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Review from Britian's 'Target Gun' magazine
TULSA - The World's Largest Gun Show
Report and pictures by D.L. Thomas
What are the criteria for judging the size of a gun show? Total area? Number of exhibitors? By all of these the Tulsa Gun and Knife show must be one of the biggest, but its principal claim rests on the determination of Joe Wanenmacher, the show's organiser and presenter, that it be first and foremost a gun show and not a generalised retailing opportunity for wholly unconnected merchandise such as whirlpool baths, tobacco products and garden furniture! Joe says that he could quadruple the size of the show if he allowed everyone who wants to pitch a stall to come. The iron rule therefore is that non-firearm-related business is restricted to just 2% of the some 3,400 stalls.
If you blanch at the prospect of reviewing the wares on display on 3,400 stalls stand by for some more daunting statistics: the show covers and area of 11 acres (354,000 sq ft), attracts more than 30,000 visitors and, over the weekend 13/14 april, brings some $2.8 million to the midwestern city of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Resisting the temptation to linger at individual exhibits, it takes almost a whole day just to walk through the aisles - and, as the floor of the Exposition Center is concrete, your feet will tell you all about it next day!
You will, in fact, have covered between six and seven miles. And it's all under one roof - claimed to be the largest 'unsupported' roof in the World. This is achieved by cantilevered beams which project outside the side walls. The result is an airy uncluttered interior of vast proportions admirably suited to its designed purpose, in 1962, as an exhibition hall for oil-drilling equipment - Tulsa was for many years this century the world centre of the oil industry and several major oil companies are still headquartered there. The local industry is now well past its glory days but the concrete statue of 'The Driller' still stands outsiide the entrance to the exhibition hall as a reminder of the good times. It is impossible for a Tulsan to be ambivalent about The Driller; you either cherish it and want it to be restored, or you deem it an eyesore and want it demolished! A visitor needs to be careful about making remarks until persons spoken to reveal their stance...
OK, so the statistics are impressive but what about the show itself? First and foremost this is a show for retailers, traders and shooters - not manufacturers. You will almost certainly NOT find the major firearms companies exhibiting their latest products; it is not a clone of 'IWA' or 'SHOTShow'. The closest there was to this sort of thing was a display by the Browning Collectors Association which featured some remarkably beautiful guns, superb engraving - and some real oddities such as the coloured shotguns shown in the accompanying photograph. But the great majority of stalls featured rifles, pistols and shotguns. Some brand new but most used and with, somewhat naturally, a heavy preponderance of domestic ameican makes. Nowhere else could one find such a large number of Colt single-action Army revolvers - ranging in condition from superb to scrap-bin. Winchesters in profusion - but none at noticeably bargain prices I observed. Even the venerable colt M1911, of which millions have been made over the years, still commands an astonishingly high price for even well-used examples (typically $400 and up). Add the 8% Oklahoma sales tax and you're talking serious money. At the other end of the scale the little SKS semi-auto rifle sells at $89.99 for rough-and-ready Chinese examples to $160 for the most desirable Russian guns with characteristically better finish.
World-War II souvenirs are getting scarcer I've noticed since I started going to this show in 1990. I saw about 20 - 30 P38s, none memorable, about the same number of Mouser HScs and a sprinkling of Lee-Enfields of various marks and K98 Mausers. Many more P17s and Springfields of course, while Garand M1s were relatively thin on the ground. I was lucky to find a stall offering brand new Enfield No4 rifles (Fazakerly 1995) still in maker's packing at $299.95 (say £200) so I bought two which were repatriated without problems - US airport security classified them as 'antiques'!
Reloaders are, of course, wonderfully catered for with many stalls devoted exclusively to suitable tools and components. But not for shotgun cartridge reloaders apparently as not much was on offer here. However, if WAL-MART piles 'bricks' of 100 12-bore cartridges like 6-packs of cola and at a knock-down price of $14.99 (£10) who would need to go to all the trouble and expense of reloading?
Parts and Accessories
Many stalls feature spare parts, accessories, bolt-on-goodies (such as 20 and 30 round replacement magazines for the SKS) stocks, lubricants, holsters, leather belts, books, safety vaults (these look as though they'd not be out of place in banks they are so substantial) and optical equipment. There is some militaria, ranging from WWII uniform items and equipment to artifacts from the Civil War. Western Art is also on show, pictures, jewellery and moccasins but not too much of it - remember the 2% rule!
Knives are on show too, of course, and they can appear surprisingly expensive to the uninitiated. One stall particularly noticed featured blades only - fit your own grips to taste.
In the field of entertainment, the actor James Drury ('The Virginian') was signing autographs. Joe Bowman displayed his fastdraw and shooting skills which he has passed on to many well-known screen actors over the years including Robert Duvall, Gene Hackman and Patrick Swayze. A link with the old west was provided by the 90-year old Marshal Hooker of Silver Dollar City who was a real Sheriff in the wild west and who had met such famous characters as Wyatt Earp in his time. There were seminars on 'An Introduction to Firearms' and 'Self Defense for Women'.
It was all wonderfully interesting - and frustrating. In the urge to get around and see everything it was all too easy to forget just where one had spotted that particularly desirable gun or item! In the resulting search it was also difficult to resist the temptation to side-track here and there in case one had overlooked...By the end of the second day I was absolutely beat - but happy!
A day or two after the show had ended I checked with Joe Wanenmacher on how things had gone this year. Business had been good. Attendance had gone up once again. Exhibitors had come from all over the USA. And, oh yes, no-one had been shot or stabbed, and nothing substantial had been reported stolen. Everyone went home happy.
Footnote: Anyone who feels they would like to visit a future show might be interested in the following: TULSA is best reached via Chigaco - American Airlines or BA from Heathrow, or via Houston (Continental Airlines) or Dallas (AA & BA) from Gatwick). Expect to pay around £340 economy round-trip.