SHOT SHOW RANGE DAY 2015: 7.62x39 Resurgent?

Once again, SHOT Show Industry Day featured a firing line at the Boulder Rifle and Pistol Club that seemed to go on forever. You really have to see the entire line to take it all in, and the only place to do that is from on top of the hill behind the long range bays.

From behind the long range bays, this is what the left side of the firing line looked like (below). The photo doesn’t do justice to the fact that the range continues beyond a berm that we can’t see past from this vantage point.

Left side of the firing line at SHOT Show 2015. As a general rule of thumb, every white canopy you see represents one company (some companies used two).

Here’s a partial view of the left side of the long range bays (below), which are semi-embedded into the side of the hill, as seen from from behind. Steel targets go out to 960 yards at this range, and this area was shoulder-to-shoulder all day long.

A glimpse of the long range bays at SHOT Show 2015. Much of the center and right side of the line almost disappear into the hillside.

And here is the even right side of the firing line (below).

The total firing line is so long that a shuttle service was running to take writers and buyers from one end of the line to the other to cut down on what would otherwise be a 20-minute walk.

The right side of the firing line seems to go on forever. Behind the firing line are rows of vendors that aren’t shooting.

“That’s all nice, Bob,” you’re probably thinking, “but what about the guns?”

Well, they had a few.

I have to say that there wasn’t the “buzz” going into range day this year the way there was last year, where writers were looking to get their hands on the Glock 42 (their subcompact .380) and Remington R51 9mm pistol (which didn’t make an appearance, and had some significant trouble after it was launched).

Most of what we saw at Industry day was evolutionary, not revolutionary… not that evolution is a bad thing.

The first thing I saw of interest (after walking the entire line just to get my bearings) was the Geissele/AGL Defense booth, where we couldn’t wait to get our hands on the AGL Defense AK trigger that Bill Geissele previewed earlier this week.

It is easily the nicest factory trigger we’ve ever fired on an AK rifle, but we noticed that the trigger reset was so short that more than one shooter bump-fired it in short bursts when the didn’t have the rifle firmly against their shoulders.

I fired an inadvertent double-tap the first time I fired it, but then fired singe shots after I pulled the rifle into my shoulder. A shooter that came after me fired a three round burst. They may need to do a little fine-tuning on the design to mitigate this (and keep the ATF happy), but once they do, they’re going to sell these $49 triggers by the metric ton.

Most of the big companies seemed to follow the “evolutionary not  revolutionary” theme (with the exception of Sig Sauer, who had their own separate range event at another area range that we didn’t attend).

This carbon-fiber finished Smith & Wesson M&P 9C is fairly representative of that soft of evolutionary presence.

Smith & Wesson M&P 9C 9mm pistol in a carbon fiber finish.

Of course, just because there weren’t a ton of game changers doesn’t mean that there weren’t some very cool products on the firing line.

Salient Arms BLU (Photo: DEFCON Group)

Salient Arms is know for ultra-high-end customization of pistols, rifles, and and shotguns, and they did not disappoint with what they brought. The Salient Arms BLU (which at some point in its life was a Glock 17) features brass counterweights in the grip to help mitigate recoil to get back on target faster for your second shot. Nothing Salient makes is inexpensive, and you’ll hear the company’s detractors constantly carping that their guns cost far too much money (the BLU is going to retail at well over $2,000).

I’ll put their value like this: I’m not a fan of Glocks for my own personal use because the grip angle just doesn’t work well for me. I’m not exactly sure what Salient Arms did with the BLU, but not only did it point well, but it seems like it took effort to miss when shooting the BLU, and the recoil control was incredible. You might still make a fair argument that they are too much money… but they have a long line of customers buying their rifles, pistols, and shotguns that disagree.

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One interesting aspect of SHOT Show 2015 Industry Day seems to be a resurgence of the popularity of the AK platform and the 7.62×39 cartridge… and I might go so far as to argue that is was the defining trend for Range Day this year.

As noted earlier, ALG Defense is making an AK trigger, and there are two companies that came to SHOT with all new 7.62×39 rifles (and an AK pistol) that use standard AK magazines that are both generating some buzz among the gun writers I talked to last night in a very informal poll over drinks.

Galil Ace Pistol with side-folding stabilizing arm brace.

IWI continues to impress with their Tavor bullpup in 5.56, and is going to get some interest in their Uzi pistol, but the “star” of their spot on the firing line was clearly the Galil ACE in both rifle and pistol trim.

IWI took all of the best features of the Galil—which was already an improvement on the best features of the AK— and improved on it some more, so that it fires the 7.62×39 and uses standard AK magazines. Featuring a full-length picatinny rail on top and a much longer sight radius than your average AK, it was a true joy to shoot and was very fast target to target. I’m not a fan of the rifle-caliber pistols due to the lose in velocity and increased muzzle blast from the shortened barrels, but I think that the ACE rifle is a great option for someone desiring a high-end 7.62×39 rifle with all the features and capabilities people are coming to expect in a modern sporting rifle.


The CMMG Mutant is another 7.62×39 rifle that uses AK mags, and is designed to put the best features of the AK in an AR-style platform.

While the rifle looks on first glance to be a AR with a modified magwell, CMMG put a lot of research into building this rifle, resulting in a redesigning the upper and lower receivers and creating a new bolt based off that of the AR-10. It was a very fun rifle to shoot, and like the Galil ACE, is pushing the idea of what the 7.62×39 can do.

It’s also worth noting that both guns are theoretically 2-4 MOA guns, putting them on par with the AR-15 in the accuracy department out to the limits of the 7.62×39 cartridge. If these rifles take off—and I think that they will—then we might see a new resurgence of the caliber in the United States.

Don’t think for a second that the regular AK market is hurting, either. Century Arms is pushing hard on the budget end of the market, and on the upper end, it seems that Rifle Dynamics has their AKs everywhere as the “AK of choice” for vendors showing off AK-related products.

The show itself is opening this morning and we’re about to head in. We’ll have more to report from SHOT Show 2015 this afternoon.