Trends In Concealed Carry, Long-Range Drive Market
By Tim Barker
When we look back to the days when fear was the driving force in gun store sales, perhaps no
segment was harder hit than ammunition. Fresh on everyone’s minds are images of empty ammo shelves — or about to be.
Frenzied customers would snap up everything they could get their hands on, while reloaders scrambled to find primers and powder to make their own ammo.
At least for now, those days appear to be well behind us. Indeed, if there’s a particular flavor of ammo customers would like to have, chances are pretty good you can lay your hands on it.
It’s one of the reasons why Jim Payne, manager of Larry’s Sporting Goods in Nampa, Idaho, is optimistic about this year’s prospects. There are, after all, advantages to being able to offer customers the things they want — rather than just what’s available.
“Now, when someone comes in looking for something, you can point to where it is on the shelf. So, we aren’t missing out on those sales,” Payne said.
As with every other segment within the firearms retail industry, ammo and reloading have returned to “normal.” Recreational shooters can stop by the store and pick up one or two boxes of ammo without having to worry whether the shelves will be empty next time. Hoarding has become a fast-fading memory.
Even the tragic February shooting in Parkland, Fla., appeared to have little impact. That time of year — when customers are getting their tax returns — typically brings a small boost in sales.
“We always see a rush,” Payne informed. “But we haven’t seen any panic buying or anything like that.”
The story is the same at H&H Shooting Sports in Oklahoma City, where General Manager Mike Rust said customer demand hasn’t noticeably changed. “We sell a lot of ammo. But I haven’t noticed a spike.”
It’s not to say, however, there has been no change at all, with Rust noting a small boost in MSR sales in the days after the shooting.
Black Hills Gold 7mm Remington Magnum 175-Gr.
Ammo Options For Concealable Handguns
When it comes to handgun cartridges, it would surprise no one to hear 9mm remains the top seller at Larry’s, where the best-selling brand is CCI’s Blazer Brass — the company is based in the state. Other popular cartridges include .45 ACP and .38 Special. But .380 ACP continues to gain traction as one of the hotter-selling calibers.
“We’ve seen a huge demand over the past 5–6 years for small handguns,” Payne informed.
And while manufacturers continue to bring out 9mm guns rivaling the .380s in terms of compactness, it hasn’t appeared to dampen the output of new offerings in the smaller cartridge. With customers still eager to purchase the diminutive pocket pistols, there are more on the way.
Rust, in Oklahoma City, sees no reason for the demand to fall anytime soon — and we could eventually see .380 ammo prices pushed lower — with new guns on the way, including Springfield Armory’s new 911 and Smith & Wesson’s M&P380 Shield.
“They’re still riding that wave, with new guns coming out,” Rust observed.
There does, however, appear to be a different fate for the once–popular .40 S&W cartridge. Nobody is buying them at the Oklahoma shop.
“The number of people walking in the front door to sell us a .40-caliber handgun is way up. We’re starting to turn those people away,” Rust said.
For most of the popular calibers, prices have started to edge downward, with manufacturers looking to boost sales in the face of slackened demand. Still, prices on everyone’s favorite plinking round — the once-ultra-cheap .22 LR — remain well above the pre-panic point.
“I think the manufacturers like the price where it is. It’s still an economical alternative for shooters and the industry understands this,” Rust shared.
Long-Gun Ammo Trends
With H&H and its 30-yard indoor range in the middle of an urban environment, it’s not surprising ammo sales are dominated by the handgun segment. Much of the long-gun stuff is bought by handgun shooters picking up hunting supplies.
The more popular rounds are .308, .243 and .30-06. As for the newer stuff hitting the market, Rust likes to keep the store up to date. But he’s cautious. To keep up with shooters’ needs, he spends a couple hours a week scanning online gun forums to see what potential customers are talking about.
“It’s tough. If you buy things based on industry buzz, you’ll be stocking a bunch of stuff that’s just going to be sitting there looking at you,” he said. “You have to figure out what the customers want.”
The story isn’t much different back in Idaho, where long-range shooters and hunters are among the store’s top customers. Payne, of Larry’s Sporting Goods, confirmed they’re in no rush to jump on a new cartridge until it proves itself.
“I’m starting to learn about the new entries like the .224 Valkyrie, but it’s more on the tactical end of the market, and we don’t do a lot of it,” he said.
There’s a strong demand in the area for varmint-hunting calibers, with popular options including .17 HMR (for ground squirrels) and .22-250 (for coyotes). Other long-range cartridges include .30-06, .308 and .243.
But in a region where ranges out to 1,200 yards are not uncommon, one of the most popular cartridges is the 6.5 Creedmoor. In fact, his store has trouble keeping it in stock.
“It’s the hottest thing going right now for people who aren’t newbies,” he noted. “With 6.5 Creedmoor, you can shoot all day long, with no recoil.”
Hodgdon Varget Rifle Powder and CCI Small Rifle Primers (No. 400)
are steady sellers at Larry’s Sporting Goods.
Perhaps the biggest change for reloaders in this return to normalcy is they no longer need to get by with what’s on hand. The shelves are full of everything a reloader needs.
Larry’s is a Hogdgon distributor, carrying a wide range of offerings from IMR, Alliant and Winchester Smokeless Propellants. For bullets, they carry Hornady, Nosler and a couple local manufacturers — Leatherhead Bullets (for Hi-Tek coated) and Accura Bullets (for plated). For primers they stock Federal and CCI. The store’s reloading dies come from RCBS and Hornady.
And while the standard fare is stocked, Larry’s also specializes in the less common calibers.
“We actually have a lot of oddball stuff — some of the older cartridges,” Payne relayed. “We’ve kind of got a niche here in the valley. We’re the ones carrying the stuff you can’t find anywhere else.”
This strong inventory is particularly useful when the shop is working with a novice reloader. Now, employees can walk the customer through the process. They crack open a reloading manual to find the right recipe for the caliber in question. Then it’s just a matter of grabbing components off shelves — pretty straightforward.
“I always recommend somebody start on a single-stage press. I don’t like the idea of anybody starting on a progressive loader,” Payne shared. “I don’t care how smart they are. With a single-stage press, you know when you make a mistake.”
Those customers are pointed to the RCBS Rock Chucker or Hornady Lock-N-Load Classic.
It’s the newer reloaders that represent the biggest share of market at H&H in Oklahoma City. This is one of the key things to understand about this segment, Rust informed.
“Quite honestly, the guys who use a lot of reloading supplies buy it online. Particularly for the competition shooters, in order to do it in volume, they’re hunting for the cheapest place to buy it. Sadly, it’s not going to be the local retailer,” he said.
But even with this in mind, the reloading area has its draws — particularly its ability to offer advice through a staff of veteran reloaders.
“A lot of guys like the local reloading shop. We have regulars who come in and hang out,” he added. “We have some dedicated customers who buy everything here. They know they pay a little more. But they like the service.”
To spur interest, the store offers a range of monthly classes, both for veterans and novices. The beginner course takes students through the entire process, and ends with firing some of their new rounds on the range.
For machines and components, H&H focuses on what customers want — something that can be critical in a segment with such a wide range of product offerings. The shop carries most of the presses offered by Dillon (the 550, 650 and Square Deal B), as well as RCBS.
“You just have to carry what moves. If you try to carry everything out there, you’ll end up with a store full of dusty bags,” Rust said. “You can’t carry everybody’s bullets. You won’t be able to carry everybody’s primers. You can’t carry all the tiny things you can only sell one of.”