It’s a tough job but someone had to do it, so Scott from Airsoft Action headed off to Sin City to check out the largest gun show in the world.
Over 64,000 people visit the SHOT Show each year, which is aimed at the trades who specialise in hunting anything that walks, crawls or flies – and everything in between! From Crossbows to Tasers and every conceivable firearm in between, the show is a truly eye-opening experience and I often found myself in awe (and occasionally a little shocked).
The trade of firearms and the associated gear is obviously colossal in the land of freedom and super-sized food. With hundreds of exhibitors there is a hugely diverse market on show and airsoft is only a very small part – but definitely growing.
So where does Airsoft fit into all of this?
Clearly Airsoft is very much the “poor cousin” at the Shot Show, so poor that often they didn’t even know they existed. This became clear when I met Rudy Reyes, ex-Marine Recon and an actor from the hit TV show “Generation Kill”. He’s definitely a very unique soldier on many levels and an intelligent man. He only found out about airsoft last year and couldn’t work out why people played. Over the course of a year he’s learned more and thinks from a gaming point of view it’s great – but as a tactical training tool it is even better! This, coupled with firearms celebrities such as Chris Costa having even more ties with airsoft, only raises the bar and perception of our market.
Now that there is growing recognition from many real firearms manufacturers that the Airsoft market does show potential, it’s only going to get better. Of course by “potential” what I actually mean is greenbacks… money… moolah… dosh! Yes that is right, the right to bear arms is also a great opportunity to make a lot of money in a capitalist land of the free. Like any pastime, from golf to building model aircraft, the more money you spend the more desirable product you will get. Spend a little and you will get a product that is largely available but if you spend a large sum of money, you will get a better quality (and often artificially priced) product. So walk along to the huge specialist firearms manufacturers and you will see high-end prices being endorsed by big names such as ex Magpul stars Chris Costa and Travis Haley. I’m not saying that all this is a bad thing, or that the products are bad but it is the reality of big business these days. Names, advertising and marketing are the driving force that each of the big manufacturers use daily to punt their products in every walk of life these days.
The SHOT Show allows all the different walks of life within the shooting/hunting trade to pour into one great big melting pot and cross-connect. This is why it is a great thing for Airsoft as a sport. Thankfully this year’s show was a marked improvement over last year; the quality of the Airsoft stands was higher and they were larger.
Many big names such as Colt, Samson, H&K, Mega Arms and (until recently) Magpul take large sums of cash from Airsoft companies to use their names and you can understand why. Airsoft really does ride on the coat tails of the greatness that events like the SHOT Show have created. The civilian shooting market in the US is truly gargantuan, well over 300 million weapons are in the general public domain, it is believed. This means that the industry is worth hundreds of millions of dollars and Airsoft is another string to their bow… or coin in their purse. Even when we were there, DyTac signed a deal to make Airsoft Hex Mags which will be available later this year.
So why bother with Airsoft?
Well, a nice clear example is the UK… We can’t own many firearms due to our draconian laws, which dictate that individual police firearms officers have the right to deny anyone they see fit from having firearms if they do not think they need them. Which means the chances of ever having shooting like a Magpul Dynamic training course is nigh on impossible.
Airsoft is our easy alternative to shooting and by rights we pay for the privilege in license fees to the real steel manufacturers, the same way we pay for it in our Nike trainers to have the latest successful athlete tell us we need the newest and greatest offering they have. Even though the chances are that the last pair of trainers you had were just fine!
For me the alternative Airsoft is what the likes of G&G in Taiwan do. They make their own self-designed rifles which bear a resemblance to some real firearms, without being so close that they have to pay a licence fee. This keeps the cost down for the end user and means they can produce new designs even faster.
So we have the choice that the manufacturers offer to us. The SHOT Show is the mixing bowl where the ideas are born, deals are made, impressions are given and new products are launched. Sometimes they do well, other things you see nose dive.
So what was the low down this year?
It was a relief to see G&G, Krytac, PTS and Nuprol there showing the good side of Airsoft. The stands were nice and professional-looking, although still far off what IWA in Germany has and this boils down to cost. The SHOT Show is fantastically expensive due to tied up union contracts that means you need three men to change a light bulb… “That’ll be $500 please.” I am not joking!
