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Shot Show 2012

This year I visited Shot Show 2012 in Las Vegas. Shot Show is the firearms industry convention, similar to CES, except admission is much cheaper, and one has to be a firearms retailer, a distributor, or a manufacturer. Below is the account of my trip.

Day 1

5:00 am. Two Windows Phones are ringing at the same time. Pain, pain, pain. I look out the window - the weather forecast promised snow, which is why I was up so early for a 8am flight. The roads are wet, but there is no snow anywhere. Back to bed!

5:30 am. This time we really have to wake up. The weather can still go to hell, so I want to go by light rail, and that takes an extra 20 minutes.

5:50 am. My wife is driving me to downtown Seattle.

6:00 am. This is my first time at the Westlake Transit Station. The experience is surprisingly pleasant - the train is modern, clean, inexpensive, and relatively immune to traffic and the elements.

6:50 am. Airport. The line through security is not too bad. Light snow outside.

7:30 am. The boarding starts. I have a window seat!

8:15 am. The plane is still at the terminal, being defrosted.

8:30 am. Finally in the air. Time to nod off.

10:00 am. The skies are clear, the plane is flying over mountainous desert.

10:45 am. Las Vegas "international".

11:00 am. The shuttle is heading towards the strip. The price is right - $7 - but as it turns out it takes a whole hour to get to Venetian, which is the closest stop to Sands Convention Center where the event is taking place. This is because all the other passengers get off earlier, and the shuttle zig-zags past several hotels.

12:00 mm. Venetian. There are lots of people with Shot Show badges around. Unfortunately, they are going in all directions, so it is impossible to say where Sands really is by the movement of the crowd. The crowd lacks direction. However, there are signs.

12:10 pm. registration is quick - they take the badge I got in the mail and put it into a badge holder. I grab a very thick book that says "Shot Show. Too good to miss. $50" and head out. I do not know whether $50 refers to the cost of the show (it was actually $25 if I remember correctly), or the cost of the book, but no one is seemingly paying for the book, and there are heaps of them around.

12:15 pm. Wow! This is big. Big. BIG. Actually, I did not even realize how really huge it is until later, because there was another hall, and a whole other floor.

12:20 pm. AR-15s everywhere. Olympic Arms, VLTOR, Daniel Defense, Stag Arms, Troy, ..., ..., ... They all look the same, and of course all vendors say that theirs is the best. Shot Show is not really a good avenue for research unless you already know the topic. I've read a couple of books on AR auccuray, and built a couple or guns myself (or, the first one was just a lower), but I still don't feel qualified to judge if there even is a differene. I think for the time being I will stick with Rock River Arms.

I move across the floor alongside a Hilbert curve.

I also lose count of time.

Many flashlight companies flashing past me. Does the world need so many flashlight companies?

Finally, something meaningful: an Accuracy International booth. These rifles look... impressive!

There are qite a few big guns around, actually. 50 BMG is such an eye candy! are night vision devices...

Look at the size of this objective!

I pass a company that has a very sexy 10/22-based pistol on display. Unfortunately, I forget to snap a pic. Fortunately, I give them a copy of my FFL, and they give me a price list in exchange. This is how I know their name: Tactical Innovations. They are not that far away, in Idaho. The cool-looking pistols are here:â„¢-c-480.html.

I casually pass buy a company that sells polymer-cased ammo and collect their flier. The flier, which I read later at home, says that polymer cased ammo is more accurate than brass cased one. It looks like I will be going back to them tomorrow to get samples.

Next, an outfit called "Russian Weapons Systems". They have Russian Biathlon 22lr rifles. They are good rifles. However, they come at Anschutz prices, and at that price it's safer to just buy an Anschutz.

LRB ARMS, stripped AR receivers. $57 in lots of 30. I can do better at home.

AmChar Wholesale. We exchange business cards. I owe them documentation for the dealer account setup. Have to get home first though.

HS Precision. These stocks look beautiful - solid, "together". A line of weightless benchrest stocks. Now looking at the catalog I see very good dealer prices - heading back to them tomorrow to find out what's involved.

CZ-USA. I WANT MY CZ-452 BACK!!! Instead, they replaced them with this:

I tell them what I've read about the accuracy of CZ455s (here:, and the guy tells me that he's working in a warranty facility, and they are not getting returns for accuracy. Dude! The people who would return a rifle over 0.5MOA difference are not shooting CZ455s! They are shooting Anschutzeses. The problem is that CZ-452 was a "poor man's Anschutz", and the 455 isn't!

However, I get to play a lot with CZ pistols. The double-action is AMAZINGLZY light and can even be called crisp. I had no idea this was even possible! In general I think at the moment I like CZ pistols better than anything that is not a 1911. Or Sig 210. Or a revolver.

