Caught Up In SHOT Show Excitement, Focus Sometimes Becomes Lost

The SHOT Show can be mesmerizing.   My guess is there are few other industry trade shows quite like it.

With SHOT Show there’s a certain innate pleasure where the lines delineating work vs. play often become very obscure.   In fact, while it may indeed be a job to sell guns for a living out of a small retail shop, if one’s passion is truly into shooting how can that even be considered work.  There’s simply no hiding the fact SHOT Show is mostly about selling fun.  Fun products.  Fun experiences.  Fun people.

The chaos of SHOT often causes some people and groups to lose sight of their true goals and objectives.

The chaos of SHOT often causes some people and groups to lose sight of their true goals and business objectives.

So, when folks travel to SHOT it’s pretty easy to get caught up in the fun.   I can assure you how nearly every aisle has a distraction temporarily causing a person to forget about the true reason they are there.   I call it the Disney Effect.   When a young kid first experiences a Disney theme park they walk around in a daze.   Sort of a fantasy land where objects of dreams actually come to life before unbelieving eyes.   The excitement can be overwhelming and quite intoxicating.

Yup, I do believe SHOT Show produces much the same challenges for many people and organizations.   Problem is, you can excuse a child who lacks the discipline to know better.   There’s no excuse, however, for professional adults to lose that same focus especially when they should know better.

Here’s an example.   Yesterday Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever posted a press release on what they will be doing at SHOT Show next week.   Now, you might expect these wildlife groups to be on hand with a booth pushing the conservation message to preserve and manage upland habitat.   Or, they might have staff on hand at SHOT to forge key partnerships with manufacturers to fund specific conservation initiatives.   Then again, maybe these conservation groups are in attendance to simply hype their important cause and try to rejuvenate interest in a sport that unfortunately appears on the steady decline for many of us.

Nope.   Neither PF or QF appear to have a booth at SHOT as far as I can determine.   And I’m okay with that.   Many other important conservation groups who used to attend, such as Ducks Unlimited, have opted to save the large sums of money otherwise spent on exhibitor space.   I suspect it’s mostly a ROI thing.

That being said…I’m not okay with what the press release (excerpted below) says PF and QF will be doing at SHOT 2015.

Saint Paul, Minn. – For the first time, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever plan to review products targeting the upland bird hunter live from the Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade Show (SHOT) floor in Las Vegas on January 19th through 23rd. Together, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever represent the largest collection of upland hunters in the world, accounting for 146,000 members and 182,500 social media followers.


“If you plan to introduce a new product to help upland bird hunters put more feathers in the bag during 2015, then we want to know about it,” explained Bob St.Pierre, the organization’s vice president of marketing. “We’re looking for new shotguns, dog products, blaze orange apparel, wildlife habitat products, or any other pieces of upland gear.”


During this year’s SHOT Show, Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever representatives will take photos, shoot videos and write reviews of these new products. All of this content will be available to the organization’s followers through their social media platforms throughout the week-long show.

Seriously?   Is this the kind of return on your membership dollar you seek?   Look, I’ll make no bones about it I have not been a big fan of Pheasants Forever now for several years.   Far too often I see select headquarters staff playing on what appears to me to be the member’s dollar.   At least that’s my perception.   And while it’s okay to have fun at what you do, it’s equally important not to lose sight of your organizational mission.

Yesterday I blogged about how everyone who attends SHOT these days has the power to communicate the excitement of the trade show.   I have no problems with that.   But would someone please explain to me why a conservation organization needs to send staff to Las Vegas to perform a function typically accomplished by the 2,500 media in attendance (most of whom pay their own way—out of their own pockets).   Again, the perception here is of conservation efforts gone terribly awry.

Oh, there are many other fine examples of well-intended focus becoming lost due to the SHOT Show Disney Effect.   Perhaps one of the best examples occurs the day before the SHOT Show even opens its doors.   SHOT Show Media Day at the Range.   Did you know this pre-show event got its genesis for the primary purpose to recognize youth and their individual achievements in the 4–H Shooting Sports?   The future of our industry depends on encouraging positive youth involvement today.

Media Day at the Range has evolved from being more about people to becoming more about products and profits.

Media Day at the Range has evolved from being more about people to becoming more about products and profits.

