Dispatches From
The 1998 SHOT Show

The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same
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There are no available photos of the 1998 SHOT trip, but Brent found a few others from approximately
the same time frame. Here Brent is standing at the booth for the now-defunct SWAT Magazine.

Don’t you just love stumbling on old things from your younger days? I’m talking about the stuff that holds no real intrinsic value or even a smidgeon of historical significance but remains important to only you — an old love letter, your long-misplaced high school yearbook or that special forgotten pocket knife. If you’re a writer, these types of small thrills include finding old published stories you had completely forgotten.

Golden Nugget

I was digging through my archives, trying to find inspiration, when I decided to delve into a file holding many of my first sketchy attempts at ‘professional’ writing. I hadn’t rooted through the pile in years and was about to move along when something caught my eye. It was a newspaper column about my first experience visiting the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trades (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas in 1998. By my calculations, this was 26 SHOT Shows ago and I was but a wee lad of 36 years old. Little did I know when the column was written I would eventually make my living slinging words in the shooting industry.

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The fun part is reading the story and realizing that, nearly three decades later, things haven’t really changed. Vegas is more over-the-top and expensive, while the show itself has nearly doubled in size — but when you get right down to it, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

See if you don’t agree. Here is one of my weekly newspaper outdoor columns — with a bit of judicious editorial pruning and some cleaned-up grammar — from 1998:

I would like to share some highlights of my recent adventure to Sin City, Las Vegas, Nevada. There in the high desert, Your Trusted Servant and three other intrepid explorers descended onto this frontier city for an action-packed three days of walking, being jostled by foreigners and paying too much money for everyday items.

Our group was visiting the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trades (SHOT) Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. This show is the Superbowl and Mardi Gras of the outdoor world, with over 7,000 exhibits and is open only to dealers, manufacturers and the media. It is during this show most of the firearms and outdoor accessories you will purchase in the coming year are previewed and purchased by retailers.

Brent and Erik Estrada hanging out at the SHOT Show.

You never know who you’ll run into at SHOT. Outside the Convention Center, waiting for a ride,
Brent ran into famed gunfighter Jim Cirillo.

Aside from the practical aspect of buying and selling, the social scene is equally important. Making contacts and renewing acquaintances takes up a better part of the day spent walking, and it is not unusual to see celebrities such as Tom Selleck and Larry Hagman walking around wide-eyed like everyone else.

At this point, I have finished gushing about the show and will now get to the meat of the trip. While most of the following verbiage is devoted to city travel as opposed to my usual wilderness fare, please indulge my whim as I am the closest thing resembling a travel reporter on this newspaper’s staff.

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On Golden Wings

The flight from Indianapolis was uneventful, apart from the woman sitting beside me who wanted to discuss every moment of her tragic life, including the details of intimate medical conditions and morbid stories about dead and dying family members. Her tales were entertaining, and we soon landed after the longest flight in commercial aviation history.

The Las Vegas Airport is like most airports, with the exception of the ubiquitous slot machines. These shiny silver beasts are everywhere in the city, probably even in mortuaries and jail cells. It is amazing quarters will actually attempt to leap from your pants pocket unassisted in an effort to rejoin their kin inside the one-armed bandits.

The taxi ride from the airport was interesting. It goes without saying the driver had too many vowels in his name and was from some country ending in “-stan.” The cab smelled of boiled cabbage and horse liniment, but the driver was friendly enough, even though he was convinced for some reason that our party was Swedish. After a short ride at speeds approaching the sound barrier, we arrived downtown at our hotel without incident.

The next day was devoted to the SHOT show. With so much to see, we got an early start and still did not manage to take in the entire event. My notebook is crammed with information and observations about the show, its people and the products.
First, many of the vendor displays looked more like a bank than a sales area, with cherrywood cabinetry, recessed lighting and brass fixtures. Leupold and Bushnell were so finely decorated we were afraid to enter because we were not wearing a tie and hadn’t made reservations.

