By Sam Pikula
Recently I had the opportunity to attend the 1999 International Trade Fair for Hunting and Sporting Arms and Outdoor Articles and Accessories Show or as it is called in the firearms trade simply the “IWA (pronounced “eewhah”) Show” which is a bit easier on the tongue. While the average stateside hunter, outdoorsman, or gun enthusiast may not have heard of the IWA Show I can assure you that in the gun trade it is one of the two major events in the year with the other being the Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor, Trade (SHOT) Show. Unlike the SHOT Show which is held in a different US city each year, the IWA Show has always occurred during the month of March in the lovely and historic city of Nurnburg, Germany.
The IWA this year brought in over 800 exhibitors and roughly 15,000 visitors from over 80 countries. The IWA is definitely not just another big “gunshow”. From its start in 1974, the IWA has attracted heavyweight dealers and businessmen from all over the globe. It is a high class event where a visitor in an Armani suit sporting a Rolex watch is commonplace. Many of the exhibitors have private offices, coffee nooks, and wet bars in their displays to make prospective clients relaxed and at ease before they land that proverbial “big deal”.
The IWA is also a great place to check out the latest and greatest products that the major gun and outdoor companies offer. Often times the exhibitors bring their latest prototypes to generate publicity and interest which is one of the reasons I came. The one downside for me was that since Germany (and much of Europe) does not allow their subjects (excuse me citizens) to own modern military arms, you won’t find any at the IWA. The only “military” types of weapons which are permitted at the IWA are sniper rifles (which can be labeled “target rifles”), semi-autos with thumb-hole stocks sans flash suppressors, pistols and, incongruously, combat shotguns.
Attending an event as large, interesting, and intense as the SHOT or IWA Show can at times be a dizzying and heady experience. It would be nice to sit down and chat with every exhibitor but there is just not enough time. Instead I concentrated on three classes of exhibitors: those exhibitors that I was personally interested in such as practical/tactical firearms, those whose products I had used extensively in the past, and exhibitors who put out something new and innovative. Since I was in Germany and have an affinity for military style weapons the first place I headed for was the Heckler & Koch exhibit.
Founded in 1949 from the ruins of post war Germany, H&K is a remarkable success story and in every way represents the cutting edge of firearms technology. The H&K exhibit was one of the larger ones and their new SL-8 garnered a lot of attention. The SL-8 is a .223 semi-auto rifle derived from H&K’s G-36 which is the German army’s replacement for the venerable G-3. The operating system of both the SL-8 and G-36 will be familiar to American shooters as it is directly based on the AR-18/180. After having fired the G-36 I must admit the SL-8 is a far cry from its military brother. In order to be legal the stock was radically changed so that it has a heavy fixed thumb-hole stock instead of a light weight folding one. The barrel is also heavier and has no flash suppressor. Its free floating barrel should generate the kind of extreme accuracy needed for precision shooting or varmit hunting. The SL-8 should be available in the US by the time you read this. Its stateside debut was delayed due to the ATF’s insistence that H&K redesign the magazine to be a single ten round stack in lieu of a double stack. I suspect this was done so that it would be more difficult for anyone to adapt a pre-ban magazine to fit it.
H&K also had their entire stable of pistols on display including their many derivatives of the .45 ACP Mark 23 the so-called “SOCOM Pistol”. I do like the balance and heft of the Mark 23 (although it’s damn big and is probably the only crew served pistol in the world).
Strolling over to the Steyr display brought me eye to eye with their complete line of magnificent hunting and sniper rifles. I have always been enamored by the long guns of Steyr which at times are more works of art than anything else. Many of their deeply blued and polished hunting rifles, while eminently functional and supremely accurate, appeared just too beautiful to ever take to the field. Steyr however does make a superlative hunting carbine in their Scout Rifle.
I was first acquainted with the Scout Rifle concept in the late 80’s when I began taking classes at the American Pistol Institute, more commonly called “Gunsite” under the tutelage of LTC Jeff Cooper. Cooper has contributed so much to the art of shooting that I would not do justice to his accomplishments in such a brief space. Cooper envisioned that the Scout rifle would be an all purpose rifle that would be perfectly suited for a military scout in battle or a hunter going after medium sized game. Unless you’ve been lost on a deserted island for the last year you should know that Steyr put Coopers concept in full scale production last year with a rather innovative design.
