So I don’t go to SHOT, I’m not that important. On top of that, SHOT was really supposed to be about manufacturers getting together with distributors and organizational buyers to work out deals with products. That’s become less and less the case. Instead, it seems like SHOT became a place for content creators and publishers to swirl around the floor taking photos and video of the latest wares so they can get the “scoop” and attention.
I think this is one of the reasons that we’ve seen large manufacturers dropping out entirely, like Vortex, Vista, and Sig. Others, as Ilya recently pointed out, are reducing their footprint. For example, Beretta, Steiner, and Burris were all within the same booth rather than acting as different brands.
By this point, I’m sure you’ve already consumed a fair amount of news about SHOT. I’m not terribly interested in building a comprehensive list of all the latest and greatest. I’ll talk about a few highlights, sure, but my main purpose today is looking at the overall trends. It seems to me that SHOT is a bit of a barometer for where the market is heading. You’ll recognize trends and bandwagons that seems like everyone jumps on.
Macro Trends of Shooting
I first noticed this back around 2011-2013 when it seemed like every company out there was pushing “zombie edition” gear. More often than not, this amounted to little more than the same shotguns, rifles, and ammo they always sold- but including some hideous shade of neon green. EOTech even went out making special edition optics with biohazard symbol aiming reticles. The Walking Dead premiered in 2010, and became a cultural inflection point that lasted for years.
When that little diversion faded, the focus went back to all things GWOT (Global War on Terror), and putting out the latest and greatest in AR-15/M4 modifications, optics, and supporting gear. All of it “vetted” by special operations, of course. This era, which roughly covers 2015 to 2020, brought out a lot of new optics geared towards action shooting and “cool guy do-all” categories.
Related to GWOT, starting in 2015 or so, there was a huge spike in AK platform interest. PSA entered the market, IWI put out the ACE-32, and there seemed to be a growing interest in the platform as an alternative to the AR.
Then COVID hit, and the NSSF cancelled SHOT 2021. On top of that, GWOT ended later that year and the US Government more or less put a halt on cheap imported Russian ammo.
The New Pivot
When the US initiated a chaotic withdraw of forces from Afghanistan in 2021, it seemed like all of the momentum built up in the gun industry evaporated. Government funding for extraneous purchases and projects dried up, and the political appetite dwindled. Even more, I think the marketplace hit serious AR-15 pattern saturation due to multiple years of panic buying before elections followed by a whole new market panic buying during COVID.
The burgeoning AK market? Humbled by the ammo import ban, which ended one of the most compelling reasons to get into 7.62×39 or 5.45×39.
The ATF brace ban was on the horizon, too. The growing market in large format pistols (and PCCs) suddenly ground to a halt.
This drove a malaise in the market, and there wasn’t much to show for it at SHOT 2022. A few optics here and there, the hyped up .30 Super Carry cartridge (remember that?), and a few accessories. Behind the scenes, I think a lot of manufacturers were figuring out new directions. Not only from pivot away from GWOT, but also the huge leaps in manufacturing capability presented by CNC, 3D printing, and additive manufacturing.
By SHOT 2023, things were starting to cook. Bolt guns from traditionally AR-focused brands, more pistol caliber carbines, lever guns, new variations on classic designs, and a serious commitment to chasing the civilian market rather than government contracts. The Aero Precision Solus and Faxon FX7 Pershing are two items that stand out to me. I don’t think anybody would have pinned these two brands as entering the bolt gun market, but the rising influence of PRS can’t be denied. Stag Arms, the hunting-oriented subsidiary of Aero, also released an interesting bolt action called the Pursuit based on the Solus action.
My Top Picks from 2024
SHOT 2024 continued this trend of new stuff. Companies like Palmetto State Armory and Holosun lead the charge on creating new products with appeal to the mass market. S&W came to the table with a new lever action, the 1895, as did Aero Precision (along with Stag). And much more.
So out of SHOT this year, what items stood out to me? There are a few, but then I’ll get back to what I think this means for the overall market.
