The dust has finally settled after the annual pilgrimage to the SHOT Show, and after spending the week looking at new firearms and other products, I can say that I was pleasantly surprised. Going into the weeklong event in Vegas, I wouldn’t say the industry’s mood was grim, but it certainly couldn’t be called upbeat either. Gun sales were down this last year—off by as much as 30 percent for some of the major players—and given the uncertainty of the political climate and condition of the economy, particularly with respect to manufacturing, I would have predicted that most gun makers would have hunkered down, adopting a wait-and-see attitude with respect to rolling out new products.
Instead, we’re seeing many companies push ahead with new offerings, capitalizing on some of the key trends among shooters and hunters. These are the key highlights.
Ultralight rifles hold a fascination for hunters and shooters that far outweighs their actual need. Of course, many hunters venture into vertical country in pursuit of game, and for these sportsmen the tradeoffs inherent in a mountain rifle are worth it. Taking extra weight out of a rifle is virtue—to a point. While a sub-6-pound rifle makes for a nice marketing talking point, the fact is that featherweight rifles recoil harder, have a more difficult time keeping their shots in tight groups, and tend to be more finicky in how they operate.
That said, hunters still find the platform appealing, even if their trek to their favorite spot is a short walk down a flat two-track, rather than a scramble up a 30-degree scree field.
Gun makers continue to trot out models to scratch this itch. Bergara has a new Mountain series that looks to be a well-made bolt gun, in keeping with the quality of their other high-end rifles. Christensen Arms has the new Ridgeline Titanium, that has a carbon-fiber barrel and a titanium receiver. The Kimber Open Range Pro Carbon sports a carbon-fiber barrel from Proof Research. Weatherby’s Backcountry Ti is a lovely wisp of a thing that was introduced late last year. And, perhaps most interesting, is the new Sig Sauer Cross, a 6.5-pound rifle that’s built on a tactical-looking chassis system.
What started as a trickle a few years ago when a handful of handgun makers like Smith & Wesson began to offer optics-ready semiautos, has now become a flood. Slides with milled-out areas to accept red-dot sights are nearly ubiquitous. Examples of newcomers to the red-dot craze include Walther’s Q4 SF (for steel frame), a more compact concealed-carry version of the Q5 competition gun they trotted out last year; the HK VP9 Update, which is now available in the U.S.; NEMO’s Monarch MK-9, which is the rifle company’s first foray into pistol production; and the SCCY DVG-1RD, which is an affordable, compact 9mm with a price tag of just $389.
While the long-range precision centerfire market is still hot, it is the long-range rimfire market that is poised to explode this year. It makes perfect sense. With limited places to stretch out a high-power centerfire rifle to 1,000-yards and beyond—to say nothing of the eye-popping cost that goes into building these rigs and keeping them fed with match-quality components—the appeal of shooting rimfire versions of these rifles is easy to see. Just the notion of no longer needing to reload is nearly enough to make me a convert.
Ruger’s new American Rimfire LRT (for long-range target) looks to be a great entry-level option to the sport. It has a heavy barrel, a reasonable trigger, a solid stock with some adjustability, and an easy-to-digest price of about $600. Christensen Arms has a lightweight rimfire, the Ranger 22, for $795 that takes Ruger 10/22 magazines. And Proof Research, at the upper end, has a long-range rimfire rifle that will be coming out on the new Rim X action from Zermatt Arms.
The Savage B Series Precision is built on a very nice MDT chassis, and seems to be another great value at $350. CZ, no stranger to precision rimfires, has come out with the CZ 457 Varmint Precision Chassis, a $999 rifle that’s ready to compete out of the box. Begara, too, has recognized this trend. The new Bergara B14R22 is the company’s first rimfire product and is also geared toward long-range competition.
What About Shotguns?
The most noticeable trend in new shotguns is that there isn’t a specific trend. This year’s new smoothbores cover a wide range of applications, action styles and price points, with no one segment dominating.
Two of the most genuinely new shotguns for 2020 (rather than line extensions) are the Mossberg JM Pro 940 and Savage’s Renegauge. The Mossberg is a 3-gun shotgun with a 10+1 magazine and a redesigned gas system that’s supposed to run with greater reliability than the 930 series it replaces. The ergonomics on the gun are smart, with oversized controls, a generous loading port with a lifter that won’t pinch your thumb during reloads, and a stock that adjusts with spacers and shims.
The Savage is another new semiauto with a 3-inch chamber that is seeking to compete with the higher-end duck guns on the market, but at a Savage-like price of $1,499. As with other upper-echelon guns, its length of pull and comb height are adjustable. The gas system is designed to cycle all types of loads reliably, and it too has oversized controls and a large loading port, which have become more standard on waterfowl guns.
In the sub-gauge market, Benelli has their 828U, which comes in a 20-gauge this year. Likewise, Browning has expanded the Citori White Lightning line to include sub-gauge offerings. CZ-USA, a company never afraid to take risks, has their new 20-gauge side-by-side, the Bobwhite G2 All Terrain, so called for the green Cerakote finish on the metal.
There’s no type of shotgun more fun to shoot than a semiauto .410, so I suspect Mossberg’s SA-410, at $616, will be a hit.
Retay, an interesting company that makes Benelli clones, has introduced a 20-gauge this year called the Masai Mara.
For competition shooters, Beretta has launched the 694 Sporting, a serious clays gun for those with deep pockets (MSRP: $4,500). At the other end of the spectrum, Remington has come out with the 870 Express Trap. As you might expect, it is an 870 with a raised comb rib and a longer (30-inch) barrel.