by Daniel O’Dea
Last January, I once again packed my bag, grabbed my passport and boarded a flight to attend the US Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show or SHOT Show as it is more commonly known. Celebrating its 40th year it was, as usual, held in Las Vegas, which has been the home for the event for the best part of a decade.
First organised in 1979, the US SHOT Show was a rather humble affair when compared to the present set-up. In its initial year, then located in St. Louis, it attracted 5600 visitors with 290 exhibitors over 51,153 square feet of space (the US still uses imperial measurements). The SHOT Show is now considered the largest trade gathering of its kind in the world and this year boasted more than 64,000 attendees from about 100 countries with 1660 exhibitors and 645,000 square feet of exhibition space. The scale is massive and unless you have experienced it, it’s hard to fathom, especially considering it is a trade show with no access for the general public.
The show ran from January 23-26 but there is also a lead-up function exclusively for the 1200 invited media guests from around the world, myself included. Held the day before, Industry Day at the range goes ahead at the Boulder Rifle and Pistol Club on the outskirts of Las Vegas, not far from the Hoover Dam. Around 200 exhibitors have products on the firing line for the media to sample. All combined it makes for a very busy week and quite a cardio workout. My kids had bought me a Fitbit tracker for Christmas which showed a total of 102,790 steps or 77.61km walked for the week!
In the ‘Land of the Free’ the firearms market is dominated by defensive handguns and black rifles (AR15 variants) mostly self-loading and with high-capacity magazines, making them highly restricted in Australia and in the most part not available. But there is always plenty of new gear to report on.
With a certain air of irony, the first bolt gun that I lined up behind out at the range day was the greatly anticipated and soon to be released Lithgow LA105 Woomera. Chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor and featuring a 610mm (24”) Cerakoted barrel and a KRG adjustable stock with an alloy chassis, this rifle not only looks the part but shoots like a dream. With too many elements to cover here, I’m sure there will be no disappointment for those who have put their money down in the pre-order.
Over at Ruger there was the great little .22LR in the Ruger Precision Rimfire, a scaled down version of the Ruger Precision Rifle. It includes a moulded one-piece chassis and adjustable buttstock made from glass-filled nylon. An interesting aspect is the ability to change from a rimfire 1½” bolt throw to a centrefire 3” bolt throw. This is to copy the centrefire for practice hence reducing the chance of short stroking your bolt when you switch back to your centrefire. I shot this one too and again it didn’t disappoint.
Also in the Ruger bag of tricks was the Hawkeye Long-Range Target in .300 Win Mag, the Gen 3 Ruger Precision Rifle updated with a 15” free float handguard with M-Lok and another neat .22LR in the Ruger American Rimfire Target with thumbhole stock. This features a true ambidextrous, stylish laminated thumbhole stock to agree with both right- and left-handed shooters. On the handgun front, Ruger also has a few new revolvers. There is a GP100 seven-shot in .357, an eight-shot Super Redhawk again in .357 and for holders of high-calibre permits another Super Redhawk, this time in 10mm Auto supplied with moon clips. You can also use .40 S&W rounds. I was able to shoot this and it was a real pleasure.
Over at Weatherby there was one for the ladies in the Mark V Camilla. The whole philosophy behind the Camilla project is: ‘Designed by women, built by Weatherby’. Previously available in the Vanguard range, this premium rifle on the Weatherby Mark V action presents a stylised, shaped stock with a shortened length of pull, slender forearm and slimmer pistol grip, a gentle palmswell, high comb and it even delivers a specific cant on the stock to more suit the female form. It comes in the Deluxe with traditional Weatherby high-gloss timber, contrasting fore-end tip, white diamonds and basically the full Weatherby treatment and the Subalpine, offering composite stock and Flat Dark Earth Cerakote finish. If a gun could be the described as looking beautiful, it would be the Weatherby Mark V Camilla Deluxe.
