SHOT Out of the Dark

ORLANDO, Fla. — Aptly named and overcrowded, the 29th annual SHOT (Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade) Show will pack in the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando on Jan. 11-14, offering a mind-blowing smorgasbord for the serious outdoorsman.

"SHOT show is the place where all the manufacturers unveil their latest and greatest," said Steve Wagner, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. "Everything a hunter or shooter could ever need or wish for is in this place. If you enjoy hunting or shooting, this is the world's largest toy store."

The outdoor industry's largest trade show will offer 653,000 square feet of exhibits in almost 30 football fields of floor space.

Nearly 1,900 exhibiting companies from around the world will unveil their new scents, lights, stealth apparel, cold-weather clothing and doo-dads that sometimes confuse hunters more than the prey — and the only firearms missing are the guns of Navarone.

(Before you drop the kids at Disney's doorstep and race to the Orange County Convention Center: It's only for industry pros and media. Sorry.)

"The Sears Tower could lay down in this exhibit center and have 1,000 feet left over," Wagner said. "It's a little over a half-mile long. It's a very impressive layout of all kinds of outdoors products."

Beyond the staples, gadgetry of every stripe are showcased. Also on display will be a 10-minute deer skinner — hopefully void of demonstrations — a hearing aid that helps hunters hear the deer from farther away but muffles the vibrations of a round, a GPS dog tracker and a rotating stand for all types of hunting rifles and a machine gun to boot.

The overall size of the event is up 6 percent from 2006, and 27 percent larger than its last stop in Orlando four years ago.

Wagner said much of the growth of the show is not coming from an increase in vendors, but from larger, more elaborate displays from the companies who have been selling at the show for years.

"They understand more and more the importance of this show and the business orders that they write here, so they increase the size of their booth, which increases their presence," Wagner said.

The exhibition floor a day before the show was an obstacle course of carpet rolls, bubble wrap, empty crates and roving forklifts. The air was full of beeping, shouting and an ever-present new furniture smell. Exhibits under construction ranged from military-grade firearms to customized walking sticks, and the presentation varied from a massive, faux-castle walls with flat screen TVs to a 10-square-foot booth with turquoise and white curtains.

Oregon-based optics manufacturer Leupold & Stevens is keeping up with expanding displays with a gaudy, two-story rig that includes an observatory deck lined with working binoculars.

"This is great for our company because we get all our media in one place, and you have dealers buying your product," company spokesman Pat Mundy said while standing on the raised deck. "You are able to both drive demand and fill the pipeline with one show."

The rolling, real-time media coverage in recent years has generated customer calls between when the company rolls out new products and the show's end, Mundy said.

Someone out there must be reading and listening, it seems. This year, ESPNOutdoors.com will be covering all four days of the trade show, tracking stories, rooting out features and highlighting the newest, best and most bizarre products. The result will be a thorough preview of what outdoorsmen will find on store shelves in 2007.