Reflections On The 2006 SHOT Show

For those who are not familiar with the annual SHOT (Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade) Show it is the premier event for the hunting and shooting industry showcasing the entire universe of products soon to be available to the shooting sportsman.   It’s the main show each year where your local sporting goods dealer attends to find all the latest, greatest new gear that will be on the shelves later in the summer for next falls’ hunting season use.

SHOT06_1Since 1989 I have been fortunate to attend this industry-only event missing just two years when the location was simply not practical to attend.   It’s a fun show and offers lots of insight into the future world of hunting, but after walking nearly 13 miles of isles looking at hunting gear of every conceivable type…it sort of makes you wonder.   Is it possible that hunting has become too product oriented?   Is it possible that as we enter the 21st Century we rely more on hunting equipment for our success rather than pure predatory skills contained within the hunter?   I mean, let’s face it…when our fathers and grandfathers walked into the woods without their Mossy Oak or Realtree camo clothing lined with Gore-Tex…they were at a big disadvantage, right?

Maybe I’m getting a little too cynical in my old age…but it seems the older I get the more wary I become about the products that are supposed to make my hunt more comfortable, more successful…and even more safe.   The fact is, I find many of the products being offered up at the SHOT in recent years to be nothing more than gadgets most hunters could easily live without.   In fact, I do believe that some hunters look forward more to playing with their new hunting toys during an upcoming hunt than experiencing the joys of the hunt itself.   Believe me…this is true!!

The most recent SHOT Show held in Las Vegas offered few product surprises for me.   As with most attendees, I entered with a plan.   First stop would be the NEW PRODUCTS area where a sampling of the hunting wares from many of the vendors was nicely laid out for inspection.   In fact, during recent years this area has gotten so high-tech that show attendees are now given little OCR hand-held scanners which can be used to go around and look at the products.   See something you like…hold the scanner down and zap the bar code.   Move on to the next product…do the same.   At the end when you’ve inspected the entire offering of new products…a show attendee only has to turn in the scanner and a computer will down-load and printout a nice report detailing the specific product description and exactly how to find the booth number where this intriguing product can later be found (and ordered).


I always find the new product area interesting because it seems to showcase the cream of the crop.   I suspect, although this has never been confirmed, that a vendor must pay a fee to have their product featured in this area.   Why else would the nearly 1,800 exhibitors not place more products in this area?   Moreover, I also wonder what constitutes a “new product.”   I’ve seen one little LED light showcased now for the third consecutive year and I am perplexed to discover what feature is different about the light as compared to the previous year.

You see, the SHOT Show is all about marketing and the industry’s attempt to get you…the hunter…to purchase the product that keeps them in business.   If the local sporting goods dealer sees a product that they think will move off the shelf quickly…then its a sure bet and easy sale at the show.   Other products that might need some demonstration to market their utility value, could be a harder sell.   In many ways the SHOT Show is a forum for marketers with ideas to showcase their invention or new patented device.   Some might eventually stand the test of time…most others, I fear, will see limited hunter interest and will fade away from the market only to be replaced by some other aspiring new product in the years to come.

This year I walked the show knowing that with as many vendors as there was I could only spend on average 72 seconds of my time at any given booth or I would not see the entire show.   That’s right…so if I wandered into the Leupold booth, for instance, and spent 10 minutes looking over their new products…this was cutting into my time I could afford to spend at another booth.   As with any show this size…time management is the key to making the 4–day event pay off.

SHOT06_4As I walked the isles occasionally some vendors would read my name tag and engage me in conversation…but most simply sat on their hands waiting for me to first show some interest in their product before calling them into sales action.   As a career marketing professional, this lack of engagement with the potential customer never ceases to amaze me.   It’s almost as if the vendor thinks their product is so good and essential…that they are doing you a favor to spend their time talking about it.   I wonder how many hunting products simply die a slow death because they are in the hands of people who know little about how to effectively sell…this after the vendors have likely spent a minimum of $10,000 just to bring the product to the market at the show.

Granted, when you have a show booth and are competing against 1,800+ other exhibitors for attention it is no easy task.   The savvy marketers employ contests, provide giveaways, live product demonstrations, pretty girls who seem anxious to talk to the guys…or some other eye-grabbing tactic.

Each year I travel to the show with my good friend, Jeff, and most of the time we split up and attack the SHOT in our own way.   At the end of each day we compare notes as to what we saw…and it amazes me just how much we both miss even after walking by the same booths.   Did you see the new muzzleloading rifle scope that Nikon has?   Nope, but did you see the new 16–mile 2–way sportsman’s radio by Midland?   And so it goes.   So much to see…and so very little time to explore it all.SHOT06_3

The SHOT Show is truly a unique experience that I wish every sportsman could experience once in their lifetime.   The first time I see a new attendee walk into the convention hall and see the massive size…it just about makes your eyes bug out.   Imagine 15 football fields laid side by side…and that is roughly the amount of area that is taken up by hunting product displays.

Indeed, as far as I can tell the hunting industry as a whole appears to be quite healthy.   Our economy is slowly on the upswing, and that means that more hunters will likely have disposable income to spend on new gadgets and hunting equipment.   There’s no doubt about it…the SHOT Show is the hunter’s paradise and that is one of the big attractions for me year after year.

During the days to come I will highlight a few of the products I found at the recent show that appeared to me to have some unique value or special interest.   Keep in mind, however, that a product that captured my attention might not hold the same interest for another sportsman…but I guess that’s why there were 1,800+ booths all vying for our attention to display their wares.   Some products will make it…others won’t.   I’m going to showcase a few that seem reasonable to me that they might be included in your shopping list for next fall. 

© 2006 Jim Braaten.  All Rights Reserved.   No Reproduction without Prior Permission.