January 03, 2011
Dan Johnson provides an in-depth look at some of the highlights from the biggest SHOT Show yet.
By Dan Johnson
According to the NSSF web site, SHOT Show 2007 was the biggest yet. It was also, in my opinion, filled with a lot of new and interesting products. I will touch on some of the new firearms from the major companies, but this year I focused more on useful accessories for the shooter. After all, from day one of the SHOT Show the Internet is flooded with photos and reports on the new firearms offered by the major manufacturers. So I thought it would be useful to our readers to cover some of the overlooked items. I will begin, however, with one of the most talked about and innovative firearms introduced this year.
Ken French (left) and Larry Weishuhn proudly display Thompson Center's new bolt action rifle, the ICON.
Thompson Center continues to be one of the most innovative firearms companies. Their new ICON bolt gun is a beauty and the care and thought that went into the design is obvious. Scott Rupp reviewed the rifle and his report is available here on our Guns & Ammo web site, so I'll not rehash the features. I will simply say if my crystal ball is working the Thompson Center ICON is going to be a smash hit with shooters.
Thompson Center's new cartridge, the 30 T/C, looks impressive based on the press release: "a .30 caliber medium action cartridge with the velocity and knock-down power of a 30-06 cartridge." But the same thing can be said of the venerable .308 Winchester, if you compare the fastest .308 load - the Hornady Light Magnum - with standard 30/06 loads.
.30 T/C (Left) compared to a .308 (Right),
Not coincidentally Hornady's .308 Light Magnum load delivers identical ballistics to the .30 T/C — a 150 grain bullet at 3,000 feet per second. These impressive ballistics are achieved in both cartridges using high energy powder not available to handloaders. What I believe you will get with the .30 T/C is a slightly different dimensioned .308 with near identical performance. What you do not get is the vast variety of factory and surplus loads available in .308. The ICON will also be available in the .308 Winchester chambering.
Thompson Center Custom Shop Encore rifle.
The Encore rifle has established itself as a reliable working man's rifle. Now you can get a prettied up version if you like from the T/C Custom Shop. The Custom Shop model on display at the SHOT Show featured rich color case hardening on the action and some gorgeous highly figured wood. I want one.
While on the subject of Thompson Center, the Internet gun forums are buzzing with hysteria over the recent sale of T/C to Smith & Wesson. Some of the opinions expressed on the future of T/C firearms due to this merger are downright ridiculous. Not on the G&A forums, of course, as we keep our members informed and nip any wild rumors in the bud. Some on other forums, however, claim flagship firearms like the Encore will soon be a thing of the past. Nonsense.
I sat down with Thompson Center President and former owner, Gregg Ritz, in the T/C conference room and asked him a few pointed questions regarding the company's future and how the sale to Smith & Wesson would affect the products and services offered. He assured me he is still in charge at T/C and the company will continue to offer the same quality products and superb customer service. Gregg will also lead S&W's hunting division and is responsible for new product development there. A top priority will be the development of a bolt-action hunting rifle bearing the S&W name. Gregg will also be overseeing production of all American made S&W long guns. He explained that the influx of cash from S&W will allow for expansion of the Thompson Center manufacturing facilities and in the near future all American made S&W long guns, including the M&P 15, will be manufactured by T/C. The new line of S&W shotguns are manufactured in Turkey.
Writer L.P. Brezny with Hastings new 3-1/2-inch 20 gauge slug load and the custom rifle built to handle it.
I ran into my buddy L.P. Brezny on the show floor the first day and he took me over to the Hastings booth to show me a new shotgun load he was enthused about. It is a 3-1/2-inch 20 gauge shotshell loaded for bear. The purpose is to provide rifle-like accuracy and knockdown power in a load legal for hunting in shotgun only states. The .615 diameter lead slug weighs 410 grains and has a muzzle velocity of 2,000 feet per second. A custom rifle built my Canadian gunsmith Martin Hagen was also on display. This rifle is absolutely gorgeous but may be a bit pricy for your average deer hunter. Not to worry. Negotiations are underway with H&R to build a budget priced rifle to handle the shell.