Steyr started with one basic model that came with a polymer stock which was gray in color. The price of the Scout with scope was around $2700.00 retail and I’ve heard more than a few people wonder if Steyr could sell enough to justify continued production. It appears so. Now a year later they have six more models ranging from a black “Tactical” model (Steyr actually made a limited number for sale in Switzerland with a barrel threaded for a suppressor), to a Scout with a wooden stock, another that has a polymer stock with a Realtree polymer finish that looks like wood, and their new Scout in .376 caliber firing a Steyr proprietary cartridge. It is clear that for Steyr, the Scout concept is a valid one that they intend to market.
Steyr also had on hand their “M-Series” line of .40 and 9X19 MM polymer framed auto pistol. I really have some mixed feelings about this pistol. On one hand it has the best feel and grip design that I have ever encountered. It quite simply fits my hand like no other pistol extant. It also has an extremely low bore axis which will make the M very controllable. On the negative side the “unique triangle/trapezoid” sights are the most annoying that I have ever beheld. The front sight is like a sharp inverted V (yeah, like a Luger but far broader at the base), and the rear one is a corresponding inverted V notch. The M-Series comes equipped with several safety features the most notable being an integral lock that can deactivate the action which I consider unnecessary when you mix one part proper training with an equal amount of common sense. Other than these two points, I like Steyr’s new handgun about as much as I can without having fired one.
Glock had on display their two millionth pistol along with an example of all models, including training weapons, as well as their pro apparel, shovels and knives. In breaking with past designs, Glock is introducing a small compact “slimline”.45 called the Glock 36 that has a six round single stack magazine. Due to the single string mag, the 36 is just a hair over one inch thick which will make it extremely concealable.
For those of you who are enamored by bullpup rifles a German company called Precision Arms has the slickest manually operated rifle that I’ve ever seen. The rifle, called the “Shorty”, has a slide action pistol grip that is extremely fast. To operate it you relax your firing hand releasing the grip/action lock button, slide the pistol grip rearward, then forward thus cocking the action and chambering a round. When the rifle is fired the cycle can be repeated again. I think that with a little practice the weapons recoil could be used to assist in the cycling process thus greatly reducing the time between shots. I fired one of the Shorty bullpups that was adapted to shoot a laser simulator they had set up and it had an excellent balance and trigger pull. Precision Arms has an extensive variety of caliber options starting with the .243 Winchester and going all the way up to the .416 Remington Magnum.
Back in the late 70’s the Czech 75 was the hottest thing going. It seems hard to believe now, but before the collapse of the Warsaw Pact CZ-75’s were selling for $1200.00 a pop. When the Berlin Wall came down, CZ-75’s, 83’s, and 85’s became much easier to get and the absence of punitive tariffs also made them much cheaper. However former Eastern Bloc weapons in the early 90’s had some pretty funky quality control. In 1990 when I was stationed in Germany, I would have to pick through fifteen CZ-85’s at the Rod and Gun Club in order to find not the best of the bunch, but the least worst. All of them had imperfections of one sort or another such as burrs, irregular bluing, asymmetrical machine cuts, crooked lines, and so on. I didn’t care that much as they were functional, shot well, and they were cheap. Fortunately all that poor quality control is a thing of the past.
Ceska Zbrojovka (CZ) had an exhibit that was a tribute to quality and excellence. After examining their pistols and longarms it is clear that the Socialist bugs of the past have been thoroughly purged from their production line. Their current quality control is light years ahead of where it was nine years ago and their pistols are exemplary. CZ has introduced a line of IPSC pistols based on the CZ-75 chambered in 9MM and .40 S&W that should soon be in the US. For the European market, Colt and CZ have collaborated to manufacture the “Colt Z 40”. Chambered only in .40 cal. the Z 40 is a double action only pistol that holds twelve rounds. The Z 40 has great “pointability” due to a favorable grip angle that is reminiscent of the PO8 Luger. At present the Z 40 is only for sale in Europe but I would bet that it will put ashore in the US in the not too distant future.
And speaking of Czech pistols I think now is a good time to nominate the CZ-75 as the most copied pistol of the decade. I lost track at the IWA Show of just how many different companies were producing a CZ-75 clone. It appeared that every country from Turkey to Italy was offering their version of the Czech handgun.
