Heading To SHOT? Use That Camera In Your Pocket!

The year was 2001 and it happened to be the last night I was in New Orleans for the SHOT Show.   What’s a guy to do?   Of course, you go down to Bourbon Street and have a bit of fun before it all ends.   After all, there’s no place on earth quite like Bourbon Street, am I right?

Well, little did I realize how the excitement didn’t end when I hopped in a cab to go back to my hotel.   Indeed, what I walked into in my room was nothing short of a nightmare.   What my disbelieving eyes were seeing is water everywhere.   Water was dripping from the ceiling and I stood in a complete and destructive mess.   Everything I had collected at SHOT, all my clothes, yes everything I took with me on the trip was now drenched with water.   Worse yet, I didn’t even know what kind of water, if you get my drift!!

Water dripping everywhere from the ceiling is not the sight you care to see in your hotel room while at SHOT.

Water dripping everywhere from the ceiling is not the sight you care to see in your hotel room while at SHOT.

What a mess. And when the large hotel chain didn't want to compensate me until I showed them these pictures it was a bad deal on many different levels.

What a mess. And when the large hotel chain didn’t want to compensate me until I showed them these pictures it was a bad deal on many different levels.

Imagine the fun of having to pack up all your wet belongings and leave for the airport in just a few short hours.   So much for a good night’s rest before heading to the airport.

Yeah, horror stories like this happen in life…and even during SHOT.   What saved me during this incident is grabbing my digital camera (didn’t have a cell phone in those days) and snapping multiple photos.   You see, the large hotel chain did not want to compensate me for any of the damages nor for any of my frustrations/troubles after the fact.   That tune changed completely when images (evidence) was brought to their attention.   I went from no compensation to four nights of comped rooms plus replacement of all damaged property.

When you’re traveling, no matter at SHOT or anywhere, there simply is no excuse for not taking multiple images even if they appear mundane and not necessary.

A great example of a nice picture to grab is inside a Las Vegas taxi cab.   Back 11 years ago I was in Vegas with my then fiancé (now wife) and we were headed to the courthouse to get a marriage license.   It was about 9pm at night and it just seemed like a fun time to do it.   We hopped in a taxi, told him where we wanted to go…and the rest is yet the beginning of another nightmare.

The cabbie spoke broken English and did not have a clue.   He took us to a building he claimed was the courthouse and dropped us off.   It wasn’t.   It was 6 Vegas blocks from the courthouse and a high-crime part of town away from the touristy Freemont Street area.   We were pissed.   Not only did he scam us…he also put our personal safety in jeopardy as we encountered many street people that night hiking back to a safe area.

I got my satisfaction later, however.   You see, what the cabbie didn’t realize is that whenever I get into a cab I discreetly snap a picture of the cabbie’s license.   Armed with that information, I proceeded to call the Las Vegas Taxi Cab Authority and describe my predicament.   The nice guy on the phone informed me how this cabbie will have his license immediately suspended within the hour and that likely it will lead to a termination of his employment.   The only reason this could happen was because I was armed with the evidence to identify.

Pictures are important.   They help us remember details.   They can serve as evidence.   They can document the sort of things that might ordinarily get lost or easily forgotten.   What if you left a briefcase or a purse inside a taxi cab?  How would you describe the driver who took off with it?  He was driving a yellow cab?

For instance, I generally snap a photo of all my receipts when traveling.   That way in case they get misplaced, I still have a way of tracking expenses.   I also snap images of important business cards, hospitality room invitations, just about anything I am likely to forget.

Sometimes even snapping a picture of a good restaurant helps jog your memory for future years.

Sometimes even snapping a picture of a good restaurant helps jog your memory for future years.

Indeed, fun pictures of the SHOT experience are always the priority.   Yet, I still think people need to use the camera on their phone for the handy tool it can become.   Images not needed can be easily deleted.   Images not taken can hold a lifetime of regrets.   Develop the habit of using your phone’s camera often and for everything.

One final thought.   Three days ago a friend of mine arrived in Las Vegas for a different trade show happening currently this week.   She had a miserable day with plane delays and a taxi ride where her cab driver was pulled over by police and ticketed on the way to her hotel.   Just to finally unwind she sat down and ordered room service.   Her misery was not about to end…at least not quite yet.

Her shrimp Cobb salad and water delivered to her room ended up costing her $49.78.   To make matters even worse, they forgot the bottle of water and the salad came inside a styrofoam container the size you would get a burger in at some fast food joint.   Hardly worth that kind of money, would you say?   And to top it all off…THE SALAD DID NOT CONTAIN ANY SHRIMP!!!

Would you be taking PICTURES and complaining?   I sure bet you would.

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.