Speaking with Umarex, who distribute all of the H&K branded Airsoft rifles was quite positive. Oliver Lux has said they are hoping that production will continue to increase at the factories in Taiwan, although to date it has been quite hit and miss with what we see available. There are also plans to release a G28 rifle which should be very impressive. Sadly because H&K haven’t made many new weapons, we won’t be seeing new models except the G28. Umarex also have the IMI license which means things like their Sport Line Tavors will become more available over the next year.
Guay Guay (G&G)
The G&G stand at SHOT Show in 2014 was a huge let down compared to their IWA effort, a largely interactive floor showing off a great number of products past, present and future. This year the stand was bigger and showed off a few new interesting products. A reworking of the Combat Machine range which makes them look more cutting edge and new low cost models that look like the War Sport rifle with the Wire Cutter front rail.
The usual releases were also on show and during my talks with them they let slip the gearbox will be going through an overhaul, so that the Gen 3 MOSFETs will soon be inside the gearbox. This will be good news for all those who suffered with a lack of space. Their high-speed set ups will be released very soon now that the reliability has been increased, so the new Lightning Hawk will sport dual sector gears and just over 300 fps. All in all there was nothing earth shattering, no sign of the MG42 that was on display the year before and the GSS (VSS) was on display with all the same issues as previous. I do love G&G but they just seem to make amazing gear, then slightly stray off to do something bizarre that isn’t so good. What I wish G&G would do is something more along the lines of Krytac; a LMG/Shrike/M249 that’s a bit jazzy. It isn’t overly complicated, it is functional for Airsoft and people would use it.
Distribution was the key area here, with the closure of the Defiance wing of KRISS Arms we lost KWA in Europe… again! There still isn’t anything firm at the moment for stockists, other than importing from the Far East (or now the Far West), which doesn’t help anyone in the UK.
KWA USA is able to provide stock to Europe but it may not be the most cost-effective path. Taiwan to US then back to Europe seems to be a long trip. On display was the illusive AK ERG rifle that has never appeared for the past few years. It looks and sounds like it will be great, if only they can work out all the kinks to release it. KWA had their own take on a Magpul PDR which, being only a prototype, is unlikely to be released this year. It was hiding in a glass case so we couldn’t get too close a look at it. A new gas blow back AK was on display, which has certain Galil features such as the twin fire selector and grip. It looked nice but GBB AKs have never been overly popular in the UK unfortunately.
In short there were lots of cool ERG-type rifles but with no definitive release dates. All in all a little disappointing but at the same time fairly typical of the KWA brand. Quality over concrete information it seems.
After the loss of the Magpul license, PTS were left with a bit of a hole to fill. In the last year they released the Mega Arms MKM gas blow back rifle. It is a stunning rifle and works very well and now there is talk of an electric version finally, albeit with no firm release date. How good will an ERG Mega Arms be? Well I’ll be first in the queue that’s for sure!
Also on show was a gas blow back Masada to be released later this year, this was a working sample and the finish was great. The Centurion Arms rifle range should be released this year too, to cover the standard M4 base for PTS. The very successful EPM magazine will be released in a gas format for the PTS/KWA range of gas rifles that is great news. The Enhanced Polymer range will be expanding too, new pistol grips, stocks and vertical grips are all on the cards. This means a quality product that isn’t entirely different is filling the old Magpul gap comprehensively.
A clever front grip we saw was also capable of holding a Lipo battery to help with those front-wired rifles. That means you no longer have to use PEQ batteries if you don’t want to. Amazing was the gas blow-back PDR, even the original Magpul designer came around to have a look as the concept never made it into real life.
I had a good meeting with DyTac who are keen to increase their market share within the UK. Good value M4 platforms are already available and DyTac have said they are looking to continue the improvement of the existing gearbox to be a stronger contender in terms of reliability and performance. The low cost rails and spares they produce are already a huge hit in the UK as good value alternatives to the likes of G&P and Madbull. New on the cards for them is the officially licensed Hex Mag, a funky polymer magazine that allows users to switch out coloured base plates for different uses. They should be hitting the shelves by the summer. DyTac could be a name to watch this year.