Daniel Defense Goes 9mm
DD came out of the gate this year with two interesting entries. First, and perhaps most well known by this point, is that they brought back the failed Hudson H9 as the Daniel H9. They also came out of the gate with a pistol caliber carbine, the DD PCC. Whatever your thoughts on the PCC market and their viability, I think this trend is interesting anyway.
Of note, the DD PCC uses CZ Scorpion format magazines. This falls in line with the PSA AK-V and AR-V. There’s also a lower out there for B&T PCCs that converts them to use Scorpion mags as well. I think this indicates that the Scorpion magazine en route to be the default PCC magazine of choice.
Lever Guns Everywhere
A trend that started in 2023 and seems to be accelerating is lever guns. In 2023, we saw POF put out the 9mm Tombstone. Bond Arms released a lever action AR. On top of that, Ruger and Henry continued adding on to their offerings. I also think 2023 is where we started seeing a lot of traction in the “Tactical Lever Gun” space.
This year, I mentioned Smith & Wesson has a new 1854 model, but even Aero precision showed up with their own tactical lever action prototype. As with the Solus, they’re making it under the hunting-oriented Stag brand with more traditional wood furniture and styling.
Bear Creek Arsenal also entered the fray with a magazine feed .450 bushmaster that will eventually be available in other cartridges.
Of interest to me, Henry showed up with the Lever Action Supreme. In a notable split from the trend, others showed up with tactical lever guns in tow while Henry arrived with a traditional looking gun that accepts standard AR-15 magazines. One of these in 300 BLK seems like it would be a great time.
There are more than these, but you get the idea. I’ll touch on why I think this is the case in a minute.
All Things Not-AR
The biggest message I took away from SHOT this year was that manufacturers are moving on to new things. Palmetto State Armory, for example, put out a poll with dizzying array of prototypes. Everything from new versions of their in-house designed JAKL in 9mm or 308 to a shotgun, bullpup, an AK-JAKL hybrid (the Vuk), and an MP7.
Primary Weapon Systems (PWS) made a splash with their new UXR platform. I have to admit that it looks really nice, and would love to see more about it.
Pindad Arms looks like they’re also going to start importing the Beretta M12 (which was what the PMX replaced for Italian police), as well as a license-built FN FNC. This is neat for the collectors out there.
I’ll throw one last highlight for me, that was suppressors. There seems to be more and more hitting the market, with B&T making a big splash this year. The exciting part to me is that all of this competition combined with new manufacturing methods brings the prices down. I was looking at some earlier this week and was shocked at how low prices have come on high quality 9mm cans since the last time I thought about it.
If, and hopefully when, suppressors get knocked off of the NFA- this market is ripe for explosion.
So What Does it All Mean?
Ok, there’s the big highlights. So what do I think is going on in the market?
First, I suspect that many of the legacy manufacturers are trying to diversify. Not only are they concerned about market saturation with ARs, but they’re also hedging bets against politics. Lever actions have a bit of a cool nostalgia factor to them, and they haven’t been common for a while. That means there’s a market there. But they’re also 50-state legal, which reduces risk of having products banned for sale in the future.
You also see some longstanding companies like Beretta really trying to branch out on their offerings. the BRX-1 straight pull bolt action caught my attention, for sure. They’ve also been cranking out new versions of the 92 series that enthusiasts have been begging for over the years. I think this is finally happening because they’re big government contracts faded away, and now they need the enthusiast market.
On the pistol ammo front, I think the interest in 9mm offerings are happening because ammo prices continue to rise. Shooting pistol ammo is way more affordable these days, and that’s probably not changing any time soon.
At the other end of the spectrum, the market has AR fatigue and just wants something different. The AR-18 gas system making its way into new products is an outcropping of that. There was also an abundance of fixed carry handle ARs, which is also just “different” enough to generate interest.
Is there anything I’m particularly looking to buy? We’ll see. I’ve got a new project in the works, and a suppressor does seem like it would be a worthy addition.