Guess what?   If you’re one of the chosen few media types who gets to be involved with this 2015 pre-SHOT Show event you’ll be hard pressed to find anything at “Media Day” promoting youth shooting sports anymore.   It has evolved into a commercial enterprise with objectives far different than what the original organizers had in mind to encourage and honor the nation’s top shooting sports ambassadors from each state.

Yes, it’s high time everyone within the shooting sports industry refocuses on what expectations are important to promote a positive growth within the industry.   Personally, I’m not too keen on conservation organizations coming off more as marketing organizations to promote certain products.   Nor do I like it when well-intentioned events get overshadowed and eventually replaced because big money speaks louder than good deeds.

Yup, the SHOT Show can certainly have a dizzying influence on common sense and what’s proper conduct, at least in my humble opinion.

Are Outdoors Writers Losing Significance At SHOT?

Times change and so does the delivery of information disseminated from events such as the SHOT Show.  Imagine a day when something big took place and it took days, weeks, perhaps even months before the news of “what’s happening” become widespread knowledge to the general public.

When I attended my first SHOT Show back in 1989 there was maybe 300 or so outdoors writers who annually gathered at the event.   It was old school film cameras and notebooks.   I don’t specifically recall, there might have been a few word processors, copying machines and a fax machine, but it is nothing like it is today.

Back then news spread the quickest if someone had a radio show or wrote for a newspaper and happened to cover the event.   In most cases, however, if hunters or the shooting world wanted to learn of new products coming on the marketplace introduced at SHOT they waited several months until closer to fall to read about those sort of things in a magazine.   It’s how the news was delivered back then and people generally accepted it.

Circa 1990. A radio interview is currently underway at SHOT in the press room.

Circa 1990. A radio interview is currently underway at SHOT in the press room.  Unknown participants.

Yet, in those early years there were some curmudgeons who had visions of better ways.   One particular writer whom I admired was Bill Clede, a prolific author on guns and matters involving police work.   Bill was an early adopter of what was evolving into the Internet.   Indeed, my first few years as a young writer was spent listening to Bill and and handful of others extol the virtues of an emerging possibility where instantaneous messaging and pictures could be transmitted from one computer to another clear across the country.

I know what you’re thinking.  Wow, those must have been the dark ages.   Well, in some regards it was a pivotal time in the transformation of information dissemination.   We used CompuServe and had forums with archaic bulletin boards that largely functioned similar to what Facebook does today, but lightyears ahead of that social exercise.   But at the time it was not the Internet.   At least not yet.

To access CompuServe I had to purchase a modem capable of a blazing 300 baud speed.   Eventually the 1200/2400 bauds arrived.   Either way, it required me to place a long distance phone call (in my case to Rochester, MN), to connect to the CompuServe portal and interact.   I was not one of the lucky folks who lived in a city where such a call was a local call.   Thus, I used a program called TapCIS which was a DOS-based program allowing quicker access to CompuServe.   In essence, folks like me would do everything offline—connect to the portal—TapCIS would quickly work its magic, and then I would end the phone call to read what was happening.

Doesn’t sound very efficient, does it?   Well, this happened to be cutting edge communication technology back in the 1980s, folks.   Suddenly a writer sitting in the Press Room at SHOT could theoretically start spilling the beans about new products and subscribers around the country could tune in and discover the news almost as it was happening.

Fast Forward To Today

The fast-paced press room of today at SHOT Show is all about technology and the people who know how to use it.

The fast-paced press room of today at SHOT Show is all about technology and the people who know how to use it.

Gone are the modems with the squealing hook-up noises.   Gone are the long waits for news of what is happening at SHOT.   Gone is the consumer’s patience to wait until mid summer to learn about what new products they will be buying next fall.   Gone is much of the life us pre-technology outdoors writers once understood to be business as usual.

Indeed, during the 2015 SHOT Show information will be blazing out of the confines of Las Vegas even long before the doors of SHOT open on that first morning.   No longer will a press kit filled with news releases and product shots hold the same significance as it once did to a writer.  In fact, most press kits these days are old news before the writer even gets a hold of them.

There was a time during SHOT Show when the organizers sent yellow windbreaker clad folks around on “camera patrol” making sure no pictures where being taken except by qualified journalists.   I suspect that policy is still in place, but let’s face reality.   Next week when SHOT gets underway there won’t be a smartphone at the Sands Convention Center without multiple images in violation of that policy.  To think otherwise is simply being foolish.

