AAR, SHOT SHOW 2011

AAR: SHOT Show 2011

Or

Wage War Like a Viking, Party Like a Pirate

SHOT show is one of the top five largest trade shows in the world. Something like 70, 000 people walked through the gates in the Exhibition Centre in America’s adult Disney World, Las Vegas. It’s also the largest trade show in the world for the hunting, shooting, outdoor recreation and tactical markets. If you’re thinking of taking part in a trade show, make sure you have plenty of freebies to give away, See all possibilities here.

A wide variety of products and services are on exhibition. Most of them cater to a personal carriage type of product ranges. Such things as hunting calls, decoy ducks, decoy deer and other decoy animals (no decoy sheep for our Kiwi readers, unfortunately). Clothing (including pink camouflage lingerie), personal equipment, optics, accessories, body armour, load bearing equipment, some NBC equipment, some training, night vision equipment, storage safes, food preparation, barbecue equipment, small engineering/manufacturing shops, guided hunting trips, hunting rifles, defensive rifles, stupidly big revolvers requiring bipod and assistant, defensive pistols, widgets and a myriad of other products and services for the hunting/outdoor/tactical market. If you can think of it, it’s probably there somewhere.

The sheer size of the venue was mind blowing. The show occupied 2 complete floors of a convention centre (and they certainly weren’t small spaces) as well as a maze-like construction of extra rooms for the tactical side of the house. The layout seemed confusing for someone attending the first time. I was comforted though, that even people who had been attending for years were getting lost like I was.

I attended under several different hats.

My first hat was as a consultant for Crossfire. They like to use me to give an end-users perspective on all the things that they see. Another reason they seem to like having a dashing Lighthorseman around, was that I could act as an interpreter between civilised human beings and that segment of the population that closely matches myself: knuckledraggers. Y’see, according to the boys, I speak very fluent grunt.

My second hat was to develop my own business as a design consultant for outdoor and military load bearing equipment. The opportunity to see first hand just what is available and how it relates to real world use.

My third hat was as a moderator for the Australian military discussion forum, Fire Support Base to check on trends and new innovations in the industry, in order to inform the readership of industry trends and encourage further discourse.

My fourth hat was to socialise with the Lightfighter crew and see for myself just how madcap they could be. On the social front, please excuse me as I embarrass myself and forget half of the crowd I met. I blame widely varying timezones and fatigue. In fact, feel free to abuse me if I have forgotten to mention you. I can only crawl into the corner and cry myself to sleep, you horrid, beastly people. Let me say here and now in a public forum, that it was a pleasure and absolutely awesome to finally meet all of you and be able to enjoy some really good times and have a yarp with you. Be buggered if I can reconcile your physical appearance, screen name and real name though…

Not in any particular order:

KevinB

Nyeti and his workmate Joe

Borebrush (like me, still hasn’t fully come to terms with this adult concept of business cards)

Qwa-Heatis (shame we didn’t have time for a beer mate)

Renee (my second hug from SHOT, thank you dear!) and Casket

Sigshooter & Red (send me your address so I can get some Caramello Koalas to you)

19DSRT (I normally prefer a bottle of wine and dinner before being groped like that, call me?)

PM07

Hellboy and his darling wife (The LF wedding of the year. Many thanks for sharing such a special event, and convincing my fiancée that she should get a Pug – I hate Pugs! )

Madkow

Haji (Glad you liked my dance moves mate)

Mark92

Nasiriyah (awesome to talk about LF Gulch mate, just get me RV details should it happen)

RRTX (Glad you got your rum mate, better check it for quality)

Wulfi (which rock did you crawl under and die after the jetlag mate?)

Riafdnal (Awesome to finally meet mate, just didn’t have enough time to socialise properly)

Vaporware (last of the true gentlemen in this world)

5.56 Grave (a bloke who loves his tats! How’s your wife after her surgery mate?)

SgtFrog (one cool mo-fo with his hat and glasses!)

Dorsai (another of the last true gentlemen of this world)

Arin (he really does carry an M&P)

Tac450 (top bloke and top effort for organising the social events mate)

Handyman5130 (thanks for the t-shirt mate!)