Bushnell ONIX400 GPS.
Bushnell is getting heavy into electronics for the outdoorsman. This year a new GPS was unveiled that one-ups every other portable GPS on the market.
The ONIX400 has a built in XM satellite receiver that not only allows you to boogie down to your favorite music in the field but, more importantly, provides up to the minute weather forecasts.
Other features include waterproofing, an extra large 3-1/2-inch full-color LCD, and the ability to download satellite photos of your favorite hunting areas direct from Bushnell's web site. Satellite images can be purchased for one dollar each or for a year's membership of $79.00 you can download as many images as you wish. Four free downloads are included with the purchase of the unit. The ONIX400 will sell for about 500 dollars.
Crimson Trace Defender laser grips.
Crimson Trace rep Travis Noteboom assures me the new Defender laser grips will look better than the prototypes shown at SHOT Show. The Defender series will be bare bones polymer laser grips and will not have a master on/off switch. A lot of shooters are coming to realize the usefulness of laser sighting in certain self-defense situations but have put off buying laser grips due to the rather hefty price tag. The Defender series offers the same quality of laser components in a no-frills grip and will list for $209.00. I speculate street price will be closer to $180.00.
The Kimber booth is always a good place to find some classy firearms and this year was no exception. The SuperAmerica 1911 may be a bit fancy for some tastes and too pricy for some pocketbooks but I will go along with the add copy that states it is "the finest pistol ever offered by Kimber".
Kimber Marketing Manager Celia Crane with Safari Grade .375 H&H Magnum.
Flat surfaces are high-polish blue with English scroll engraving and gold border. The grips are genuine Mammoth ivory. The SuperAmerica will be a limited edition firearm built entirely by the Kimber Custom Shop.
This year Kimber introduced a new Safari Grade bolt gun in .375 H&H Magnum chambering.
Other calibers will follow. It features express sights, a barrel band sling mount, and premium wood. Kimber also introduced new tactical models of their bolt-action design.
It seems the company is determined to offer a bolt gun for every purpose and are well along in achieving that goal.
There were lots of interesting new products at the ATK booth but space only allows me to cover a couple of them here.
The RCBS R.A.S.S. shooting bench should be just the ticket for prairie dog shooters. It is not a bench in the conventional sense but rather is a highly mobile shooting rest.
RCBS R.A.S.S. Bench
The seat is adjustable for height and distance from rest and the rifle cradle and seat swing 360 degrees to quickly cover any prairie dog town.
The rest is easy adjustable for elevation via a conveniently located lever. Press the lever to move the rifle up and down and when the lever is released the vertical position is locked.
A separate latch locks the horizontal movement of the rest. Both horizontal and vertical movement can be fine tuned using adjustment knobs.
The R.A.S.S. is solidly constructed and folds up to fit in a provided backpack you can stow in the trunk of a car. Suggested retail is $399.95.
Gunslick SNAP-LOCK Accessory Kit
Gunslick is another division of ATK and offers a variety of excellent gun cleaning products. This year the company introduced a line of quick change cleaning brushes, jags, and swabs. An adapter screws into the standard thread of cleaning rods and allows you to switch tips in a jiffy via the spring loaded adapter. Just pull down on the adapter collet and the tip pops right out. Screwing threaded tips in and out is not a major chore but anything that makes gun cleaning quicker and easier is welcomed by this shooter.
