Highlight Airguns/Airsoft For Plinking, Hunting & Training
By Carolee Anita Boyles
The market for airguns/airsoft continues to evolve. As airguns become more powerful and accurate, they’ve increased in popularity not only for target shooting but also for hunting.
At Kames Sports in North Canton, Ohio, Sales Manager Jeff Snook said his store’s main customers for airguns are small-game hunters.
“We mainly sell to people who hunt squirrels and other small game,” he observed. “We do a little bit of target stuff, but it’s mostly a wintertime basement activity with pellet traps and things like that.”
Snook said most of his customers are buying .177- and .22-caliber airguns, but they’ve also expressed some interest in the larger calibers.
“We sell a few .25s, but the majority of our sales are in .177 and .22. Here in Ohio, small-game hunters are going mostly for squirrel, rabbit and an occasional groundhog in the garden,” he noted.
However, this doesn’t mean the market for more traditional airguns is totally dead, according to Snook.
“Especially at Christmastime, we still sell some of the Red Ryders and (Crosman) 760s, and some of the more kid-type air rifles,” he said. “But the adult air rifles have really taken over, so instead of being $29 or $39 guns, we’re now into the $119 to $299 guns.”
Benjamin is the most popular brand sold at Kames Sports. “We also sell a lot of Gamo,” Snook added. “Some of them have synthetic stocks, but we sell a lot with wood. They look a lot like Grandpa’s old hunting rifle.”
Most of the airguns at Snook’s store have optics already on them. “If they don’t, people buy optics separately. We try to keep a variety of scopes in stock, as well as a variety of pellets,” he added.
According to Snook, airguns tend to have less seasonality than regular firearms. “Adult hunting rifles sell pretty much all year,” he said. “There are critters in the garden during the summertime, and hunting in the fall. Then, around the holidays we’ll sell the whole gamut: from $29.99 airguns up to the $400 range.”
Snook added the store doesn’t have to do a lot of advertising to generate sales of adult airguns. “They pretty much sell themselves,” he noted. “We do a lot on social media, a lot of email blasts, a lot of Facebook. That’s pretty much all we do. People come in looking for them.”
Two product categories Kames Sports keeps in stock are targets and pellet traps. Other accessories also are good sellers, Snook added.
“We keep cleaning pellets, and cleaning kits made for airguns. We also carry gun cases,” he said. “For airguns we sell more bullseye targets and small-game targets.”
Crosman Air American Classic .177 Pistol
FN Herstal SCAR Airsoft Rifle
FN Herstal FNX-45 Airsoft Pistol
Larger Calibers For Larger Game
Fedor Palacios, marketing communications manager for Gamo USA, said hunters are increasingly interested in airguns — and it’s not just for small game.
“First, you don’t need a permit for an airgun,” he noted. “You can just go into a store and buy one. Next, ammunition is very inexpensive and you can find it in almost any sports retailer — a big benefit.”
As airgun technology has evolved and airguns have become more powerful, Palacios said, hunters are able to use them for a wider range of game, which opens new doors.
“Now air rifles can effectively hunt medium-sized game,” he observed. “We’re talking about game the size of foxes and even up to wild hogs. On most of the TV shows we sponsor, celebrities are using our airguns to hunt hogs.”
These larger-caliber airguns go up to .25-caliber, and even up beyond that. AirForce Airguns makes a .45-caliber air rifle, which they market for deer hunting; it also comes in .30 and .357. Benjamin also offers several models in .357 and other manufacturers have followed suit, which includes Evanix with several models in everything from .22 to .50.
“These larger calibers are a niche market,” Palacios noted. “There’s a trend there, but there’s also a question about how many people are interested in it. Some manufacturers are dedicated to only big bores, but most of them are staying with .177 and .22. The .25 and up calibers are something that’s still niche.”
Airforce Airguns Texan Big Bore Air Rifle
Gletcher APS-A Full Metal C02 Airsoft Pistol
Umarex Throttle Break Barrel Air Rifle
Umarex Colt Peacemaker Nickel .177 BB CO2 Revolver
An Update On Airsoft
At one time, Snook said, Kames Sports carried airsoft products, but they discontinued doing so about two years ago because they didn’t sell in the store’s specific market.
“When we sold entry-level products, the return rate was high,” he recalled. “When we went into the higher-end guns — such as the $300 to $400 range — we sold about two a year.”
When it comes to airsoft, the buyers tend to be the same types of gamers who play paintball.
“The buyers are kids and teens, and some former military who are looking to do some gaming with military scenarios,” said Chip Hunnicut, marketing manager at Crosman. “Our research has shown parents are very much involved in purchase decisions, especially with entry-level products such as some of ours.”
There has been some slowdown in sales, he said, which may be related to some of what’s been happening with firearms in the news.
“The games these customers play are just like paintball,” Hunnicut noted. “Kids play video games, and this is an opportunity for them to get off the couch and do something active but can also replicate what they’re playing online or on their television and do it safely.”
Law enforcement is also using some airsoft for training.
“They’re using it, but they’re not coming in and buying new guns every year,” Hunnicut said. “They buy guns one time and then come in and get more ammunition. The market is stable overall.”
In order to sell airsoft effectively to law enforcement, Hunnicut advises one thing retailers need to know is what their local L.E. department is looking for in the way of training guns.
“They’re looking for things that have the similar feel and operation as their service weapons,” he said. “They want it comparable in weight, and it may have a blowback action. So if a retailer is selling an airsoft gun that may not be remotely comparable to a service weapon, it won’t be a strong seller to law enforcement — if at all.”
SIG SAUER Quad Shooting Gallery
Crosman and other manufacturers offer products specifically made for the L.E. market. “It’s a question of knowing both the needs of law enforcement and what the gamers are looking for,” Hunnicut said.
There are basic plastic entry-level airsoft guns, and others with metal or nylon fiber frames. “There also are a number of upgrades,” Hunnicut added. “The guys who are really into airsoft will upgrade at some point. So retailers need to be familiar with what upgrades are compatible with the airsoft guns they’re carrying.”
When it comes to the L.E. market, you can find something comparable to just about anything an officer is carrying, Hunnicut added.
“If an officer is using a Beretta or a GLOCK, there are certainly comparable airsoft products available,” he observed. “If they want long guns, there are shotguns and tactical rifles available that operate pretty close to what officers are using. This is the whole attraction to airsoft: You can get products that are quite realistic in appearance to what’s in videogames and what officers are carrying.”
Editor’s Note: Dealers, have you experienced success with airsoft products? What about airguns for big-game hunters?
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