An Exclusive Look Inside the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum

Think "deep pockets" when it comes to how much money was spent to make sure the new National Sporting Arms Museum inside Bass Pro Shops' flagship store in Springfield, Mo., is everything it can be. Almost 1,000 firearms totaling over $20 million are showcased in five large exhibit cases, while five dioramas portray the development and evolution of American hunting arms from pre-colonial times to present.

So what comes to mind when you think of Springfield, Mo.? For many people, it might be having the closest airport to the entertainment mecca of Branson, which is only a half an hour south. Other people within the area will automatically say it's the location of Bass Pro's first store and national headquarters. Most people won't remember that the Springfield Town Square was the site of the nation's first recorded shootout. After a gambling dispute, "Wild Bill" Hickok gunned down Davis Tutt with a well-placed shot through the heart after Tutt fired first, just missing Hickok's head at 75 yards.

Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World mega-store located in Springfield is the largest all-sports retail outlet in the world, and attracts more than 4 million visitors annually — as such, it has become a destination unto itself. Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris toured the NRA National Firearms Museum (NFM) in Fairfax, Va., several years ago, and after being awed by the collections, Morris decided to bring the artistry and history of both sporting and military arms into the heartland of America.

Sharing the NFM's extensive collection of firearms and related artifacts with a wider audience was a goal the NRA was happy to embrace. A deal was made, with Bass Pro Shops funding and designing the space needed for the 7,500-square-foot museum, while the NRA provided the firearms, text and storylines for the exhibits. This new museum has become the beneficiary of this relationship, and it couldn't have worked out any better.

After exhibiting at the recent Missouri Valley Gun Collectors Show in Kansas City, Jim Supica, the NFM's Director, graciously agreed to give a few friends and me a museum tour on Monday before the grand opening. Arriving at the steps going up to the National Sporting Arms Museum (NSAM) just after 9 a.m., we were instantly taken aback by the vertical supports for the stairway railings. They consisted of hundreds of identical reproduction percussion rifles and the hardwood railings were actually checkered like a gun stock!  Even the steps had blued metal caps and NRA medallions inlaid in them.  Getting to the top of the stairs, we noticed the overhead custom-made light featured the NRA logo.

Once inside, the NSAM's unique design and layout were immediately apparent, as it wraps around the inside of Bass Pro's store on the second floor. Since the inside displays have glass on the back sides, this allows viewing the expansive store from the museum, but also enables the visitors to look up and view the displays from the main floor.  The impressive parquet wood flooring is outlined with case colored and engraved metal inlaid panels, and all cabinetry, woodwork, and fixtures are made from select walnut, complete with recessed panels.

Looking up at the elaborate ceiling complete with recessed lighting in the second room, I noticed it was very retro-looking and appeared to be completely custom fabricated from tin. After asking Jim if it was the real McCoy, his answer was, "Yes," and then he smiled. Then I asked him if during the course of the construction if there was anything he had asked for and didn't get and/or was rejected.  This time, his one word answer was, "No," followed by another smile. The words "deep pockets" come to mind when thinking about what it cost to build this sensational museum.

The firearms displays are grouped within time periods, with some of the best dioramas I've ever seen placed in between them. These included a buffalo hunter, a 1950s hunting cabin, Lewis and Clark, a Native American hunter and a modern-day father and daughter decked out in camo.

Plan on spending at least a day between the NRA National Sporting Firearms Museum and roaming around Bass Pro's gigantic flagship store, which also includes an archery museum, large aquarium, a fine gun room, and expansive firearms department.

Information and images courtesy of Bass Pro Shops, the NRA National Sporting Arms Museum and John B. Allen.

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