Behavior at an airgun show

by Tom Gaylord
Writing as B.B. Pelletier

This report covers:

  • Prepare for the show
  • Tie your airguns
  • Price all your guns
  • Table coverings
  • Packing the car
  • Be careful
  • Asking to “borrow” table space from a friend
  • Theft
  • Watch what you say!
  • Common stuff you always need
  • Watch out!
  • Loading in and out

This report was requested by reader Michael and elaborated on by reader Siraniko. At first I didn’t think I could write much that would be of interest, but Siraniko opened my eyes to what Michael was asking. I have been selling at gun shows for almost half a century and at airguns shows since 1994, so I have hardened to all those things that might puzzle someone new. It is a worthy topic, and if it gives just one person the courage to have a table at a show, it will have served its purpose.

Prepare for the show

It might seem obvious, but the first step is to get ready for the show. A major part of that is deciding which airguns you want to sell. Maybe there is one you aren’t sure of. You like it a lot, but it’s also something that will attract a lot of attention. I like to put those guns on my table, so I price them in such a way that if they sold I could live with it. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is attending the show. Maybe they are like you and would like to see a Sheridan Supergrade for sale. So price it at $1,800 and be prepared to sell it if a buyer comes along. These days a working Supergrade is worth $1,250-1,500, so pricing it like that assures that only a serious buyer will be interested. However, if it is a gun you truly love, like I love my Diana model 27, then either don’t take it or mark it not for sale.

Tie your airguns

I make everyone tie their airguns at my shows for safety. That’s electrical cable ties around the trigger or the cocking mechanism to prevent cocking and firing the gun. I have seen many people shoot themselves at airgun shows in the past. I don’t allow dry-firing at my shows. If there is a range where the public can try the gun, so much the better, but remember — no gun shows allow shooting. You take a chance when you buy a firearm at a gun show and an airgun show can be the same. Tie all your guns before packing them for the show, because when you set up you won’t have time.

Price all your guns

Put prices on all your guns, or attach labels that say they are not for sale. Some people think if they don’t price their guns people will be forced to talk to them. I feel they are being deceitful, and I almost never ask the price. It seems to me they want to size me up and price the gun accordingly. In my experience as many as 75 percent of the dealers with no prices on their guns are, in fact, deceitful.

Table coverings

Don’t forget to pack coverings for your tables. The tables are provided at every show I have attended, but the coverings are not. Years ago I bought four 100-percent wool Swiss military blankets for $10 apiece, They have now increased to $65-90 apiece, but I continue to use them. Being wool they protect the guns from damage when they are laid down hard, and they hide the stuff I have stashed under my tables.

Gun show tables range from 6 feet to 8 feet in length, and the length makes a big difference in the amount of stuff you can display. They are all uniformly 24 to 30 inches wide. Find out how long the tables you are renting will be (most shows tell you up front, in the table fee info) and plan accordingly. If I lay rifles on the table I can get about 12 on a 6-footer and 18 on an 8-footer. But I have racks that allow me to put 9-16 long guns, plus 12 handguns on one 8-foot table — if it will take the weight.

When you put the covers on the tables make sure they do not extend to the floor in front of your tables. If they do someone will step on them and pull them off your tables, along with everything on top of them!

Packing the car

Think through the loading-in process. The first thing you will need for your tables are the covers, so pack them last. If you use a wheeled dolly to transport your guns, put it on top of the load, so it’s the first thing out, after the table coverings.

Be careful!

One thing about laying rifles on tables is they almost always have to hang over the edge of the table on one side or another. My advice is to hang them over on your side — not the public’s side. When the show gets busy people don’t always watch where they are going and can knock your guns off the tables. They may bump them as they pass by, or a purse or backpack strap may catch a rifle barrel and pull it without the person being aware until it’s too late. You can be more careful on your side of the table.

Asking to “borrow” table space from a friend

You have three airguns to sell. You don’t want to rent a whole table for just that, so you ask a friend if you can put some of your stuff on his table. I am of two minds about this practice.

First, this is what kills airgun shows. The promoter has to rent to hall, the night guards and there may be additional expenses he incurs. I have seen whole airgun shows die when people do this, because it minimizes what the promoter earns.  For that reason I am against it.

On the other hand, if all the tables in a show are sold out and there is no way to get one, and if the offer is made to put your guns on a table, I have no problem with it.

But I would never ask to put my guns on somebody’s table. I might prearrange to share the table rental fee with a partner, but the split would be done before the show. I would never impose at the show.

