SHOT Show 2017: A View from the Dark Side

SHOT Shows are important, not only because they display what people have to sell, but also because they are a … Continued

SHOT Shows are important, not only because they display what people have to sell, but also because they are a gauge of how people are thinking. So it’s worth taking one last backward glance at the 2017 extravaganza.

At just under 65,000 attendees, this year’s SHOT Show was only a couple thousand short of the record, which was set in 2014. Overall, the mood was one of galactic relief, as though an asteroid the size of the one that put paid to the dinosaurs had just missed the Earth by the length of a football field. The euphoria left some people bemused. One observer, who works for a scope company, said, “Everyone assumed that Hillary was going to win, and now everyone is wondering what they’re going to do with all the ARs and ammo they bought.”

Probably, they’ll keep on buying guns and ammo at the same rate but for much different reasons.

If you count the National Sporting Goods Association show, which was the predecessor to SHOT, this was my 43rd, so I know a thing or two because I’ve seen a thing or two. The crowd has, shall we say, evolved. At this one it was homogeneous in the extreme: male, 30s or 40s, spent lots and lots of time in the gym with the heavy weights, T-shirt to prove it, lots of tattoos, and what John Snow calls a “battle beard,” a full one as opposed to what I wear. Many of the attendees tried to create the aura of someone who had been to the Sandbox and served with special ops. The guy sitting next to me on the bus out to Range Day apparently jabbered nonstop about his time with SEAL Team Six. I say “apparently” because other people told me. Being deaf is not all bad.

I didn’t get to find out if he had shot Bin Laden because the bus driver went down a road that was blocked by a sign that said “Do Not Go Down This Road” and got the bus stuck. We all got off and walked the rest of the way. I will doubtless find out when his book comes out. So many SEALS were the one who shot Bin Laden that I’m surprised there was anything left to throw in the ocean.

At the range itself, you heard far more pop-pop-pop than just plain bang. Full auto is in. Suppressors are in. Muzzle brakes are ubiquitous. I’m all for suppressors. If they had been available to civilians all this time, I might be able to hear the pseudo-SEALs in the seat next to me.

As for the show itself, shooting has turned a corner, and to appreciate it, we have to look at some history. After our various 20th century wars, there were huge numbers of veterans, and tons of surplus equipment, and firearms beyond counting that came on the market. And yet the military stuff and the military attitude never percolated into the civilian market.

Hunters bought all sorts of surplus because it was dirt cheap and worked fairly well, but you never saw people in the deer woods who looked like they just got back from Anzio, or the Chosin Reservoir, or Pleiku. Ironically, military surplus was a great favorite among liberal students because it said “I am so poor that I have to wear Army surplus, and therefore I am admirable and virtuous, as well as highly educated.”

The rifles themselves were bought for conversion (Springfields, Mausers, Enfields) or kept as souvenirs, or shot at tin cans. It was a standard boast among veterans that they would put their M-1 under a rain spout and sit there drinking beer and watching until it rusted away. If you wanted a hunting rifle, you got a Model 70, or a Remington 700, or a Marlin lever gun. Not a Garand.

But not now. We’ve been at war, more or less nonstop, for 27 years with no end in sight. And despite the fact that only one percent of the population is involved at any time, the duration of the conflicts seems to have done what large-scale participation could not: The military/tactical influence has now taken over SHOT. This is not AKs being displayed on a lower floor (which once created a great stench and uproar); this is the whole enchilada. The M/T influence extends from clothing to equipment to the guns themselves.

The dominant new-rifle form this year seems to be a hybrid. Generically, it’s a multi-purpose gun that’s either a bolt-action or an AR with a chassis stock, a stiff (No. 3 to No. 5 contour) barrel, chambered in .308 or 6.5 Creedmoor (my goodness, how the Creedmoor has taken off all of a sudden), and is designed for hunting, or shooting at a target match, or shooting for social reasons. They’re priced in the $1,000 to $1,800 range, which seems to be another barrier we have quietly broken. Time was, that was major money.

I shot, I think, six, and they are very, very good rifles. There’s not one of them that I could not get ½-minute of angle from with a little time at the range. All of them show a good deal of thought. Savage’s new gun, the MSR, in particular, is not the result of “My god we better get a black gun out there; the market is passing us by.” The MSR is a thoroughly rethought firearm; Savage’s engineers did a lot of subtle modification to cut down on the weight and bulk. The MSR 10 hunter, which is what I shot, is a full-size rifle, not a carbine, but weighs only 8 pounds without scope and feels compact. To get a decent camera angle I shot it right-handed and still got 10 hits out of ten shots. It’s a very easy rifle to hit with.

Savage even incorporated a 5R barrel. This refers to a rifling configuration invented by a barrelmaker named Boots Obermeyer, which employs five lands and grooves rather than four or six, with land facing groove rather than land facing land, and slanted corners on the lands that don’t allow fouling a place to build up. The gospel was that 5R barrels could be produced only by cut rifling, and no factory that I know of cut-rifles anymore, but Savage has figured out a way to do it with a button, and more power to them.

The merits of 5R are still being debated, but the fact that Savage went to the trouble of including it in the MSR series says a great deal. These guys are serious. So is everyone else. Some may deplore the changes coming to the sport, but we’re getting some terrific rifles out of all of it.

And a note on “Modern Sporting Rifle.” This term is a form of political correctness whose use is encouraged so that people will not say “black rifle” or “powerful assault rifle,” or “automatic rifle.” I try not to use it because I dislike political correctness no matter who is behind it.

And a note on terminology. Back in the 1990s a Department of Defense news release referred to bullets as “lethality mechanisms.” I didn’t think I would live to see its equal. However, this year’s Bergara catalog refers to rifles as “dispatchment tools,” which I think is just as wonderful. Who knows what will come next?