USAFOF

Stephen

Mustang LT

Unfortunately, due to me actually doing some work at SHOT, I wasn’t able to socialise as much as I wished. There just weren’t enough hours in the day at times. But it was great to put faces to names and see the personality behind the typed words. My poor fiancée was amazed that I have “people” and an apparent tribe. The fact most of us wore the paracord bracelet, carried a Strider and had the same attitude to taking on the world was an eye-opener for her. Also eye-opening for the poor lass was the realisation that half the crowd in the Crown and Anchor (small English pub off the strip) was armed. Poor Arin (?? I think??) had his t-shirt ride up, exposing his carry piece. Like most not used to our community, she was a little alarmed. Hell, I was feeling relaxed that any minor anti-social interaction could be effectively dealt with. Although I did have to watch my usual intox banter under such circumstances – such as when the DJ in the Cabo Wabo Cantina was playing some god-awful music, and I asked if someone could shoot the DJ. Some of the boys just may have interpreted that as a lawful command… Speaking of the Cabo Wabo, which one of you gave me the shots? Were they forced on me, or did I go willingly? I felt horrid waking up the next day. I felt so comfortable around LF’s, it was like bumping into old mates – they’re that welcoming. Good times were had, inter-corps/service/country jokes and banter were flying thick and fast. As a dashing Lighthorseman, I had to maintain Regimental pride. Sharing dance moves seemed to amuse some. Can I help it if you Yankee’s have never seen the fallback dance moves of most unco blokes I know called “Big Fish, Little Fish… Box”, danced via hand motions exactly as it’s described. Advanced users can rotate the axis this is applied on. Observers also seemed impressed (more like stunned) with the old diggers fallback of “F88 IA drill” with the quintessential dance moves of TILT the weapon to starboard, COCK the action, LOCK the action, LOOK by rolling the weapon to port and looking for the problem, REMOVE the empty mag (throw it away with an open hand flourish at the end), REPLEN fresh mag from fighting equipment, INSERT into the weapon, RELEASE the working parts and then boogy with your hands above your head whilst singing Rock’n’roll – rock’n’roll. Other classics such as”Emplacing the Claymore” and everyone’s favourite, because it involves a partner: “Grenade in the Bay”.

Since I’m looking at consolidating all my online kit reviews in my own little spot on the interwebs, I may have to include a dance hall instruction area.

In fact, so close was the mateship, I was a little concerned to be felt up at the wedding of the year during the group photo. I’m not sure if my call of “After Day 3 field, it’s legally and morally OK” was quite adhered to. We seemed to be skipping a few days there for some reason… So if I look somewhat… startled or disturbed… in that photo, you all know why. As mentioned, it was awesome to put faces to names, and see the person behind the screen name. There were some surprises! I hope I inspired some shock and surprise too As an older bloke nowadays, it was good to see the reflection of myself in the younger blokes. It’s comforting to know that the young Joes are mission focussed, and the fact that they’re still willing to listen to some has-been like me who has bugger all operational experience compared to them, simply because I represent a different viewpoint and a different point of view that may just help them later down the track. That common experience and background solves a lot of language and cultural barriers.

Effort was also made to touch base with the Mod Squad of Lightfighter. I wanted to compare notes on how to manage one of these new-fangled online communities, and do some bench-marking. Haji mentioned how surprised he was at being told just high up the Pentagon that LF gets briefed to. I mentioned some of the fun and shenanigans we’ve been experiencing in FSB over the years. I know it was good to have a quick chat with LF mods and just ask questions on something I have very little experience with.

The industry trends as I saw them.

Please note, I’ll try to keep them within broad categories of types of equipment, and that this will be biased to inform a predominantly Australian audience of the trends in the industry. Another note: I have a background in Quality Assurance for manufacturing. It’s during my time in this industry, I was able to gain an appreciation for just how hard it is to design something that’s simple, elegant and easy to use by others. I used to watch some of the designers tear their hair out and lose their sanity. And they weren’t even doing any cutting edge stuff!

Anyway, moving on.

General industry trends noted was the affect that the Global Financial Crisis was having on a lot of companies. The recurring buzz I heard was that a lot of people were hurting. This meant some companies that have never bothered attending SHOT before, were suddenly trying to drum up business, whether by exhibiting a stand, or just networking with the rest of the industry a lot more than they normally do, to expand their markets. The huge variety of people was also worth noting. Sales, marketing, R&D, purchasers, small business, large business, trainers, machinists, knuckle-dragging end-users (like serving members in an official and unofficial capacity), retail and wholesale. Everyone was there.

I sort of picked a lot of the commercial types for trying to be something they’re not. It was obvious that some of the sales types were wearing all the cool-guy kit like the right pants, belt and nice blade hanging out of the pocket, but I was sort of wondering if it was really necessary. You’re a sales manager, who does a little hiking and camping with the family for a tactical company? I get that. There’s no need to try to impress me how tactical you are.

