Your First Texas Gun Show Part I

Posted: May 22, 2013 in General
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This post grew out of some email requests and a recent conversation at a gun show.  Let’s say that you haven’t been to a gun show before or have not attended one in Texas for a long time.  For lack of a better term, here is your ‘newbie’s guide.’

Texas and gun shows go together like baseball and hot dogs.  Shows can be a lot of fun and a great way to spend a few hours on the weekend.  I’ve attended some really good ones and some shows I intend to never visit again.  So, here are some tips to get  the most from your first show and help ensure that it is an experience that will turn you into a frequent attendee.

What is a Gun Show?

A gun show is a temporary event (meaning that it is held at a specific location only for a small number of days) where a variety of vendors gather to display or sell goods and services, mostly related to the firearms industry.  Vendors range from individuals to companies and while most vendors sell firearms or related merchandise, some sell items of possible interest to the firearms community such as survival supplies or less-than-lethal self-defense items.

Gun shows do have a formal definition according to the US Code of Federal Regulations (448.100 of Title 27, Penal Code Sec 12071), namely,  “function[s] sponsored by any national, State, or local organization, devoted to the collection, competitive use, or other sporting use of firearms, or an organization or association that sponsors functions devoted to the collection, competitive use, or other sporting use of firearms in the community.”

State and local regulations apply to gun shows just as they would any other organized event and all relevant federal regulations are expected to be enforced by the vendors and promoter.

Which Show?

There are many shows across the state, so it helps to do some research on shows that are within an acceptable driving distance for you and your family.  You can simply Google ‘texas gun show schedule’ and peruse all the links, or you can (I hope) bookmark the Texas Gun Show Review site.  Click on the ‘Texas Gun Shows Schedule’ link at the top.  This page contains a list of all verifiable shows for the current month.  By verifiable, I mean there is a web site with the show schedule that you can visit to confirm the show, its location, and times.

Shows vary in size and audience.  Most are open to the general public and offer goods for sale to any legal buyer.  A few shows are organized specifically for collectors, and this is generally noted in the show’s advertising.  Shows in rural areas tend to be smaller and have a larger proportion of individuals selling merchandise, often from private and family collections.

Shows listed in the ‘Texas Gun Shows Schedule’ that are held in major cities tend to be much larger, with a wider variety of vendors.  You can also obtain a listing of shows that do not have an online means of verification (i.e. the show is advertised by flyer or direct communication to a show directory) every Friday morning in the ‘Weekend Preview’ post on this site.  A list of all shows in the state for the upcoming weekend is displayed, along with links to Facebook and Twitter pages (if provided by the promoter), a Google Maps guide to the location, and a link to purchase tickets online (if available).  Shows advertised by flyer or direct communication are provided below this list.  These shows do tend to be smaller, but might provide an opportunity to attend a show without a long drive to a larger city, depending on your location.

So, what happens if you really wanted to attend that big Ft. Worth gun show you’ve heard about, but the schedule indicates that it was two weeks ago?

Promoters and Circuits

You can’t really say ‘Ft. Worth gun show’ or ‘San Antonio gun show’ and refer to a single show.  Multiple organizations promote gun shows and they are held in regular cities, usually in some sort of organized circuit or rotation.  In fact, multiple organizations may hold shows not only in the same city, but at the exact same location.  For example, the Will Rogers center in Ft. Worth is the site of shows sponsored by both Premier Gun Shows and Lone Star Gun Shows.  Even the Premier Ft. Worth show is not the same every time; it is most often held in a single exhibit hall, but sometimes two halls are open (the big one).

Promoters often hand out a small calendar that provides the list of all the shows they sponsor for the entire year.  You will notice that shows are scheduled in the same cities at various times throughout the year.  So, if you missed Ft. Worth two weeks ago, don’t worry.  You will get another chance in the near future.

The larger promoters and their cities are provided below.  This list is in random order and show cities are always subject to change.

Premier Gun Shows:  Ft. Worth, Mesquite (Mesquite Rodeo Center & Big Town), Corsicana, San Antonio, Houston GRB, Stafford, Pasadena, Austin, Waco.

Saxet Gun Shows (that’s Texas spelled backwards): Austin, Corpus Christi, McAllen, Pharr, San Antonio.

North Texas Gun Club (Classic Shows): Mesquite, Irving, Allen.

High Caliber Gun Shows: Houston GRB, Houston Reliant, Pasadena, Conroe, Lufkin.

Lone Star Gun Shows: Belton, Ft. Worth, Killeen, Tyler.

Sliver Spur Gun and Blade Shows: Abilene, Lubbock, San Angelo, Midland, Brownwood, Fredericksburg.

Smaller-level shows include

The Real Gun Show: Brenham, Belton, Port Arthur, Bastrop.

Liberty Gun Shows: Live Oak, Floresville,

G&S Gun Shows: Diboll, Nacogdoches, Carthage, Canton, Center.

