first published on January 24, 2017 by Matt Silvey
Preface: If you read Tim’s recent SHOT Show blog post, mine will come across quite differently. I’m still a new guy to this game, and SHOT is still shiny and new to me. Additionally, I don’t do much video while I am there, and since I stopped writing SHOT coverage for Harris Publications (seeing as they went out of business), my SHOT experience is much more leisurely, and thus enjoyable, which is quite different from what Tim usually experiences. Also, let me apologize in advance as this write up turned into a mini-novel.
Well, SHOT Show 2017 is in the bag. This was my fourth trip to the show, and this was by far my most enjoyable show. This year I decided ahead of time that I was going to take my time and not push it. I wore good shoes, I stretched my back, I avoided putting all the heavy catalogs into my bitchin’, FDE tacticool 5.11 murse (man purse) so my back and shoulders did not even get sore, not until the last day that is. Aside from my back and feet not hurting, this year there were also some new guns to see, like legitimately new guns too. Not just some slightly modified version of a gun that they have been making for years. And on top of that, there were a bunch of companies showcasing new California/New York compliant rifles, which for someone like me who lives behind enemy lines in California, is very exciting news.
The following is going to be a rundown of the items that I personally found interesting, exciting or just plain noteworthy. It is by no stretch of the imagination an attempt at covering the entire show. If you have never been to SHOT, it is impossible to adequately describe the sheer size of the show. On average, I walk about 12 miles a day at the show, and that usually only gets me through most of one floor, and there are two full floors, plus lots of other smaller rooms and a small area on the third floor. The show is absolutely ginormous.
I wrote about Hudson Manufacturing here a few days before leaving for SHOT Show. They are a brand new company with a brand new handgun design. I was excited to see this all new design in person. I was unsure if they were going to be present at the media range day, and when I found out they were there, I made a bee line to their booth, which was of course at the very far end of the range.
They had four samples of the new gun on the table for people to examine, and one on the firing line for us to shoot. In addition to the four samples, they had three of their early prototypes for people to look at, which clearly showed the evolution of the gun. I read many comments in response to my previous article about this gun, and people are clearly misunderstanding it. The Hudson H9 is absolutely, not remotely a “striker fired 1911.” The only thing 1911 about this gun is some cosmetic similarity, some trigger action resemblance, and of course the grip panels.
If you look closely at the area on the frame above the trigger, you will notice it is very short, especially if you compare that to an actual 1911, or a Glock, or any other semi-auto handgun on the market that I have ever seen. Normally, that area houses the locking lugs, or the locking link on the barrel and is where it connects to the frame. Hudson moved that interface forward, ahead of the trigger guard, which is one of the reasons the front dust cover area looks so large. By doing that, they were able to accomplish two things, the barrel bore axis is ridiculously low in the shooters hand, and the reach to the trigger is straight forward, not at a downward angle like on many other guns with a high grip/low bore axis. Combine those two things with a linear, 1911-ish trigger and you get a gun that shoots ridiculously flat.
Prior to the show, as I mentioned, I was excited to see the gun, but Tim (MAC) was somewhat ambivalent. Once he got to the show and put his hands on one, his opinion changed, although he has yet to shoot it. There are many other noteworthy aspects to this brand new design, but since Tim is supposed to be getting his hands on one in the near future, I will let that go for now and let him cover it in more depth.
It is no secret, I am a fan of Vortex Optics. I have several of their products here at my house, from magnified rifle scopes down to simple red dots. I’ve only ever had problems with one of them (one of the red dots), due to a bent/broken power switch (someone dropped the gun which landed optic first) and once I figured out what was wrong, it still works fine as long you know where to push the button. Vortex was also at the media range day and had several rifles all equipped with a brand new holographic sight, the Razor AMG UH-1, which they are referring to as the Huey.
