First Gear | SHOT Trends – Up/Down, In/Out

posted on January 24, 2016

We hope a week of “Hot From SHOT” has given you a sense of the industry variety and vitality we saw in our jaunt to Vegas. Our shoe leather lost is your information gained, perhaps, and among the 30 or so specific items, we also spotted a few trends. We share those to close out the week.

Going, Going, Good Riddance

Contributing Editor Tom “Hoser” Freeman seized on a marked, welcome absence from SHOT 2016—the apparent end of the zombie craze. As far as we could tell, this was essentially a gag (“Walking Dead” inspired, no doubt) that simply got out of hand. Lime green bullets, lime green targets and even lime green camo’ed firearms stalked us for a couple years. Creative Director Clay Turner succinctly dubbed it “the equivalent of pink everything for women.” (At which point, we about spat up our coffee.) But his point is a doubly good one: Pink has moderated considerably, too, and female shooters are quite rightly driving their own bus on color options and everything else; good on ’em. 

AR/MSR Rifles

It’s a safe bet these are still top o’ the heap, and frankly we expected to see more evidence of a shakeout by now. The fact that there aren’t more casualties is interesting in several ways. For big makers, we think it means they aren’t blundering over customers with their own notions of what those customers ought to want, but instead paying very close attention and meeting genuine needs. The smaller guys are sussing out niches, and darn clever ones, too. 

We saw a sub-$800 Bushmaster that was perfect example of what we’re angling at here: A very carefully chosen feature set included a light profile 1-in-8 barrel, adjustable stock, A3 flat-top with a modest red-dot and not much else. It’ll likely prove an easy-to-shoot, reliable entry-level rifle that doesn’t press the M4 “button” as a cost-adding reflex, yet helps first-time owners learn how to shoot and handle a Stoner pattern rifle safely and economically. Down the road, it’ll be a more educated owner who can then pick—or assemble—another AR that meets their needs with much greater precision. Even left-handed options like we saw at the Core Rifle Systems booth, say, or purpose-built and fabulously light like this Robar

Complete rifles are by no means the only evidence, either. Varied accouterments of every imaginable type lurked down each successive aisle—complete uppers, stocks, grips, handguards, barrels, you name it. Alternate calibers were everywhere in major evidence, too, and are expanding the applications of the platform (a fine DPMS in .308 is a superbly versatile game-getter, or take a look at this from Sharps Rifle Company). 

Lacking some misguided Second Amendment beat-down, the semi-auto AR is thriving, and deservedly so. 


In their own way, the rising tide here is more dramatic than the ongoing flood in the AR ocean. All those ARs, of course, need optics, and from micro-reflexes through mid-sized, non-magnifying tubes to world-class combat/competition models, almost everybody is levering their way in if they possibly can. 

Speaking of those micro reflex jobs, we can’t recall a single major handgun manufacturer that didn’t have at least one model sporting a ruggedized red dot (most of the smaller ones did, too). Glock (here and here) and Smith & Wesson may have a small model-count lead at present, but we doubt it’ll last. Perhaps we overlooked them, but a puzzling omission here is a slide-mounted something for G42/43 and M&P Shield-sized carry pistols. Lots of nifty lasers from the likes of Crimson Trace and Viridian, however. 

Reflex sights appear to be making serious inroads in shotgunning and close-to-intermediate range centerfire hunting too. Virtually every optics house we visited was making well more than a nod to this use. Got to say we think Aimpoint has long stolen a march here: The originator of the high precision red dot has an incredibly slick tip-aside or twist-off mount that allows one to take three- or six-power magnification on or off in literally seconds. 

First focal plane scopes continue their charge into the domain of traditional tubes. Burris, Steiner, Leupold, NightForce, US Optics and Vortex (our main image—Vortex Razor 6-24x50 AMG) and Bushnell have been joined by a host of European manufacturers (Schmidt and Bender, Kahles, Zeiss and Minox, for instance). Frankly, they’re all glorious to our eye, but take your time: There are a tremendous number of reticles and “mechanicals” to sort through. Getting the combination that solves your shooting challenges is worth the investment of a little research time. A last bit of good news here: FFP once came only at a brutalpremium in terms of cost, but we saw a Vortex and a brand new EOTech that ought to hit the street under the $1K mark pretty easily. 

Targets And Training

In an odd way, this may be our favorite trend: People aren’t just buying firearms, they’re—apparently—far more serious about learning to use them well and safely. Target and range equipment vendors were everywhere, with perennial leaders like Mike Gibson Manufacturing, Action and Meggitt thronged pretty much start to finish. If you think it’s “same-old, same-old” here, think again: Watch First Gear over the next few weeks, and we’ll prove it to you. 

Nor are the advances limited to larger-scale or heavyweight applications: We saw a very interesting variation on “self-healing” targets from FAB Defense, and hope to demo that soon as well. The technology is well within personal means, yet allows for point-blank to distant practice under very safe conditions.

Last here is a slight indulgence, if you will, though very much in the training arena: Happy chance found us lunching with Buz Mills, Ken Campbell and Jane Anne Shimizu of Gunsite Academy. It seems impossible that this will be Gunsite’s 40th year, but as the saying goes, time gets by. Our regular readers will know with what high regard we hold the founder, Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper, and his Modern Technique

We therefore close our SHOT coverage with a thought from the colonel: “We knowledgeable Americans take our rights very seriously, and the Second Amendment of the Constitution of the United States guarantees each citizen the right to keep and bear arms. However, with each right comes an equal responsibility to discharge that right effectively, legally, safely and within the bounds of morality. Rights demand responsibility.” 

Never in the history of the Republic are average Americans more likely to execute that responsibility well—or poorly—than in the election of 2016.


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