Howa fans familiar with the Howa HCR (Howa Chassis Rifle) may be pleased to hear Howa has added a model in the Howa Mini Action Chassis Rifle, a natural progression combining the Howa Mini Action but in the chassis rifle format. Calibre choices include the ever-popular .223 Remington, 6.5 Grendel and 7.62×39. Another option is the Howa KRG Bravo. The Bravo is a bit of a hybrid providing the bedding characteristics of a chassis rifle but on a more traditional pistol grip varmint-style KRG stock. Calibres are .223 Rem, 22-250 Rem, .243 Win, 6mm Creedmoor, 6.5 Creedmoor and .308 Win with barrel lengths calibre dependant 20”, 24” or 26”. Again, I had some trigger time with this one in 6mm Creedmoor and it was a sweet shooter.
Savage has freshened up the 110 range of bolt-action rifles with the Savage 110 Accufit line. Accufit is basically a new stock system which, reminiscent of snap-in grip panels on polymer handguns, comes with five snap-in comb risers and four snap-in length of pull inserts. I guess this is a cost effective way of providing true adjustability and Savage has been long known for providing quality and performance well above its price point. Cheek-weld and length of pull are, of course, critical to correct gun fit. The simple ability to amend for true alignment of sights or optics to the individual shooter can do nothing but benefit consistency in accuracy and performance, especially in instant shooting scenarios when hunting.
Although not new, a multi-colored display of the Savage Rascal series of pint-sized single-shot .22s is worth a mention for credit, as is anything else aimed at introducing the next generation to the shooting sports.
Another rifle that is sure to be a winner Down Under will be the Tikka T1x. In a popular current trend with rifle manufacturers to give shooters the choice of a rimfire that mimics its centrefire counterpart, the T1x is basically just a .22 rimfire version of the T3x centrefire rifle. The action is the same length and the rifle uses the same stock and trigger. This not only means that factory components are compatible but that the T1x rimfire should quite happily drop into the many aftermarket Tikka stocks and chassis systems available. If you love your Tikka T3, you are bound to want to add one of these to your safe as well.
Over at Remington you will find the Remington Model 700 PCR (Precision Chassis Rifle). Remington it would seem is just the latest to come to the party with its version of the precision chassis rifle concept. This one has a 24” barrel with R5 rifling and will be chambered in 260 Rem, .308 Rem and 6.5 Creedmoor. Remington has put two years into developing the chassis and has partnered with Magpul for the furniture with a PRS stock and grip. Every rifle is tested for sub-MOA accuracy using an advanced Computer Aided Targeting System (CATS) and comes with the test print-out as confirmation. It is worth pointing out that all the major manufacturers now have chassis-style rifles along these lines. Australian shooters must continue to lobby government and police registry bodies in States that re-interpret logic and use subjective ‘appearance’ to arbitrarily further regulate bolt-action rifles, quite often with absolutely no consistency.
For the handgun aficionados the Smith & Wesson stand always has plenty to offer. Prior to the show I caught up with Tony Miele, the General Manager of Smith & Wesson’s ‘Performance Center’ custom shop, out at the range day. Tony ran me through a couple of great 686 Performance Center revolvers just brought to the market. There is a 4”, six-shot with Performance Center tuned action, a crisp 3.5lb single and 10lb double-action trigger pull, vented barrel, unfluted cylinder and Hogue grips. It is also cut for moon clips and features an extended cylinder release, making reloads in competition super quick. The second line includes all the same treatment but carries a 5” barrel and is a 686 ‘Plus’, meaning it picks up an extra round in the cylinder, making it a seven-shot revolver. This one is specifically targeted at competitions like the International Confederation of Revolver Enthusiasts (ICORE). Both were really delightful to shoot.
Back on the stand there were several variants of Smith & Wesson’s successful M&P series pistol now carrying the M&P 2.0 moniker. With M&P 2.0 variants first on sale last year, popularity in the US has delayed availability in Australia where we require our own special SKU with 5” barrel and 10-round magazine. Speaking with local distributor Grycol, we hope for this situation to be corrected in the near future, so watch this space soon for a full M&P 2.0 review.