Hitting the positives, the circle/dot/chevron reticle that it has is awesome in my opinion. I’m a right handed shooter who is very left eye dominant, so reticles like this are much easier for my weak eye to pick up than just a tiny 2 mil dot. The reticle is similar to an EOTech, but with a chevron pointing up in the bottom center. I found the optic to be easy to use with a good field of view, the reticle worked great, adjustments were easy to use and well-marked, and the whole unit is setup to use a rechargeable battery that can be recharged while in the optic via a USB cable. It has a 14 hour auto shutoff, which I found to be quite reasonable time frame. That time frame is long enough to get a cop through their entire shift without having to turn it back on midway, and that auto shutdown can even be disabled by the user if they so desire. Since Vortex is a company that sells products from all over the globe, I asked where the Huey was built and I was happy to hear that other than the actual holographic reticle (which is from the UK), the rest of the optic is built right here in the US.
On the downside though, it is a fairly large optic in the world of red dots, granted there are many out there that are actually bigger than this, but because of the shape and design, the Huey looks bigger than it actually is. In reality, it is only 3.5” long, but it looks larger than that. It is also not nearly the lightest optic on the market, coming in at a not so svelte 11.8oz. That is a full 2oz heavier than an EOTech XPS2, and more than 8oz heavier than an Aimpoint T2 Micro. Another potential negative is the limited run time. If memory serves me, run time on the rechargeable battery (not included) is only 700 hours, and is only marginally better when using standard lithium CR123A batteries. To top all of that off, MSRP for the Huey is a whopping $699.
As I walked the floor at the show, I was surprised to see so many companies offering California compliant rifles. One of the first that I encountered was Juggernaut Tactical. While other companies were using various compliance products already available in order to offer compliant guns, Juggernaut Tactical was having none of that. They actually went about designing and building their very own CA compliant stock/buffer tube system. They offer complete rifles equipped with it, in both 7.62 and 5.56, or they sell the stock for those looking to convert their own rifles to a featureless configuration.
The stock/buffer tube is all one piece and is constructed from aluminum. It is designed to mate up with a Hogue AR grip, but they said that it actually works with a standard A2 grip as well as many other grips with the standard sized back strap. The system installs in place of a standard buffer tube and does not utilize a castle nut, but instead lock in place with an Allen set screw. Along with the stock, the kit includes a new rear takedown pin that has an excellent, comfortable thumb rest built into it. For those wondering why a thumb rest is needed, in order for this to be considered not a pistol grip, your thumb cannot wrap around the grip and thus needs a place to go. The thumb rest solves the issue of what to do with your thumb. I found the stock/grip/thumb rest to be very comfortable to hold and shoulder. It appeared to be very well made and comes complete with everything you need, if you are retrofitting a current gun. Their complete rifles were very nicely constructed with excellent fit and finish, and appeared to include excellent quality components.
As the rep and I chatted about their products, and the California models specifically, he mentioned where he had attended college. Oddly enough, he and I attended the same college at the same time. What a small world we live in…
CMC Triggers has been making a whole line of AR drop-in triggers for some time (I own several), but they had something brand new on the show floor, a trigger for the Glock pistol line. The trigger is metal, not plastic like the factory part, and it retains the trigger safety, or the “dingus” if you prefer to call it that. The trigger has a flat face with the little hook at the bottom, just like their flat AR triggers have.
Apparently, they had guns at the range day but I missed their booth while I was there, so I only had a chance to dry fire the guns, but the trigger felt really, really nice. As a previous Sig devotee who converted to Glock about 5 years ago, the stock trigger on the Glock, while predictable and works well, has always felt, well, crappy. It feels like a cheap toy gun to me. The CMC trigger eliminated that gritty, toy gun feel. It was smooth, but still had the predictable break that a stock trigger has.
I did not have a stock Glock to compare it with back to back, but the CMC trigger seemed to have about the same pull length, weight was very close and reset seemed the same, but it had a much smoother pull and slightly less over travel. I need to get my hands on one to test with live ammo and compare it back to back with a stock trigger to say for sure, but from my limited time with it, I’d say this trigger feels like a winner.
