2008 SHOT: Preview

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LAS VEGAS — This weekend, the biggest trade show in the outdoors world will hum just a few blocks from the Las Vegas Strip. Companies will unveil products — and make deals — that will determine the economics of hunting gear and firearms for the rest of the year.

But Friday, on the eve of the 30th SHOT Show, the Las Vegas Convention Center is a picture of organized chaos: massive exhibits erected on the concrete floor, surrounded by the final preparations of smaller displays, among the 1,948 companies sprawling across more than 16 acres of exhibition space.

Forklifts navigated aisles strewn with plastic sheeting and half-emptied crates while exhibitors vacuumed their swatches of carpet. Teamsters noshed on chips and sandwiches while a technician set up displays on flat screen TVs littering the floor.

As ESPNOutdoors.com editors walked the floor space, a driver of a utility cart took a turn too sharply, overturning his payload of heavy metal sign stands. They landed on another, parked cart — nearly clobbering its drivers, who decided they might as well move along.

At the still-under-construction exhibit space of the Allen Company, a gun accessories manufacturer from Broomfield, Colo., Tim Quinnan and Lee Betty, who both work in sales, had the preoccupied dispositions of "amateurs who only do this once a year," as Quinnan put it.

Not only was the display not yet finished, they said, some of their wares were late in arriving. So they had to hire a crew to work from 9 p.m. Thursday to have the exhibit ready for 7 a.m. Friday.

Asked whether the SHOT Shows were always this hectic, Quinnan's mood brightened.

"Usually, once you get past the set-up, then it's a celebration," he said from atop a ladder, where he was futzing with display lights. "It's just getting to that point that's a trick."

Brian Thomas, Director of Marketing for Hunter's Specialties, also talked of a celebration, adding that most of the 65 products they'll be unveiling over the next four days have been in production for two or three years.

Hunter's Specialties has only missed one SHOT Show, the first one, but Thomas said things aren't as they used to be. The growth of the show from 2007 to this year (78 vendors and 59,000 square feet) is a trend consistent over the last 20 years, which Thomas credited as a testament to hunters everywhere.

"The studies show that the number of hunters is down, but the passion for the sport is stronger than it has ever been," he said. "The growth of the SHOT Show is a perfect example of that."

It's the National Shooting Sports Foundation that puts on the show and their Managing Director of Communications, Bill Brassard, said they'll use the $10 million in revenue they'll get from this show to try and add numbers to the passion.

"It's really farsighted of the NSSF to take the money made from the SHOT Show and put it back toward getting more customers," Brassard said. "The show fuels the NSSF, and we in turn promote the sport and try and get more people to participate."

According to the National Sporting Goods Association, hunting and firearm sales topped $3.7 billion in 2006 — up 4 percent from the previous year — and everyone making last minute adjustments to their booths are hoping they have the product that gets them their piece of that pie.

ESPNOutdoors.com will be on the floor for all four days of the SHOT Show, with continuous updates of the latest products, features and trends in the world of hunting and firearms.