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SHOT Show Day 1: Tuff Products, JOL, Faxon Firearms, KAK Industry, GSL, MK Machining, Ikon Weapons

Despite what you may have heard, SHOT is definitely not dead in this year of 2022, and there are still many, many exhibitors at the show. I spent this morning at the “Supplier Showcase”.

The “Supplier Showcase” is an exhibition hall with the business to business suppliers – services and OEM products for anonymous reuse and rebranding. There is really not a lot here that would interest most of my readership; I doubt many of you are dying to find out about the latest coating firm, or the fifteenth place making OEM BCGs.

However, this is not to say that there were no exhibitors of interest. I saw a few familiar (or perhaps not so familiar?) names and struck up some conversations.

Tuff OEM: Tuff Products makes a variety of end user products, which I would broadly classify as “fabrics based” (including their magazine pouches, which I’m pretty sure I have a couple of). What you may not know about them is that they are also a major OEM of such things for major manufacturers – Leupold, Hornady, and so on. They have manufacturing capability worldwide in the US, Mexico, and China.

I’m more familiar with Tuff these days from their collaborations with Steve Fisher of Sentinel Concepts. I brought this up with them, and they confirmed that this is a thing they could really do with anyone, at a reasonable R&D cost (or at least, they bill less per hour than I do at my day job) and not terribly high minimum runs. I look forward to seeing what they do with other big name collaborators in the future.

JOL: Japan Optics Limited is the “other” big Japanese optics OEM. Their main factory is in Tokyo, but they also have manufacturing capability in the Philippines and China. Many of the lower-priced Japanese scopes you’re familiar with (eg, Crimson Trace) were made by JOL.

The (very friendly) rep was quite proud of a 3-18×40 scope on the table. I picked it up and looked at it… it was a scope. Not particularly light, but not crazy heavy. But then he told me to look through it… that was where the surprise was. JOL had put together a reticle with MOA markings and MIL markings in a simple way that wasn’t a nightmare to use. I’m not sure if there’s necessarily a huge use case for that in terms of holdovers, but if you’re ranging with your reticle, it could simplify some lives. My camera not up to taking pictures of this, but it was cool!

The other topic we discussed was daylight bright first focal plane reticles. I don’t think it’s a huge secret that we have not seen these on JOL scopes yet (to the best of my knowledge), and that Leupold/Vortex/etc. basically all use the same patented (with royalties) approach to the problem. While I can’t divulge specifics, it appears that this is a problem that JOL is working on, and from a different angle than some other manufacturers have gone. They didn’t have any prototypes at the show, but I am really excited by the prospect of seeing some more competing technology in this space.

Faxon Firearms: I use Faxon Firearms barrels on a couple of my guns, and I’m broadly pleased with them. They’re one of the best value barrels out there, and miles above some cheap-but-popular barrel makers I will not name.

The big thing at Faxon this year was 8.6 Blackout and the barrels they’re making for Q. 8.6 Blackout, for those of you who have forgotten, is a .308 Winchester cartridge chopped down and necked up to .338 caliber. This is a bit different than 338 Federal in that 338 Federal isn’t chopped down. There are pluses and minuses to these approaches, but suffice it to say that 8.6 Blackout makes a lot more sense for subsonic use.

To stabilize those subs, Faxon utilizes a 1:3 twist rate. For those of you playing at home, this is basically crazy fast and the rifling inside of the barrel looks more like a series of spirals than what we tend to think of as rifling. What caught my attention when talking to Faxon, though, was their statement that they thought faster twist rates were going to be the next big thing in the future due to the extra energy that the ultra-fast spins imparted to targets as measured with ballistic gelatin. There are apparently videos out there of this, and more coming soon.

I’m not sure what to think. Increased twist rates sound like a free lunch, except that while bullets don’t “over-stabilize”, they can certainly suffer in-flight structural integrity issues from spinning too fast. This can lead to accuracy loss or, in severe cases, total failure (the infamous “mid-air poof” of over-spun 223 varmint bullets). It would be interesting to see some tests of 1:5 and 1:6 barrels in 5.56 to prove or disprove the point… Faxon definitely warned me this was early days for the concept, but that it was intriguing.

KAK Industry: The KAK Industry company is best known for their cheap-ish blast-forward flash cans (and the numerous knock-offs that they spawned) and ultra-short rifle barrels using their micro gas tube length, but they also have a significant business in selling OEM parts. The rep at the booth told me they sold 6.1m parts last year, and the goal for this year is to double it. That’s a big goal, but they are also opening an entirely new (huge) facility to build out their manufacturing capability, which they were justifiably quite proud of. They also won the contract for providing 50 cal dummy rounds, which you can see in the gallery above. Very shiny!

GSL: It is tempting to call GSL the successor company to Gemtech, but the reality is that GSL provided much of Gemtech’s manufacturing capability (and, apparently, design licensing). However, most consumers will rightly see them as the inheritors of Gemtech’s suppressor line, which is definitely the case.

GSL’s entire suppressor line was on display, but they took the time to show off their “Fat Man 9mm” can, which is a big bore can designed for PCC use. I asked them if large diameter cans were a trend they expected to pursue going forward, and they seemed a bit diffident on whether it was going to be a big theme; this was a mission-specific can for entry teams and the like.

MK Machining: My relationship with MK Machining is pretty simple: I bought my Razor Gen 3 from them, and I watch their Facebook page for glorious industrial-level 3D printing videos. But they also do quite a bit with CNC milling, such as this bolt action bullpup stock.

The trigger on it is really, really good. The linkage is super solid. You can also see a pseudo-engine in the background that was printed as one piece. That’s not something my Ender 3s can do! MK Machining is working hard to make production-level 3D printing an economic reality, which is something that could really revolutionize the components industry.

Ikon Weapons: Finally, I followed up with Ikon Weapons, who I spent a fair bit of time talking to 2020. They are still in the process of manufacturing “milled receiver weapons” that look a whole lot like Galils. They are trying to branch out a bit to other guns (such as the pictured 1911 grips) and provide more business-to-business services.

They’re also importing those sweet Indumil chamber flags, which are being sold straight on their site. As you’ll recall, these chamber flags have a cartridge head on them so they can be racked/ejected right out of the gun by just using the charging handle.

Final Thoughts: there were some empty booths. It was hardly a ghost town. The premise that everyone was dropping out “because they had to wear masks” is hilarious. Most people on the floor were masking as requested, and the people who dropped out did it because of Omicron concerns, not because they would not mask under any circumstances. But for the haters out there, check out who was making your masks possible:

Good times! I will have more coverage tomorrow, and maybe even today.