Speaking of which, I stop by Les Baer, get an update on their dealers catalog (codified here), and get to handle the Ultimate Master. Actually, it is not that different from Premier II, but all of them are very different from the rest of 1911s that I get to handle at the show. And I handle a lot, several dozens at least! In terms of the slide fit and the trigger, the hierarchy turns out to be...

  1. Les Baer
  2. Sig & Dan Wesson custom shop 1911s
  3. Rock Island Match
  4. Kimber
  5. Everything else
  6. Chiappa (22lr)

This of course purely from handling, not shooting, so requisite mountains of salt applies...

Freedom Arms. Forgot to snap pictures, but they have their single shot out. I tell them how I couldn't get to them through email, they apologize and explain their dealer terms. I will be heading back tomorrow.

Ammo, ammo, ammo. Fiocci, Eley, Federal. Need to figure out how to get Eley at better prices. Setting up appointment with them for tomorrow.

Lots of reloading equipment, obviously. I am getting dealership applications from everyone. At the Redding booth I handle T7, and it's the most solid press I've ever seen. It's a turret press with absolutely no play. Zero. Nada!

Remington. An idiot sales rep tells me to buy before "Obama takes all your money". Go f*ck yourself. Let me tell you about that piece of garbage Remington 700 Tactical Target I've got, the one that cost $1500 and cannot clean 1MOA even after a visit to Remington factory. Also, let me tell you about the quality of communications with the aforementioned factory. I think I will be staying with Savages...

Kahr has their exploitation of Desert Eagle Hollywood-inspired brand in full force. Even when it has nothing in common with Desert Eagle...

Lots of turkish companies are present. The products are mostly pistols and shotguns, and they feel very solid. Akkar had a few pistols on display with Samco. Unfortunately, after my experience buying SKSes there, I am unlikely to buy anything from Samco ever again (and the Internet seems to concur). But the pistols look very, very solid. No play whatsoever, just like Les Baer/Rock Island.

McMillan has brough some BIG GUNS. Look at the size of the bolt on this thing...

Europen rifle companies - Sauer, Mauser, a few others. The rifles are very beautiful and also very expensive. The Mausers below are 8-9 thousand dollars each...

On the other end of the spectrum, Century. I came to the show expecting to find someone who can sell a lot of Mosins, cheap. Unfortunately, the supply seems to be dwindling. Century is running a mini-sale, but the discount is actually tiny. Still, I think I will go buy a few more of them tomorrow. Met a Century sales guy I've been spending some time on the phone at the show.

Century does run a few reasonable sales, so if you want a 12GA, 19" Saiga or Romanian RPK AES-10B with wood stock, drop me a line, quick. Saiga discount might be only good until Friday. AES was selling for the same price for quite a while though. After all is said and done, Saiga will be $580, and AES $530, plus tax.

Rock River Arms now has an entry-level 1911. From the looks and handling it is similar to Remington 1911, and is probably about the same price. I also got to handle their National Match rifle. They put a lot into eliminating the play between lower and upper, and the join is completely solid. Strange, because this book: The Competitive AR15; The Mouse That Roared says that the play is not important for accuracy. But the fact is, their National Match rifles are guaranteed to shoot 0.75 MOA. My AR-15 built with all Rock River NM parts except upper and lower does not. However, I have not debugged it yet, the problem may be somewhere else.

North American minis. Their guns (excpecially the semis) have look and feel of tweezers...

Seen a super-impressive demo of a shooting simulator. They take a Glock and replace its guts with a laser and a CO2 driven recoil thingy (CO2 is stored in a magazine). Then the projector displays a target, you shoot it up with this modified Glock, the camera captures the laser marks and draws holes on the screen. This is actually better than I can express it, the game is pretty captivating, and the recoil is quite realistic. Really, really, really nice system, but the price tag was huge - excluding the computer and projector they wanted $8k. Can't haz...

Several serious airguns... Want! but can't.

...and no less serious competition 22s (want even more, but these guys are super-pricey)...

Sig has its new old 210s "the leged" out in full force. The gun is very solidly built, and it is beautiful. Unfortunately, it is very much not cheap, and for the price I would go with... Les Baer... well as a few tricked-out 226es...

Lots of scopes of course. An interesting cut-away that demonstrates what's inside. I should make my own from the crappy BSA ones I've accumulated over the years...

Unfortunately, Leupold does not deal with people like me. Fortunately, Nightforce does! And I have to say, Schmidt and Bender put both of them to absolute shame when it comes to clarity and image contrast... but at twice or trice the price.

Finally, what's a shot show without REAL guns? Both old...

...and new. This one has electronic targeting, the field of view is through the camera. The woman in the background has been quizzing the vendor with some intensity. The company on her name tag? US Air Force.