Show Size and Organization

Vendors lay out out merchandise across a floor on tables.  Tables are organized by aisles (with walkways in between) in an elongated ‘O’ formation so that vendors may move about in the interior of the formation.  Tables are generally also spread out along each wall.  It’s becoming more popular to allow vendors to display merchandise outside the show area,  adjacent to the entry line.  These layouts may not involve tables and may not even be firearms-related. Dallas Morning News and Carter Blood Care are examples, but both offer free show tickets in exchange for subscribing or donating blood.

On the show floor, tables range from 6-8 feet in length, so the general measure of a show’s size is the number of tables.  You might see something like ‘this is the big one, 1500 tables,’ or a ‘200+ table’ show in advertising. I’d suggest attending at least a 400-table show for your very first experience.

All the major dealers and actual businesses have some sort of signage towering over their tables, or posted directly behind them.  That’s typically the first thing that strikes most people on entering a show – all the billboard-like signs.

Vendors may occupy any amount of space from a single table to a couple dozen tables.  Some vendors are regulars (and they pay to get in the same location at every show) and others may have just gotten a table or two at the last minute.  Even regular vendors may be forced to make tough decisions in the face of competing shows.  This means either not attending one show or splitting inventory between two shows.  So, for example, it might be worth a longer drive to Ft. Worth to attend the two-hall Premier show instead of a closer show just because the larger one in Ft. Worth will attract the most vendor attention.  It’s your first show; road trips are fine 🙂

Just be careful about drawing conclusions about the show on your first visit (or what you may hear from others) because vendors and attendance may be affected by other factors that are unique to that weekend.

Advance Intel

So, you’re trying to decide between a nearby 400-table show and an 800- or 1000-table show that is a much further drive. It helps to match the show to your specific goals, and that requires some advanced intelligence.  Since we live in a digital age, I would hope you use the Texas Gun Show Review site to search for a review or information on a specific show you are interested in attending.  Two 400-table shows may not be the same.  Each show tends to have its own character, so what characteristics are you looking for in a show?  Are you the only attendee?  Is it a family event?  Are you looking for a very specific firearm with intent to purchase or just hope to see something you read about in a magazine or online?  Looking for holsters?  A CHL course?  Is your wife a big prepper or does she kind of dislike the whole idea of gun shows in the first place (after all, they only have guns there, right)?  Do you have kids looking for airsoft guns, for example?

The benefit of reading show reviews in advance is that you can get a better idea of whether or not the show matches your general goals.  If you can’t find a review on this site, then here are a couple Texas forums that you can post questions about specific shows in specific areas.  Make sure to state what you expect out of the show. Someone may say ‘that show sucks’, but they have dramatically different views/expectations of a show than you.  They may also say the show was fantastic, but they are interested in firearms only and you are interested in a show with more of a ‘something for everyone’ vibe.

Texas Gun Talk

Texas Gun Forum

Some shows are advertised as ‘gun and blade’ shows and feature quite a few knives and edged weapons.  A few custom knifemakers may be there, but most of the merchandise is likely to be factory knives.  It’s hard to place a good custom knife show inside a gun show (as the most recent Market Hall show attested).  Market Hall might be a good choice for your first show, but not all Market Hall shows are the same.

Preparation

You’ve decided on your first show, now what’s next?  As part of your advance intel, check out the parking situation at the show location.  Houston GRB is a large convention center that has an abundance of parking options, and if you decide to arrive fashionably late, you may pay more for parking across the street than if you arrived before the show opened.  Other shows have free, but possibly limited parking.  Generally speaking, parking fees are not reimbursed by the show promoter.  Premier did that for a while at Ft. Worth, then when parking went up to $8, they reimbursed $5, and they are now in the process of phasing out all parking reimbursement.

There may be unexpected traffic or construction along the route recommended by online directions.  Print out some additional maps and study alternate routes if you’re traveling to another city and not familiar with the location.  This actually saved me quite a bit of time at the first Houston Reliant show I ever attended.

All shows have an entrance fee ($8 is a roughly average amount), so understand what it is in advance and how to get discounts.  Many promoters offer discount coupons ($1 off) if you sign up for their newsletter online (coupons are sent out via email a few days before each show).  Sometimes, a promoter will announce a magic word, like ‘Colt’ or ‘Bullet.’  If you say that word before paying, you get $1 off admission (this practice is becoming less common).  Premier Gun Shows offers advance payment online, for which you receive both a discount and may be placed in an ‘advance entry’ line.  This proved to be a huge advantage in the cold weather earlier this year when gun show traffic was at record levels.

Some shows offer a discounted rate for attending both days, but if you purchase such a pass and do not use it, there are no refunds.