Kel-Tec has a long, well deserved reputation for thinking outside the box and coming up with truly innovative designs. As a California resident (or subject), one particular rifle in their lineup called to me, and that was the RDB-C. It is a featureless, California legal bullpup. A few prototypes of this model have been seen in the wild with Chad from Kel-Tec even letting Tim (MAC) play with one on camera a while back.
Knowing the RDB-C was in the works, I was particularly interested in getting my hands on one. Kel-Tec was at the media range day, and had a standard RDB to shoot, but sadly the MLK holiday interfered with the shipment of their rifles so what they hand on hand at the range was limited. Figuring the RDB-C would function very much like the standard RDB, I put some rounds through it. The trigger was very nice, especially when you stop to consider that the gun is a bullpup which means the trigger is located a great distance from the hammer that it operates. I found the gun to be very light recoiling, and it almost seemed like it was working slowly, so I asked if that was normal. They explained that since the ejection port is located behind the mag well unlike most guns, the bolt on the RDB travels much further to eject the spent casing, which is why it has less noticeable recoil and it is not that the bolt is moving slowly, it is just travelling a longer distance.
The following day on the show floor, I made my way to the Kel-Tec booth and was happy to see a number of what I thought was the RDB-C’s on display. Upon closer inspection, these were yet another new sub-model of the RDB, the RDB Survival. It shares many commonalities with the RDB-C, such as the lack of a pistol grip, but it has a shorter barrel (still 16.1” long) and a slightly adjustable stock length. The RDB Survival is very light at 5lbs and is extremely compact. For those of you residing in Free America, it looks to be a very neat option for a truck gun or a backpacking rifle.
Now back to what brought me to their booth, the RDB-C, which they also had on hand. The RDB-C has a significantly longer barrel than the Survival (20” vs 16.1”), and that is because California has a minimum overall rifle length of 30”. Also, the stock length is fixed because apparently California lawmakers are under the delusion that a collapsible stock is somehow an über deadly feature and thus must be banned. That said, the RDB-C is a very intriguing gun. It shoulders well, feels quite comfortable when holding it in a firing grasp, and the trigger is as good as the one in the standard RDB. It will be available in several calibers eventually, but right now the prototype they had at the show was chambered in 6.5 Grendel. After fondling the rifle for a while, I popped to the other side of the booth, introduced myself to Chad and inquired about the possibility of getting one in 5.56 for review. Here’s to hoping he remembers me out of the tens of thousands of people who made their way through the Kel-Tec booth.
FightLite Industries (formerly Ares Defense)
The FightLite Sport Configurable Rifle (SCR) has been around for a short while, but this was the first time I had seem one in person. For those who have no idea what the SCR is, it is rifle that uses a conventional AR-15 upper mounted on a new lower that will accept most any AR-15 magazine. The SCR has its own bolt carrier that is like a cross between an AR-15 and an FAL. The front half of it looks like a normal AR, but the rear has the rat tail one is used to seeing on the FAL. The tail rides on a recoil spring that is housed in the traditional “Monte Carlo” style stock. The new proprietary lower has FightLite’s own trigger and hammer, and the safety is a push button that is located in the rear of the trigger guard, just like the safety on a Remington 870 shotgun.
The SCR will use nearly any AR-15 upper. The only exceptions are those AR’s that use a proprietary bolt carrier, such as my LWRC piston gun. Any direct impingement upper that uses a conventional bolt carrier should work.
(Sorry for the horrible image, my camera and the lighting near their booth would just not cooperate. Despite the image, this gun was black, not bronze colored…)
There have been a few revisions of this gun up to this point, and I have heard that the early versions had a trigger that was described as ranging from merely acceptable to horrible. I cannot speak for the earlier versions, but I can say the two samples they had on display at SHOT had fantastic triggers with a nice short reset. The SCR is available both as a complete rifle, offering four different versions (different uppers), or the lower can be purchased separately and comes with the required, proprietary bolt carrier.