6:00pm. The floor is closing. I was trying to take a look at Hawkeye boroscopes, but they were already gone. I've been carrying all my stuff plus about 20kg of show literature for 6 hours now, and my back is hurting, so I head home. Home is Circus Circus, a few miles away. The room was $25 when I booked it, quite amazing.

7:00pm. In the room. The trip was more painful than I expected, by the time I was on the hotel floor the stuff I carried was up to at least 200lb, or so it seemed. Still, for $25 this is an amazing hotel and an amazing room.

7:10pm. Went out to buy some water, ended up in a buffet. Food was awful!

8:00pm. Back in hotel room, typing up this stuff.

2:44am. Finished typing the report. No time to proof read, I am sure it's full of typos. But I want to sleep! So... publish!

Day 2

8:00am. Wake up. Shower.

8:15am. Last night I went through the 10kg of paper I collected at the show, and left it in a big mess on the floor. Today I am re-sorting it into "stuff that needs follow-up right now", "stuff that needs follow-up later", and "everything else".

9:45am. Checking out. The people right in front of me are from Aero Precision, checking in. Pleasantries and business cards exchanged. I get an offer to stop by at some point and see the facility. Definitely will!

10:00am. This time I am taking a taxi to Sands. The ride is 10 minutes and $10. The luggage is left at the hotel, and the first thing I see when I arrive at Sands is the place where I could have left the luggage (and then wouldn't have to return to hotel). Grrrrrrr.....

The list I have is:

  • Visit Savage
  • Visit Gradient Optics, see Hawkeye borescopes
  • Talk to a bunch of reloading equipment and components suppliers (RCBS, Lyman, etc).
  • Go get account setup finally with Freedom Arms
  • Talk to Eley at 12
  • Talk to HS Preision
  • Buy a bunch of Mosins from Century
  • Look again at the polymer-cased ammo

This time before I get to the general area I plod through several rooms of law enforcement/military equipment. The first thing I see is this:

...and then this:

The rest is clothes, flashlights, and stuff like that. Since in this case it is actually for work, it is unfair to call it "tacticool", but since I don't have a use for it personally, I quickly get bored and search for exit.

Once in the general area, I head straight to Gradient. I've seen a few other borescopes yesterday, and the contrast is sharp - Hawkeye is really the best of the best. So I get the 17" kit at a price that is significantly below Brownell's - a show special.

There are two main floors at the show - the top seems to be the premium one, all the big names are there. The bottom is for lesser brands. For example, Nightforce is on the top floor, Sightron is on the bottom. Federal is on the top, Tulaammo and Wolf are on the bottom. I head back to the top floor to complete the checklist.

First, Savage. I pick up their "confidential" dealer's price list. The prices are quite a bit higher than the ones I get at the distributors. There is nothing revolutionary here today, so I spend just a few minutes at the booth and move on. Don't misunderstand me, I think Savages are unbeatable in terms of price/performance, it's just I am already familiar with the lineup (and personally own almost all of the top ones).

Next stop - a K-Var/Arsenal booth. If you are a member of a SWAT team, you will probably appreciate this:

I am not with a SWAT team, so I am not super excited. The next thing I see is...

Someone took an AK action and stuck it into a one-piece, hunting rifle style stock. Why would one do this (and who would buy this thing) is completely beyond me. My eyes hurt, my head explodes, and I run away.

Lyman. Give them a copy of my license, get on their web site. The honest truth is that in almost all cases the prices available from the distributors is actually much better than the prices that the factory gives retail dealers, but occasionally the combination of shipping, the price, and availability is such that getting a part or two from the factory is expedient.

Back to Freedom Arms. A nice lady (Linda) takes my FFL and explains the pricing structure and walks me through the models. Freedom arms innovates again - they conjured up a new cartridge! It's called 224-32 FA, and it's a 357 necked down to 224 caliber bullet, resulting in a high-speed (for a revolver) load. Detailed explanation is here: It looks like a supply of them will be coming to Seattle soon.

Back to Century. Steve, the guy who was always picking the phone when I called, takes my order for 7 Mosin Nagants. This brings my total for the month to 10. If you want a Mosin, ask me!

Yesterday I had a request from someone for a Beretta 93FS. I walk up to Beretta's booth and check it out. The trigger is super stiff, and the double action feels like a surplus P64, i.e. almost useless. The contrast with feather-light double action of CZ pistols is stark. I send the guy email to make sure that this is what he really wants...

12:00pm. I have an appointment with Eley from yesterday, but cannot find them. Their booth location is misprinted in the catalog, and while I thought I remembered it from yesterday, it turns out that I did not. I am terribly late for my appointment, but they forgive me and forward to the importer from who I have to get their ammo.