Rather than borrowing space on a table, why not carry your airguns with you through the show? This is a very common practice at gun shows. It actually gives your guns more exposure than laying on a table. I do this all the time at gun shows and have made some very good transactions as a result.


It does happen. At one show in ten I hear of some theft from a table. I have been lucky so far in over 100 shows, but it is always a possibility. Some firearm shows demand that all guns be attached to the tables by means of a cable that is locked. I carry such cables and locks in my show bag, but no airgun show has ever required it.

Watch what you say!

Almost every gun show will have at least one undercover agent from the ATF walking the show. If you know what to look for you can sometimes spot them — mid 30s to mid-40s, fit, close-cropped hair and often wearing a gun in an ankle holster. But if it turns out to be a middle-aged woman who looks like a bored housewife, don’t be surprised. Watch what you say in public, because you never know who might be listening.

Small stuff you always need

I carry a salesman’s sample case loaded with everything experience has taught me I will need:

magnifying glass
tactical flashlight
tool kit with lots of Allen wrenches for scopes
cable tie cutter (diagonal cutter)
Gorilla tape
scotch tape
extra labels
extra cable ties (all lengths)
plain 5X8-inch white cards to make signs
Hobo knife (knife, fork and spoon for eating lunch)
shop towels
Ballistol-soaked cloth in a plastic bag
wire cables and locks to fasten guns to the table
ballpoint pens
Sharpies (felt-tipped pens)

I also use this case to carry small things that go with the guns I’m selling — things like magazines that can disappear off a table fast if you’re not careful. I also carry pellets in the calibers of the guns I’m selling, so people can try them if the opportunity arises.

Once I get to the show I put the diagonal cutter in my pocket, so I can cut cable ties when people want to examine a gun closer. I also put the tactical flashlight in my pocket (Pelican 1920 is the best I have found) and I carry a Swiss Champ Swiss Army Knife in my pocket for its tools and the magnifier. My smart phone also has a magnifier app for enlarged images when the magnifier on the knife doesn’t do the job.

I always have two pocket knives with me. A larger one is a camp knife the army used in WW II and the smaller one is a Swiss Army Midnight Manager that has a powerful light and a pair of scissors.

Watch out!

Here are some common things to watch the public for. First is the guy (always a guy, by the way) who sets his wet coffee/soda cup down on the pristine dust jacket of your $75 collectible airgun book or magazine. He is looking at your $700 air rifle, which he will pick up with his wet hands, hoist to his shoulder five times, then place back on your table upside-down before walking away. This is cousin Eddy who has $15 in his pocket and as far as he is concerned, this isn’t an airgun show, it’s a living museum that’s granted him the right to touch and handle everything. I can spot these guys coming and can usually defend against them.

Then there are the knobdickers. That is a technical term, by the way They are the guys who love to twist and turn all the knobs on your scopes. They never got over their Busy Box as children and need something to play with. I’m thinking of taking a Slinky to shows for them.

They are followed by the incurably curious who will cock your airguns before you can stop them. They see how it works and they have to show everyone they understand. The last one of these cocked a Daisy Number 25 BB gun on my table, then was surprised to discover it couldn’t be uncocked. So he put the muzzle on top of his shoe and pulled the trigger. The gun was loaded (my bad) and he shot himself in the foot. I wasn’t at the table, but Edith told me his face turned red and he coughed up the $75 for the gun, just to feel less embarrassed. I thought of using that as a sales technique for all my airguns, but then good sense set in.

Yes, that actually did happen many years ago at Roanoke, but seriously, whenever I hear someone dry-fire an airgun at a show I call, “CEASE FIRE” in a loud voice, hoping to embarrass the miscreant. In all the years I have only had one person take exception to my doing this. I had to endure a lecture about how BB guns are not that dangerous and he certainly knew how to handle them safely. To which I responded, “Then you’d better start doing so!”

Loading in and out

When you load into the show or out after it’s over. look around for people who are having difficulty. Invariably there will be a few folks who can use some help. Help them if you can, because one day it will you who needs help.

If you have parked your car close to the building, move it after you have loaded in. Then someone else can use that close spot. Some shows will remind you to do this, but even if they say nothing, do it anyway.

If you brought a trailer or large vehicle to the show, move it after you have loaded in. Be mindful of others who have to load their stuff, too.

These are a few of my pointers. Setting up at an airgun show is not difficult. Heck — running a show isn’t that hard. If you have airgun friends, you can always start with them and grow from there.

28 thoughts on “Behavior at an airgun show”

  1. BB,

    May I add one more thing on safety and theft?

