While checking in and picking up my media credentials at the 2012 Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade Show in Las Vegas in January, I realized I was attending my 22nd consecutive SHOT Show. My first was in Dallas in January 1991.
Maybe that’s why I couldn’t help but eavesdrop in a hotel elevator the first morning when two guys next to me started complaining. They said they’d been coming to the show “for years,” and groaned about the “long day” ahead.
Pretty girls staff many SHOT Show booths to greet visitors and hand out information.
“It’s not getting any easier,” one guy said.
“Nine hours of walking and standing on cement covered by thin carpeting,” the other sighed. “The more I do this, the worse I feel.”
I glanced at them, expecting to see men in their 40s, maybe even 50s. But no, they weren’t even close to my age, 56. They looked to be in their mid-30s; late 30s at the most.
I couldn’t help but smile and ask: “How many SHOT Shows have you attended?”
The guy nearest me said, “Seven.” His friend replied, “Me too.”
Author and former Navy SEAL Chuck Pfarrer sold and signed copies of his latest book for charity at the 2012 SHOT Show.
I must have smiled wider, because one of them asked politely, “I take it this isn’t your first one?”
I silently thanked him for not adding, “Old Timer” to the end of his sentence. Then I told him this was No. 22 for me, and I hoped I’d be around for at least 22 more. “They’re all a blur now,” I said.
My companions seemed impressed, even apologetic. “I guess we shouldn’t be complaining, should we?”
Terry Drury, left, and Mark Drury, center, talk with Cuz Strickland of Mossy Oak fame.
“Well, don’t let me ruin a good time for you,” I laughed, and wished them well.
The fact is, the SHOT Show is a demanding way to spend four days, but as I’ll always say, “It beats working for a living.” My typical day at SHOT begins about 4:30 a.m. and ends at 10 p.m. Although the show is held in Las Vegas most years, I estimate I’ve spent no more than $70 gambling in all my walks back and forth between the show and my hotel room. And if I were to subtract two $20 bets I’ve made on Super Bowls played during SHOT Show weekends, I’ve spent about $30 on the slots.
The fact is, I must cover so much ground each day of SHOT that I’m too tired to do anything fun in Vegas at night. Plus, I usually file two 700-word articles each night of the Show, and another 700-word newspaper column one morning. Such articles don’t get written unless I visit a lot of booths and attend several press conferences each day.
Astronaut Joe Engle posed for a photo with my daughter, Leah Durkin, at a recent SHOT Show.
Yeah, my job requires a lot of notes, photographs and interviews. And I can’t say I look forward to my nine hours on the show floor each day, and roughly three hours of work before and after the show. Before self pity creeps in, though, I remind myself there’s only a few thousand hunters and shooters who would love to have my job.
During all these years attending SHOT, I think often about how it has changed. During the early 1990s, the show truly featured hunting. All the archery companies were clustered in one part of its massive floor, and the firearms companies stretched endlessly in the other three directions. I spent two days in each, and never came close to seeing everything.
By the late 1990s, the archery industry had all but abandoned the SHOT Show in favor of the ATA Trade Show. About the only archery companies you see at SHOT now are crossbow manufacturers. If not for them and a few tree-stand companies, you wouldn’t suspect the archery industry was once a key player at SHOT.
Miles of carpeted aisles lead SHOT Show business people past thousands of manufacturers' booths.
Then, soon after 9-11 and the United States’ “War on Terror,” SHOT attracted a growing number of entrepreneurs and manufacturers that specialize in police and military hardware. Unlike the archery and firearms industries, however, I don’t see as much overlap between the firearms and police-military industries. I often feel like I’m learning everything from scratch when working the booths in the law-enforcement wings.
Still, there’s one great thing about the SHOT Show that never changes: It never bores me. I always meet nice people who are passionate about their work, play and business. And whether it’ 1991 or 2012, I’ll often see celebrities roaming the aisles or standing at booths to meet people and sign autographs. Over the years, I’ve been fortunate to meet astronaut Joe Engle, test-pilot Chuck Yeager, football coach Bud Grant, actor/gunnery sergeant R. Lee Ermey, and various singers and musicians.
Another thing that hasn’t changed: Some companies still hire pretty girls to hand out brochures and pose for pictures with middle-aged and aging guys like me. After 22 years, I’m still not sure if those girls truly generate business for the exhibitors. I’ll never forget when I ran into my old boss at the 1992 SHOT Show, and said: “Al, you won’t believe this. I just saw two really pretty girls in bikinis working at a booth two aisles over.”
You'll never visit every booth at the SHOT Show, even if you spend every hour of all four days on the show floor.
Al smiled and asked, “Which company are they working for and what were they selling?”
I stood silent, totally dumbstruck. Finally I said: “You know. I never thought to look or ask.”
Al smiled again and said, “I rest my case.”
Well, at the 2012 SHOT Show I still saw a lot of pretty, smiling girls working the booths of several companies. None wore bikinis, but six weeks later, I still can’t answer Al’s timeless question: I don’t know who they worked for or what they were selling.
Maybe I’ll pay more attention and remember such things at the 2013 SHOT Show, but don’t hold me to it.