One the subject of fees, bring lots of cash. The green stuff is king at gun shows.  Credit card transactions involve time and additional fees for the vendor, so you get better prices on everything if you pull cashola out of your pocket.  Some vendors don’t even take credit cards.  ATM’s are available at most shows, but you’re going to be subject to withdrawal limits (most of them are limited to $100 or $200 per transaction) and the typical take-it-up-the rear fees ($4 per transaction is common).  So, imagine wanting to buy that $600 gun, but you have to make three separate ATM withdrawals.  You get the picture.

Check out bank branches near the show location as part of your advance research if you don’t want to carry a lot of cash on you.  I liked buying guns at the old Lewisville show since I could put down a couple hundred downpayment if I saw something I wanted, then go to a very nearby Bank of America ATM to withdraw the remainder (at no additional fee).

Most show locations have concession areas and they run the gamut from really good to worse than really bad.  I’ve had two of the best chicken sandwiches I’ve ever tasted at gun shows.  I’ve also had some food I’d rather never eat again.  Many shows have food vendors (you can buy roasted nuts, jerky, etc).  It never hurts to eat a large breakfast and bring along something you know you will like in case you get really hungry after a couple hours.  A water bottle never hurt anyone just in case you don’t care for ‘elevated’ soft drink prices.

I like to take a backpack to every show.  Many vendors will offer to sack your purchases (except guns that come in their own cases), but trying to carry multiple sacks around a show is cumbersome.  If you plan on buying ammo by the case or anything else heavy, a wheeled carrier is a good idea.  Also understand that some shows (Belton, for example) do not even allow purchased ammo to be carried around the floor; it must be immediately transported outside and placed in your vehicle (advance intel is important).

Show times are pretty much universally 9AM – 5PM on Saturday and 10AM – 4PM on Sunday.  A very small number of shows are open on Friday and some shows, such as Market Hall, open at 9AM on Sunday.  Check times in advance.  If you plan on purchasing firearms or ammo, arrive early.  In the current environment, ammo sells out quickly.  Some ammo vendors, such as Good To Go Ammo, don’t even return on Sunday because they sold out on Saturday.  Firearms dealers have their best selections first thing Saturday morning.  Popular models sell out very quickly.  You can also get some decent face time with dealers right after show opening.

If parking allows, you can arrive just after opening (when the line has thinned out), pay and walk right in.  This helps avoid standing in line, but make sure you understand the show’s traffic trends.  Earlier this year, many shows had to control entry in order to conform to Fire Marshall regulations regarding the maximum number of people allowed inside at once.  This was very common at Lewisville.  I misjudged the drive time to Tyler and arrived shortly after opening.  I waited in line over an hour and a half just to get inside.

If you just want to look around, Sunday is generally a lower-traffic day.  You may be able to get a better deal on something late Sunday afternoon, since the vendor’s alternative is to package up and transport that item.  The tradeoff is less merchandise from which to choose.

Be careful about taking small children to shows, especially if the show is packed.  It’s harder to keep an eye on them and strollers make it very difficult to move up and down the aisles.

Next to cash, your smart phone should be an integral part of your preparation and battle plan on the floor.  If you are interested in any specific item, research prices in advance.  Read product reviews so that you can better converse with vendors (you may be a gun show newbie, but don’t talk like one).  Once you are on the floor, the phone allows you to run quick price checks and do on-the-spot research.

Some people recommend attending a show with someone else.  This can work both ways.  It’s good to have a partner to help deflect pushy or unruly vendors and give you some added confidence by attending with someone who ‘already knows the ropes.’  It’s difficult, however, to find two people that want to work the floor exactly the same and spend the exact same time at each table.  Your wingman also needs to disappear when you find that right vendor to converse with about a purchase.  Otherwise, the vendor knows they are talking with someone ‘weak’ who needs a buddy to make it through a purchase.  If you go this route, then either consider your first show as an experience only with limited intent to purchase, or agree to split up after a certain time.  The buddy system can, however, work quite well if you are both looking for something very specific.  Each party can start at opposite ends of the floor and work towards the middle.  Call your partner as soon as you locate an item in their search list.

Show Opening

Okay, you’ve chosen a show, completed your advance research, have a wad of cash in your pocket, and have decided on what you want to purchase.  First, you might want to split that wad into so-called ‘fun money’ and ‘gun money.’  The former is used for casual, impulse purchases of low-cost items.  It’s probably in denominations of tens and twenties.  The latter is when you are serious about a firearm or large-ticket purchase.  I typically carry an envelope of hundreds inside an inner vest pocket, about a hundred or so in twenties in a credit card carrier in the front vest pocket, and misc. change that may vary from fifteen to fifty bucks in any variety of bills in the lower-left jacket pocket.  I never want to show a wad of c-notes just to flip off thirty or so for a simple ammo purchase.  Don’t tip your hat, so to speak 🙂

Tomorrow, I’ll continue this series with what to expect at the show opening (parking to line to getting inside, take a gun vs. no guns) and what to do once you make it onto the show floor.

Thanks for stopping by and making Texas Gun Show Review a part of your day.

UPDATE: You may continue to part II of this series here.

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