The first SHOT Show I remember attending was in Las Vegas in 2004. At that point I had no idea that the show had been anywhere but Las Vegas, NV or Orlando, FL. Taking a look back at the history of it the show had also been in such cities as Dallas, TX, New Orleans, LA, San Francisco, CA, Atlanta, GA and Houston, TX. In 2001 the show was in New Orleans and that was the last time it was anywhere but Orlando or Las Vegas. It was in Orlando in 2003, 2007 and 2009. Since 2010 the show has been held in Las Vegas at the Sands Expo every year.

I’ll never forget that 2004 attendance. My first. It was SHOT Show!! It was the pilgrimage that everyone in the hunting and shooting field made regularly. I had always wanted to go, for as long as I could remember. I hadn’t been in the industry in a way to be able to attend before then. I was still a sworn police officer and things were a bit different in 2004, just three years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. I was able to fly armed with a letter from my Chief and I took advantage of it.

I landed in Las Vegas, rented a car and found my way to the hotel – The Frontier. Opened in 1942, to say that it was one of the older hotels in Vegas would be a huge understatement. It was badly in need of upgrades and priced accordingly. For me, that was the attraction. It was inexpensive and I was on my own dime.

I’ll never forget driving up the strip on that beautiful January day in 2004. I had the windows open in the rental car, looking for my turn and amazed by the Las Vegas life all around me. Then there was a loud explosion out the passenger side window of my car. I mean LOUD. It shook the car. I was scrambling to keep control, find the source of the explosion – surely, another terrorist attack, right? – and thankful I had my gun on. (What good would it do me against an explosion while I was driving? But such are your thoughts when the unexpected occurs.) It took me a few moments of looking around, thankfully not having jammed brakes, to realize it was the pirate show in front of Treasure Island. They had fired the cannon. My adrenaline levels still had me buzzing.

At the hotel I got checked in and settled in my room before exploring. I’d never been in a big casino before and while it might have needed major maintenance work, The Frontier casino was still big and doing grand business. I walked the strip a bit and took it in. Las Vegas. I don’t really like cities but this one wasn’t so bad… yet.

That night, about two in the morning I woke to the sound of shots in the room above mine. Three? Five? It was what woke me up so I wasn’t sure. I heard a cry of anguish and a thump. A body hitting the floor? I called 911 on my room phone. The dispatcher took my information and then very dismissively, almost laughing at me, assured me that no one had been shot and I should go back to sleep. Twenty minutes later my room phone rang. Was I the guy who had called in the sound of shots? Would I be willing to talk to a detective? It seems, lo and behold, someone in the room above mine had been murdered, shot several times. I apparently wasn’t the only person to have called it in; just the first.

The next night I was sound asleep, exhausted by eleven p.m. when someone banging on my room door woke me up. What the heck? I realized it wasn’t someone banging on my door… it was someone being banged against my door. Gun in hand I stepped over and listened and realized there was a couple having a domestic… against my room door. Apparently, they’d hired a prostitute who had paid a lot more attention to the husband than she did the wife and they decided to have their disagreement about it in front of my room. I opened the door and my greeting to them was not friendly. They were convinced to take their domestic elsewhere. Looking back, I’m glad they didn’t call the police on me. I went back to sleep.

SHOT Show was everything I thought it should be. I walked about ten miles a day, ate horrible over-priced food, didn’t gamble at all (it would be a couple years before my friend gave me $20, insisting I try out the slots). My outlook back then was that I’d been a cop just outside Washington DC for almost 20 years, and an MP in the Army before that. I’d gambled my life enough; why would I gamble money?

The Frontier isn’t there anymore. It was destroyed in 2007. Since then I’ve stayed at Planet Hollywood, The Mirage, Harrah’s, The Linq (and at the Imperial Palace before they tore it down to build The Linq), The Flamingo, Treasure Island, Monte Carlo and The Orleans. I told one of my old bosses that if I kept going to SHOT Show I wanted to “collect” all the hotels on the strip. I’ve yet to stay at Ceasar’s Palace, The Bellagio, The Venetian, the Pelazzo (part of the Venetian) and several others. He told me that as long as I paid the difference in cost between the hotel our company booked and the hotel I wanted to stay in, he could care less.