On the optics front, Leupold has an all-new scope range in the VX Freedom which will replace the current VX1 and VX2 series of scopes. The VX Freedom class will come in 10 of the most popular magnification choices. One hundred per cent built in the US on 1” main tubes, the VX Freedom range is claimed to have updated internals, making it even more rugged and reliable than the models it supplants. It features advanced ergonomics for the power selector and adjustment knobs and innovative Twilight Light Management coatings to enhance vision in those important first and last 20 minutes of hunting light.
Perhaps unfamiliar to many Australian shooters, Geissele Automatics is a major US manufacturer of competition grade triggers for AR15s and is famous within the industry for its quality products. Well, Geissele has just introduced a drop-in trigger for the Remington 700 bolt-action rifle, the Geissele Super 700. This ingenious trigger system is fully adjustable to meet any shooter’s requirements with a trigger pull weight from .75lb to 3.5lb. Uniquely the Geissele Super 700 has the ability to be configured as a single stage or a two-stage trigger without the need to swap out any parts. This will allow the adjustment of weight distribution between the first and second stage and finally the weight of pull. I spent some time talking to company owner and inventor Bill Geissele and shot some 700s constructed both in single and two-stage. To say I was impressed would be a total understatement.
When it comes to cartridges 6.5 Creedmoor seems to be all the rage in the US at the moment with the bulk of the rifles unveiled at the show including this calibre in their line-up. But most of the vibe was around a brand-new cartridge that was only officially acknowledged commercially by the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) the day before the SHOT Show opened its doors.
The .224 Valkyrie is said to be a game changer, launching a 90gr Sierra MatchKing projectile that can stay supersonic beyond 1300 yards or 1188m. It basically delivers 6.5 Creedmoor ballistics with less than half the felt recoil. Made to run in MSR 15 platforms (Modern Sporting Rifle, AR15 variants) the .224 Valkyrie is just at home in short action bolt-action rifles. Designed and launched by Federal Premium Ammunition, the response has been amazing with no less than 13 rifle manufacturers having firearms ready for offer in this calibre at the show in advance of SAAMI approval.
I actually tested several rifles in this calibre at the Industry Day, the very same day it was given the SAAMI approval. Shooting a Lewis Machine & Tool (LMT) AR15, I had no problems at all hitting a 1000-yard gong round after round. Federal has launched with four loadings, the aforementioned 90gr Sierra MatchKing at 2700fps, a 60gr Nosler Ballistic Tip at 3300fps, 75gr FMJ at 3000fps and a 90gr Fusion Soft Point for 2550fps.
Not all fresh industry trends in the US will follow through to Australia, with both Remington and Mossberg launching detachable magazines for their respective 870 and 590 model pump-action shotguns. In the case of the Mossberg 590, there are capacity options of 5, 10, 15 or even 20-round magazines. A detachable magazine on a shotgun could prove useful when having to change from buckshot to birdshot or solid slug. It is also faster to reload and safer to unload. It could turn out to be very handy for primary producers and feral animal controllers with Category C or D licences.
Thermal imaging and night vision, both detection and sighting systems, also seem to be prominent, not so much for hunting, where there are ethical considerations, but for pest control, security, law enforcement, military applications and even rescue services. There appears to be no end of companies offering both thermal imaging, IR (Infrared) pointers and illuminators and night vision systems. Leupold had two pocket-sized thermal units that I checked out which could be helpful in many applications, even looking for dodgy electrical wiring in your wall cavity apparently.
Then there were silencers and suppressed firearms. There is a big push in the US to relax the laws around such devices already available under permit. As in Australia, there is much misinformation and hysteria peddled by anti-gun advocates in this area. Statistics show there is no link between the use of these devices and crime, whereas the benefits to hearing protection and noise control are very evident. In many European countries, including England where firearms laws are draconian, the use of silencers is just about mandated for hunting and considered in the best public interest in reducing noise. Hopefully this is an matter where eventually commonsense might prevail.
Of course, there was so much worth reporting, more than could ever be dealt with here but I hope you have enjoyed this smattering of highlights. It is always a great insight to cover the US SHOT Show and can be a lot of fun too.