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This year’s Professional Outdoor Media Association (POMA) conference was held in Knoxville, Tenn. As always, the organization’s media and corporate members had ample opportunities to discuss — and sometimes debate — the influence innovation has on encouraging people to either become or continue to be interested in the outdoors in general and in hunting and shooting in particular.


But POMA conferences aren’t all talk. The “gun writers” among us spent several hours at a local range punching holes in paper, knocking over steel silhouettes, ringing gongs and generally having a grand old time.


One of the intriguing trends I noticed was an increasing availability of customizable rifles at both ends of the price spectrum. Presumably by coincidence, the companies that best illustrate what I mean were located at almost opposite ends of the firing line.


O. F. Mossberg & Sons, Inc. has long been known for producing no frills firearms that outperform everything in their price range. Mossberg’s basic philosophy to concentrate on quality by, among other things, limiting the number of models and calibers it produces will continue, rest assured about that.


Meanwhile, Mossberg has found a practical way to enter the custom firearms market without breaking either its or its customers’ bank accounts. The FLEX System, which is available on the model 500 and 590 shotgun, the MVP center-fire rifle and now the FLEX-22 autoloading rim-fire rifle, allows the end user to customize his or her firearm by swapping out stocks and recoil pads, or, in the case of the AR-15 style stock, adjust the length of pull. All of these changes can be made in the field without tools.


My grandson is more than nine months old now, which means the time when he’ll need his first rifle is right around the corner. If I were to choose one of Mossberg’s FLEX System firearms, he would be able to shoot it the rest of his life, simply by lengthening the stock. It’s definitely something I’ll take into consideration. For more information see mossberg.com.


At the other end of the firing line and a world away, I encountered the Blaser R8 center-fire rifle. Despite its funky name, Blaser rifles are made by a top tier German company.


Blaser rifles are made to order. Buyers use the company’s website (blaser-usa.com) to select from among a number of stock designs, just about every commercial caliber from .223 to .500 Jeffrey and a number of accessories. That’s pretty cool in and of itself, but Blaser’s true claim to fame is that its scope-equipped barrel can be swapped for one of a different caliber with almost no effort, a trick made possible by the fact that the rifle’s magazine and trigger group are a single unit. If you’re headed to Africa this year, Blazer offers a two-barrel combo for use on plains and dangerous game that fits in a custom, airline-resistant case.


After putting a .308 Blazer through its paces, even a keep-it-simple guy like me had a hard time keeping the dreams of what it would be like to own one at bay. The fact that I could buy one of every model of firearm in Mossberg’s catalog and still have money left over compared to the cost of a Blaser helped, but not much.


In the next booth over, Bergara — a Spanish company that’s recognized as one of the world’s top barrel makers — had a tactical rifle ready to tempt the unwary. Chambered in .308, it was tricked out with a muzzle brake, a bipod at the end of its forestock, a pistol grip and a monopod at the rear of its buttstock. Heaven only knows how far away I could kill a deer with a rifle like that, and it didn’t cost a whole lot more than my last used vehicle. The problem is I’d also have to buy a farm with some big open fields.


Oh well, I can kill a deer with my “trade rifle” .243 so far away I have to put salt on the bullet to keep the meat from spoiling before I can walk to the carcass. I guess that will have to do, at least for now.


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