I spent quite a while talking to the FightLite folks and expressed significant interest in getting my hands on one. Hopefully when I contact them here in a few days, they remember who I am. This rifle not only appears to be an excellent option for folks living in restricted states like CA and NY, but while I was there, a guy who was from a non-restricted state said he was very interested in getting one even though he can freely buy a normal AR.
I have a strong affinity for the products made by Faxon Firearms. I was one of the first people to review the ARAK-21 (2014), and the service I received from the company during that made me a loyal customer. I still have that ARAK-21, with both a 5.56 barrel and a .300 BLK barrel. Since then, I have used quite a few of their products when building various rifles and those products have always been of excellent quality, fit and finish. I have experienced outstanding accuracy from all of their barrels. In fact, the most accurate AR that I own has a Faxon barrel. To say I like their products is an understatement.
I stopped by their booth to see what was new and I was pleasantly surprised by a number of new products. They are offering a 14.5” barrel that comes with their new slim muzzle device, either a 3 prong flash hider or a 3 port comp, pinned and welded from the factory. The slim muzzle device is small enough in diameter that your gas block will slip over it, allowing folks at home to easily assemble an AR with that length barrel without the need to take it to a gunsmith to get the muzzle device pinned and welded. They also have a line of carbon fiber handguards of varying lengths, an adjustable gas block and a new, lightweight bolt carrier group. The had a gun on hand that had been built with a number of those new components, but used standard aluminum upper and lowers, not some skeletonized thing made from an ultra-expensive wonderflonium alloy, yet it was still ridiculously light, as in under 5 pounds (4.93 pounds).
It just so happens, that lightweight rifle was available for folks to shoot at a private media event that I attended on Thursday night, and of all the guns there to shoot, it had to be my favorite, at least of all the AR based guns. Only one other gun there had less felt recoil, and that was one of those super ultra mega expensive custom built competition guns that cost four times as much and weighed quite a bit more. After shooting it, I spoke to Bob Faxon on camera about what was in it and the prices of those parts (I apologize for the ridiculous amount of background noise).
The Holosun name is a somewhat recent arrival to the American gun market. I first heard on them only a couple of years ago when they released a fantastic little optic that offered Aimpoint T-1 micro size, weight and battery life for a fraction of the price, and like any good company, they are not resting on their laurels. This year they had a plethora of new optics, most of which included a small solar panel which has multiple functions depending on the optic model.
To be quite honest, the number of new models was so great that I cannot do them justice in this overview piece, but I do hope I will be able to get my hands on a couple of them in the future so that I can put them through their paces and offer some actual hands on opinions.
For now, I will just address what was my favorite optic of the bunch, the Holosun HS512T. Like several other optics on the market, this optic also offers a circle/dot reticle setup, but this one differs in that the HS512T allows the user to choose from just the 2 MOA dot, just the 65 MOA circle, or both. It comes standard with a QD mount, a full titanium body, 12 brightness settings from NVG compatible at the low end and daylight brightness at the high end. It has a small solar panel that not only allows the optic to reduce battery draw, but it also will automatically dim or brighten the reticle depending on the ambient light in the area. If that feature is unwanted, it can also be disabled. Finally, depending on the reticle chosen and the brightness setting, run time from the single CR2032 battery is supposed to be 20k-50k hours. If this optic performs as advertised, it will likely take over optic duty on my go-to gun at home.
Jesse James Firearms Unlimited
Jesse James Firearms is not normally a brand you see covered here on Full 30, but as I walked by their booth at the show, two guns from the same model line really jumped out at me. Jesse is now making rifles for those of us in the most heavily restricted states (California, New York, Massachusetts and Connecticut) and it is advertised as “Legal! Pretty Much.” He called this new rifle the Califas Nomad.
The rifles are very similar in basic design to the FightLite SCR, except that instead of coming in basic black, these have a Jesse James flair to them. The Califas Nomad uses an AR upper mated to a new lower that incorporates a conventional rifle stock (no evil pistol grip). Functionally speaking, there is one major difference between the Jesse James rifle and the SCR, and that is Jesse’s gun has a side charging upper as opposed to a standard rear charging AR upper.
