By: Tom Claycomb

I love outdoors shows. I conduct 50-60 seminars a year, but seminars at the big shows are always the most fun and exciting.

January 11-12, I have four seminars at the SCI (Safari Club International) Convention in Reno, January 18-19 two seminars at the DSC (Dallas Safari Club) Convention and Expo in Dallas, and then I jump on a plane to Las Vegas to conduct five seminars at the mother of all shows – the Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade show (SHOT).

I don’t even know how to describe the SHOT. It’s the largest outdoor trade show in the world. It kicks off on Monday, January 21 with the Media Day at the Range event. In the past, all of the major and minor gun companies had their new guns on display here. Media people could shoot and test them, with, of course, the manufacturers hoping for favorable reviews of their products.

We’ve also gotten the chance to shoot all of the new ammo, Benjamin Airbows, airguns on up to all manner of shotguns and rifles. It’s all there. At the entry gates, before you get to the gun ranges, there will be somewhere between 40 and 60 booths set-up with companies such as MyTopoMaps showcasing their latest gear and equipment. It is an action -acked, fun-filled day. I mean, how can you not love shooting free ammo and all manner of guns!?

Media Day at the range.

The SHOT is put on by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). They made a change a few years ago in the Monday format. Now the Media attends the range day in the morning only by invitation, and buyers and manufacturers dominate the afternoon (although media can hang around in the afternoon session, too). This, I believe, was a smart move. The buyers are the ones who keep the manufacturers in business, after all.

On Monday, retailers can attend seminars on how to be more profitable and learn about upcoming buying trends and so forth. And then on Tuesday, the show really kicks off. It is controlled chaos. The doors open at 8:30. This is where I work a huge percentage of my deals for the year. I meet with editors, manufacturers, line up testing new gear, pro-staff deals, etc.

One must wisely schedule his or her time at SHOT. There is no way you can hit every booth. If you only spent 15 minutes at each booth, it’d take you a month, so you do the best that you can.

There will be breakfast, lunch, and dinner meetings. Companies are smart to schedule these. You have to eat, so they can give their presentation while you are eating. I hit it hard from before daylight until well after dark.

Then a lot of companies invite you to shows to wine and dine you. Of course, this is smart on their part. Getting into articles is a lot cheaper than running ads.

A few years ago, the SHOT set up small booths upstairs for new and upcoming companies. That’s where I met Riton Optics – an upcoming star in the optic world. Then last year, they opened a New Products Booth area downstairs. It is a room with displays of new products. All of the major outdoor companies are there. The first year I went, I thought I knew all of the optics companies. Boy, was I naïve. On the bottom floor, I bet there were more than 50 companies that I’d never heard of.

A lot of companies will have celebrities signing autographs, giving seminars, and talks, etc. in their booths, especially during the first couple of days. I don’t really get into celebrities, but it was cool a few years ago to get to meet Marcus Luttrell and get a pic with him.

Everyone unveils their new guns, knives, ammo, calls, clothing, backpacks, and so forth at the SHOT. You want to be the one with the coolest new product so you’re the talk of the show. There is a daily SHOT News that highlights events and new products that are a hit.

To intake all that you can, you’ve got to hit it hard. The first time my wife Katy went with me, she thought we’d hold hands and leisurely stroll down the aisles like on a date. Poor girl. The doors opened, and I grabbed her hand and took off. She was hitting the ground every three steps.

Finally, after three days, I thought I’d better take her out and grab a steak. By then she was tired. We’re walking back to the motel, and I told her to pick out a restaurant where she wanted to eat. She wearily looked at me and said, “There’s a McDonald’s. Buy me a Happy Meal, and we’re going to the room and going to bed!” I knew better than to argue!

Kim Emery, showing off Irish Setter boots’ new wares.

So here’s our routine now: I have a schedule drawn up of all of my meetings. Katy holds onto the strap of my backpack as we haul down the throngs of people so she doesn’t get eternally lost in the crowds. Go to bed. Repeat.

The SHOT is the ultimate…..but not for the faint hearted. If you go, wear some comfortable hiking boots and Browning hiking socks. Take plenty of business cards.

I can’t wait!

Things to Be Aware Of…
-Tuesday: The showroom floor opens 8:30-5:30 and repeats until Friday when it closes at 4:00
-Tuesday night-State of The Industry Dinner
-There is no way I can cover it all in one short article. They offer Shot Show Mobile Apps to search for exhibitors or create your own schedule, as well as a million other things.
-There are also floor maps available.

Tom Claycomb III is a product tester for outdoor manufacturers, hunter, and outdoor writer, writing from Idaho.