Looking back on 27 years of SHOT Show

NSSF SHOT History - a look at past shows on Breach-Bang-Clear
| January 17, 2019
Categories: Op-Eds

Every year as SHOT Show approaches, I hear all the complaints from my colleagues in the industry and the press.

“I hate this show.”

“Watch out for the Crud. You’ll still get it but watch out for it.”

“My feet and legs ache for a week afterward.”

“It sucks because I’m chained to a booth all week and I never see the rest of the show.”

“The show is becoming irrelevant. The bloggers, YouTube cats and friends of gun shop owners get in using their passes, so you never know who you’re talking with.”

“All that walking and I never lose any weight!”

The list goes on.

NSSF SHOT History - a look at past shows on Breach-Bang-Clear

I have been attending SHOT since 1992 in one form or another. I have gone as an exhibitor, 03 FFL, 01 FFL, Industry Professional and Media. On a few occassions I have even gone under someone else’s name because they could not make it or in one case, had no interest in attending.

Just like 1992 and every year I have attended since then (there were a few that I skipped for various reasons) I still look forward to it like a little kid looks forward to Christmas Day.

The most obvious reason is that I have been a part of the firearm industry for over 30 years as a Marine, Ballistician, Sales Rep, Overseas Buyer, Technical Advisor, Gunsmith, Instructor and Professional Author. This is the one time of the year when I can actually see the bulk of my friends and extended family in one place, share a meal with some of them and have a drink or 3 with as many as I can.

Second to this is getting to see all the new products coming out every year.

SureFire War Comp muzzle device

Part of the SOCOM flash hider family.

Sure, most of them get leaked a few weeks early, but it is much more fun to see and hold in your hands a brand new offering as opposed to watching a video or reading a press release about it.

SHOT Show is owned and sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and while it used to appear in a lot of different cities across the United States, for the last few years it has been held in Las Vegas.

NSSF SHOT History - a look at past shows on Breach-Bang-Clear

The reason for this is because the show has grown so large that Vegas is one of the few cities that can accommodate 65,000 guests and 630,000 square feet of show space.

Believe it or not, the first SHOT Show in 1979 was held in St. Louis, MO and a show was even held at the Moscone Center in San Francisco, California a few years after that.

My first SHOT Show was in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1992 and that location probably had as much to do with me falling in love with the show as anything else.

A very VERY young Mike Searson

The author around the time of his first SHOT Show visit.

SHOT was a lot smaller back then, probably 1/2 or 1/3 of the size it is today. I was the only guy walking around with a beard and tattoos and there were less than 5 companies making AR-15 pattern rifles. The show was 90% geared toward hunting and camping. The rest was dedicated to competitive shooting. Tactical was not even a real word back then. But the absolute best thing about my first SHOT Show was the location.

The people of NOLA can cook rope and make it taste good!

The rest of the 1990s were not kind to those of us who like black rifles or standard capacity handguns, either. The Draconian 1994 Assault Weapon Ban killed the AR market for the most part. Neutered rifles were the only option with 10-round magazines. For handguns, we saw them getting smaller with bigger bores than 9mm.

NSSF SHOT History - a look at past shows on Breach-Bang-Clear

Even though the show was smaller with fewer attendees and exhibitors back in the day there were still the typical controversies that come up every year.

Few of us will forget how the CEO of an AR Manufacturing company debuted a bufferless AR “pistol” chambered in 7.62 X 39 back in 1993. While this may not seem like a big deal today, at the time it was, due to the fact that there is a prohibition on the importation of armor piercing ammunition that can be chambered in a handgun.

When this was brought up at the manufacturer’s booth, coupled with demands of Don’t make it, because it will prevent the importation of steel cored 7.62 x 39, (which cost a total of $88 for 1,440 rounds at the time) the obtuse owner claimed, “I’m in the gun building business, not the ammunition importation business”.

The end result was, no more cheap ammo and he probably sold less than 10 of his shitbox pistols. That company finally went belly up not too long ago.