I’ve seen and handled a few of Jesse’s guns in the past, and his style does not always suit me, but this gun is absolutely gorgeous! I could not stop drooling over it. The craftsmanship in the handmade wood stock, which appeared to be walnut, was on par with some of the most expensive guns from those big name European shotgun companies whose products cost half a year’s salary. His “JIFU Skelly” handguard also looks right at home on this rifle. To me, the overall package was not only aesthetically pleasing, but it felt fantastic in my hands. The only downside for many of us out here in the real world is the price, with this new model starting at $4,500 and going up from there depending on options. Still, I am considering selling a kidney to get my hands on one of these…
I stopped by the Franklin Armory booth at the media range day. I had recently reviewed a California compliance product of theirs (the DFM Magazine and Bolt Catch) so I wanted to meet them face to face and this was a perfect opportunity. As I was there talking to them, they asked me if I had ever had the opportunity to try out their Binary trigger, which I had not.
They had a couple of rifles equipped with it, including a 9mm Sig MPX which I tried, but since I had never shot an MPX before, I also tried the Binary trigger equipped AR, a platform with which I am intimately familiar. The Binary trigger has also gone through a few generation changes and if memory serves me correctly, the one I was shooting was a Gen 3. In semi-auto, it functions as a normal semi-auto trigger does. I seemed to recall hearing that the trigger reset in semi-auto, on the earlier generations, was a bit odd, but in this latest generation, the reset in semi-auto was quite good. But then when you flip it to binary mode, it is time to forget about reset, a task I was having difficulty with. In binary mode, pulling the trigger fires a round, and releasing the trigger fires another round. Granted, I only ran about 20 rounds through the gun so I’m sure with time, I could get the hang of it much better than I was able to with the limited trigger time I had. That said, it was still a kick in the butt, and it functioned perfectly.
For those wondering, as I was, if you are in binary mode and you pull the trigger but do not want that next round to fire on release, if you hold the trigger back and put the selector back to safe, when you release the trigger it is not supposed to fire. I did not test this as it did not occur to me to ask until after I stepped off the firing line, but since I was talking to one of the lead engineers I am going to assume he knew what he was talking about.
There were many other products that I was excited about, but this “short summary” has turned into something of a book. There were several other companies with California featureless models. In fact, Dark Storm Industries had CA legal versions of all of their models, including a dedicated 9mm AR that uses Glock mags. Troy had several variants of their pump action AR-like rifle. As usual, Magpul had a number of new products, and in typical Magpul fashion, they all appeared to be well thought out and tough. One of those new products being a backpacking stock for the takedown Ruger 10/22 that was so nice, it has me wanting to buy the rifle just so I can get the stock.
I spent some time in the Gear Head Works booth checking out their new Tailhook pistol brace (already ATF approved). I’ve not been a huge face of some of the other pistol braces that have shown up on the market over the last couple years, but the Tailhook is different in that it is easy to use and (at least using it dry) appears to offer a significant benefit when employed as the pistol brace. In addition to that, located across the aisle from Gear Head Works was a smaller company named Kingston Armory who had two .22LR offerings that I had a very hard time putting down. They were replicas of an M1 Garand and an M14 which other than caliber, looked and felt exactly like the real thing. Even the weight is down to within a few ounces of the original rifles.
Not a gun, or even a gun part per se, I checked out the MantisX system, which is a digital firearms training tool that can be used dry fire or with live ammo, or on any other training gun you can imagine. It links to your smart phone or tablet and records every shot, shows what you did before, during and after the shot, and tells you what you did so that you can improve. I’m hoping I can get my hands on one to put through its paces and see how it does.
SHOT 2017 was a very enjoyable week for me, and much to the chagrin of the misses, I came home with a large “must have” list. Hopefully, I will be able to get my hands on some of the items on that list, and if I do, you will definitely see them here on Full 30.