Making it on time was going to be a long shot. I was standing at the beginning of Row 1,000; I needed to be at a booth on Row 10,000 in ten minutes. Nearly 13 acres of exhibits lay between me and my appointment.
Long shot is an understatement. This was my first year attending SHOT Show, the world’s largest tradeshow for shooting, hunting, and firearms, and I was clearly outgunned by my surroundings.
“The first little bit is overwhelming and maybe shocking,” said Steve McGrath, Signature Products Group director of marketing and public relations. “But you settle in and you just pick it apart. Everyone you need to talk to is in the same building for four days, and the people you need to see the most get priority while knowing there are some people you will miss.”
This was McGrath’s tenth SHOT Show. He knows his way around the Sands Expo Center, where the show is held in Las Vegas, Nevada. He first pitched the idea of SHOT Show to me while we rode the tram at Snowbird Ski Resort in Utah in 2011. At the time, I was at my first Outdoor Writers Association of America conference. As an outdoor journalist with an overzealous print and video skillset, I wanted to expand my reach from local to national. McGrath told me SHOT was the place to do it, but I’m better with a rod than a rifle, so I dismissed his suggestion.
A few years later, a former Sporting Classics editor sent me a text from SHOT: “Are you here?” The last thing I wanted to say was no, but I wasn’t. But this year I was.
So was McGrath, my first appointment of the first day. I know we’ll talk about catching blue marlin before he shows me Browning’s new boots.
Katie McKalip, Backcountry Hunters and Anglers communications director, is here, too. She’s attended a dozen SHOTs. She was my dinner date the night before my meeting with McGrath. We discussed the Boundary Waters while eating salmon so good I would have licked the plate if I’d been alone.
“Friendly faces and professional contacts make navigating the show easier,” McKalip said.
Friendly faces are a first-timer’s lifeline at this show, and, surprisingly, I ran into many in the sea of more than 64,000 strangers. I didn’t expect that.
I didn’t expect so many suits, either. I expected camo and more of a fairgoers’ scene with firearms on display instead of farm animals. SHOT is nothing like that; business transactions worth millions happen here. Those kinds of deals are done in suits.
“This is my 19th Shot Show, and it continues to astonish me with its size, amazing variety of products on the show floor, new companies getting their start here, and the many educational offerings,” said Bill Brassard, National Shooting Sports Foundation communications senior director. “I think it takes a couple of years attending SHOT Show to fully wrap one’s mind around all that.”
Brassard runs the show’s press room, where 2,500 members of the media camp out between appointments. This trade show, in it’s 39th year, is not open to the public, so inviting media to see what’s coming soon to a store near you is quite the scoop. I rush passed the press room on my way to McGrath. He’s still two football fields away.
“It’s a sensory overload of products, people, and larger-than-life booths,” McGrath said.
Surprisingly, I made it through the pile of people and products with minutes to spare. McGrath is right where the map said he’d be, and we talk about fishing before he pitches product just like I knew we would. First long shot of the day down for this first-timer. If only I could have found the exit doors to the outside world at the end of the day as fast as I found McGrath.
Outdoor journalist Kris Millgate is based in Idaho Falls, Idaho. See more of her work at tightlinemedia.com.