By Carolee Anita Boyles
As the technology of shotgun shells has changed, so, too, are the shotguns selected by hunters. Savvy retailers are making new ammunition and guns available to serve this changing market.
Tony Duda is the manager of Rocky Mountain Shooters Supply in Fort Collins, Colo. The biggest trend he’s seen in sporting shotguns is a move away from pump-action guns toward semi-autos with softer recoil.
Part of what has sent sporting shotguns in this direction, according to Duda, is the advent of the 3.5″ 12-ga. shotgun shell and the recoil associated with it.
“I think the semi-automatics such as the Remington VERSA MAX have come to favor because they have a softer recoil than the pump-action shotguns,” he said. “If you want to ruin your day hunting, fire one 3.5″ shell out of a pump-action shotgun — your middle finger and shoulder will typically be sore for the rest of the day.”
Waterfowl hunting is big business for Rocky Mountain Shooters Supply.
“We do a lot of goose hunting here in northern Colorado,” he stated. “Both goose and duck hunting are pretty popular.”
Many of Duda’s customers like the VERSA MAX.
“The big push for the VERSA MAX is it’s a very light-recoiling shotgun,” he shared. “It’s been going on for the last five or six years.”
Duda’s customers also like the Benelli Super Black Eagles and the Stoeger 3500s. “The VERSA MAX, Black Eagles and Stoegers are all popular,” he confirmed. “Some of what’s driving this is camouflage patterns, as silly as it sounds. I think some of the guys just like the ‘latest and greatest,’ and they like the look of the new camos.”
The VERSA MAX is unique in it’s a piston-driven shotgun, Duda said.
“It runs really clean for a long time,” he added. “It’s pretty low maintenance for a hard-use gun that’s going to be in the mud and dirt.”
Duda affirmed Benellis are similar in their resistance to the elements.
“They’re an inertia action, and it’s the same kind of story,” he said. “You can beat them up and get them really dirty, and they’ll continue to get the job done.”
The popularity of upland bird hunting is somewhat less than that of waterfowl at his store.
“We do have some upland bird hunting here, but it’s at places that release pheasants,” Duda relayed. “There also are guys who do a lot of chukar and pheasant hunting through clubs here. The guns they use are typically over/under or side-by-side. Semi-autos are heavy. When you’re walking a field all day with a dog and a gun, you prefer a lighter gun.”
Two popular models for upland bird hunters are the Beretta 686s and the Browning Citoris.
“At the upper end, we do quite a bit with Caesar Guerini as well,” Duda noted. “For a more economical gun, the CZs do really well for us, too.”
Entry Level vs. High End
Another change Duda has seen in the sales of sporting shotguns is a widening gap between economical guns and high-end guns.
“There seems to be a pretty large rift between inexpensive and expensive options,” he opined. “There’s not a lot of middle ground. If you take the Benelli Super Black Eagle, the Remington VERSA MAX Waterfowl Pro and the Beretta A400 Xtreme, they’re all $1,400 and up. Then there’s kind of a void until you drop down to the Stoeger line or the other 3.5″ guns. I think guys are either saving their pennies much longer, or they’re sitting on the shotgun they have because they want a new one but they can’t always justify to the accountant in the family they need to go buy a new shotgun when it’s $1,600 or $1,700.”
Rocky Mountain Shooters Supply has upped their game marketing this segment of their business.
A lot of guys are shooting around the
saltwater marshes, and the Cerakote
is a game-changer as far as
corrosion is concerned.
Gun Department Manager Woods & Water
“We recently hosted a public shoot at our local CYO [Colorado Youth Outdoors] shooting range,” Duda recalled. “Benelli, Caesar Guerini, Beretta, Browning and CZ all sent reps out with ‘try me’ stations. For $10 you got a box of 12-ga. shells and you could shoot anything you wanted.”
The shoot got results, Duda asserted. A number of customers have come in and mentioned being there in the months since.
“It was more hands-on than social media,” he noted. “Of course, we do Facebook and we advertise on radio and billboards, but this was a hands-on all day at the range opportunity for people to try some different guns.”
Growth In 20-Gauge?
In Northport, Ala., Drew Ryan is the gun department manager for Woods & Water. He’s witnessed a trend toward customers downsizing from 12-ga. to 20-ga. What’s driving it, he said, is big improvements in the technology of shotgun shells.
“The steel shot and tungsten/steel blends now have a denser pattern and you can get a little more distance out of them,” he shared. “Today, you can do with a 20-ga. what you used to be able to do with a 12-ga. You can have light recoil and a light gun.”
Winchester and Browning are big sellers at Woods & Water, according to Ryan.
“Both of them are having an upsurge,” he said. “The Browning A5 came out a year or so ago with Cerakote non-corrosive coating, so you have easier maintenance on it. Mossy Oak Bottomland is the camo getting a lot of mileage this year. And you always have Benelli, which includes Stoeger and Franchi. Those are the mainstays in waterfowl.”
For upland birds, Ryan said it’s pretty much the same guns.
“You can get to some quail preserves here, but one gun covers both sports,” he noted. “It’s pretty practical. Here it’s really about the ducks. And for dove season it’s the same way as it is for ducks. People are downsizing in both gauge and weight.”
When it comes to ammo, Ryan’s customers seek out Winchester and Federal blends.
“Tungsten alloy is big,” he confirmed. “Of course, on upland and non-migratory birds it’s still lead shot; it hasn’t really changed at all.”
Cerakote is the biggest innovation Ryan has seen in sporting shotguns in recent years.
“It’s easier to do maintenance on the gun,” he observed. “There’s less corrosion on it. A lot of guys are shooting around the saltwater marshes, and the Cerakote is a game-changer as far as corrosion is concerned.”
Ryan thinks the trends he’s seeing will continue for the next couple of years.
“I think we’ll see lighter, faster, more camo on sporting shotguns,” he forecasted. “We’re also going to see a lot more bells and whistles on guns. It’s moving forward by leaps and bounds.”