by Frank Winn, Guns & Gear Editor - Saturday, January 21, 2017
The 2017 SHOT Show is in the books, and some stock-taking seems apropos. With more than 60,000 attendees and 1,800-plus vendors, there’s naturally a lot about which to talk, but several themes seem to us eminent. So in no particular order, here is our take on the big Show.
The MSR/AR is still the undisputed king of, well, everything. Complete rifles were everywhere, and new providers are still entering the fray. In wide evidence are “journeyman” variants, for lack of a better term. These are utterly sound rifles built around identifiable feature sets like the M4—5.56 caliber, collapsible stock, fixed front sight flattops. But to assert they’re all the same would hardly constitute a trend, and it’s quite the opposite of what we mean to remark. From 40 feet, the similarities may still be what strikes, but up close, the reverse is true. Manufacturers are differentiating their rifles with selective upgrades that, not so long ago, would have been on the buyer to add for him or herself, and that would have bumped acquisition cost noticeably above the $1,000 mark for an off-the-shelf rifle.
No more. Faster twist rates in barrels and upgraded furniture are probably the most common adds, followed by handguards: D-ring setups, for instance, are almost nostalgic except on truly entry level rifles. Mid-length gas systems and snazzy handguards are next, at the expense of carbine systems that were the rage two years ago. We also saw more money thrown at barrel termination, with recoil-attenuating comps displacing A2 cages with increasing frequency. Trigger parts/systems are better too, with many rifles boasting improvement through metal treatments, spring sets or third-party solutions.
Upgraded components for existing rifles were everywhere as well. This is a wise strategy, as a lot of those entry-level rifles can be improved with relatively simple parts swaps.
We didn’t see as many out-and-out new calibers for Stoner-pattern rifles as it seems we did in recent years, but this is probably because anything that can fit in the platforms (AR10 or AR15) has been. But expansion of the use of those calibers—and especially in hunting-appropriate cartridges like .308 WIN (7.62x51)—were everywhere. That’s no mystery to us why. The original ran in .308, and it’s a honey in the platform—reliable, very accurate and potent enough for all but the largest North American game.
A variant on the MSR theme that you could not “swing a dead cat” without hitting were PCCs—pistol caliber carbines. Five years ago, these were a niche article, but again we say, ”No more.”
AR versions from premier manufacturers like JP Rifles that run on one of a variety of pistol magazines (most notably Glock, Uzi, Beretta or Smith & Wesson M&P) dominate at the moment, but the CZ Skorpion EVO 3, Kel-Tec Sub-2000 and SIG MPX dazzle in their turn, and there are many others (here, here and here). The major competitive disciplines may be the best barometer of how explosively these handy, soft-shooting rifles are attracting fans: We’ve recently heard they’ll be permitted in IDPA, and USPSA will have a separate division at their “Optics Nationals” in March. If you order one now, you may only wait weeks; by summer, they may only arrive in time for Christmas.
“Reflex”-type optics continue their strong growth. For our purposes, this encompasses several technologies with a common characteristic—non-magnifying sights that appear to project an aiming cue on the same visual plane as the target. Variety is simply huge. We think we see some notable quality improvements too: Heretofore cheapo brands seemed to us beefed up to justify higher prices, and things like multiple reticle types may actually be working.
These are a huge benefit to shooters with vision issues too. Because the dot/reticle and target appear on the same visual plane, you’ll get clarity of both aim point and target with your distance prescription.
We wonder when the next downward size movement will occur with red dot optics as well. Right now, they’re being shoehorned onto small pistols like the Glock 43 and overhang on either side of the slide. This has a cobbled together look that doesn’t engender a lot of confidence, but there’s no technical reason it won’t work. But if somebody finds a way give these a truly finished look, they’ll be moving their money around in wheelbarrows. We heard rumors of a couple, but couldn’t flush them out.
Nor are reflex sights the exclusive adornments of CQB-oriented rifles any longer—they were everywhere on both pistols and PCCs. Most manufacturers are showing “optics-ready” slides that make fitting a breeze, so long gone are the days of shipping off your slide and waiting for six or eight weeks. The Glock MOS pistols will have you up and running in about 10 minutes with simple tools, and the SIG RX, Springfield OSP and Smith and Wesson are just a few that follow suit in elegant, effective fashion.
So-called chassis stock systems are another sort of “rage.” It seemed like everywhere we turned, there was a variation on this re-stocking theme. These aren’t really new, but selection by caliber and manufacturer(s) have long been thin. Unless you were working on a Remington 700 or Winchester Model 70, the pickings were sparse indeed, and fit only to very specific purposes. This is out the window altogether. We showed you MDT in our Day 3 SHOT review, but there are many others, like Masterpiece Arms (and here) and American Built Arms (here and here) are two others we think very well of.
The big deal here is actually straightforward, if not precisely obvious: We think the versatility of MSR/AR platforms have spoiled us more than a little, and chassis give to our bolt guns the flexibility we’ve come to cherish on those semi-autos. Mounting of gizmos—wise or foolish—is now just as easy on a bolt platform as on a modern sporting rifle. And if a full-up chassis system seems to be solving problems you never knew you had, great intermediate measures are available from companies like Manners Composite Stocks. Don’t think you’re taking a step down either—their competitive “chops” are completely world class.
Our last trend is, we hope, a harbinger of things to come. Suppressor companies were everywhere at this SHOT. Mainstays like SilencerCo, Gemtech and AWC were easy to find, but newer players with essentially tabletop booths were showing sophisticated designs of impressive variety. Let’s hope there’s plenty of room for all to play with passage of the Hearing Protection Act and President Donald Trump’s signature.
We’re sure we missed a bunch, but our feet simply can’t take any more.
Email your comments/questions about this site to: 1stFreedom@nrahq.org
To advertise on America's 1st Freedom, visit nramediakit.com for more information
Get updates on America’s 1st Freedom features, NRA SHARP and American Warrior—delivered directly to your Inbox.