I continue wandering the floor aimlessly, past this "obrez" from Remington...

When I run into something that is really worth seeing, a new Finn sniper rifle that is slated to replace the TRG-22/42. It is called TRG M10.

The trigger on this one is unbelievable. I absolutely LOVE Savage target accu-trigger. This trigger is an order of magnitude better - something that I did not think was possible. The action is smooth, and the modular barrel system allows you to change the caliber in minutes - in the field. One problem - it's for military and police only :-(.

By the way, it turns out that SAKOs are being distributed in US by none other than Beretta. Here is some more of the eye candy.

Armscor, the makers of my Rock Island 1911 Match. No, they won't sell to me directly :-(, despite the fact that over 10 of their most expensive model went through my hands in the last two weeks. The only thing I can do is to pick up some literature and handle a few guns. The much cheaper models are suprisingly tight and smooth, but the grips, the sights, and the finish are not the same.

1:30pm. Enough of the ivory tower, it is time to check out the basement. The first floor is for lesser brands and smaller distributors - which often have interesting stuff and are more willing to deal with people like me.

The first booth that I run into is Wolf. As it turns out, they are going into firearms importing business, so a whole wall of Molot products here.

Veprs (Russian for "boar") have a slanted rear of the receiver, similar to EAA Zastava, so normal AK furniture does not fit. I did not notice this before, but here this deficiency catches my eye.

I ask the sales guy to explain why would anyone want to pay about twice as much for a Vepr rather than buy a normal AK. He says "quality control". I ask what this means. He starts talking about reliability. But almost any AK is reliable, that's the whole point of this action. Heck, even most Century AK products are reliable!

So ok, he says, it's the accuracy. When I ask what specifically he means, numerically, he gives me the standard BS about not knowing in term of groups, but about the same as a Dragunov. So I say - ok, if it's like a Dragunov, then if it does not hit 1.5 minutes, I can return it for repairs, right? Because that's what Dragunov manual states! Lots of hemming and hawing follows...

I wish they would just start importing Tigrs again. Tigr is actually a hunting (sporting purpose evident!) carbine that is at least built on a Dragunov action, and since they went through all the hassle of approving these new models, why not just go and do the work for the real thing?

The more practical part is Wolf's ammo division, which is a different guy in the same booth. It has one product that interests me a lot, specifically, Wolf Match Target 22lr ammunition. This is made in Germany, not Russia, and while not quite in the same class with the top RWS and Lapua products, is an extremely accurate match ammunition that is acceptably cheap for training. A diamond in the rough. I get his card and we agree to connect next week when the show is over.

The rest of the show I walk around methodically through the first floor exhibitions, passing around my FFL and getting dealers accounts everywhere.

Berry bullets (actually they sell more than just bullets), Accurate Powders, Black Hills, several other reloading component vendors, and a few smaller distributors. Soon I run out of a few dozen copies of my FFL license that I had on me, and have to promise to fax when I get home.

I pick wrap-around target grips for my Ruger Mark III, note a 1911 barrel vendor that, for $175, promise 1" groups at 25 ("and that's really true!"), and play with several Volquartsen Ruger adaptations. Here's one:

4:30pm. Time to go home. Walk to the hotel takes 20 minutes. I get there and pick up my things right in time for the shuttle that leaves at five. This time there are no intermediate stops, the trip is quick. The security checkpoint uses this new machine where the people have to step in, position their feet at the marks, and raise their hands as if giving up. The sight is eerie and smacks of Orwell. I think Orwell was afraid of communism. Hah! Before I get in, they take my belt. A thought runs through my mind - "so one doesn't hang oneself in the cell"...

For the next hour I sit in the airport typing this report. The guy next to me is also returning from the show, to Alaska. He owns a small manufacturing company making magazines, and brings a $0.5M order with him from the show. Before Alaska he lived in Illinois and was a software developer...

An earlier flight boards for Seattle. I ask if they have vacancies, and they do (in fact, half of the plane is empty), so I leave on this plane. The flight back is uneventful. This time in Las Vegas - based of many years of CES - is often windy, but not today. The ride is smooth.

11:00pm. Seattle is all snowed in, but the light rail is fully operational, so I get to downtown without incident. My wife is picking me up there, she put the chains on the Prius. This works pretty well and we're at home in 15 more minutes.

Overall, it was an extremely nice trip. Very inexpensive, I think the total cost - not including the stuff I bought at the show - was just around $300, an absolutely unbelievable number for someone used to software development conferences. Lots of fun. Probably not super useful for a casual shooter, but indispensable for making contacts and learning. For instance, the experience of handling dozens of different 1911s in one day was an eye opener. The two days I was there was just enough to cover most of the exhibition without getting bored.

I am definitely coming back next year!