First SHOT: A rifleman's view of SHOT Show 2014's Media Day at the Range.
Thursday, 13 February 2014 | Ashley
While I shoot and carry handguns far more often, in my heart I'm a rifle kind of guy.
Several weeks ago I attended my first Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Las Vegas, Nevada... and I'm still trying to get my head around the enormity of everything I saw.
As the editor of BearingArms.com, I was one of those allowed to attend Media Day at the Range on Monday, the day before SHOT Show opened its doors. Media Day at the Range is the time where outdoor journalists had an opportunity to shoot new designs that exhibitors brought to market, and there were dozens of vendors who brought hundreds of firearms.
Unfortunately, there simply isn't enough time to shoot just a small number of them, and so I was forced to be very selective in the four-hour block that was allocated for the group of journalists that came in the afternoon session. As a result, I opted to skip the shotgunning area entirely (I'm a horrible wingshooter anyway), and started working my way down the line, picking and choosing and firing guns as the ebb and flow of traffic and my interest in any specific arm dictated.
While SHOT Show typically highlights new arms, one of my Range Day favorites was a classic 1885 Browning Low Wall single shot rifle, chambered for the 17 Winchester Super Magnum. The 20-grain bullet screaming out of the barrel at 3,000 feet-per-second had virtually no recoil, and was very accurate out to the moderate limits of the range facility allocated for the rifle. It's said to be deadly accurate and flat shooting out to 250 yards or more for small game, which is virtually unheard of for a rimfire, especially one designed from a nail gun cartridge. Combining the classic design of the 1885 with the new cartridge (induced at SHOT Show the year before) simply worked for me as a very interesting blend of old and new.
The next rifle I tried was a huge leap in range and technology, and is more than a little controversial among purists. TrackingPoint brought their sensor-integrated scope and rifle system to SHOT, and it took just minutes to learn to use the $25,000 system. Put simply, the shooter looks through the scope and identifies the target, then marks the target by pressing a small button at the front of the triggerguard. The onboard sensor package then calibrates all possible long-range shooting variables (range, humidity, altitude, the spin of the earth, etc.) except for the wind call, which must be entered manually. The shooter then squeezes the trigger and moves the crosshairs back over the marked target; the gun will not fire until the crosshairs intersect with the mark. I fired one bullet at 1,000 yards, and it was a hit. Whatever you think about the technological ease of long distance shooting with the system, it seems to work as advertised.
For those who like the AR-15 platform, Daniel Defense brought their "A" game, including new furniture manufactured in-house and a new integrally-suppressed .300 Blackout variant called the ISR (Integrally-Suppressed Rifle) if you want to scratch your NFA-item itch. Unfortunately, they were out of the subsonic 220-grain ammunition that brings the sound of the rifle down to a loud cough by the time we arrived, but even with the supersonic ammo, there was a considerable reduction in noise compared to the unsuppressed DDM4s that Daniel Defense brought to the range.
Beretta brought their ARX-100, the civilian-legal version of the Italian army's ARX-160 assault rifle. Made of nearly-self-lubricating polymer and steel, the rifle performed without a hitch in the dusty desert conditions. As neat as it was from a design standpoint, it simply lacked the sort of character that triggers the "I want" gene in this rifleman.
I found myself tickled by a 9mm Turkish AR-15-type carbine called the TE 54 being imported by Task Firearms. The blowback-operated rifle uses a dedicated, shortened (front to back) 9mm lower and Colt-style magazines, and was just pure fun to shoot.
Out of all the rifles I saw at SHOT, however, one has stuck with me, and I think I'm going to have to find a way to wedge fit into my gun safe.
When I stepped up to the firing line at the IWI-US booth, I was greeted by one the companies staffers. I told him that I'd heard a lot of good things about the Tavor bullpup, but that I'd also heard criticisms of the rifle's relatively heavy trigger pull. I was curious to find out if the rifle's trigger was an impediment to shooting fast and well. He simply smiled and said, "Let me get Gilad."
Gilad had obviously been in the Israeli military, and the Tavor he picked up off the rack looked to have been well-used. It was not just a "show only" rifle. He popped in a 30-round PMAG, released the bolt, and proceeded to burn through targets, transitioning from one steel plate to another spread out across the desert so fast that is almost sounded like automatic fire. When he ran the mag dry, he dropped the empty magazine into his pocket, slipped another 30-round magazine into the gun, and handed it to me.
Though it was the first time I'd ever picked up a bullpup, the rifle pointed naturally as I worked on getting used to the trigger, swinging from one steel target to another scattered 30-75 yrds away. Ping-ping-ping-ping-ping!
All too quickly, I'd burned through a 30-round magazine. Gilad offered me another full magazine and simply said, "Faster."
There's no way I was going to shoot as fast as Gilad, but the Tavor was so well balanced that swinging from one to target to another and stopping on a dime to squeeze off a shot was easy, as was transitioning to the next target and the next one after that. The trigger pull, while noticeably heavier than the Geissele trigger in my custom Ar-15, wasn't a factor, and simply felt right for the rifle.
In addition to 16" barrel variant, IWI also manufactures an 18" barrel Tavor that has my full attention. I'm very interested in pairing the 18" Tavor with the Hawke Optics Endurance 30 SF 4-16x50 with the new .223/308 Marksman reticle, grabbing a case of 77-grain match ammo, and seeing how it performs as an ultra-compact designated marksman's rifle.
All in all, my first Media Day at the Range just made me want to shoot more.
If I didn't know better, I might think that was the point...
Bob Owens is the Editor of BearingArms.com. A long-time shooting enthusiast, he began blogging as a North Carolina native in New York at the politics-focused Confederate Yankee in 2004. In 2007 Bob began writing about firearms, gun rights, and crime at Pajamas Media, and added gun and gear reviews for Shooting Illustrated in 2010. He is a volunteer in the Appleseed Project, where he shares stories of our shared American heritage and teaches traditional rifle marksmanship. His personal blog is bob-owens.com, and he can be found on Twitter at bob_owens.