There was even some blokes getting about in cam uniforms, and they weren’t military/LE, nor dressing for work…

One person I met who didn’t need to be something he was not, was an gentleman wearing the combat patch of the 101st Airborne. He was the medic from Easy Company, 506thPIR mentioned in the now-famous book, Band of Brothers. He was an absolute gentleman, bit short of hearing like a lot of us nowadays (EH?), and was willing to have a chinwag with some random Aussie digger. Very funny to observe another older gentleman, also wearing the Screaming Eagles patch, walk up and start talking. Two dogs sniffing each other out, when the question of combat experience comes up: “Oh, I did a couple of drops in ‘44” was answered with “I saw the A Shau in ‘66”. When the question about Regt within the Div was asked, I nearly fell over laughing when the junior of the pair had to choke back the Yank version “Oh, THOSE poofters!”. I was nearly giggling like a little girl at the exchange between the two old warhorses. I managed to reign it in, would have been embarrassing to have been slapped by two blokes way older than me.

Since SHOT is a trade show, this means a lot of casual looking conversations between a couple of people are actually pretty serious conversations of the networking type that actually lead to the “proper” memorandum’s of understanding being signed and all that official gumpf. Like most networking in the corporate world, there’s a lot of subtle feeling each other out about intentions, personalities and company interactions. It’s especially noticeable in the tactical/paramililtary market, with the sort of personalities we gather. There’s some big business done on just a handshake and a smile.

Most of these networking conversations are actually talking about making pretty big deals, of at least commercial quantities of stuff and services. Whilst wearing one of my hats as an average punter, I didn’t want to be the sort of bloke who barges into an important meeting, enquiring about “One of them thar thingies for my wife” and sound like an inane, utter clod. It became apparent to me just how many blokes were doing this. It’s not hard to play the game, and at least sound like a big buyer, or just be plain honest when I walked into a stand. I’d just explain to the attendant that I was there purely for ‘own interest’ and my work as a moderator on a net discussion site since I’d gotten all my real work done for the day, and would tell the attendant that if someone more important came along, I wouldn’t be put out if they left me for “real business”. It was then left up to them if they wished to speak with me. Most people would, and I was actually thanked a couple of times for my consideration. Like most things in life, a bit of manners goes a long way.

The pure size and scale of the American market must be seen to be believed. For a lot of these smaller companies, just cracking 1% market share would make them more money than if they had 100% of the Australian market!

LOAD BEARING EQUIPMENT

Mystery Ranch: I had opportunity to meet the Mystery Ranch blokes. Over dinner, we were able to get to know each other a little bit better, and tell some great stories. It was surprising to find Americans who knew what cricket was. Such topics as history (both recent and ancient), outdoor hobbies, load bearing equipment, international travel to each other’s countries, and the vagaries of western military procurement systems were also discussed. Crossfire and Mystery Ranch have just entered a business alliance. It’s been a long time and a hard road of negotiating, but the effort from where I sit on the sidelines appears to have been well worth it. The short story is that Crossfire will act as the Australian agent and license manufacturer for Mystery Ranch, a great amount of cross-pollination of ideas should be coming out of this alliance. I’m quite excited seeing so many thinkers working together. Watching the interactions between Big Dana (MR) and Peter M (Crossfire) was interesting. They’re different sides of the same coin. One is a bear of a man, and possesses a loud, booming voice. The other, is of average height, and a quiet bloke. They both however, share the same passions. They care about good design, their people, and their customers, being responsible corporate citizens with a conscience over making a quick buck. Both have lost business deals worth a great deal of cash due to their honesty and integrity.

Both companies are family run businesses, with the strengths and weaknesses that can entail.

The new Spartan daypack was demonstrated to me. Not a bad little daypack for running around in civilisation with. Designed with our modern inconveniences of post 9/11 travel reality, it has a detachable laptop sleeve for inspection by airport security types. Speaking with the designer and hearing his background on it was great. We need to have some more beers sometime mate!

One project from the military side of the house I can reveal to you all, is the effort between Mystery Ranch and Crossfire to be able to fit the NICE frame to many packs currently available here in Australia. This will involve some conversion kits for most military packs in common use over here. The first cab off the rank is being able to add the NICE frame to the ADF issued ’94 pack. The response of Mystery Ranch to the abortion that is the ’94 was hilarious to say the least. Something about it being a turkey, and that it should be left in the oven to burn to a crisp, in order to avoid exposing the punter. The sample ’94 pack was also shown around to many US military types to a consistent voice of consternation that we were actually using something that bad. Incidentally, I also found out from industry sources that the ’94 pack happens to be made in a Chinese factory – so much for Australian jobs…