    I have a couple of friends who used to sale military collectibles at gun shows. (They now primarily sale on eBay.). After a show they stopped with several dealer friends to eat at a local resturant. While inside, several of the vehicles were broken into and cash and merchandise stolen. In their case, they lost very little as they had carried their cash in with them and their valuable merchandise was locked in metal lockers bolted to the floor of their van. They did have to replace a side window. Other vendors lost substantial amounts. The officer investigating the robberies said that they were probably followed from the show.

    I have also heard stories of vehicles being broken in the night before an event. BTW, they would never stay at the host motel and would usually stay at least 30 minutes away.

    Always be aware of your surroundings.


  2. B.B.,

    Nice article. You bring up some little things that some would not think of. One thing that surprised me was that once the guns are zip tied, that you would be allowed to cut it off long enough for someone to “examine” it further. That would seem to open the door to cocking a lever action, breaking a barrel, pulling a side or underlever, or racking the bolt on a PCP like the M-rod. In all cases, the gun would require dry firing for it to become safe again. Not so good for a springer. Are PCP’s allowed to have an air charge?

    The other thing is what is a customer to do if they want to shoulder a long gun to see how it fits/feels? Where do the point it? Or can they? I would be a bit nervous seeing a long gun pointed across a room or up at the ceiling,… not knowing the vendor or the customer.

    I would have a tuff time controlling myself with some of the people (idiots) you described. My first thought would be signs that clearly state that you are (not to handle) anything unless given permission to do so. A bit of common sense and a bit of manners on the buyer end would go a long way.


  3. B.B.
    Great article! Thanks for writing it.

    “Invariably there will be a few folks who can use some help. Help them if you can, because one day it will you who needs help.”

    Good words to live by, not just at gun shows.


  4. B.B.,

    Off topic, but any idea when we might see a Part II of the “What Is Accuracy” series? With that being the “million dollar question”,….. I am anxious to hear the “million dollar answer”. 😉 At least something to explain those fliers that are still haunting me.


      • B.B.,

        Ok, I will be looking forwards to it. I am pondering a Pelletgage very hard as one solution for fliers. I think I can safely say that I can shoot well enough now that I should see a difference. Oh, and sorry to say I will not be attending the P.A. event this weekend. Current work situation. The Pelletgage though,….. I can justify that! 🙂 Have fun,….. maybe someday.


        • Hi Chris,

          Have you been sorting your pellets at all? Either by weight, culling out obviously damaged ones, or anything? I’m just curious. There’s a guy who blogs about airgun varmint hunting, who did a small test of pellets with damaged skirts vs undamaged. For all practical purposes there was no difference. He does sort by weight and head size — or at least he has written that he does — but I don’t know if he sorted the pellets used in the test.

          I emailed you the link.

          Jim M.

          • Jim,

            At the time I do not sort. I an 99% sold on the Pelletgage and will probably be getting one in .25. The .25’s cost more per shot and with Winter comin up,…. I might give it a serious go. It can not hurt.

            I even had some E-talk with Jerry C, and he linked me up with some stuff too. Maybe some of the same? Thanks for the links,….. I will check them out.


            • If you talked with Jerry, I bet he pointed you in the same direction. He and I spoke about that blog at the TX show. Jerry mentioned it, and I said I had been following that guy for a while.

              The Pelletgage will give you something to do in the winter too — when it’s too cold to go shoot, you can sort pellets.


  5. I know I saw a couple of people point airguns in questionable directions. It always makes me uncomfortable, always has. I don’t care if it’s a red ryder or Texan, you don’t point these things at people.

  6. Good advice based on a lot of experience. One thing that helps me is a check list. For the “support equipment” I have a word document list which i can edit and use to check off all the items as I pack and unload them. I also do the same for the guns with the pertinent information regarding when or if seals were replaced, repairs, etc.

    Many people have an instinct to pump the Benjamin one time while telling you about the one they had as a kid. A tie can avoid that problem and I think I will start doing that.

    Johnny T

  7. The logistics sound like one of my range trips including the business about packing things in the right order. I think the military calls this “combat loading.” B.B. what is the WWII camp knife, a Ka-Bar? I thought that the military evolved toward combining combat and utility knives into one design.

    The description of an undercover government agent sounds like a crime film I watched. It had to do with a religious psychopath bent on killing people and creating a gruesome religious shrine out of dead bodies. The investigator and his partner are baffled. They try to think of a description of the suspect and come up with white, middle-aged, medium-height and other nondescript features. Then, they meet an FBI agent who is cooperating with them. When he gives this same description of the possible suspect with a straight face, the police burst out laughing. The agent is not amused and asks them what’s funny, and they beg off. But the agent turns out to be the killer in disguise and he does fit the description almost perfectly. Does this make you paranoid?