Ruger M77 Hawkeye Alaskan
The Ruger Hawkeye Alaskan is chambered for the potent new .375 Ruger. The rifle is short and rugged with a 20-inch barrel, matte blue finish and Hogue overmold stock. It looks all business, handles well, and is no doubt a dependable rifle for tough duty. I was a little put off by the price. The suggested retail price of $1095.00 is considerably higher than many other standard length action Ruger bolt guns with more refined features but is a lot less expensive than the magnum action Model 77 Express rifle. It does not have the refined features of the Express rifle though. The Hogue stock is a good one but is a budget priced stock. When you also consider that the Alaskan has a rudimentary rear sight only adjustable for windage, there is nothing to justify the higher price over other standard action Rugers other than the caliber. Heavy caliber rifles do traditionally cost more though and I suppose the Hawkeye Alaskan is a bargain compared to most big bore safari rifles in a caliber suitable for the largest dangerous game. But a big part of the design premise of the .375 Ruger was that it could be easily chambered in standard actions. I would like to have seen it offered at a standard price. Regardless, the Alaskan is a nice looking rifle that should perform well in harsh climates and there is an African version of the Hawkeye available for the same price with a 23-inch barrel and checkered walnut stock if your tastes run more to the traditional.
While in the Ruger booth I tested the trigger pulls on a variety of Ruger Firearms. A few years ago at a Primedia roundtable Ruger promised an across the board improvement in trigger pulls. Based on triggers tested at the SHOT Show and others I have had some field time with, I would say Ruger has kept their promise. The new LC6 trigger is a result of that promise and will be incorporated into all future centerfire bolt-action Rugers. This trigger breaks cleanly from the factory at 4 to 4-1/2-pounds. That is still a little heavier than many hunters, myself included, prefer and given that the trigger is not adjustable Ruger still has a ways to go yet to match the performance of some of its competitor's triggers.
Freedom Arms Blued Fixed Front Sight
In the photo above is one of Freedom Arms' beautifully built handguns, but the focus of this review is the front sight. Freedom Arms now offers this front sight as an aftermarket accessory for most any fixed sight single-action revolver. All too often fixed sight revolvers are not regulated precisely for the load you intend to use and, as the term fixed sight indicates, adjusting the sight is difficult. This sight and a competent gunsmith solves that problem.
The Freedom Arms sight is available in a variety of heights and is adjustable for windage via the dovetail and a lockdown screw. Let's say you have a fixed sight single-action that prints your favorite load low and right or left.
You can fix the problem by filing down the front sight until it is vertically correct, then measure the front sight height and order a Freedom Arms sight to match. Then you take the handgun and FA front sight to a competent gunsmith and have him cut a dovetail and install it. The correct height sight takes care of the vertical alignment so all you have to do is adjust the horizontal using the dovetail and lock screw and you have sights that are dead on. You also have a very attractive front sight that most any savvy pistolero will recognize as a custom job.
Left-hand CZ 527
The good news from CZ-USA this year, for at least 10% of shooters anyway, is a commitment to offer their excellent line of bolt-action rifles in left-handed versions. They will start with the most popular models, the rimfires and the CZ 527, and other models will follow shortly.
Bart Skelton in USFA booth.
One afternoon I ran into Bart Skelton on the main aisle and he told me he was looking for the United States Fire Arms Manufacturing Company booth. I had just been there so decided to guide him back to it. Unlike most booths at the SHOT Show, you will not find any newly designed firearms at the USFA booth. This company builds quality reproductions of some of the most famous firearms in history. Cowboy Action shooters are well familiar with their Colt single-action clones but the company also manufacturers authentic 1911's and Colt Lightning rifles. Later this year USFA will begin production of a copy of another famous Colt, the Woodsman .22 rimfire autoloading handgun. All USFA firearms are manufactured in Hartford, Connecticut.
Rob Leatham with Springfield Enhanced Micro Pistol
Springfield seems determined to see just how small a 1911 they can build. They built the first .45 GAP 1911 to shave a little size off their micro .45 ACP, and this year they went to the 9mm and .40 S&W chamberings to make the Micro even smaller. Could a .32 ACP Micro be in the works? Surely not. All kidding aside, the EMP is a beautiful little gun and up to Springfield's usual high standards of quality. And, despite what diehard .45 ACP fans might tell you, the 9mm and .40 S&W are serious self-defense cartridges.
Sightron SII Big Sky 3-9X42 riflescope.
