By Carolee Anita Boyles
Most firearms retailers don’t think too much about bowhunting season. They’re busy helping hunters get ready for gun season, stocking rifles and shotguns, ammo and camouflage. However, if you take the time to understand bowhunting and the associated equipment, you can add substantial dollars to your bottom line.
Eric Cook, one of the owners of Cook’s Sportland in Venice, Fla., shared the biggest trends he’s seeing in bowhunting is compound bows are becoming quieter and more vibration-free.
“It’s been a big push for most of the manufacturers, and a big driving point in sales,” he said. “It’s been an ongoing trend for the past few years.”
Overall, Cook has noticed how much bowhunting equipment has improved over the past five years — and it’s become more expensive.
“Noise and vibration have improved substantially,” he said. “The change has been tremendous. Mathews was the leader in it, but most of the top companies are doing well with it in their upper-end bows.” (He mentioned both Bear and Elite as being a part of this trend as well.)
Rise And Fall
In Canton, Ga., Ramuel Martinez is one of the owners of Big Woods Goods — which houses both a firearm and archery range. The indoor archery range is a climate-controlled 10-lane, 20-yard indoor facility, while a covered outdoor 75-yard range is another option for customers. Big Woods offers bow rentals and archery lessons to further bolster sales in this category.
Martinez has observed a similar a trend toward the purchase of higher-end bows versus price-point bows across all the manufacturers carried at the store.
“We carry Hoyt, Elite, Prime and BowTech,” he said. “People who aren’t buying higher-end bows are buying nicer sights and in general are upgrading their gear. I can’t pinpoint anything as to why they’re doing that.”
Customers have often done their research on the internet before they walk in to make a purchase.
“They may have more knowledge about some things than we do,” Martinez admitted. “They may come in and ask for something we haven’t even thought about or considered.”
Over the past five years, Martinez said, he’s watched archery sales rise and fall.
“Archery is like food,” he said. “In restaurants you must stock enough of everything and make sure to turn inventory — use the older food first. Archery is the same way. You must sell the older inventory first or it becomes obsolete.”
One thing that has increased in Big Woods Goods is the number and size of archery sales in general.
“Our archery department has grown tremendously,” Martinez shared. “Our classes have increased and become very popular.”
A couple of years ago, “The Hunger Games” movie was a big thing.
“I made an event of out it,” Martinez recalled. “I bought a bunch of tickets for a screening and invited everyone early. We did a little class open to the public. Packages included tickets to the movie. I can’t think of anything coming up that’s going to be like that.”
While Martinez doesn’t see anything to replicate the “Hunter Games effect,” he does expect some of the new bows coming out from Hoyt to do well.
“I’m curious to see how the new Ravin R26 crossbow is going to do, as well, since it’s available at a great price point,” he said. “The higher-end Elite bows have been moving, along with the Prime bows. Hoyt has a new bow this year and we’re getting inquiries about it, but I don’t think it has wowed people. And even though I don’t carry Mathews, they have a nice new set of bows I think are going to do well.”
One thriving segment in the bowhunting category is crossbows. Cook has experienced a noticeable uptick in sales over the past year.
“This past season was one of our best crossbow sales seasons yet,” he relayed. “We don’t sell a lot of crossbows, but have an older clientele and we’ve always sold a few. Our guys use them for gator hunting, because you can’t use a firearm at night. They also use them for pigs in residential areas. With a scope, they’re very accurate; they can see in low light because of the scope and hit them in the head at 30 to 40 yards. It’s helped drive sales some.”
Recently, Cook sold a $2,500 crossbow.
“It was TenPoint’s top bow, the Nitro XRT,” he said. “This would have been unheard of in the past. I don’t carry a huge selection, but I carry from the low end, a $399 price point, to that bow.”
What he has seen in crossbows, Cook shared, is customers either want a lower-end bow or a high-end bow.
“There’s not much in-between,” he added. “Mission Crossbows sell well for us because they’re a higher-end bow with a lifetime warranty.”
His experienced crossbow customers want speed, Cook lends.
“With an increase in speed, the price goes up,” he said. “The guy who just wants to get into it isn’t necessarily looking for speed, and he’ll buy the $400 to $600 bow. It puts him in a decent crossbow.”
Martinez said the only brand of crossbow he’s been carrying is Ravin.
“I’ve done okay with Ravin, but this year has started really slow,” he said.
While some stores have reported crossover interest from bowhunters and live-fire hunters previously in Shooting Industry, it’s not prevalent at either Cook’s Sportland or Big Woods.
“Most of my bowhunters are very avid bowhunters,” Cook shared. “They’ll hunt every time they can go bowhunting, but they’ll only hunt one or two weekends with a gun. Some of the new guys getting into archery ask what I’ve got used or inexpensive so they can try it — so I get them started with something. Then, before the next season, they’ll come in and upgrade to get a better bow. Half of those customers really like it and get into bowhunting more than gun hunting.”
Similarly, Martinez doesn’t see a lot of overlap between his gun hunters and his bowhunters.
“I have several target shooters who do both, but not many hunters,” he added.
Regardless, building bowhunting profits will give your store an edge over those that don’t.