I haven’t missed a SHOT Show since that first one in 2004. Of course, they cancelled the 2021 SHOT Show because of COVID. When we returned in 2022 it was amazing how little people cared about the pandemic. I actually got COVID at SHOT Show in 2020 and then again in 2022. I’ve had far worse cases of the flu.

SHOT Show is four days long and where those four days fell in the week has changed over the years. It used to eclipse a weekend but now regularly runs Tuesday-Friday of the third week in January – or thereabouts. Since my early days, the trip has grown from those four days to about a full week. One of the major vendors holds a media event on the Sunday evening before SHOT Show starts, so I get out there that Sunday afternoon. Media event Sunday evening. Media Range Day all day Monday. SHOT Show Tuesday through Friday. Fly home Friday evening. Get home about 3am Saturday morning.

In 2017 that changed thanks to the weather. My wife was with me, and we were staying at the Monte Carlo. Home in Maryland there was a blizzard just prior to the weekend and the airports were closed. Our 17-year-old son was home alone… in a blizzard. Now, we were only so worried. We had a wood stove, so even if the power went out, he’d be plenty warm. He had a pet Husky that weighed about 85 pounds and was another source of heat when our son went to bed at night. His vehicle was a Jeep Wrangler and I’d had him out driving it in the snow in 2W, 4WH and 4WL so he knew how to get from A to B safely – and had a vehicle capable of doing so. We needn’t have worried but we’re parents and it’s what we do. The Monte Carlo extended our stay two nights, Friday and Saturday, at the same rate as they’d charged us for the weekday nights. We finally got home in the wee hours of Monday morning. My boss kept me on expenses until we got home. I appreciated that.

Now we live in a time where social media supplies you with memories from as far back as ten years (for me). Some of the SHOT Show memories started showing up this morning and I realized that, as I write this, in ten days I’ll be making the pilgrimage again – along with tens of thousands of other folks in the shooting, hunting, outdoor, military and law enforcement industries. Some of the friends I look forward to seeing won’t be there this year because their companies are so busy cutting overhead they’re going to skip customer connections. Not good business from my perspective, but I don’t have to answer to their Board of Directors. I’ll see some other friends and, humorously enough, we’ll all complain about how the show has changed and what it’s become. The people who manage the show don’t even give non-profit companies free booth space anymore and they long ago stopped allowing those non-profits to sell items for fundraising purposes. Yes, SHOT Show has gone fully corporate, focusing solely on the dollars to be made.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE FOR CLARIFICATION: My statement above about non-profits no longer having access to no-cost booths is incorrect. I was honored to receive an email this morning (1/12/24, the day after original posting), from Mr. Chris Dolnack, Senior VP & Chief Customer Officer at NSSF with the following comments. I want to thank Mr. Dolnack both for his readership and for the correct information. Responses such as his allow me to provide accurate information to my readership. From his email: “By way of clarification, we no longer provide complimentary booths to non-profits carte blanche, however we do provide complimentary booths on a space available basis as we did last year with the National Law Enforcement Memorial in the level one lobby. And we did prohibit retail sales including fundraisers from non-profits until last year because the Nevada Department of Revenue TTB visited our show undercover several years ago and presented NSSF with an “estimated” sales tax bill due the state of Nevada. Today, we do allow retail sales of non-firearms and ammunition products providing that the exhibitor registers with the TTB prior to the show. The same goes with raffles as the Nevada Gaming Commission oversees games of chance on license casino properties.”]

I should be neither surprised nor disappointed but I am. I almost long for the days when unexpected explosions scared the daylights out of me and people had domestic quarrels against my hotel room door.

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