The SHOT Show; Remembering My First Time

I have this friend who likes to poke fun at people who do stupid things.   Take, for instance, the time one of our buddies backed his boat trailer into the water and then got talking with some people who momentarily distracted him.   Yup, you probably guessed it…he forgot to put the drain plug back into the boat before it hit water.

Well, to make a long story short…by the time he figured out his predicament the boat had taken on lots of water to the point gear was floating on the bottom.   It’s about this time my other buddy is famous for saying, “I remember my first beer, too.”   The connotation being that someone just learning how to drink alcohol is generally not too aware of the stupidity that can result.

In many ways the concept of “remembering my first beer” sort of relates to my first experience at SHOT Show, too.   I was a rookie.   I did lots of stupid things.   I was intoxicated, so to speak, of the sheer scope of the event.   In other words, the first time I walked into the Las Vegas Convention Center back in 1988 to attend the SHOT Show a sensation of nervous excitement raced throughout my body.

Now, keep in mind back in 1988 the number of show attendees was just shy of 20,000 people.   Last year, in comparison, there was about 64,000 people at the Sands Convention Center which I’m guessing has a footprint smaller than what the larger L.V. Convention Center once offered.

I attended this 1988 show because my boss (at the time) told me to go with the intent of making some new contacts to sell them calendars.   Truth be told, I failed miserably.   I came home with a pocket full of business cards and none of them were leads for future business.   In fact, I quickly discovered how people don’t go to SHOT with the hopes of peddling products or services TO THE exhibitors (albeit, to some extent it does happen)…nope, folks go to SHOT to BUY FROM the exhibitors who spend big bucks on fancy tradeshow displays.

And you see, at that first show I discovered how companies had a sneaky little trick to distract you.   While you might be wanting to tout the benefits of the products and services you can offer, they have new products on display that makes your head spin with excitement and intrigue.   I quickly learned the proper protocol for SHOT or any tradeshow, for that matter.   In fact, today even more so than three decades ago, SHOT management strongly discourages any selling by roving “carpetbagging” as this practice undermines the tradeshow concept.

So, if you’re walking the show aisles and not selling, you must be buying products, correct?   Well, yes and no.   At this first tradeshow I discovered how the exhibitors wanted to “write orders” and have the product shipped to your store.   That didn’t mean they would necessarily have products for you to “grab and go” with to fill a shopping cart.   Nope, found that out when trying to leave the show.   Bags were often inspected and a “bill of sale” best be available as proof of purchase.   And samples, oh boy…a person better have a good story.

Today, however, mostly with the size of the tradeshow show tripling from those earlier years…show floor selling doesn’t appear to be as big of a deal.   While all bags are still subject to inspection upon departure, it seems to now rarely occur.

The new smartphone app is a welcome tool to both navigate and learn about what is happening at SHOT.

Okay, so what’s it like to walk your very first SHOT Show?   I guess if I had to sum it up in one word I would say “disorienting.”   Honestly, the SHOT Show is so big and vast that without a good plan of attack you just will not see it all.   A person needs paper maps, smartphone apps, and the confidence to ask someone who can help show you the way.

Aside from that the show will wear you down.   Yes, it will even make your feet bleed.   Just ask my buddy, Jeff, who chose not to take my advice and wear comfortable shoes while at the show.   His white dress socks having spent the day inside a pair of leather dress shoes made for blisters and bleeding.   Oh yeah, once the “dogs start barking” the discomfort will not stop biting likely for the remainder of the show.   Be warned and stay aware.

Another thing most people forget about is staying hydrated.   After all, the SHOT Show is in the desert and your body can wear down quickly when fluid intake is lacking.   Oh, and perhaps this is a good point in time to talk about the proper fluid, too.   Yes, the show is in Vegas and yes, the alcohol has a tendency to flow(especially in the evenings).   Alcohol does not do well to hydrate a body, in fact, in most cases it is rather counter productive.