Whilst fitting a NICE frame to the ’94 pack is akin to polishing a turd, at least it can make that pack somewhat more useable. It is not an ideal solution, but often one of the better methods of ensuring some useability. I also had a rumour heard late last year confirmed. I’d heard that Australian Special Operations units have selected Mystery Ranch packs for their load bearing solutions. I heard it straight from the horse’s mouth, a visiting Australian military member, that those troops are actively following the trends of US military units for a long, thin civvy hiking pack design with a hip loading belt, in order to ease the execution of their mission to chase nasty, bearded types over mountain ranges. It was also apparent that most of the industry is moving away from the external frame design. This even includes the MOLLE plastic external frame. Years ago, external frames were seen as a viable compromise due to design and technological constraints. Nowadays, they’re going the way of the dodo. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve always had a soft spot for an external frame pack, but reality is calling to me. This was further reinforced by observing the owner of DEI (who make the various flavours of external MOLLE plastic frames) trying to sell his frame out of a suitcase to various pack design and manufacturing companies with little success. Outboarding, as it’s known to the SHOT show organisers, where solicitation of clients without paying for an exhibition stand, is seen as a social faux pas. As well as a sign that maybe his business just isn’t running quite to plan.

Also spoke to one of MR’s designers (D3) about one topic that I’ve been keeping tabs on for years: Load bearing combat armour. He mentioned that it’s an idea they’ve been thinking about for some time. Obviously, there are a few technical issues that have been plaguing the poor designers. Some of the big names in the load bearing and armour industries are putting their heads together on this one. I’m quite excited by the gleam in the eye that D3 had. It became pretty obvious to me that most of us Down Under are way behind the eight ball on technical knowledge about modern load bearing systems. Our American allies seem to be light years ahead of us on this front. Most serious units who conduct any serious walking are moving to a load carriage system that closely resembles a civvy hiking pack with a hip-loading belt. I had confirmed from the horses mouth (senior SF officer) that American Special Operations Command are moving to have as much of the combat load on a hip-loading arrangement as opposed to the shoulder loading legacy systems we’re all used to. Most units still issuing such things as ALICE packs are not in a dedicated walking role (carrying their pack from the veh, to the lines, and back again) or are simply unable to procure the equipment they really want due to shortages in the system. Although it is slowly filtering down and will eventually pass onto us “poor cousin Aussies” years after the next revolution in thought has been identified.

Tyr Tactical

For those of you familiar with the Arnold Schwarznegger movie “Predator”, or those who consider it a vital training film and have memorised the lines: you may recall Jesse Ventura carrying a mini-gun that was fed via a backpack mounted cassette? Tyr Tactical has produced something just like this for purposes of providing belt-fed fire support during DA raids – the Quiver of Death Machine Gunner Assault pack. As it was explained to me, the machine gunner would drop onto the target, providing automatic fire support for troops executing the raid, then switch to perimeter security to ensure those troops wouldn’t be rudely interrupted by others not caught in the dragnet. The device comes in two flavours (5.56 and 7.62mm) and consists of a large cassette-like container mounted on a load bearing harness, with a Dillon Aeroindustries feed chute for the link ammunition – just like that found in helicopter door gun positions. The feedlink ensures the gunner is not encumbered with link ammunition flapping about loose. All in all, I thought it a useful, but very specialised system. One could tell the designers were firearms engineers, and not kinematic/ergonomic specialists, the load bearing harness made me wince and shudder.

Crye

The Crye Precision stand was a real eye-opener. They have a reputation for innovative design, and from what I saw, it was well deserved. The whole range of armour carriers was on display. Very well designed, and executed equipment. One could tell that a great deal of thought had gone into these to maximise ease of movement, reduce bulkiness and allow airflow around the body, unlike other carriers I’ve been able to play with. In addition, they had the new hip-loading StKSS system on display. This was linking a hip loading Blast Belt to the armour carrier. I didn’t get to try it on, but looking at the mannequin showed dynamic movement of scanning arcs, leaning and being prone without interruption from the equipment were all possible.

The new Crye Jumpable Plate Carrier (JPC) was on display as well. This is the embodiment of taking ultra-light hiking concepts and principles from civvy street and applying them to a military environment. The plate carrier is a bare bones piece that is only intended to protect the essential areas with a LvlIV rifle plate and some plate backer soft armour (LvlIIIa or military frag equiv). Having played with the Eagle plate carrier, it was surprising just how light this was. The armour package was something else too. The LvlIV rifle plate was one of the thinnest, and lightest I’ve had opportunity to look at. Being approximately a third lighter than competitors plates I’ve looked at recently at Land Warfare Conference (and they were pretty light compared to what the ADF is issued). The soft armour plate backers were also the thinnest and lightest I’ve seen. This technological feat makes all the claims from the Headshed and DMO about having the best and lightest in the world a complete mockery.

