February 07, 2023
Although SHOT Show 2023 attendance numbers are not out, the throngs of people funneling into the showrooms looks like the world’s largest firearms show has a healthy attendance again. The addition of Caesars Forum increased the number of manufacturers and added extra miles to attendees’ legs. The extra show space helped disperse crowds making aisles less crowded than the pre-COVID years. This was the first time in years that I did not see the whole show despite 3½ days of walking. What I did observe, though, illustrated some definite trends and changes from previous industry outings.
Precision Oriented Rifles
The popularity of precision rifles is hard for firearms manufacturers to ignore. Many rifle makers have added at least one heavy-barreled rifle with a competition-inspired stock. Among theme, this year saw Mossberg introduce the Patriot LR Tactical and its MDT-designed stock with an embedded chassis. Colt launched their CBX precision which has an MDT-designed aluminum chassis and bull barrel. Browning showed off its X-Bolt Target Max Competition Heavy. The rifle has a very heavy barrel, weighs 12 pounds, and includes an ARCA rail on the forend.
When it comes to turning night into day, IR technology had long been the cool kid on the block due to its military roots. Judging by the many booths that I ran into, thermal technology is the new king of the night. The application of thermal technology is simpler and offers more features than what is possible with IR. Some of those features include multiple color pallets and reticles, leveling, and a host of customization options via digital on-screen menus. When Bluetooth is incorporated, it also offers hunters the ability to share the optic’s view with a smartphone. Pulsar, a well-established night vision company, introduced four new thermal optics, including their first thermal binoculars, the Merger LRF XL50. Other companies like Armasight, iRay USA, and iAiming have a wide selection of thermals. iAiming’s Game Changer has a First Shot Auto Zero in which the unit will automatically adjust the optics zero after you fire your first shot.
Closed-Emitter Red-Dot Sights
Staying on optics, micro reflex-style sights that can be mounted on pistol slides are nearing standard equipment status. In that market, closed-emitter red dots have several advantages, a big one being that they are easier to clean when mud or snow piles on top of them. Because they are fully housed, they are also more durable. Years ago, Aimpoint led the way with their ACRO red-dot optic, and others have followed. Steiner showed me their MPS (Micro Pistol Sight), and Holosun and Sightmark were also among a number of companies showing off closed-emitter sights.
30 Super Carry Wary?
One of the most publicized innovations of the previous year was Federal’s introduction of the 30 Super Carry cartridge, a potential competitor for both 9mm and .380 ACP in the ammo market. Smith & Wesson and Nighthawk Custom were early, though limited adopters. This year though, Executive Editor Joe Kurtenbach pointed out that he hadn’t seen a single new handgun for the innovative chambering. To really prove its staying power, Kurtenbach states it’s going to need the support of Ruger, Taurus and other high-volume pistol makers. While that support remains to be seen, Federal remains optimistic, and even expanded its load offerings for 2023.
Lever guns have never gone away, but with the development of new straight-wall big bore cartridges like Remington’s 360 Buckhammer, will keep the hunting segment fresh. Add to that the excellent reception new-production Marlin 1895 rifles have received since Ruger acquired the company and its catalogs. Big news this year was the Guide Gun rendition of the 1895, and the forthcoming Models 336 and 1894. The market is also being revitalized by new designs, such as POF USA’s Tombstone. This pistol-caliber, magazine-fed lever action has achieved a modern level of cool that is opening a new generation to the 160-year-old firearm design. Bond Arms, a derringer company, has also jumped on board and created a lever action lower receiver and stock that will fit an AR upper receiver. These creative variations will greatly expand its popularity.
Demise of the Gun Bunnies
In pre-Covid days, it was common for manufacturers to hire fashion models to attract booth visitors. The models were called “gun bunnies” because, despite being attractive and engaging, most had no firearms knowledge to offer passersby. Thankfully, I saw very few of them this year. Manufacturers have smartened up and are arming their booths with their knowledgeable employees, instead. The women I interacted with this year have been industry vets or enthusiastic newcomers that love to shoot and know the products they represent inside and out. It was a refreshing experience to walk into a booth and immediately encounter knowledgeable staff without having to sidestep excess greeters.
AR Manufactures Turn to Precision Guns
Doubling down on the previously noted trends, it’s worth pointing out that many semiauto rifle makers are getting in on the action. Although Daniel Defense notably dipped their toes into these waters with the Delta 5 bolt-action rifle, now a boatload of AR manufacturers have joined them. Stag Arms, Aero Precision and U.S. Arms Company are among the throng to have introduced new bolt-action precision rifles that are decked out with match-grade barreled actions and competition-ready chassis. Black Rain Ordinance launched several precision rimfires complete with competition-ready stocks and Proof Research barrels. I spoke to several other high-profile AR manufacturers who dished on their upcoming bolt guns but swore me to secrecy.
Few Hand Carts
In the pre-Caesars Forum days, the most annoying aspect of SHOT Show was tripping over the handcarts visitors dragged behind them. Due to the packed aisles and small cart profiles, they were hard to see and easy to bump into. The fewer carts may be attributed to manufacturers shifting to digital catalogs. Some provide them on a USB drive while others use a card with a QR code that directs to an online catalog. One manufacturer told me that they cut their printed catalogs in half from 10,000 to 5,000. Throughout the whole show, I picked up only two flyers, but lots of cards with QR codes and several USB drives.
What trends are you seeing? What categories, technologies or techniques do you want to see reported on? How about the continuing renaissance of single-action all-metal guns like the 1911, especially in double-stack 9mm configurations? Let us know by emailing us at GAEDITOR@OUTDOORSG.COM, and use "Sound Off" in the subject line.
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