So, by now you might be wondering why the hell would anyone want to go to SHOT.   First off, not just anybody can get in…you must be a bona fide member of the outdoors industry with credentials that seem to get more strict each year.   Oh yeah, and it costs lost of money in travel and lodging; Vegas is not the cheap destination your parents once knew.   On top of that, the tradeshow can be overwhelming in so many of the ways I just explained.

Honestly, I go for the friendships.   Over all my years I have met many outstanding people in this industry with whom I have developed very cherished friendships.   To me that is what SHOT is truly all about.   Renewing acquaintances and discovering new fascinating people to connect with in the future.

This first-time SHOT attendee was so overwhelmed by the experience I could hardly get him out of the Tenzing booth.

Of course, this is only an estimate, but I figure conservatively I have walked at least 750,000 steps while attending SHOT over the many years.   This works out to be over 300 miles of tired, sore feet walking on carpeted cement in various cities such as Las Vegas, Orlando, Houston, Dallas and New Orleans.   No wonder I’m tired.

Yet, in 1994 a book author named John Roskelley handed me a signed copy of his new mountain-climbing book, Stories Off The Wall.   In the book he signed and wrote, “To Jim, all adventures begin with the first step…”   Advice I have not only taken to heart in my life, but subsequently offered to many others who were contemplating a new life journey.

Indeed, I would say how the first time a person takes steps inside of the SHOT Show it becomes a transformational experience; an experience that will change how you appreciate the shooting and outdoors industry from that day forward.

To all those folks who will be taking their very first steps at SHOT this year, I’m excited for what you are about to witness.   …And oh yes, “I remember my first time.”

Random Images From Minnesota’s 2016 State High School Clay Target Championship

I wanted to get these pictures posted up for a good friend of mine, Todd Rost.   As you may have heard, high school clay target competition has become one of the fastest growing high school sports in the nation.   That’s incredible, and certainly a big positive for the shooting sports.   And with over 7,000 Minnesota student athletes competing in various categories, it took the entire week of June 14–21, 2016, to hold the competition in Alexandria, Minnesota.

The following pictures are random shots showing the Faribault Bethlehem Academy team getting their chance on the big shooting stage.   I hope this gives you a feel for what it was like to be there from opening ceremony singing the National Anthem all the way to the competitors in serious action.

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Important To Understand Your Limits In The Outdoors

About a month ago I sat down with one of my long-time outdoor pals just to shoot the breeze.   While the conversation was upbeat and generally happy as usual, suddenly it took a turn much more serious in tone.   Todd confessed to me that he was having heart troubles and an upcoming important surgery was being planned to correct a genetic defect.   A surgery that would repair an ineffective heart valve causing him several medical and quality of life issues.

Of course, I sympathized and felt sorry for what my buddy was about to go through.   After all, nothing about a person’s heart is routine or simple.   Little did I realize, I would find this out first-hand even before my buddy’s scheduled surgery date.

Last Sunday I asked my wife to take me to the Emergency Room as I was experiencing non-stop heart palpitations.   Oh, I had experienced them before…but didn’t think much of it as they usually went away after a short time.   But that day things were different.   My heart didn’t want to settle down.   I have worked in pre-hospital emergency care long enough to know I likely was not having a “heart attack” per se, but yet I had this sense that something was not right in my chest, either.

We made the right choice.   Upon hitting the ER I could tell quickly this was the place I needed to be.   The technician who conducted a 12–lead EKG on me wasted no time getting the ball rolling toward rapid emergent care.   Within moments my shirt was completely off and big pads were affixed on my chest and back in the event I needed some sort of cardioversion in the form of a controlled electrical shock to take control of my heart.

Yeah, things were serious.   I was deeply concerned.   My wife sitting just three feet away was concerned…hell, I could see the concern on all of the emergency worker’s faces wondering where this was going.   Doctor after doctor checked me out and concluded my heart was not working properly and it needed some sort of immediate medical intervention.