A different approach was used by SIG SAUER. Their display consisted of polished aluminum scaffolding and stage lighting appearing to be part of Michael Jackson’s last world tour. I wondered aloud if The Gloved One would later moonwalk across the top, brandishing the latest new pistol.

One display — which shall remain nameless — featured life-sized dioramas of sportsmen involved in some facet of hunting. This was effective except for one display involving a turkey hunter. Being a family newspaper, I will simply note everyone passing by the booth made the same comment about Ned Beatty and the movie “Deliverance.” I took pictures.

Gun Talk

Certainly, one weapon causing a big stir among the buyers was the new Steyr Scout rifle.

For the uninitiated, the scout rifle concept was designed of Col. Jeff Cooper of Gunsite fame to serve as the only rifle required for hunting up to medium African game and for defensive work. Essentially, a scout rifle is a lightweight .308 caliber bolt-action rifle mated with a forward mount scope. This configuration is remarkably versatile and verifies the old saw: “Beware of the man who only owns one rifle.”

Steyr has worked with Cooper to unveil the Steyr Scout at the show. The most noticeable feature is the futuristic Zytel composite stock with ingenious integral bipod popping from the forend. The barrel is short and fluted to reduce weight, with the bolt action utilizing detachable five or ten-round box magazines. A spare magazine hides in the shoulder stock for quick access.

A Leupold 2.5x scope rests on top and there are many other features are too numerous to mention in this short space. However, before calling your local gun retailer to purchase this arguably perfect medium rifle, check the mortgage rates first: the privilege of owning one will run around $2,500! It’s a bargain for a great, useful rifle but out of range for poor outdoor writers.

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History often repeats itself, and a visit to the Ashley Outdoors booth confirmed this cliché. Their new sighting system for defensive weapons utilizes a concept first popularized on African Express rifles of the last century. The Ashley Express System utilizes a wide, V-shaped rear sight mated to a large, indeed giant, front bead for quick sight acquisition.

Trying out some dummy weapons, the sights come onto the target almost without effort. Many industry insiders agree these sights will probably become widespread in the coming year on guns designed to deal with serious interpersonal conflict.

One interesting new gun care product is the World’s Fastest Gun Cleaner by National Tech Labs. This product is similar to a nylon rope with brass bristles embedded in the forward section. The cleaner is pulled from the breach to muzzle scrubbing, wiping, and eventually oiling the bore. It won’t take the place of a thorough scrubbing but would be great for field or range use.

Gerber’s latest entry in the Multi-Tool Arms Race is the Multi-Lite. The folding tool kit features eight locking tools, a storage compartment and an amber LED emergency light. The tool appears well constructed, but one trusted knife evaluator I know is concerned about durability.

Walking through the clothing pavilion, one booth particularly caught our eye. The Nikwax company makes several unique products that are used in the washing machine to turn ordinary clothing into raingear. Their display had an ordinary cotton shirt that was being sprayed with water from a shower head, but the water simply ran off the shirt. This product line covers virtually any type of material, including down and fleece, making your outerwear perform double duty.

Brent is caught reading one of the interesting “tourism guides” available along Vegas streets.

For the first several years at SHOT, Brent stayed in a cheap hotel next to the Adult Entertainment Industry Trade Show.
While preparing photos for this article, he realized somebody had scrawled “Dave Howard Loves Me” on the top of the metal sign.
That required serious motivation!

Antibiotic Not Included

We did finally manage to see the sights of the famous Strip on the last day. On Las Vegas Boulevard, there are truly wonders to boggle the mind, along with a million incredibly rude foreigners and winos peddling Rolex watches. The street is also littered with sheaves of flyers advertising “dates” who offer all sorts of companionship. Be careful allowing children to pick up any of this literature unless you are prepared to answer questions. The ads don’t mention if penicillin is included in the fee.

Overall, the trip was a huge success, and we are planning to make the SHOT show an annual event on our outdoor calendar. Las Vegas is truly a wonder and a place where a tourist can have the time of their life. You might also be subjected to a random bomb search at the airport, but that is another story.

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