Drunken shenanigans notwithstanding, the real reason we come to SHOT Show is to roam around the sprawling convention, eyeballing gear most mortals (like me) can’t afford and reuniting with some of the folks we’ve gotten to know over our years of service, writing, or both. If you haven’t attended SHOT or a similar convention before… just imagine your high school reunion if the decorating theme was $6,000 AR platforms, and you’ve pretty much got it.

The media room, which is where they corral us writer types with promises of life-giving coffee and high-bandwidth wi-fi, is as decorative and ornate as it is huge – and if I’m honest, it might be the fanciest place I’ve ever unfolded my workhorse laptop. As I mashed the keys hard enough to punch through the last surviving remnants of the morning’s hangover, it was hard not to acknowledge the inherent ridiculousness of the situation we found ourselves in.  The entirety of SHOT Show, full of booths peddling gear that ranges from legitimately tactical to woefully “tacticool,” wreaks of excess. SHOT Show is gun-toting demon capitalism mixed with our second amendment has wrought, and I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you that it’s pretty rad in person.

You’ve probably seen or heard the now cliché joke, “this is why the terrorists hate us” at one point or another, but if you were to add a bit of bacon to the SHOT Show proceedings, this event would be that joke’s definitive punchline.  Everywhere you look, there are rifles, pistols, flashlights, vests and anything else you might need to equip an elite special operations team or a well-funded enthusiast with a knack for DEVGRU LARPING. That might sound like a slight against those deep pocketed Kevlar-collectors, but it isn’t: if you can afford to patrol your private compound with more firepower and bullet resistant gear than your local SWAT team, honestly, I’m down to come hang out on Saturday – just give me a call.

That said, I have to admit that the high-priced gear most of the booths at SHOT are here to tout isn’t really my style or speed. In my current lifestyle, I have more use for a high quality pocket knife than I do for a functional stormtrooper helmet, and my tactical preferences all lean toward defensive platforms, rather than having to arm myself for full-scale assaults. If you happen to harbor a similar mindset, SHOT Show still won’t be boring – I like car shows and air shows too, despite not owning a single exotic car or fighter jet. Instead of coming to shop, then, you come to gawk, to learn, and to experience.

Walking through the busy crowds of SHOT Show and trying to navigate the maze of booths (without getting distracted by the attractive young women many of these companies have hired to catch your attention and lure you into a conversation about tactical lights) can be daunting at first. A methodical approach seemed to work well for me – treating the convention floor like a grocery shopping trip and eyeballing each booth to check for things of any value to me. Some booths, of course, have some pretty crappy stuff to share: titanium knives without so much as a light scuffing on the handle, for instance, are really only good for two things: looking shiny (as long as you NEVER touch it) and falling out of your hands the minute you break a sweat (or manage to draw some blood). Others, like a booth I spent a bit of time in that offered what was effectively an ISMIT (virtual shooting scenario) like we had in the Marine Corps… except functional, are entertaining, informative and valuable. Whatever it is that you’re into – whether it bangs or cuts, there’s something for you at SHOT.

Of course, a few hours into meandering through the seemingly endless offerings of SHOT’s tactical bounty, it all starts to blur together and you become less certain about where you came across the highlights and where you shuddered away from low ones. Information overload is a real issue to contend with at SHOT Show, but as far as problems go, it’s not such a bad one to have. Cool stuff is cool stuff, even if I don’t remember which of the thousand manufacturers makes those laser engraved magazines I couldn’t help but fancy.

Yeah, I like some silly stuff too. Sue me.