Range Day Reflections from a SHOT Show First-Timer By: William Lawson


Like many gun enthusiasts, I’ve wanted to attend SHOT Show for years. How cool would it be to go check out all the new stuff and hang out with like-minded folks? And, of course, Range Day was like the Holy Grail. Going out and shooting some of the coolest firearms on the planet with other people’s ammo? Sign me up. But SHOT Show isn’t like a gun show where you buy your ticket and waltz right in. You gots to have a reason to be there.

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SHOT Show 2023 Springfield Armory Hellion
Firing the Springfield Armory Hellion bullpup was a different experience. (Author’s Photo)

Well, this year I finally had a reason. Since I’m officially a media type now, and was actually invited, SHOT Show is now something that I don’t just have to read about. And the very first thing I got to do was attend Range Day. And, oh boy, it was a good time.

Getting Lucky

I was very lucky in that I went to the range with two old hands, Mike Searson and Pat DuFriend. Pat had other charges, but I tagged along with Searson and soon understood why that was a good thing indeed. The dude literally knows everybody. And they know him. He’s been coming to SHOT since 1992, and it shows. If you’re not familiar with Mike, look him up. You’ll find that he has written authoritatively for many a firearms publication over the years. And he happens to be a heck of a nice guy too.

SHOT Show 2023 Zenith MP5
My new friend Mike Searson firing the Zenith MP5. That dude knows EVERYONE. (Author’s Photo)

Mike got lots of attention wherever we went and since I was palling around with him, I did too. He made a point of telling several people it was my first SHOT Show, and everyone was very nice and very helpful.

On The Firing Line

Anyway, we turned our backs to the howling wind and headed for one end of the range, so we could work our way down. I was hungry so we went to the end where the food trucks were. After grabbing some seriously good fresh donuts, we started with Zenith Firearms. Mike walks up first and says, hey these guys are from Virginia like you. Come shoot their stuff. Since they had MP5s and several other goodies, I was only too happy to comply.

Everyone from Zenith was great, but that was only the first MP5 I shot. Franklin Armory had one too, but it had one of their binary triggers on it. That was my first time using a binary trigger, and all I can say is “Oh yeaahhhhhh!” We also tried out the binary triggers on an AR-15, a Ruger 10/22, and a Glock. LOTS of fun. Again, the guys at Franklin were great and talked to us quite a bit.

SHOT Show 2023 Range Day
Just some of the firearm goodness available on Range Day. (Trevor Bean Photo)

We stopped at the Henry Rifles booth, where I got to shoot the new Remington .360 Buckhammer from a Henry lever action. I love me some lever actions and got to shoot a couple from Rossi. The .360 Buckhammer shot well. It’s designed for hunters in states that require a straight-walled cartridge. Hopefully, it will help those folks out. It felt a lot like the .35 Remington cartridge I usually hunt with, so it should do the job. Once again, Mike introduced me to the folks from Henry, which will hopefully lead to an ongoing relationship with them.

Just the High Points

Now, I’m not going to detail every interaction we had over four hours on the range. But several stand out. First, we went in to where the long-range shooters were. The wind was blowing right to left across our front, and I was lining up the longest shot I had ever attempted. Adjusting for a 20 to 30-mile-an-hour wind on your first 1,000-yard shot is a little daunting. But the scope was dialed in, and I walked the .308 rounds right to the edge of the steel before running out of ammo. Only five shots. The last one landed within a foot or so of the target. I felt pretty good about it.

SHOT Show 2023 range day FightLite belt fed AR-15 upper receiver
Firing the FightLite belt-fed AR-15 upper was the highlight of Range Day for this guy. (Trevor Bean Photo/Author’s Photo)

Another was the visit to FightLite Industries, where we fired their belt-fed AR-15 upper. It has full select-fire capability, but you know we set that thing to rock and roll. Only 10 rounds, but man, those 10 rounds were fun!

And then we fired the two most expensive firearms I’ve ever held: The Laugo Alien. There was a line to shoot them, but Mike told me it was worth it. After 15 minutes or so, it was my turn, and I got five rounds from each model. The guy from Laugo gave me the rundown since it’s a different kind of gun and the action cycles differently than other semi-automatic pistols. Cocking the guns was awkward at first, but man, did they shoot nice! “Otherworldly,” you might say. Oh, did I mention that those pistols sell for $4,000 and $7,000 respectively? Too rich for my blood, but they were cool.

Laugo Alien pistols at range day
These Laugo Aliens are the most expensive guns I’ve ever fired. But they were nice! (Tristin White Photo)

Finally, I fired my first-ever bullpups. First up was the Springfield Armory Hellion, which is the imported civilian version of the Croatian Army’s rifle. I’m familiar with the bullpup concept, but that didn’t really matter when I actually handled it. I found myself instinctively reaching for things that weren’t there and the different concept made me want to do things with the wrong hand. But it was fun to shoot, and I can see why people like them.

The second was the American Tactical Bulldog SGA 20-gauge shotgun. As with the Hellion, I kept wanting to do things that didn’t work with the bullpup, but once I got my head wrapped around it, I really enjoyed it. The gun shot very well, and Jesse from ATI was great.

A Great Introduction

Range Day was my first official SHOT Show activity, and I can tell you it was a great way to start. I met some folks with whom I’ve already begun developing relationships and I fired some cool guns that I otherwise might not have.

I got to know Mike and Pat, who, along with ringleader David Reeder, graciously welcomed me into their crew of gun writers. I didn’t really know what to expect at the range, but everyone was very nice and helpful when I handled something unfamiliar, like the folding AR-15 from FOLD AR. That was pretty sweet too.

SHOT Show 2023 Sasquatch at range day
Even Sasquatch showed up at Range Day and hung out with my new friend Jonathan. (Trevor Bean Photo)

As intended, those four hours of range time helped me plan my week and influenced who I wanted to visit and talk with. Some that I thought would make the list dropped off, replaced by some that wouldn’t have otherwise gotten my attention. Not that they didn’t deserve it before, but this show is so huge that it’s impossible to visit everyone. A couple of companies, and their people, changed my plans for the better.

So, my first, and hopefully not last, SHOT Show has been a success so far, thanks to guys like Mike, Pat, Jesse, and Dan from Franklin Armory. I expect the next couple of days will be the same.