Instead of a controlled group of media aiming to distribute the sights and glitz known as the SHOT Show it will be folks on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, Flickr, blogs and a host of other specialized Internet sharing forums.   Within seconds of a picture being taken at SHOT that image and information will be shared to a hungry public willing to consume it anywhere in the world.

Truly, it’s a wonderful thing what has evolved in just a few short decades.   In every show attendee’s pocket/purse is the technology and more importantly the capability to spread the industry news at what once was an unimaginable speed.   Instead of relying on several hundred media types to eventually filter the news, now all show attendees feel motivated to share the excitement and the details from SHOT.

So, where does that leave the legitimate media who still attends SHOT?  Are they lost in the blur of an evolving world where communication flows freely by the masses?   How the hell does a person who desires to make a profession in media still carve out a niche where their efforts have some meaningful significance?

No doubt, it’s a challenge.  Long gone is the excitement of returning home from SHOT thinking your have some “scoop” of information just waiting to develop into a story.   Hell, these days if you wait until you get back to the hotel room you’re probably too late as someone else has already beaten you.

These are exciting times.   A person following the right #hashtags can watch a constant stream of information and pictures develop from SHOT.   Never before could a person lacking the qualifications to physically be AT SHOT feel they have a virtual seat within the halls of SHOT simply by sitting at their computer and following along.

Oh yes, I still have fond memories of what SHOT used to mean to me as an outdoors writer.  That said, I also realize how the future holds many exciting possibilities that perhaps we have not even dreamt of quite yet.

As with anything else in life if you want to maintain significance you need to be willing to change and be an early adopter of that change.  That’s what a few of us with vision did back in the late ’80s…and look where we ended up today because of it.

Why This SHOT Show Will Be My Last

I’ve been blessed. No doubt about it. Having now attended 25 out of the past 27 SHOT Shows has been an awesome experience. Yet, there comes a point in time where one must move on.

Over the years while attending SHOT I have experienced some awesome venues and host cities. Dallas, Houston, New Orleans, Orlando, and of course, Las Vegas. Each location established its own unique personality and I watched the SHOT Show grow into what it has become today–one of the largest trade shows held annually in the U.S.

Over the years I’ve seen lots of unique and revolutionizing product innovations. After all, that’s what the SHOT Show is all about, isn’t it?

Perhaps, but what SHOT has provided most to me has been relationships. Relationships with fellow outdoors writers, gun buyers, exhibitors, manufacturers reps, industry movers and shakers, and many others who share a common interest of shooting and the outdoors.

The SHOT Show is an industry show meaning you can’t gain access without credentials. During the early years those credentials were pretty easy to establish. No more. Today, access to SHOT requires an approval process that certainly is meant to weed out the marginal attendees.

Indeed, SHOT has evolved into a highly regarded and respected industry trade show holding almost mystical dream-like possibilities for the average enthusiast who may never get to attend.

So, why would a sane person give up all of this for future years? It’s a question I’ve asked myself many times over the past year as I’ve pondered this difficult decision. I honestly have no specific reason that sounds good to articulate. Just that sometimes you feel it’s time to move on to new experiences and break out of the routine.

Does this mean I will never attend another SHOT at some time in the future…probably not! Yet, I have already made commitments for both 2016 and 2017 that makes SHOT attendance those years out of the question.

In the coming days leading up to SHOT Show 2015 I plan a few posts reflecting back on my past SHOT experiences. I hope you will find them insightful, interesting, and perhaps even a bit thought-provoking.

SHOT holds lots of possibilities for everyone who attends. A good SHOT Show can make or break many businesses. Dreams come to life by upstart vendors banking on a new product’s acceptance. There’s local gun store buyers with a keen eye for those products that set them apart from the big box stores. Everyone who attends SHOT has goals and objectives to achieve.

This year I plan to soak up the SHOT Show experience with a vision of a person who knows they won’t be back next year or even the year after. It’s time for me to step back and focus on some other important things in my life.

During the next few Januarys SHOT will become an opportunity cost as I take my 6y/o daughter to places that help live out her dreams. Oh, yes…Disney strikes the same sort of magic in the hearts of youngsters of all ages much as SHOT has done for me for over two decades.

Indeed, the SHOT Show is very much like a temporary theme park for those of us who enjoy guns and the outdoors. But like everything else in life, there comes a time to say goodbye!