. Normally available in .17 Hornet, at the range day, we were able to shoot the M77/17 in the new .17WSM chambering, which looks much like the .17 Hornet and produces similar velocity, but is a rimfire, not centrefire case. Flat shooting and accurate, it should be a favourite with Aussie fox hunters. Expect rifles from Winchester, Savage and others in the near future for this hot little cartridge.
In its entry range American series rifles, Ruger also has the new Predator. Featuring power bedding, Ruger Marksman adjustable trigger, tang safety, flush fit rotary magazine, one-piece three-lug bolt with 70-degree throw and minute of angle accuracy, the Predator comes in a matte black finish in a moss green composite stock. It is available in a full range of medium calibres from .204 to .308, including our favourites, the .223 and .243.
Howa was launching its new Alpine Mountain Series rifle. This neat little carry rifle tips the scales at just 2.6kg (5.7lb) and features the HACT two-stage trigger system, Ammo Boost detachable magazine, Cerakote finish to the barrel and action, a High Tech lightweight stock with a Pachmayr Decelerator Pad and a three-position safety. It is available in .243, .308, 7mm-08 and 6.5 Creedmoor.
Also new for Howa is the Mini Action rifle, available in .204 and .223, with other short-action calibres to come. The chamber and bolt are 12 per cent shorter than a regular short action, with a shorter bolt throw for faster reloads. It should be a fantastic option for youth or just for those who like a compact, fast-handling rifle. You can also expect to see some exciting new finishes on existing Howa firearms.
Mossberg has an ever-increasing range of bolt guns, from the traditional to the wild. For the more traditional, the Patriot series comes in 11 popular calibre listings, including a new safari-style version in .375 Ruger. Patriot features include a Lightning Bolt Action (LBA) adjustable trigger, box magazine, fluted bolt and multiple stock finishes from walnut to camo.
In Mossberg’s MVP line-up there are no fewer than four new entries, including the MVP LR (Long Range), MVP LR Tactical, MVP Scout and my favourite, the MVP LC (Light Chassis). Available in 5.56mm (.223) or 7.62mm NATO (.308), the MVP LC combines the MVP platform with a lightweight target chassis and Magpul stock. These, I just can’t wait to shoot!
For those searching for a modern custom-built rifle along traditional lines, look no further than Fierce Firearms. The Fierce Edge features a proprietary carbon-fibre stock fitted with a LimbSaver recoil pad. It comes with a crisp 2¾lb adjustable trigger, three-position True-Lock safety, Triad bolt three-lug action with 70-degree lift, a mini-claw extractor with controlled-round feed, a four-round detachable box magazine and a match-grade, hand-lapped, stainless steel fluted barrel. Finished with Last Guard Cerakote coating, the rifle weighs in at between 6.8 and 7lb and is guaranteed to deliver half MOA accuracy. Each rifle comes with a test target to back up the guarantee and if required, specific load information is supplied for best grouping. The Edge can be upgraded to a C3 carbon barrel with a titanium e-brake (muzzle brake) reducing weight by ½lb, reported to give longer shot-to-shot accuracy and 30 per cent more barrel life. The Australian importer has promised a rifle for review on arrival.
Out at the range, the upgraded Kriss Vector SMG proved popular. There’s something about firing suppressed .45 ACP rounds at 1200rpm with no recoil that never seems to become tiring and the Gen 2 version is just a good thing better. The new 9mm version promises to be faster and softer to shoot.
The CMMG MK47 Mutant is a ‘Frankengun’ mix of AR15 and AK47, delivering American shooters the best of both worlds of AR ergonomics and accuracy, with the power of the 7.62x39mm AK47 round. This manufacturer had pistols galore, but all were too short in the barrel, too small or were too quiet (suppressed) to comply with Australian regulations.
For air rifle fans, I was strangely drawn to the Crosman stand at the range when I heard of a .357 airgun that had performed successfully on a recent African plains game hunt. The Benjamin Bulldog PCP air rifle did exactly that, firing a 145-grain slug at 700fps. It shot straight and was very quiet, which is impressive for an airgun. Still, I don’t think I will be heading to Africa myself with the ballistic equivalent of a .38 Webley revolver!