Another item using this fusion of ultra-light hiking design from civvy street is the new chest rig. Designed to be compatible with any of the armour carriers in the Crye line-up, as well as worn sans armour if the need arises, this modular battle bra platform looks like a garden lattice made of cordura in design. Nothing is present on the chest rig unless it contributes to the execution of its mission. In other words, a lot of extraneous material that other chest rigs may have has been rigorously cut off to reduce weight and complexity. This would actually make a modular platform the same weight, or less than a conventionally sewn rig of equivalent design. It still holds a useful combat load, but for appreciably less weight and bulk compared to a conventional chest rig. I was very impressed with the simplicity and purity of design.

The Crye gunclip, a new take on a pistol holster is another great idea of taking a conventional idea and making the most of it. Unlike conventional holsters, which are effectively a bucket surrounding the pistol, the Crye holster only secures the main balance point and trigger of the weapon. And unlike competitive “race-gun” holsters, is still secure enough for service retention requirements. The unique design allows the pistol to be removed sideways from the holster without having to draw the muzzle over the edge – a completely different draw-stroke compared to traditional holsters. This was most effectively demonstrated by a suppressed pistol mock-up that showed just how easy it was to bring a suppressed side-arm into action. With the ability to be mounted to MOLLE anywhere on the fighting equipment, and 360 degree rotation for adjustment of drawing angle, I could see a great utility for air and armoured vehicle crews as well.

Something more mundane from Crye that impressed me was the fastrope mitts. From my limited experience of abseiling and rapelling as a young bloke (and being used as a training aide/motivator by my old man in front of staff cadets), I could understand the dilemma of using the old riggers gloves during descents if weapons and other equipment was to be used immediately after the descent. Riggers gloves tend to reduce dexterity, whilst thinner assault gloves may not have the ruggedness required for safety. These specially tailored mitts are the solution to that problem. They’re cut in such a way that they’re easy to don over normal assault gloves, and don’t come off the hands unless required. But when needed, they are very easy to “flick” or shake off the hands. They can also be dummy-corded to the wearer at the wrist to prevent loss. Very nice idea in my humble opinion, I could see a lot of utility for them. The Crye booth also had calendar girls on Day 1. Since my darling mother neglected to buy me a girlie calendar this year for Christmas, I went and secured one for myself. I was a bit scared to look at these girls close up, they looked a bit hard on the eyes, and sounded even rougher. It was worth the eye-roll from my darling fiancée when I had to hit her up to borrow some money for the calendar though.

ATS

Had a squiz at the ATS booth. I was able to try on and play with their 7.62mm chest rig. A single piece battle bra, it had integral magazine pouches for four 7.62mm magazines and was fitted with an H-harness instead of the usual X-harness I’ve seen on other chest rigs. I found the H-harness quite comfortable, stable and something I wouldn’t mind playing with further. If ATS was to make a split front chest rig, it would be something I’d be very interested in. ATS also make a range of other rigs, daypacks and pouches. Their kit is no-nonsense, well made, and they’re good people to boot. Since they were also the RV point for the assembled LF throng, it was something of a gathering point. I was able to stock up on LF themed items like the SHOT show collectors patch, and a t-shirt.

BlueForce Gear

I called into BlueForce Gear as well, and met Stephen Hilliard, another nice bloke. Stephen is the designer of the industry standard RAID pack, and has been working with BFG for some time now to produce some really nice gear. They started off with small items, like the VCAS sling (review from me to follow when I get the rifle to hang it off) and other stuff like sling attachment points, pouches, etc. They’re expanding capabilities and scope with some larger items like the DAPS pack that has recently been introduced. The big thing I noticed, was that BFG are really getting behind the new camouflage pattern emerging on the market: ATACS. I think the ATACS pattern has some application in grassy parts of the world, such as the plains of Africa, or even out my way in western Queensland during the dry season. I’ll be obtaining a set of BDU’s to try out sometime soon.

Kifaru

Was able to see what Kifaru was offering this SHOT show as well. They have a new lightweight pack range using ultralight hiking principles. Their new range uses a lightweight siliconised ripstop (approx 30D) for main pack bodies. Whilst extremely useful for lightening the load in the civvy bushwalking and hunting crowd, I can see limited use for the military market, due to noise and abrasion resistance problems.

OPTICS

Zeiss A meeting with Zeiss optics was an opportunity to catch up with Ronald and his team whom I’d met previously at Land Warfare Conference late last year. Stories were exchanged, and Ronald was surprised to learn that the area he knew in Brisbane was currently underwater with the recent flooding. Zeiss will be introducing their 60x power spotting scope and a small thermal imager into the Australian market. The spotter scope possesses some very nice glass, well up to Zeiss’ usual standards. Discussions about a kit to allow day and night observation with this was discussed. The compact thermal imager was the same unit I had opportunity to play with at Land Warfare. One could easily identify the knuckle-dragger in the meeting. There was a certain dashing Lighthorseman who immediately powered up the unit, and got eyes on target with the camouflage lingerie clad young lovelies only just down the track.