    Right on about ignorant people cocking airguns. My brother introduced me to a friend of his who was a U.S. Army sniper during the Vietnam War who spent his whole tour in Hawaii for some reason. This guy told me that he could shoot a groundhog at 1200 yards. When I asked him about airguns, he hustled to show me his breakbarrel which he cocked and dry-fired right in front of me. I think we had agreed that he is a legend in his own mind. I didn’t dare say anything about dry-firing the gun since he is one of these people who matches ignorance with vehemence. He got quite worked up insisting to my brother that B-17 heavy bombers were operated in the Pacific from aircraft carriers.

    ChrisUSA, I neglected to give my most powerful example of the superiority of ancient warriors. There was a Roman gladiator named Carpophorus who was a bestiarius meaning he specialized in fighting wild animals instead of human gladiators. Apparently, this class was the lowest of the low whose life-expectancy was extremely short and which was mostly fodder to please the crowds. But Carpophorus surprised them all. His feats included fighting three top predators at the same time with armor and weapons and winning. But his most celebrated feat was killing 20 wild animals in a row with his bare hands. I’m not sure what kind of animals these were, but I don’t think they were rodents. Of course the question is whether he really did this. All we have are written records praising him in very extreme terms and comparing him to Hercules. What’s significant to me is that the Romans took these things very seriously, and it seems unlikely that for no reason, they would pick some guy to exaggerate unrealistically over serious gladiators.


  8. B.B.,

    Just caught the latest episode of American Airgunner,… The Texas show you were just at. Very nice. I was glad to see P.A. put up such a current time episode. Hats off to all involved. (Too fast and too short though!) 😉


  9. “Then there are the knobdickers. That is a technical term, by the way. They are the guys who love to twist and turn all the knobs on your scopes. They never got over their Busy Box as children and need something to play with. I’m thinking of taking a Slinky to shows for them.”

    That is Pulitzer-level journalism right there, my friend. You almost made me spray beer from my nose. I love this blog.

  10. BB,
    I have only been to about 20 airgun shows myself. I have rented a table all but two times. I often arrive without propper preplanning. When I don’t have prices listed it is because I forgot my price tags. That is fairly common of us that are not dealers. A lot of times I don’t know for sure if I am going to be able to take off and go to the show until the day I have to leave. Then it is a mad scramble to pick guns to take, find enough cases for the guns, and get myself packed and on the road. A dedicated gunshow tool box with a lot of the things you mention would be handy.

    I almost always pay for a table myself but do it assuming that I will share it with my brother. If I sell my items quickly or have extra space I think I should be able to let a friend put something on my table. The fuller my table is, the more likely I am to sell things.

    A couple of things I suggest bringing are extra gun cases and small items to sell. I usually leave with more guns than I came with. Almost everyone that comes to the show will want to buy something, even if they cannot afford a gun. Scopes, rings, pouches, cleaning kits, tools, gun rest, knives, etc. are all good things to bring to put on your table.

    Two last things, bring cash and bring a friend.

    David Enoch

  11. Good post, B.B.

    This is of interest to many of us. I do not know if you were in there at the time or not, but there was at least one dry-fire incident at the TX show. It happened at what would have been your twelve o’clock, one row over. The guy immediately bolted for the door in embarrassment after that.

    Not sure how often you check it, but I just sent you a private message through Facebook, to apologize for my own breach of etiquette.

    Thanks for all your help on that day of the show, and for doing what you do for air gunning.

    Jim M.

  12. B.B. et al,

    A a medic practicing in the metro NYC region and an airgunner, may I add to your list of supplies?

    A first aid kit no doubt could be very useful at any table. It can range from the most elementary to very sophisticated, but there is no use having supplies without the knowledge to intervene. As the most likely type of event is penetrating trauma, it’s useful to remember: “direct pressure to the wound, more direct pressure, 1st tourniquet, 2nd tourniquet, call for help”.

    It’s myy impression that the mean age of the airgunning community is substantially greater than your average shooter, Having an AED at your venue may be advised. Often when I’m entering a new space, I keep my eyes open, looking for certain things. One of them is an AED. They are simple to use, and they really do save lives. Know where it is.

    If your community has a volunteer EMS agency, call them and request a standby crew. Volunteers will be prohibited from accepting cash payment but offer to feed them and try to make it fun, it will make it easier to muster a crew.

    Last but not least don’t forget the toilet paper. I always regret when I forget.

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