Friday, April 13, 2007

Friday the 13th, my lucky day

Welcome to America's Center:

Kind of ....

The Show-Me State is living up to it’s name. Based on the sea of humanity lined up to get into the show today, I’d have to say every gun owner in Missouri is here to be shown the latest and greatest in the firearms world. Having walked the exhibit hall, I can tell you there’s no shortage of stuff for them to see. And having attended the Golden Bullseye Awards breakfast this morning, there are some truly great products you need to check out.

This blog is intended to allow you to attend the NRA show virtually. To make it as true to life as possible, let’s do this right...
As you may know, the meetings and exhibits are free for all NRA members. Simply show your NRA membership card in the registration area and you’re given show credentials. If you’re not an NRA member, you can join right then and there. a virtual attendee at the 2007 NRA Annual Meeting & Exhibit, I hope you’re already a member of the NRA. If you’re not, click here and join right now before continuing. Otherwise, you’re a virtual poacher.

The day started at a breakfast staged by the NRA publications ... American Rifleman, American Hunter, etc. Each year, the editorial staff of the publications selects what they consider to be the bests products in respective categories and awards them their Golden Bullseye trophy. This award is among the most coveted in the industry because of its objective nature, and the well known fact that the staff at NRA publications are the biggest bunch of gun geeks you will ever meet. They know their stuff. And if they give your product the trophy its only because it gave them “gun wood” Their term – not mine.

The list of breakfast attendees at the awards breakfast read like a who’s who of the industry. The tone of the gathering was best demonstrated by Randy Brooks, the owner and driving force behind Barnes Bullets. When NRA Editorial Director, John Zent greeted Randy at the door, he asked, “Why are you smiling so big, Randy?” Randy’s response? “Because I have so many friends!”

The room was full of industry leaders. Fierce competitors. In Randy’s category alone, representatives from Winchester Ammunition, Nosler and Federal surrounded him. Despite being in competition in the premium bullet world, these guys are friends, first and foremost. I think that says a lot about this industry.

Barnes Bullets was awarded the Ammunition of the Year Golden Bullseye from American Hunter magazine for their Maximum Range X-Bullet (MRX). With a heavier-than-lead tungsten core in its base and a Delrin tip, this high ballistic coefficient bullet is deadly at long range. You can learn more about it here:

American Hunter awarded the Shotgun of the Year Golden Bullseye to the Remington 105 CTi. After the breakfast, I went straight to the exhibit hall to check this shotgun out. Simply put, this is my next shotgun. I’m a bike geek, so Remington had me at “titanium receiver with a carbon fiber shell.” I love seeing a traditional company like Remington in a traditional industry like firearms, embracing modern, lightweight, high-performance materials like titanium and carbon.

This shotgun takes my favorite features of all of my other shotguns and rolls them into one, sleek model. First of all it’s a semi-auto like my Winchester Super X2 and Browning Gold. Like my Gold, it features speed loading — thumb a round into the magazine and it is cycled directly into the chamber. It features bottom loading and bottom ejection like my old Browning BPS — spent shells are dropped directly at your feet and not across the duck blind into your buddy’s face. Unlike my BPS, it’s a semi-auto. Did I mention that? If Steve Jobs and the guys at Apple made a shotgun, it would most likely be identical in every way to the CTi. Of course, they’d call it the iShotgun. Bravo, Remington. Check it out here:

American Hunter’s Optic of the Year Golden Bullseye went to my friends at Leupold for their VX-L. This scope has a cool story that everyone in the industry should learn from. A few years ago, Leupold & Stevens hired Andy York to head up sales and marketing. They brought him from outside the industry. That’s the part that everyone should pay attention to, because he brought new perspectives and ideas with him. He questioned even the most fundamentally accepted norms and challenged them. The result was the VX-L.

Andy knew the importance of cheek weld and having the centerline of the optic as close to the centerline of the bore as possible. He saw shooters with 50mm objective scopes getting “chin weld” at best. When he started doodling his idea for the VX-L, traditionalists laughed. However, true to their commitment to innovation, the top brass at Leupold stood behind Andy’s forward thinking and poured somewhere in the neighborhood of $2 million into the development of the VX-L. The result is a 50mm scope that mounts like a 36mm, yet delivers nearly 50% more total light. More info can be found here:

Other Golden Bullseye Awards on the hunting side included Thompson/Center’s Encore Pro in the rifle category and Bushnell’s ONIX200 gps. I haven’t had a chance to stop at the Bushnell booth, yet, but I intend to go play with this Gear of the Year gadget as soon as I get a chance. Maybe more on that tomorrow.

The American Rifleman side of the Golden Bullseyes recognized the Tikka T3 Tactical as Rifle of the Year. My old friend Cory Cannon is the product manager over at Tikka and Sako rifles for Beretta and I’m told he’ll be at the show a little later. If I can pin him down, I’ll give you the inside scoop on Tikka and Sako tomorrow.

Rifleman gave Shotgun of the Year to the Benelli Cordoba 20 gauge, Best Accessory to Caldwell Shooting Supplies’ Handgun Accurizing Mechanical Machine Rest (HAMMR), Best Ammunition to the .338 Federal and Best Optic to the Aimpoint CompML3.

Of course, most meaningful to you — as a surfer — was the Handgun of the Year award to the Springfield Armory EMP 9mm. In presenting the award, Editor in Chief, Mark Keefe said it best:

“Designed by none other than John Moses Browning, the M1911 pistol is America’s greatest — and most popular — handgun design. There have been literally thousands of variations of this great gun in its near century of service. What this year’s winner did was to push the M1911 design in a new direction, the ultimate in downsizing.