SHOT also reminded us on how small the industry was. Meeting someone in person with whom you have only had a relationship via email or over the phone was always a kick. So too was the opportunity to confront a few trolls in person.

In my case it was two. A formerly famous gunwriter who mouthed off to me on the internet like he was Hulk Hogan, literally read my name badge and ran the other way when I bumped into him in an aisle. In another case, I ran into someone who had made similar disparaging remarks about me, including wanting to “settle things in person someday”. The big tough guy turned white as a sheet and vacated the area when he heard someone call me by name in the Emerson Knives booth. I didn’t even have a chance to utter my famous, “Guns or knives, motherfucker!” line.

[Whoops. “Guns or knives, motherfucker!”®©™ line. Sorry. -Ed.]

NSSF SHOT History - a look at past shows on Breach-Bang-Clear

SHOT history: the 1982 SHOT Show was covered in this issue of SURVIVE Magazine.

However, most memories of my SHOT Shows have been overwhelmingly positive.One of the best moments I had was at the USMC Scout Sniper Association booth in 2005. Charles Sasser, an author who has written extensively on USMC snipers as well as my Alma Mater: 1st Bn, 9th Marines “The Walking Dead” was on hand and shaking hands and signing autographs. I spoke with him briefly and a young Marine currently serving walked up. He was with 1/9, too. This was followed by a Marine from Vietnam who was with 1/9 and one from the Korean Conflict that was with 9th Marines.

Mike Searson - 1st Battalion 9th Marines veteran (the Walking Dead)

It was a surreal moment to have Marines from all these eras standing in the same spot at the same time, representing the history of 60 years of our unit. We were all brothers who had first met on that one day.

It took a few years after the AWB expired in 2004 for the Tactical Industry to blow up. I remember seeing Zatarain’s with a larger than life booth, considering what they make, as late as 2006. For many years they maintained a booth larger than many firearm manufacturers.

Zatarain’s dirty rice with venison sausage used to be a welcome treat at SHOT Show.

I would not say it was simply because you now had 50 companies producing their own version of the AR, or 30 companies selling polymer framed handguns that caused this by themselves. More likely, the 1,000 + companies selling parts, upgrades, etc. for the two helped.

They pushed out Zatarain’s, the people providing foot massagers, the rubber band “stealth” minimalist wallets, embroidery machines and everything else that was not directly related to the industry. They were running out of room for bona fide firearm, ammunition and parts manufacturers.

To this day there are still waiting lists for vendors and manufacturers to obtain table space at the show, not to mention a slot at Media Day at the Range/Industry Day at the Range.

NSSF SHOT History - a look at past shows on Breach-Bang-Clear

Indiana Jones Face Melt SureFire Field Notes

SureFire, seen here used in a tactical setting, will be at Booth #13968 during the 2019 NSSF SHOT Show.

The real proof of SHOT’s impact was when my wife attended with me a few years ago. On the second day after seeing the crowds, booths, displays etc. she remarked: “They’re never going to be able to ban guns in this country. Look at all these people and the size of this industry.”

Sometimes you need an outsider to give you a correct perspective!

Despite my childlike enthusiasm building until Day One and maybe coming down a bit by Day Four, when the show is over and I’m either on that long drive home or on that short flight, I will often contemplate whether or not “next year will be worth attending.”



There may not be a whole lot of new groundbreaking products, maybe I only have 7 or 8 potential writing assignments as opposed to 20 or 25 like I got some years. Will the expenses of traveling, lodging, food and alcohol justify themselves come tax time, compared to what I make in revenue? Was it worth it to spend another week away from my home an family, or did I burn up too much vacation time at my day job so I can’t take a longer vacation with my wife over the Summer?

Those thoughts disappear quickly as I think to myself,

“I’ll be going to this show every year as long as I’m above ground and still working in the industry I love and as long as they’ll continue to tolerate me being there!”

Mike the Mook

An Ape Smoking. Is this Mike Searson, aka Mike the Mook?


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