Opportunity was also taken to look at the Zeiss 4x power compact combat scope as well. This is fitted with a BDC reticle for 5.56 or 7.62mm ammunition. Smaller and more compact than some other competitors on the market (excepting such offereings as Trijicon), these have some very clear glass. Although Ronald was quick to mention he preferred the Zeiss OEM supplied mounts, stating they were much better than the A.R.M.S. mounts that were available as an option. The ARMS offerings don’t seem to have much of a reputation in the market.

Aimpoint

The Aimpoint stand was one of the bigger ones in the main halls. Opportunity to examine first hand some of the stuff they have, which I’ve only seen pictures of or read about online was great. The Aimpoint T1 is rapidly becoming the industry standard Red Dot Sight (RDS) for any serious user. Battery life is stupidly high at somewhere between 3-5 years, allied with a very simple, but tough design. I’ve seen videos of rifles being dropped from shoulder height onto the T1. Due to their small size, they are finding increasing use on such weapons systems as M203 grenade launchers, on a sight similar to that used on the ADF F88 GLA, instead of the Doctor HUD sight. They’re also being used as a CQB back-up sight on rifles fitted with long range optics, whether it be piggy-backed on top of the scope, or on a dedicated angled mount to clear the primary optic. Unlike the Doctor holographic sight, the T1 is a lot easier to zero, with it’s conventional adjustment, compared to the small grub screws of the Doctor. I’m looking to acquire a T1 for my personal sport shooting later this year. Keep an eye out for a review.

Aimpoint also makes a twist mount for their range. This allows a 3x power monoculur to be placed behind the RDS for target identification purposes. If the magnification wasn’t needed, then the monocular could be easily twisted off, and placed into a pouch for safe keeping. This also allows an NVG monocular (Ninox or PVS-14 equiv) to be used as well. .

New for this years SHOT show, Aimpoint released their periscopic sight to allow targets to be engaged from behind cover. This allows the weapon and arms to be exposed only, with the main trunk and head behind cover. A simple periscope is what allows the sight to be used most effectively. This unit from Aimpoint was a most elegant and streamlined little unit – way smaller than the monstrosity I’ve seen touted as “world leading” by DMO.

CUTLERY

Called into the Strider table and perused their fine selection. Since they were pretty busy, I didn’t want to be a rude bugger and interrupt any important meetings (something that clowns do all too often at these events I’ve found). Although I need another knife like another hole in the head, an EB-DB is calling in a strident tone to my wallet.

Attended a meeting with Gerber. The Australian rep was quick to mention just how much the latest shenanigans from Australian Customs is impacting on a legitimate business that takes the time and effort to have proper permits and licenses. Such that Gerber has ceased importing any folding blades at this point in time. Since this is a major part of their business, it can be appreciated how big an issue this is becoming. It was apparent that Customs was reacting to political pressure about dealing with the current youth knife culture. Never mind that such a band-aid solution actually should involve law enforcement and judicial improvements as well, instead of banning items in everyday use by law-abiding members of the population. The stupidity of the action was apparent when the Gerber rep mentioned that such essential tools as the Hinderer series rescue knife (which I would consider a vital piece of equipment for law and emergency service personnel) is effectively banned in Australia now. The other absolutely idiotic aspect of this new interpretation of the laws by Customs is that fixed blade knives actually fully designed and intended as fighting blades are allowed without further obstacle. A fine example of bureaucracy gone mad.

FIREARMS

There was a myriad of small arms available to look at. Ranging from the cheap and nasty hobby guns, right up to high-end custom items.

Vang Comp

I swung past the Vang Comp stand for a look at things I can no longer own, and met the famous Hans Vang himself. Hans comes with great recommendation around the place as the bloke to see about getting some great custom shotgun work done. Hans doesn’t do anything to fine scatterguns for the harvesting of upland birds or what have you, he’s only concerned with maximising the effectiveness of a shotgun for that most dangerous of game: man. Hans seemed concerned for us poor Aussie cousins to be able to overthrow oppressive governments with such firearms ownership laws that we have Down Under. I hope I left him comfortable when I told him we don’t need a permit to own petrol or glass containers yet

Ithaca

Speaking of shotguns, I noticed that the old Ithaca 37 has re-entered production with a new company. For those who may not realise (and my companion certainly didn’t) the M37 has an unusual mechanism. There’s no ejection port on the side of the receiver. The receiver is a slab-sided, reducing the amount of dirt and crap that can enter. The M37 is quite unusual, in that it feeds and ejects out of the same port on the underside of the receiver. Get your mind out of the gutter. Not much relevance to an Australian market, but on a personal note, very cool to play with such a legendary firearm design.

