The Gun Show. Just the name brings a smile to my face. In my younger days, a gun show—any gun show—was a reason to get excited. My first experience with gun shows were those held at the local National Guard armory.
They were not large shows; maybe 100 tables or so. But as the day approached, I would get as nervous as a new father awaiting the birth of his first child. Back in those days, newly married, we were as poor as church mice, but we always managed to scrape up some cash to take to the Gun Show.
There, one could see firearms that were seldom, if ever, encountered at local gun shops: guns such as the Ruger Mini-14 and Number 1 rifles, Colt Single Action Army six-guns, as well as the high-dollar shotguns about which I had only read. Also present were big-bore rifles suited for Africa, Anschutz target guns and pistols from foreign lands.
Gun shows were a magical getaway, and it was difficult to keep from breaking into a sprint while heading for the front door to gain entrance to such a place. In those days, gun shows were rare—and special.
THE THRILL IS GONE
The years passed, and the gun show changed (or maybe I just became jaded). It seemed that as these shows increased in frequency, the excitement abated. What was once an annual event became a quarterly event and then a monthly event. The local gun shows seemed to always have the same dealers and the same inventory they displayed at the previous shows. The local show had lost its magic, and I could see everything it had to offer in a half-hour. The thrill was gone, at least for me.
Like a cocaine addict looking to re-experience that feeling of his first time, I started traveling farther, seeking out bigger and better gun shows. What was once a quick run into town to see the Gun Show had now become an all-day trip—and it was worth it.
The larger shows usually held more variety and had a lot more tables to peruse and seek out the latest and greatest, as well as some old relics. Of those relics, many were very good firearms. I recall a time when a person could buy SKS rifles in great condition for 50 bucks a piece, Egyptian Hakim 8x57mm rifles with excellent bores for 80 bucks and MosinNagant Russian bolt guns priced at three for $100.
I have run across some great deals at gun shows.
I once bought a like-new Freedom Arms Model 83 .454 Casull revolver at a great price. This revolver had every factory option (along with an invoice to prove it). The dealer said that it came with a “spare .44 Magnum cylinder.” I tried explaining that the extra cylinder was for .45 Colt ammunition, but he would hear none of it, insisting that the revolver could fire both .454 and .44 Magnum ammunition.
Even so, I left there with the gun, accessories and a fitted case for $1,000. (I quickly resold everything for three times that amount.)
Another great deal was encountered at a large gun show on a Sunday afternoon. I ran across a table that held only three long guns and a few pistols. What caught my eye like a giant fish hook was an old Winchester Model 1894. It showed some wear, but I stopped for a look.
The owner was busy haggling with another fellow, so I impatiently waited my turn. Finding a break in their conversion, I inquired about the price. The place was noisy, but I heard the man price the rifle at $1,350. Nevertheless, I figured I was going to leave there with the old rifle. It was pretty special.
The low serial numbered indicated it was a first-year gun for the .30 WCF cartridge, and it wore a half-octagon/round barrel and a crescent buttplate. It was to be mine, but I only had $1,200 bucks in my left boot, so it was time to do some dickering.
I asked the man for his rock-bottom cash price. He looked me square in the eye and stated, “I told you, young fellow: $350 — not a penny less!” I couldn’t believe the low price, but I quickly paid the man and latched onto that rifle.
GUN SHOWS VIA A HOG
Many other good deals have been made over the years, but the main lesson I have learned in my many years of gun show adventures is to never ride a motorcycle to a gun show.
I once rode about 450 miles to a large gun show. There was nothing that I figured I needed, and I was traveling alone, so I decided to ride my Harley.
I LEFT THERE WITH THE GUN, ACCESSORIES AND A FITTED CASE FOR $1,000. (I QUICKLY RESOLD EVERYTHING FOR THREE TIMES THAT AMOUNT.)
Big mistake. While I had not intended to buy anything, I left Tulsa with three long guns, a revolver, lots of reloading equipment and a cowboy hat that occupied an entire saddlebag.
From that time forward, I knew to always take the truck.
Jeff Quinn is a full-time writer/reviewer on Gunblast.com, an online gun magazine started in 2000. He has also written for the Gun Digest Annual and enjoys living life in the woods of Tennessee, where he raises Longhorn cattle … and his grandkids.
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the June 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.