Since 2010, the National Shooting Sports Foundation in the United States has held its annual SHOT (Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor Trade) Show at the Sands Expo centre, Las Vegas. The Show has actually been running annually since 1979, the same year this writer was born!
37 years later, and I was boarding the 10 hour flight to Las Vegas to visit the SHOT Show for the very first time.
This year’s SHOT Show ran between the 17th and 20th of January, with a separate day arranged for invited media and buyers to attend the Boulder City Rifle & Pistol club to try out some of the latest firearms, ammunition and gear on offer at their spectacular range.
Now, we know America enjoys a strong gun trade. The industry is worth around $6.7 billion. But, you would have to have been living under a rock not to have heard the variety of controversy that surrounds America’s gun control debates and conversely how strongly they feel about their right to bear arms. I knew that the trade would be showing solidarity at this show, particularly with the new president being inaugurated in the middle of show week.
Nothing, however, could prepare me for the sheer scale of the SHOT Show. From the moment I walked through the doors, I was bowled over by the size of the exhibition.
SHOT Show is a trade only show and retail sales are strictly prohibited. Regardless of the lack of retail customers, the show attracted around 65,000 visitors over the course of four days.
The show stands were a who’s who of the international firearms trade with all major manufacturers represented. The larger trade stands were built like rock show stadiums, with huge areas of floor space and racks upon racks of products. Major brands built their stands to fit with their image; for example, Realtree, one of the world’s largest camouflage suppliers built a huge log cabin to house their wares.
The show itself was made up of two large halls and a number of ‘smaller’ rooms featuring more niche products lines.
When I say large, the entire show is made up of around 630,000 square feet of exhibition space - equivalent to 13 acres. The ‘smaller’ halls generally focussed on tactical clothing, firearms and accessories for the law enforcement and military sector. ‘Small’ at this show equals around 170,000 square feet.
Over the course of the show, I covered over 25 miles on foot negotiating the 12.5 miles of aisles in the various halls.
Every conceivable type of firearm, clothing and accessory was on offer at the show, with exhibitors from over 100 different countries showing off their wares.
Alongside the American trade stands were a few national pavilions dedicated to a certain countries. Italy and Germany had a strong presence with brands such as Beretta and Blaser. I was particularly interested to find the British Pavilion and take a look to see what the Brits were bringing to the pinnacle of gun trade shows this year.
My first stop was with Cogswell and Harrison who were displaying their brand new Certus Rifle. A delightful rimfire rifle available in .22lr and .17hmr with a traditional walnut stock.
The rifle feels like a solid workhouse, with a bolt not dissimilar to the very popular CZ line of rimfire rifles. The company clearly hope that this will prove a popular rifle with our American cousins.
I stopped by the Nite Site stand at the British Pavilion and was pleased to get some time with Nick Bortone, Managing Director, to get his view on British companies trading with the US. Nick’s view - shared by many of the other British representatives I spoke with - was that breaking into the crowded US firearms market is difficult, but a small fraction of the US market represents huge growth for UK companies trading internationally and is worth pushing for.
Nick has moved this idea forward to the point where he now has a Nite Site office based out of Fort Worth, Texas, making his business delivery that much easier in the States, and a decision he is glad he made.
Night vision is an interesting area for a British writer to look at in the States. I am a huge fan of night vision, using it for pest control on a weekly basis. However, speaking to American at the show, it is clear that hunting with night vision in the States is at an early stage and considered by some to be a novelty.
Many believe that legislation prevents them from using night vision, and in some states, this is correct. However, much of the modern night vision is entirely legal, yet they still shy away from it. This is a challenging issue for companies such as Nite Site, but one which Nick believes can be tackled through education.
I also met up with Cowan Scott and Paul Stewart from Scott Country International, who were visiting the show to seek out new products to bring to the UK market. They have some very exciting new items coming very soon including new thermal and night vision products as well as a new line in wildlife cameras. Thomas Jacks were also visiting the show looking for new product lines to bring to the UK market - they have a whole new line up from Pulsar coming later this year.
Other British companies with a presence at the show included Hawke Optics, Eley and Daystate Air Rifles who launched their brand new Wolverine 2 at the show this year, as well as showing the stunning limited edition Saxon air rifle, released to commemorate the 950th anniversary of the end of Saxon rule in England.
The gun trade in America is thriving and the SHOT show is testament to how strong the international firearms trade remains to be. My hope is that when I return next year, the British Pavilion is twice the size as more British companies strike deals to export their products to the US.
As I return home, hopefully I can give my tired feet a rest and prepare for next year.