“The Springfield Extreme Micro Pistol was shown actual size on the April 2007 cover [of American Rifleman], and it’s not just another 1911 with its grip and slide hacked down. It is a frame-specific 9mm or .40 S&W that required an extensive redeisgn and 15 newly configured parts. The frame is 3/16 of an inch shorter than a .45 ACP, meaning you can get more of your hand around the gun, making this one of the most controllable and concealable pistols we’ve ever tested. Put it in your hand and shoot it, and, you’ll agree with field editor Wiley Clapp, who wrote, ‘As an all-new category — the short-action M1911 — this great little gun might just be the tip of the iceberg.’ The Springfield EMP is well deserving of the title American Rifleman Handgun of the year.”

Denny Reese accepted the award and acknowledged the incredible ingenuity and effort of Springfield Custom Shop manager, Dave Williams, in the design of the pistol. A shy Williams stood and gave a quick wave to a room full of applause. Nice work, Dave, and everyone else at Springfield.

Here's Me, Tom and Denny Reese (they ARE Springfield Armory) and with the coveted Golden Bullseye Award for Handgun of the Year:

More on the EMP here:

After roaming the exhibit hall for a couple of hours, I made my way over to the Opening Celebration. There, NRA President, Sandy Froman took the stage to officially kick the weekend off.

Sidenote: I gotta say, I’m a Sandy Froman fan. As one enters the exhibit hall area of the show, dozens of banners hang on each side of the hall. Each features an NRA “celebrity” proudly declaring, “I’m the NRA.” Everyone from Karl Malone to Tom Selleck, Travis Tritt, Steve Largent and Charlton Heston is pictured. Each holds some sort of firearm — flintlock muskets, lever action rifles and the ever-popular over and under broken open over the shoulder. Warm and fuzzy guns. I understand the NRA’s need to project a palatable image to everyone, but this is the same organization that coined the phrase, “The Second Amendment isn’t about duck hunting.” Froman is the only individual pictured on these banners holding a handgun. It happens to be a Springfield Armory 1911. Props to Ms. Froman.

Where was I? Oh, yeah...

Wayne LaPierre paid tribute to children of active military personnel, acknowledging the sacrifices of young people who have parents serving abroad. He continued his tribute by acknowledging all active military and law enforcement personnel. As he recognized each group he asked them to remain standing. Finally, he asked all those present who had served in military or law enforcement to stand. A tremendous number of people stood to resounding applause.

LaPierre then introduced NRA-ILA Executive Director, Chris Cox. Cox informed the crowd that they were about to witness Missouri history. A stream of state legislators took the stage followed by the Lieutenant Governor who read from Senate Bill 257:

"The state, any political subdivision, or any person shall not prohibit or restrict the lawful possession, transfer, sale, transportation, storage, display, or use of firearms or ammunition during an emergency."

This bill is an effort to prevent a recurrence of what happened in New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, where, for the first time in American history, a government went door to door and seized privately firearms at gunpoint.

Governor Matt Blunt then came on stage to thunderous applause and signed the bill into law. It was pretty profound stuff.
Country music singer Ty England then came on stage to perform and, being that I wasn’t in what Hank Williams, Jr. calls “a country state of mind,” I took my leave. I’m sure he’s a nice guy. Talented, too. It just seemed a bit anti-climactic or something after such political boldness.

I grabbed a quick bite...and I must say that, so far, St. Louis food stinks. That is the ONLY reason I would say you shouldn’t be here. I guess St. Louis isn’t known for any special kind of food. I mean, in Memphis, you eat ribs. In New England, you eat lobster. In Omaha, you eat steak. In Philadelphia, you eat cheese steak sandwiches. In New Orleans, you eat anything. But from what I’ve seen of St. Louis, you eat nothing. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky, but if I don’t get a good dinner tonight, I’m going to be pissed.

Speaking of good food and pissed ... I can’t think of those words together without my friend Bob Robb coming to mind. I say that because, despite being one of the nicest guys around, Bob loves to come off as a grumpy old man and because some of the best food I’ve eaten in my life has been consumed at tables shared with Bob Robb. We both have a weakness for good sushi and we’ve literally broken records with the size of our bills at various sushi joints around the country.

I checked the show schedule and who, but my buddy Bob, was slated to conduct a seminar with Craig Boddington on African hunting. Bob is a world-renowned hunter and outdoor writer. He is a pro staffer for Gore-Tex, BowTech, Gold Tip and Under Armour. And despite being somewhere in his 50s, he’s like a little kid. The host for seminar had provided Bob with a laser pointer. It was the equivalent of giving a set of shiny, jingling keys to a monkey.

I sat through all of Craig Boddington’s remarks and Bob was just getting started when I had to excuse myself to take a cell phone call.

Bill Dermody was calling to tell me he had lined up a couple of interviews for me to conduct tomorrow. I was stunned when he told me who I’d be meeting with. He said, “What do you think is the toughest interview to get at the show?”

I responded, “LaPierre is probably the busiest guy in town this week, so I’ll go with that.”

Bill then said, “You’re interviewing Wayne LaPierre tomorrow at 12:30.”

He called back a few minutes later and said, “What would be an even tougher interview to get than Wayne LaPierre?”
I honestly had no clue.

“You’ll also be interviewing tomorrow night’s keynote speaker, Ambassador John R. Bolton.”

Holy *&#@!

So I need to dust off my journalism skills that have sat dormant since college, get some homework done, shave my five-day beard and iron my shirt for tomorrow. Until then, I’m signing off. In doing so, I hope that you’re getting a taste of what you’re missing. There’s clearly something for everyone at the NRA show: gearheads, political zealots, average hunters, whatever. Start making your plans to attend next year in Louisville.

Oh yeah … and Join the NRA!

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