OUTDOORS: SEOPA Conference tells story concerning modern sporting rifles

It’s funny the places you wind up as an outdoor writer. If you’re a hunter you might think it would be a deer stand or duck blind, catered to by the finest guides and outfitters. Occasionally you’d be right, with emphasis placed on occasionally.

If you happened to be someone who fishes a lot, you’d probably think something similar. And, again you’d be occasionally right. I have been out on the water with some pretty knowledgeable folks that possess the uncanny ability to put you onto fish in a big way.

Yet most of the time the places I wind up are a result of mostly blood and guts efforts with some sort of ordeal involving lots of sweat. Moreover, typically with little return on investment.

How I wound up looking over the stunning blue waters of Table Rock Lake, surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of the Ozark Mountains, laced with traces of fall colors consistent with the change of season, from the balcony of a first class hotel called Chateau On The Lake, was nothing short of a good decision. That decision was to attend the 47th Annual Southeastern Outdoor Press Association Conference, held this year in Branson, Mo.

Like the old cliché that writers are supposed to avoid saying, “It’s a tough job, but somebody has got to do it.” Besides, I have to admit, the mattress was a whole lot more comfortable than anything I’ve ever slept on down at the camp. But, like all conferences, your there to work — if you can call it that — and it was my job to sponge up every piece of information possible that I could haul back dealing with the outdoors from product lines to the latest issues that impact you.

One such issue dealt with the growing popularity of Modern Sporting Rifles or MSRs in a compelling seminar called “Combating the Anti’s.” It is a fact that in the ensuing years our nation went to war, gun manufacturers designed firearms similar to those that were used in battle. During World War I, it was the 1903 Springfield bolt-action rifle and introduction of the 30-06 cartridge.

Numerous bolt-action rifles in a variety of calibers today are still mass-produced and remain the preferred action in the field where big game is concerned. Moreover, the venerable 30-06 cartridge is perhaps the most popular big game caliber ever, noted for taking every species of big game animal in North America and many species in other countries around the world.

Following World War II, where the M1 Garand in the hands of our soldiers lead to the defeat of the axis powers across two oceans, came an increase in popularity of semi-automatic firearms.

Today, as a result of the M-16 that was introduced during the Vietnam War, AR-Rifles have become extremely popular not only at the shooting range, but in the field as well.

Mark Thomas is a marketing communicator for the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) and in his remarks during this particular seminar suggested it was time to regain the message by telling the story pointing out first that the “AR” designation is not an acronym for “Assault Rifle,” but stands for “ArmaLite;” a straight-line platform the United States Military issue M-16 was based off of.

“We’re never going to sway those on the other side or the wives,” Thomas said. “But, all sporting rifles came out of military use. In World War II you had the Garand and in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan you have the M-16. For the guys coming back from overseas it was what they were comfortable with. So, we began telling the story. If you’re uncomfortable with an AR, it’s just like a Remington 1100 shotgun. It’s one shot with one pull of the trigger. And, if the antis go after these then it’s the 1100s next.”

The conference included a “breakout” day that required taking a bus ride through those Ozark Mountains to the grounds and recreational real estate property of Trophy Run where the outdoor media could interact with vendors. Additionally, where they could touch, feel and see first hand some of the latest products.

There were baits galore for catching every species of game fish imaginable and quite a few humans, too. All sorts of optics that included rifle scopes, binoculars, and spotting scopes were also available to check out. And, of course a table with — besides handguns — the Smith & Wesson MP-15 modern sporting rifle that we would get to shoot the following day.

At Ozark Shooters Sports Complex, I sat on a shooting bench lost in my thoughts looking over a firearm that took me back 35 years to Lackland Air Force Base outside of San Antonio, Texas. The first time I qualified with the M-16, I shot expert. I sat there wondering while receiving instructions, if I could again.

Sure, this was a field test and product demonstration, but behind me was a Vietnam veteran and conference attendee named Richard Barker from Tampa, Fla., who watched me closely. Barker had served two tours in Nam, his second during the 1968 Tet Offensive. I wondered what was going through his mind, too.

Jamming a clip of .223 (5.56 mm) ammo into the MP-15, I pulled back the charging handle, flipped the paddle-like switch on the receiver that injected a round into the chamber and I was lock and loaded — just like back in the day. Depressing the safety I squeezed and fired off 10 rounds “one at a time” into a group that could be covered with a half dollar coin. Some things you never forget.

Owning a number of firearms over the years, none in my gun safe have ever been AR models. And, it was only recently that I even contemplated owning one, when my youngest son expressed an interest. With video games like HALO and Call of Duty today, not to mention two wars in Iraq and one in Afghanistan the past two decades and his buddies coming home from war familiar with these types of weapons, my old bolt-action rifles seem less appealing to him.

Thomas said, “How can one gun over another be inherently wrong just because of the way it looks? How many of us grew up using a wooden handled screwdriver? Today they look different. They’re molded plastic and rubber, but they are used for the same thing.”

No doubt the SEOPA conference atmosphere, ambience, and amenities, along with the nightly celebratory hospitalities were tough to deal with and at times a real hardship. But, how else will you be informed if someone doesn’t do it? What’s more, who’ll “tell the story” concerning Modern Sporting Rifles.

If you wish to make a comment or have an anecdote, recipe or story you wish to share, you can contact John K. Flores by calling (985) 395-5586 or e-mail: gowiththeflo@cox.net

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