Action Sport Games
After the launch of the EVO (that felt like it was never going to arrive over the last few shows), ASG show no signs of slowing down. This year they showed off the CZ805 Bren which will come in a Pro and Sport Line version. Again like the EVO it has been worked from the original blueprints. It’ll be a modular system that will take the regular magazine or a M4 magazine and has the ambidextrous fire selector, swappable cocking handle and fully adjustable stock. It is an unusual rifle but by no means is it ugly. The EVO was showing some new parts too, such as a cool replacement stock not dissimilar to the ACE stock. Hopefully because this is ASGs second rifle it’ll be produced a little faster than the EVO.
“Kraken Tactical” is the new venture from KRISS Arms, who make the Vector.
After the massive international “handbags at dawn” with KWA, KRISS decided to go it alone – and you can understand why. While the full facts were never truly known, you can appreciate the efforts they went to, to remain in the Airsoft market. There has been a “soft” launch in the US over the past 6 months, which is aimed at sorting out the teething issues with supply and designs. Allen from Krytac spoke to us and said he’s very excited that these products will be into Europe in the next few months.
I really like what they’ve done with the rifle designs; basically instead of trying to copy what everyone else is doing they have made their own designs. Things like the Shrike/LMG, it isn’t quite accurate to any real steel counterpart but then the Shrike is an old design. The modern twist on the design makes it look sleek and very cool. I think Krytac have got their fingers firmly on the pulse with what players want and this will definitely be the start of something big for them.
To make it even better they have the War Sport license for the LVOA .22LR rifle which, whilst isn’t Airsoft is still very nice. On top of this I learned that while nothing is yet moving, the electric KRISS Vector has been given a green light! Well there is something to look forward too.
On display was the hand-built MG34, which we saw released in the UK last year and the usual items you can find on their website.
As well as these big names there were companies such as Evike, who retail in the US. Cybergun had their “standard” stand set up but unfortunately they didn’t seem to have anything noteworthy that hasn’t been on their stand for the past few years.
So what about kit?
Airsoft is all about the latest and greatest gear. I could attempt to cover every major manufacturer and fail, or give you a brief overview concentrating on the impression I got.
Kryptek is still the big kid on the block as you all know. Three years ago it was ATACs and before that it was always about Multicam. Kryptek did seem to have a large foothold around the show and during our meeting they seemed genuinely interested in the UK market and Airsoft in general. They had some interesting things as a show case, such as a bright blue Kryptek wet suit and lots of their really nice white Yeti-coloured gear.
The Magpul stand is always busy, maybe it’s the Hot Shots girls or maybe it’s the kit. They had their six shot drum shotguns on show again and the rest of their stand seemed the same as last year. They did have the new Jumpable Plate Carrier 2.0 and a new armour system with over the head shoulder armour. It all looked cool (as you would expect) but due to the delays and frustrations with the time it takes products to come to market, Crye are opting to show what they can do soon. Not a bad idea at all.
London Bridge Trading (or LBT) had their LBX range on display, which is also promoted by Chris Costa. There is nothing quite like adding a good name to your nice gear and LBX gear is designed with Airsofters in mind. When you don’t need something to survive being blown up, why pay a crazy price for it? LBX provides the bridge between quality and affordability.
There are dozens of other stands I could’ve mentioned and all would be relevant in some way or another. Things from custom front rail by Unique AR, custom Rail Panel covers from Custom Gun Rails and short run pistol grips by Wicked Grips always raise a smile. Small companies producing really beautiful work.
All in all the show was enjoyable (as always). The Airsoft side was stronger than last year and the new releases were little more solid. I’m glad to see companies like PTS and Krytac expanding quickly as these are the big names what we’ve been lacking for so long.
Undoubtedly I missed something great but then when you are at a dizzying show such as this, it is very easy. As always Airsoft Action will have the up to date reports and the latest release reviews for the biggest brands around.
Next stop IWA in Germany!