Steyr

Steyr had a fairly small stand. I was able to look over the new AUGA3, and noticed a few refinements from the product as I know it from the Lithgow Small Arms Factory (although quite a few improvements have been incorporated from our experience with the platform). Most noticeable was the placement of accessory rails, which was never a feature when I used to have an F88 strapped to me for periods of time in my life.

Since I’m looking around for a rifle, the Steyr Tactical Elite has caught my eye. Detachable box magazine that can be upgraded from 5 to 10 rounds, with a spare magazine in the butt ala the Steyr scout, cold hammer forged barrel, integral bipod in the foregrip, and a full length Piccatinny rail to allow the mounting of various optics (like RDS for scout use, low power variables for general use, and high powered for long range stuff). I’m very interested in this rifle.

Keltech

KelTech had their newly designed 14-shot bullpup shotgun. Pump action, with two separate magazine tubes (like the similar South African Neostead), the bullpup layout allows fully legal barrel length whilst reducing the whole package down to 26inches in length. Still in prototype stage, it had some interesting design points, I was actually impressed with the weapon. There’s a great deal of real estate for accessory rails, for such things as optics, lights and grips. The only thing that has me hesitant, is the likely manufacturing quality and final QA/QC, which a lot of American friends suggest isn’t the best.

TRAINING AIDES

There were quite a few airsoft weapons available to examine. For the average Aussie: airsoft is a BB gun firing 6mm plastic BB’s by spring or compressed gas power by kids of all age and sizes to play dress-ups and shoot their mates. Some of these were cheap toys, and others were almost indistinguishable from the real thing. They have some legitimate use in training. Force on force, introduction and rehearsal of drills prior to live fire or when range facilities aren’t available, as well as foreign weapons famil are some things I can think where airsoft is a viable alternative. Just how good are some of these airsoft guns? My inner grunt was excited to see an F88 carbine with a suppressor attached. Picking up the weapon, I actually almost fully completed the ADF clearance drill before I realised I had a toy in my hands. Cock and lock the bolt, remove barrel, inspect chamber, and then went to inspect the receiver body. It was only on the last step where I saw the internals of the receiver body didn’t look as it should have. Since it’s been about 5 years since I last handled an F88, weight, feel, appearance were almost spot on to what I remembered from having the damn thing strapped to me for long periods. I’d also only just handled the new AUGA3 only a couple of hours previously to refresh myself.

EYEWEAR

BodySpecs The opportunity to meet the lovely people behind BodySpecs was taken. They’re being introduced into the Australian market (I’m currently doing a long term review on their product range). They produce some really nice safety and ballistic rated sunglasses and goggles. If you’re like me, work requires safety glasses to be donned as soon as I step out of the office. Since I have a reputation as a Dashing Lighthorseman to maintain, and I wear shades for most of the time I’m outdoors, a nice comfortable pair of sunglasses that look like fashion items and offer way more protection (for a damn good price) is always appreciated. Run by a husband and wife team, one of the most unusual freebies from SHOT was scored: a big hug (did I happen to mention I’m a dashing Lighthorseman?). I also received relationship advice and a promise to swap recipes (especially gluten-free stuff for my fiancée).

In terms of relationship advice, the husband of the team knows exactly what to do to maintain a happy marriage: he does PRECISELY as he’s told, it’s kept him alive for his 60+ years Hard to ignore such good advice.

FIREARM ACCESSORIES

It was very noticeable, that accessories for the AR-15/M-16 family of weapons is still a major portion of SHOT show. In fact, there are many accessories for small arms in general in an attempt to simplify life for the user. Some range from essential, to absolutely useless. Something that I’d seen online was pointed out to me, was the pistol bayonet. I can think of far more stuff I’d rather spend my hard-earned beer tickets on. There was a plethora of other stuff I’d hesitate to recommend for real world use.

A lot of research on Lightfighter has revealed that the classically simple equipment, dark intentions, suitable training and application of the right mindset are what’s required to win the day when it comes to a surviving a gunfight. It also seems to compliment lessons learnt from those of my predecessors who have “seen the elephant”.

Lightfighter has reinforced to me that weapon accessories should maximise the fight, not look pretty or cool. The requirements, according to my research, is simple:

– a quality weapon

– reliable magazines

– quality ammunition

– a good adjustable sling (generally 2-point)

– a light

– a red dot sight

– simple furniture to suit the user

is all that is really needed on a fighting weapon. Anything else is a waste of time. Some of the more cheaper manufacturers seemed to have a heap of fancy-looking accessories, with far too many delicate moving parts, and dubious real world usage. Some of these companies had oodles of punters climbing all over their stands to look at such useless rubbish. Higher end manufacturers had the advantage in clean, simple design that worked to reduce a firers workload, not increase it.