Even though this was a “sporting” show there were a good number of combat (or practical, or tactical, or survival, take your pick) shotguns on hand. Benelli had their M-3 and M-4 12 gauge auto loaders on display but due to the so-called “Assault Weapons Ban” the more interesting versions are non-importable. They also were showing off their “Nova” pump gun which has a unique one piece receiver and stock. All in all, the Nova was a very futuristic looking smoothbore. The Russian arms company of Baikal also had on hand a box fed pump gun that held five rounds.
Lest you think that only foreign companies exhibit at the IWA fret not. US manufacturers were well represented and each year the IWA attracts a growing number of American companies looking to cash in on foreign export sales.
For instance Springfield Armory had a very large exhibit and brought no less than USPCA Champion Rob Leatham to endorse their excellent line of 1911 pistols. Of particular interest to me was handling one of the one hundred 7.62 NATO Mauser Model 66SP sniper rifles that Springfield had imported to the US. These particular Mausers I predict will be gone in a heartbeat as eager military collectors will snap them up. Why? Because each of these rifles has a unique history-they were special sniper variants that Mauser made for Israeli Defense Forces snipers. Who knows what action these particular sniper rifles saw? The specimen that I held was NRA Very Good+ condition. The Springfield Armory rep told me that all the rifles were being cleaned up and the scopes repaired as needed to insure that the customer gets a rifle in perfect shooting condition.
Springfield Armory is also importing all the parts and scopes of five hundred M-14 sniper rifles which the IDF also used (on a foray into South Lebanon in 1984 I encountered one of these). Since the receivers can’t be imported for sale to civilians the rifles will be disassembled in Israel and then rebuilt at Springfield’s Geneseo plant using new semi-auto receivers. No retail sale date or price was known on either the Mauser rifles or the sniper M1A’s but I am definitely keeping a sharp lookout for both.
Wilson Combat had a prototype on hand of their new .45 with a polymer frame and if its like the rest of their products its destined to be a winner. I have an affinity for Bill Wilson’s products. Wilson makes practical .45 accessories and pistols for the real world (Wilson refuses to build “race guns”) and not surprisingly is a co-founder of the International Defensive Pistol Association.
As a counterpoise to all the European combat shotguns Mossberg had their line of shotguns present for duty to include their 590 “Ghost Ring” model. None of the gun European companies had anything on this bruiser. The Ghost Ring model is all you could ask for in a “trombone twelve”. High visibility ghost ring sights, a nine shot tube slung under a twenty inch barrel, speed feed plastic stock, a matte finish, and Mossberg’s mil spec proven design make this sucker a primo repeating Claymore.
Another booth I was glad to see was Eagle Industries Unlimited along with its president and founder, John Carver. I’ve had a lot of experience with Eagle products and have nothing but praise for their products. If you need a rucksack, assault vest, holster, drag bag, or pretty much any kind of tactical web gear, Eagle offers it or can make it. It’s impossible to find a Special Operations unit in the US military that doesn’t use some piece of Eagle gear. John had on hand his latest creation which was a large olive drab rucksack with an internal frame that he designed for a particular elite unit. The nice thing about Eagle products is that they really listen to the customer. As John told me, “If it wasn’t for listening to you guys we wouldn’t have any products”.
Complimenting American made firearms were products from Midway, RCBS, Dillon Precision, Speer, and others. Europeans, particularly Germans, take reloading very seriously. For instance, in Germany in order to reload cartridges, you have to attend a reloading class, pass an examination, and have a license. In fact I have been to some German shooting ranges (“schuetzen haus” which translated means “shooting house”) that would not even allow a shooter to pick up his empties unless he could produce his reloaders license!
Actually I could go on and on about some of the wonderful products and innovative items that exhibitors displayed at the IWA: Peltor’s new line of tactical milspec electronic shooting muffs, Silva’s lightweight digital wind meter, Baikal’s MP-451 .380 derringer, etcetera, etcetera, but then this article would be about twenty pages long. Suffice it to say that by the time I wade through all the brochures and literature that I picked up at IWA 99, IWA 00 will be right around the corner!
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N11 (August 1999)|