story and photos by Roy Hill
More than 500 people watched demonstrations, looked at new products and pulled triggers at the inaugural Critical Mass shoot held at Thor Global Defense Group in Van Buren on Aug 28.
“We had outstanding turnout,” said Max Rodriguez, chief marketing officer for Thor. “We’re really pleased how many people came out to support this. We’re going to start planning now for next year.”
Vendors from far and near showcased their new wares, and allowed visitors to get their hands on all sorts of shooting-related products. Umarex, which has a new assembly and distribution facility in Fort Smith, displayed several of the new tactical rimfire guns, including a .22 long rifle version of the Colt 1911, which should be available sometime in November.
“We’ve got .22 versions of the Colt M4, the HK 416 and the MP SD with a mock suppressor,” said Umarex’s Cliff Eisenbarger. “We’re glad we got a chance to show the new stuff.”
Eisenbarger welcomed long lines of attendees waiting their turn to put a few rounds through the .22 rifles and pistols.
ALS Technologies, located in Bull Shoals, Ark, thrilled the crowd with loud booms and bangs, and large clouds of smoke and sparks. They demonstrated various less lethal 12 gauge rounds, flashbangs, and other munitions designed to help law enforcement take suspects into custody without killing them.
Former Australian SAS commando Jason Falla took a short break from the carbine course he was conducting on one of Thor’s adjacent ranges to make an appearance at the show. Falla served 12 years in Australia’s Special Operations Command before becoming a private firearms instructor.
“I like Arkansas,” said Falla. “It reminds me of country Australia. It seems like everyone knows each other. It’s more refreshing than a big city.”
Falla worked for Blackwater, and taught courses for special forces groups before forming his own private firearms training business called Red Back One. Even though he trains military personnel, he still sees plenty of civilian customers in the U.S.
Two companies came to the shoot to show off their lines of suppressors. GemTech sent representatives all the way from Boise, Idaho.
“We have a wide line of suppressors for calibers from .17 HMR up to .338 Lapua,” said GemTech’s Kelly Whelan. “Silencers are good and eco-friendly. They cut down on noise pollution, and totally trap all the powdered lead that comes out of the muzzle. We always talk about Finland where it’s illegal to not have a suppressor.”
In Arkansas civilians may own suppressors once they fill out the appropriate federal paperwork and pay a one-time $200 transfer tax for each suppressor they purchase.
“If you can legally purchase a handgun, you can own a suppressor,” Whelan explained.
Andy Andrews of Tactical Suppressed Weapons came from North Carolina to showcase TSW suppressors, including one prototype for a .408 Cheyenne Tactical rifle that was barely a week and half old.
“This is the first show we’ve done,” said Andrews. “We came out to demo the .408 suppressor for Knesek Guns. They sent us a gun a few months ago, and we just got the suppressor finished.”
Bill Ritchie, owner of EDM, came from Hurricane, Utah, for the show. EDM specializes in long-range rifles in large calibers, such as .50 BMG or .408 CheyTac. One new product EDM showed at Critical Mass was a new semi-automatic rifle in .338 Lapua Magnum.
Another company showcasing its big rifles was McMillan from Phoenix, Ariz. Gerald Hill displayed the Tac 50, the model of rifle made famous in Afghanistan by Canadian sniper Rob Furlong. Furlong used a Tac 50 to hit a Taliban machine gunner at 1.5 miles in the Shah-i-Kot Valley in March 2002. McMillan lists the Tac 50 with an MSRP for $7,600, or as package with a Night Force scope and an extra magazine, $9900.
Chris Green with Insight Technologies showed various tactical lights, gun sights, night vision products and even thermal sensors.
“It’s (an) excellent turnout,” said Green. “People can’t find a place to park out here. The more eyes on our products, the better.”
Insight Technologies began making high-intensity flashlights in 1988. One popular product from Insight were new LED lights, that offer brighter lights with longer battery life. Insight also sells conversion kits for flashlight owners wanting to switch their Insight lights from incandescent bulbs to LED setups.
One exhibit scheduled for Critical Mass failed to appear due to a freak accident. Central Wisconsin Armory planned to send its new M3 Delta .50 caliber machine gun, but the exhibitor fell off a ladder and broke his arm the day before the shoot. Thor hopes to reschedule a demonstration of that weapon in a few weeks.
At least one politician made an appearance at Critical Mass. Trevor Drown, former Green Beret and independent candidate for U.S. Senate, shook hands and introduced himself to attendees.
“I’m the first independent senate candidate in 30 years in Arkansas,” said Drown. “I was a weapons sergeant at one time, and this is what I used to do. I support these guys. Thor is a local Arkansas company.”