Reflections and Predictions after the 2011 SHOT Show

The SHOT show is big. Really big.  Bigger than you can imagine and then some.  And it seems to grow every year. Thousands of attendees visit, literally, thousands of exhibitors over four days in mid-January.  The law enforcement and tactical section in and of itself is larger than the entirety of most other industry conventions.  Every vendor comes to show off what is new for the coming year and industry professionals including sales organizations, media, outdoor personalities, and retailers meet in what essentially amounts to an open air market, conversing, conducting business, signing contracts and placing orders. Without rival the SHOT show has become the largest concentration of all things related to shooting, hunting, and the outdoors in the world.

Having attended the SHOT show several times previously, I really thought that I had seen it all and, of course, brought with me my own set of expectations. One would expect, with the state of the economy and world affairs, the show might be poorly attended on both sides of the aisle compared to previous years.  One would be wrong.

The 2011 show will go on the books as one of the most successful ever, with a record number of exhibitors and attendees and an all-time record of over 2800 media personnel attending the event (of whose ranks I counted myself among).  I asked the same question to every vendor that I interacted with-“How is the show this year?” The answer was unanimously the same- “Unbelievably well!” or, “Great!” Not “Okay” or “so-so.”  Never a, “Poor” or “Bad.”  Yes, it appears that all is well in the shooting industry this year and we can look forward to a slew of new innovations coming to the consumer in 2011.

I was fortunate to observe innumerable new rifles, shotguns, handguns, ammunition, boots, clothing, eye protection and even a unique smash-and-grab theft-prevention system (it quickly fills the room with glycol-based fog and then flashes a blinding strobe). Barnes has a new brand of ammunition in addition to several new bullets. Winchester unveiled their new “Blind Side” shot shell for waterfowlers—a uniquely shaped pellet with flat and round sides.  Kel-Tec unveiled their first ever tactical shotgun. There were AR platform-based rifles galore. Just when you think that there isn’t any more room for innovation, something is made lighter (the lightest muzzleloader in the world from Traditions) or more resistant (like Thompson Center’s new Cerakote corrosion resistant rifles).

There was no shortage of famous folks at this event either. What really blows me away about these ambassadors of our industry is that they are just like the rest of us- they love to hunt and shoot, and are very approachable and easy to engage in conversation. Matt Hughes, the multiple-time welterweight champion MMA fighter was there promoting Browning. The Duck Commander and his Duckmen and Buckmen were highly visible every time they walked the floor. Bill Miller, executive for the North American Hunting Club rode the escalator with me. Jackie Bushman (founder of Buckmasters and former professional tennis player) was strolling down the main aisle on Thursday. Many of the outdoor media were there as well. I had the opportunity to talk with some real legends of prose- Phil Borjaily (video here), Ron Spomer, Bryce Towsley, Mark Kayser and Larry Weishun. Pat Reeve and Nicole Jones caught up with me over at the Mossy Oak booth. Toxey Haas spared a moment as well.

Overall, my impression was that the shooting and hunting industry are not only doing well, but are increasing at an unprecedented rate, which is good news for those of us that like to hunt and shoot, but bad news in that I might have to justify some additions to the gun safe this year to my spouse…