On the handgun front, offerings were many, but only a few would pass Australian regulatory requirements. Even many of the full-sized handguns failed to meet the minimum 5" (127mm) barrel length requirements for sports handgun use and with the US market predominated by compact carry-style handguns, much of what was new was not relevant to our Australian market, with the exception of the security and law enforcement sectors. That said, there were a few interesting products.
Following from the Smith & Wesson CORE (Competition Optics Ready Equipment) concept of an inletted slide to accept RMR-style red dot optics, Glock has countered with its MOS (Modular Optic System). Available in Gen4 production G34, G35, G41 and new G40 handguns, such as the Smith & Wesson variant, it comes with various adapter plates to accept most popular RMR-style reflex sights. I experienced the system first-hand at the range day and it works a treat, particularly when coupled with the new Gen4 G40 in 10mm Auto. The G34 version in 9mm meets Australian civilian requirements for barrel length.
Back over at Smith & Wesson, the M&P Ported series has taken the CORE concept to the next level by adding porting to the slide with a matched ventilated barrel. Influenced by the guys at Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center, these handguns also come with an adjustable trigger stop to control overtravel. They are available in both 9mm and .40 S&W in 4.25" and long-slide 5" variants. This latter version is most important for Aussie shooters, as it makes it a fully Australian civilian-compliant handgun in 9mm. I shot the M&P Ported at the range and it was an absolute delight, but I am a self-proclaimed M&P pistol fan! Smith & Wesson will also be releasing some fresh finishes for its M&P pistols, including standard black, Carbon Fibre or Flat Dark Earth (FDE).
Popular with Aussie target pistol shooters and relaunched for 2015 is the all-new Ruger Charger. Available in two models, it now comes in a standard configuration or a take-down version. I’m not entirely sure about the need to make something just 489mm (19.25") shorter again, but I guess the take-down version will be easy to transport. Gone is the full timber/laminate stock with integral pistol grip, now replaced with a conglomerate of timber/laminate stock with an AR-style replaceable pistol grip. The 10/22 family, of which the Charger is a part, has always been popular as kit or customisable guns. This change to the pistol grip opens up the handgun to literally thousands of different styles of ergonomic grips to be fitted at the owner’s discretion. The new gun also comes with a 15-round mag, which no doubt will have to be swapped out for a 10-rounder for Australian import.
I have to apologise to our shotgun enthusiasts. It wasn’t as if there were not any new shotgun variants to report on. I’m sure they were there, but they largely got lost in the throng of pump-action and self-loading variants, which again have limited availability in the Australian market. If you are a left-handed feral animal controller or primary producer, Mossberg’s dedicated left-handed 500 series pump-action might do the trick though.
Standard Manufacturing’s DP12 bullpup-designed, double-barrelled, pump-action shotgun was something different too. The shooter can load the two parallel magazine tubes with eight 3" 12-gauge shells per tube for 16 rounds total, then pump once, fire twice and then repeat until the gun is empty.
Only in America
Finally, I’d like to end my SHOT Show review with a little Americana. Every time I go overseas, I have to find at least one ‘only in America’ item. This year, I found two I could hardly choose between, so it’s virtually a tie. First, as the perfect companion to your DP-12 shotgun, comes the Arsenal Firearms AF-2011 - the world’s first double-barrelled 1911 pistol. It was more akin to two 1911 pistols fused together. A single double-barrelled slide with left and right ejection ports sits atop of a double thickness frame with joined double hammers and a very wide but single trigger. The double magwell contains two single-stack 1911 magazines that are joined at the base plate. Each pull of the trigger emits two rounds as both barrels fire in unison. Interestingly, this gun is actually made in Italy.
So perhaps that leaves the winner of the Americana award to the all-US-made Nature Tree Trunk Blind. Yes, in a country where if you make it, someone will buy it, you can now pay for your own super-sized plastic oak tree stump hunting blind. Bigger than a rich kid’s cubby house, once in place, you simply sneak in and relax. It is carpeted, so you won’t make any noise as you stretch out in absolute tree stump luxury. When your unsuspecting game comes wandering past, you need to just poke your double-barrelled 1911 out of one of the seven available shooting ports and you will be in jerky heaven for the next 12 months. How much, you might ask? Well, all this can be yours for just $US3995 ($AU5038). Only in America!
The products mentioned herein may or may not be listed for release to the Australian market, so for more information, inquire with your local gun dealer or google the subject for importers.