In time, I was moved to the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit where I would end up spending the next two days trying to get control of my racing heart once again.   My condition is known as Ventricular Tachycardia and basically it’s the bottom half of the heart not working in proper sequence with the top half.   In other words, when things don’t work together as they should the heart is not an effective blood pumping organ.

I was fortunate to be in the Mayo (Clinic) Health System so I had access to some of the brightest minds in medicine.   Team after team of experts consulted with me and a plan was launched to bring this health matter under manageable control.   In total, I spent five days in the hospital last week realizing that when a person approaches their mid-50s they must deal with medical challenges that a 30 year old often doesn’t think much about.

I now take a series of medicines that help to control my specific heart arrhythmia.   Oh, things are not perfect or as they once were.   I now have limitations to what I feel I can physically do safely.   These are not limitations put on me by my doctor, instead…these are limitations I put on myself not to push things beyond what I feel comfortable doing.   After all, the only one who pays the price is me.

A year ago I had the opportunity to go on a remote fly-in fishing trip into the northern part of Canada, but I turned it down.   Even back then I had a sense about me that I should not be that far off the grid because my body was telling me so.   At that time I thought it was just feeling jittery from too much coffee…so I gave up caffeine.   The symptoms were reduced…but did not totally disappear.

I suppose I was in denial.   Often times the body tells a person something, but we don’t like to listen.   Men, as I’ve been told repeatedly lately, are notorious for being in denial.   Heck, I did not even tell my wife about any of the symptoms until the day I had her drive me to the ER.   Oh yeah, as a nurse she was not pleased about that silence.

Over the coming weeks I am now faced with figuring out to what level I can carry out my future outdoor activities.   I know trudging through a wet slough where the mud grabs onto your feet and wants to hold you is not probably something you will find me doing.   Likewise, dragging a deer for a great distance or packing out meat would be far too taxing on my now somewhat fragile heart.

Nothing quite like dealing with an important medical issue to force you to accept reality…and your own mortality.   On the other hand, the reality is just because a person might have some limitations does not mean they need to give up the activities they truly enjoy.   Sometimes it take creative planning.   Maybe this fall I choose an easier deer stand to reach without getting all worked up.   Maybe I don’t struggle trying to do certain tasks alone when I have outdoor partners who can lend a helping hand.   Hell, one of the best things about getting older and needing assistance is to invite younger, stronger blood into the experience to help you.   In exchange for your wisdom they gain, you get the brawn of someone younger doing the strenuous tasks.

I guess the main point I want to emphasize in this blog post is if you live long enough on this earth crap is going to happen to you.   My buddy, Todd, hasn’t even had his heart surgery yet and it was almost ironic that I had to suddenly deal with heart issues even before he does.   As I’ve come to learn, one of my other life-long hunting buddies has been having terrible knee problems and needs surgery.   He’s also struggling to get his blood pressure under control.

Indeed, when we get to a certain point in life we don’t necessarily quit thinking about pheasants, big deer or trophy walleye.   Not at all.   Yet, when many of us start venturing beyond “middle age” we must contend with other matters like medicines, surgeries and various health issues that can certainly influence how we safely enjoy the outdoors.

Sometimes it’s hard to accept you cannot still do things you once did when you were half your current age.   That said, as a sportsman ages, it is very prudent to realize those limitations and then strive not to push one’s own physical limits.   The outdoors can be a a physically demanding environment in which to recreate.   It is also not the ideal place in which to experience some type of personal medical emergency.

In closing, don’t fret about me.   Over the coming weeks I feel very confident that with some tweaking of meds I will have my medical situation well managed.   This summer I plan to fish…search for morel mushrooms, and do lots of nature photography.   Next fall I plan to hunt, trap and do mostly what I love to do outdoors, if God remains willing to go along with my plans.

If nothing else…sitting in the hospital for five days gives you a unique opportunity to reflect on what is truly important to a person’s life.   With a renewed perspective, the outdoor is important to me and will continue that way for hopefully many more seasons to come.