I’ve had a few days to recover from SHOT, read the material I brought back, and otherwise meditate on what I saw.
SHOT is an experience. I’ve heard people say you should go at least once in your life, and they’re not wrong. Even just walking the floor, you start understanding a lot more about how the shooting industry works in terms of supplier relationships, subcontracting, marketing, and so on. There is just so much to see that even with four days, you’re not going to cover it all – especially if you’re interested in hunting, which I wasn’t.
I did pick up on some general trends in the industry, which I want to talk about.
It’s 1998 all over again. I lost track of how many companies were releasing pistols that were either straight derivatives of the Glock gen3, or were gen4s without the proprietary Glock backstraps. Some of the latter were at times interesting, but the market is getting saturated with $1000+ Glocks. The only company that I saw that was even trying to be substantially different was Shadow Systems with their MR920. If they turn out to be the SOLGW of the not-a-Glock world, it would not shock me.
The AR market is beyond oversaturated. I overheard a different, well-known media outlet basically say “I don’t have time to cover your stuff if it’s just ‘high quality’.” They’re not wrong. Unless you are bringing something structurally different to the market – CMMG PCCs and maybe the SOLGW Broadsword come to mind here – why do I care? There are now probably hundreds of small labels assembling their own ARs using subcontracted parts. At best, maybe they have a CNC machine and are doing some fancy lightening cuts here and there, or are slapping a Cerakote job on the receivers, but even that stuff is probably getting sub’d out at this point.
The optics market is oversaturated on the low end. I lost count of how many people were there selling rebranded Chinese scopes. Guys, I’m buying my optics from a company that I think will be around in five years, and it’s not you.
The beginning of overload in the bolt-rifle chassis market. We’re not quite there yet, but there’s a lot of people who seem to think that one more Remington 700 chassis is just what the market needs, and I’m not sure I agree.
Model line consolidation is a good thing, but sometimes it’s been extreme. If you look through the Sig catalog of 2020 and compared it to, say, five years ago, your eyes would pop out. Instead of having a dozen or more items in every line, they’ve been consolidated down to about three to six. I had to check Burris’ catalog twice, because I discovered the only LPVO they have in 2020 is the RT-6. It seemed like most of the big gun and optics makers were paring back their lines and making them more coherent and easy to choose from.
Realistic virtual ranges were everywhere. This is a very cool development, and if someone can come up with a usable shooting simulator with recoil for my TV at home, I’d be happy to buy it. I also wonder if there are business opportunities for opening such virtual ranges in malls in urban areas, where it’s almost impossible to get a real shooting range opened anymore.
Optics innovation was a bit meh. Holosun bucked the trend with their no-battery pistol reflex sights, but even Vortex’s new 1-10x scope was just the 1-6x scope with ~50% higher magnification at a ~50% higher price point. That’s solid engineering work, but it’s not what I would call hugely innovative. The same could be said of the Burris XTR III line, as well received as it has been, or the Fastfire4 (which I loved!). On the downside, the Burris RT-8 DFP is indefinitely delayed, Bushnell’s scope line is uninspiring, and Leupold has not shown much interest in pushing forward with the Mk5 scopes, let alone doing something with the Mk6 or Mk8 lines.
Remington is in deep trouble. If there was ever a big gun company I’d be worried about, it would be Remington. They had very little new to show on the floor compared to their competitors. The 1911, 870, and 700 are widely cloned. They need new stuff that is substantially better. It does not seem to be happening, and that is worrisome. The one bright point in their line-up is the well-received Versa Max auto-loader, but without a 3 gun or tactical model, it’s just another semi-auto hunting / home defense shotgun. The 870 DM seemed totally absent on the show floor. Remington Defense was also stagnant, and they have a terrible reputation for consumer-level support. AAC seemed to be essentially dead. Recoil reviewed the ACR pistol a while back and made the joke, paraphrased: “how would you change the ACR? If you said add MLOK and make it 6.5 Grendel and .300 AAC, you’d be right, but what Remington did was add Square Drop and make it 6.8 and 450 Bushmaster.” This sums Remington’s product management culture. Something has to change over there, and soon.
US subsidiaries of foreign gun companies are doing great. This was an amazing show for IWI, FN, Beretta, Bergara, and Sig Sauer. You walked through their booths and got the sense that they wanted to deliver what US customers wanted, and that their parent companies were fully behind them.
Now, what you’ve been waiting for: the Hebrew Hammer BEST OF SHOW awards. These awards have zero prizes attached, except for bragging rights.
Best Optic: Holosun BLPS. I have nitpicks, but a MOS direct-attach, battery-less, solar-powered pistol RDS was such a clever idea that I don’t care. Runners-up: Meprolight Foresight and Burris Fastfire4. Notably, the Foresight was a CLOSE second in this category.
Best Pistol: Beretta 92X Performance. If I wanted to get back into USPSA Production, this would be the pistol I’d buy, hands-down. The DA trigger was unreal, and the ergonomics were as intuitive as could be asked. If there was an optics-ready version, I’d switch to it for Carry Optics. Heck, maybe I’ll do it using the Mepro microRDS system. Runners-up: Shadow Systems MR920 and Sig Sauer P320 X5 Legion.
Best Rifle: Kel-Tec Sub-2000 CQB. Kel-Tec made some real smart changes to the Sub-2000 with the integrally-suppressed CQB, and I think it’s genuinely a compelling rifle now. Runners-up: Angstadt Arms UDP-9.
Best Shotgun: Mossberg JM Pro 940. I want to believe that Mossberg is finally going to get this one right.
Best Accessory: Magpul D-50 drums. These things are going to be a go-to for USPSA PCC shooters who don’t want to shell out for unwieldy extended magazines. Runners-up: Rescomp PCC mag holders.
Honorable Mentions: Ghost Gunner 3 CNC and Nomad Defense not-a-Glock frames. Both of these companies were class acts, and had great product.