Attracting Early Hunting Season Customers

Stock The Right Mix Of Products,
And Let Them Know You Have It

By Carolee Anita Boyles

The time leading up to hunting season can be a “Black Friday” of sorts for gun dealers. Hunters always want new stuff, and the last few weeks before the season starts can represent substantial income for prepared retailers.

Chuck Lock is vice president of Mack’s Prairie Wings in Stuttgart, Ark. One of the biggest changes he’s seen in early hunting season sales is hunters are upscaling the types of archery tackle they’re purchasing.

“The average ticket per bow sale is higher than what it’s been for the past several years,” he observed. “People don’t mind spending extra money to get the best. They’re buying Mathews and Obsession bows for deer hunting.”

Lock is also seeing increasing sales in crossbows. “It’s the same picture there,” he said. “The average ticket on a crossbow has gone up. The number one brand for us is TenPoint.”

On the other hand, according to Lock, muzzleloading is not as popular as it once was.

“At one time, black powder was a big deal for us,” he noted. “It’s really not anymore; that part of the business has gone pretty flat.”

When it comes to early waterfowl seasons, Lock has seen the quality of ammunition improve.

“Customers are purchasing higher- quality ammo,” he said. “Winchester Blind Side is a popular brand for us, as well as Hevi-Shot Hevi-Metal. Those are our top two sellers.”

Lock thinks hunters are spending more because they can — and because they value their recreational time.

“They don’t mind spending a little extra money when they know it will enhance their experience,” he said. “Nothing frustrates me more than to spend money and take time off to go somewhere, and then have a piece of equipment not work. My time is more valuable than that.” Customers are willing to spend more money to make sure they have equipment that works when they need it, he said.

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Thompson/Center Compass

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Skull Hooker Bone Bracket XXL

Strong Sellers

According to Lock, several product categories sell well at Mack’s Prairie Wings, including firearms.

“We sell a lot of Benelli, Beretta, Browning and Winchester,” he said. “Most of our firearms business is in shotgun sales. We also have a full-line gunsmith who makes custom rifles, which sell very well.”

The custom guns are sold as Spoon Custom Rifles, made by Matt Spoon. These are serious firearms, retailing for $2,400 and up.

“The caliber that’s really popular is 6.5 Creedmoor,” Lock observed. “In the custom round market here, it’s probably the number-one caliber. Most of the guns Matt builds shoot factory ammo very well.” Mack’s Prairie Wings carries 6.5 Creedmoor ammunition from Winchester and Hornady.

The accessories categories are big at Mack’s Prairie Wings, Lock said.

“The days of the $25 turkey decoy are over,” he said. “People don’t mind spending $80 to $100 on a good decoy because they want it to work. Sitka is a perfect example: People will spend the extra money because they know a piece of Sitka gear is going to protect them from the elements and enhance the experience they have on their hunt.”

Chest waders also are good sellers, Lock said. “And waterfowl decoys are a good category for us,” he said. “We sell as many $150 a dozen waterfowl decoys as we do $40 or $60 a dozen decoys because of the realism in the more expensive decoys. This is what people are after.”

Mack’s Prairie Wings sells a lot of GHG decoys, according to Lock. “We also sell a lot of Dakota decoys and a lot of Avian X decoys,” he added. “Those are our three top sellers.”

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Courtesy Of Howard Communications

A Different Story …

At Greenacres Sporting Goods in Jacksonville, Fla., the picture of early season hunting sales is quite different.

“The hunting industry has kind of taken a downturn for us,” said store manager Phillip Gazaleh. “This includes new rifle sales and the amount customers are willing to spend on a rifle. Our customers are going more toward package guns, which come with the scope and the gun together and are in the $400 to $500 range.”

In the past, Gazaleh said, customers were purchasing more expensive combinations, such as a Browning rifle with a Swarovski scope on it.
“Also, the biggest difference in our business over the past couple of years is more people are gearing toward guns such as the MSR platform and firearms like that,” he said. In other words, Gazaleh is seeing two separate trends: customers who purchase more conventional hunting rifles are going to less expensive rifle/optics combinations and other customers are tending to purchase MSRs.

Customers who are purchasing more traditional hunting rifles are buying Savage Axis and Ruger American rifles.

“The Remington 783 is another popular one,” Gazaleh noted. “The majority of customers are staying in this modest price range. A few customers do still come in and purchase rifles like the Browning X-Bolt.”

Greenacres Sporting Goods has a fairly good-sized archery department, and sales in the department generally are pretty good during the early part of hunting season according to Gazaleh.

“We get both hunters and 3D shooters, and we get some recurve shooters,” he said. “We actually stay pretty steady all year with our archery sales. People tend to come in every year or so and trade their bows in for the newest model.”

Archery sales tend to be technology driven, Gazaleh added. “It’s like computers,” he said. “Every year there’s something bigger and better.”
Gazaleh agreed with Lock: muzzleloader sales have dropped off.

“Muzzleloading is not as busy as it once was,” he said. “The season here in Florida is so short, so people don’t buy new guns every year. We see a little jump in sales every three or four years when people come in and buy new guns, but typically our muzzleloader customers just buy a little powder and some bullets, and that’s it.”

Waterfowl season makes little difference to sales at Greenacres, Gazaleh noted.

“We have a little spike in steel shot,” he said, “but we don’t do much in bird shooting.”

Hunting knives always are good sellers at Greenacres.

“Our customers particularly like Benchmade, Kershaw and Case,” Gazaleh said. “But the biggest sellers right now are snake boots. It’s always an early purchase before hunting season; we do a lot of snake proof and waterproof boots, we sell a lot of Lacrosse.”
Gazaleh has noticed the overall cost of hunting is impacting his business.

“The cost of hunting is going up,” he said. “There are fewer places to go, and the people who have places charge a lot. It’s hard to find a reasonable land to hunt.”

Communication With Customers

At Mack’s Prairie Wings, Lock communicates with customers about what he has in inventory in several ways.

“We do a mail-order catalog,” he said. “We also convey this message on our website and through social media.”

Gazaleh said traditional advertising works well for Greenacres.

“We use the newspaper, Facebook, our website, radio and TV,” he said. “What works best for us is actually the radio. Even the newspaper works well — not many people read the newspaper any more, but for some reason if we put an ad in the sports section we always do very well with it.”

Finding early hunting season customers isn’t difficult, however; it just takes having the right products in stock for your market and letting hunters know you have what they want.

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