Larue Tactical

One such high end manufacturer is Larue Tactical. Not well known Down Under, since Larue don’t export, mainly due to ITARS restrictions and company policy. Let’s be honest, it’s simply not worth their time to export to such a highly restricted and Elmer Fudd dominated market that we have down here. The average shooter Down Under is a big believer in “Just as good as”. Larue make some of the best return to zero quick release optics mounts in the world. I’ve been hearing good things about them for many years. It was really great to actually have a close look at the product. Simple comparison between them and their competitors really highlighted to me just how good Larue was. With my background in manufacturing, I could tell there was a huge amount of effort put into every stage of the process, from R&D, design, materials selection, manufacturing process, and QA, compared to cheap Chinese knock-offs of similar optics rings and mounts. Having seen their line-up now, if I could support his business with my hard earned beer tickets, I would.

Other firearms accessories was cleaning kits and materials. Otis had a huge structure in one of the main halls. They support a lot of the big shooting teams and events in the States. I have one of their multi-caliber cleaning kits (something else I need to review) that has proven to be very useful in reducing the load carried.

Slip also had a stand. I got put onto Slip by the LF crowd, they produce some very nice dedicated cleaning and lube solution for high performance and high use weapons. An example of how good their lube, is Pat Roger’s famous “Filthy 14”. This is one of his training school lender rifles. Over the last couple of years, I’ve been keeping track of “Filthy 14” via SWAT magazine and LF. So far, she’s seen some outrageously high round count with only lubrication being applied, no cleaning at all. When in doubt, just dump more lube (in the proscribed fashion as per common sense and manufacturers recommendations) into the weapon’s inner workings. It was a pity I wasn’t able to meet Pat himself, since I would have liked to thank him for his contributions and insights about firearms training that I’ve read so much about.

Suppressors were an another popular item on display at the show. They’re showing an increasing popularity as the advantages during the current round of deployments can be clearly demonstrated. The Gemtech stand was pretty busy when I quickly pulled through. I wasn’t able to meet the LF’r Kel, since I didn’t want to be a rude bugger and interrupt any important meetings. They have a very nice selection of cans, for a variety of calibres and uses. In particular, I was able to examine the suppressed FNH handgun in .45ACP, fitted with a red dot holographic sight and back-up irons. The height of the red dot easily cleared the can, which was something I’ve heard is a major obstacle for suppressing many weapons – interfering with normal operation and functions like sighting. It felt like a damn fine pistol.

SCHWAG

One of the most important aspects of any trade show, no matter what industry, is the free stuff (aka graft and corruption) that is available to be scored. The quantity and quality of most stuff had to be seen to be believed. Now, you are talking to the bloke whose baby brother managed to drag off 10kg’s of freebies at the end of Landwarfare Conference last year in Brisbane. Trust me, that’s a lot of free pens. But SHOT was another level entirely. In fact, such was the quality of schwag on offer, some poor people thought the plush otter I was carrying in my daypack was on offer from some stand. It was quite unbelievable just how many women would grab me, and enquire just WHERE I had scored the cute little plushy thing riding trunk monkey for me. The look of disappointment when I told them I’d bought it from New Orleans Aquarium was warming to the sub-cockles of my heart.

Had I been single, the opportunities presented by a cute little plush otter and my exotic accent would not have been wasted. Such is one of the prices of becoming a grown-up.

Another important feature for any trade show is a good looking display for your presentation. If you’re presenting at a trade show and are looking for custom trade show booths, there are many places where you can get such products. Correspondingly, it is crucial that you have something to give out to passers-by that is packed full of information all about your products and services. A print booklet can be incredibly useful for this purpose. The format and size of a booklet allows you to present a compelling argument in a simple and visually appealing way, and this can help emphasize your points and get people talking about your brand. You can even use booklets to showcase your product listings to get people excited about any offers and promotions. I know there are some fantastic booklet printing companies out there that can take care of this for you. Additionally, having free merchandise/freebies available at your custom booth will also give the people who visit you something to remember you by. Whether it be bags with your logo on or bracelets specific to your business from the likes of SleekWristbands.com, you’re putting your business name out there in some of the simplest forms. People will ask where the bags or bracelets from, bringing your business into the conversation which is really a great thing.

CONCLUSION

Let me reiterate that this was my first SHOT show. I was overwhelmed by just how big the whole thing was. If you have any questions, or queries about stuff that I haven’t covered, please don’t hesitate to ask. Catcalls and abuse can also be directed in this general direction. You’ll have to pardon my lack of editing, all my elves have walked off-site in disgust at the moment.


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