Sightron has been a respected name in optics among some savvy shooters for years but has not gained the recognition deserved. That should change now that Howard Communications, one of the most respected Public Relations firms in the business, has taken Sightron on as a client. Look to see more exposure in the press. But most shooters are more concerned with quality than name recognition and Sightron delivers quality and customer service on a level far beyond what you might expect for the price. Take the new SII Big Sky line of riflescopes, for example. The features and specifications compare well with some of the best of American and European riflescopes and at a price to that will not break the bank. I suggest you go to Sightron's web site (www.sightron.com) for all the specifications and be sure to check out their warranty. Sightron scopes carry a lifetime replacement warranty, which means if you ever do have a problem you can take the scope to an authorized Sightron dealer and he will hand you a new one over the counter. Or, you can send the scope back to Sightron and they will replace it with a new scope. Sightron never sends a repaired or refurbished scope back to a customer.
Smith & Wesson Model 40 "Lemon Squeezers".
It seems like it was just a couple months ago, though it was actually a couple years back, that I was complaining to Smith & Wesson that they needed to bring back traditional high polish blued handguns to their line. For a while there it seemed S&W was only interested in building stainless steel handguns. I like stainless steel for some applications but still prefer blued steel on most of my handguns. You can imagine how pleased I was to see S&W not only is making some blued versions but bringing back some classic designs. The Model 40 "Lemon Squeezer" is a Chiefs Special hammerless variation with a grip safety and is not only available in blue but also in blue with a color case hardened frame and in nickel. Another classic, the Model 22 .45 ACP, was also introduced at the SHOT Show this year.
Smith & Wesson also introduced an extensive line of shotguns from Turkey. There were autoloaders, side-by-sides and over-and-unders in a variety of finishes. So many variations, in fact, I would not know where to start. Suffice it to say, in-depth reviews will be forthcoming from our publications.
Surefire Outdoorsman flashlights
Surefire is the leader in flashlight innovation and this year was no exception. There were new models introduced but the big news is an advance in LED technology that dramatically increases lumen output and runtime across the board. For example, in the popular Outdoorsman series, the EL1 single cell LED flashlight until now had an output of 25 lumens and a runtime of 4 hours. Hold on to your hat. The EL1 now has an output of 30 Lumens and an incredible runtime of 17 hours. The EL2 Outdoorsman two-cell light has boosted output from 30 to 45 lumens and runtime from 6 to 18 hours. This advancement addresses one of the main concerns of people who own or have considered owning a Lithium powered light. Batteries are expensive and the high light output heretofore meant fairly short runtimes.
Surefire Echo (top) and Leo (bottom).
Surefire also has a new line of tactical knives built to high standards and with some interesting features. All knives other than the fixed blade Echo will have blades of S30V steel, which in my opinion is the best stainless blade material available for general use. The Echo fixed blade is made of 3V CPM steel for added toughness. The LEO folder is more than a knife. Tools of use to Law Enforcement and rescue personnel are built in, including a harness cutter, a toothed slotted wrench that fits hex head nuts from 13/64 to 1/2-inch, a flat head screwdriver blade, and a wire cutter/crimper.
Kenneth Kelly with one of his custom handguns and his Pistolsmith of the Year Award for 2007.
Ken Kelly, President of Magnaport, was selected Pistolsmith of the Year 2007 by the American Pistolsmiths Guild. It couldn't happen to a nicer guy. I shared a hunt camp with Ken last month and he is as down to earth and likable as he is talented. Ken is shown in the photo above holding one of his custom conversions of the Ruger Super Redhawk.
Ted Werner of HySkore.
Ted Werner, President of HySkore, demonstrated one of his newest products, a high benchrest that allows the shooter to shoot from a standing position. Why a standing position? Hard kicking rifles can give the shooter a beating when seated at a benchrest. Shooting from a standing position allows for better positioning of the rifle and allows the body to move more freely under recoil. Good idea, Ted.
Ajax Camo Grips for the 1911.
Fashion conscience shooters know that camo is the new black. There is no practical reason to have camo grips on a handgun but they look kind of cool. Ajax introduced a selection of camo patterned grips for the 1911 at SHOT Show this year and I suspect they will sell a lot of them.