Blending Innovation With Tradition

Current Developments In The Hunting Segment

By Tim Barker

Howard Communications

Hunting may very well be the oldest activity we take part in involving guns and related gear. And it’s likely most hunters already have their favorite go-to gear. It doesn’t mean we shouldn’t step back from time to time and consider some of the newer stuff being cooked up by the industry.

These things come in all shapes and sizes. There are the obvious ones, like new rifles and ammunition. But there are the more exotic offerings, like remote cameras and thermal imaging optics.

The latter have proven to be popular this year at SoDak Sports in South Dakota. Co-owner A.J. Hoffman attributes the interest to the local coyote fur trade, with hunters selling pelts for as much as $100 each.

They carry a couple brands — Pulsar and ATN Corp. — but just recently sold their last one. When they restock, Hoffman relayed, they’ll consider a new line by Trijicon. Considering the prices they command (the store’s Pulsars sell between $3,800 and $5,000) this isn’t the sort of thing you jump into without giving it some thought.
“It’s an expensive item to carry very deep,” Hoffman informed. “But we usually keep a couple of each on hand — they’re popular enough.”

It’s also important to have a good handle on local laws when considering adding some of the edgier technology.
Denny Dennis Sporting Goods in Fenton, Mo., carries thermal scopes — though not for local hunters, who aren’t allowed to use them. Instead, they end up selling them through their online sales department, often to hunters in Texas, where hunting laws are less restrictive.

“People in Texas like their toys. And they’re allowed to shoot hogs at night,” said Owner Denis Dennis.

They do, however, sell a lot of remote cameras, from brands including Bushnell, Moultrie and Kodiak. They come in a wide range of prices, with the pricier ones (as high as $700) offering remote wireless viewing. The cheaper versions, though, with a simple SD memory card sell the best. “They’re more popular because they cost less,” Dennis added.

And while they serve the obvious purpose of monitoring game traffic around a hunter’s favorite spot, Dennis lends they do have other uses, “Some people use them for security on their cabins.”

Leupold LTO Quest HD

Bushnell Impulse Cellular Trail Camera

Long-Range Trends

Given the growing interest, industry-wide, in long-range shooting, it follows both stores have seen a surge in interest from hunters seeking the ability to reach further out.

It’s true even in Missouri, where most of the state’s hunters are seldom confronted with the wide-open ranges found out west. For the longer ranges, the lion’s share of rifle sales goes to bolt actions.

“We still sell quite a few MSRs, but the craze has kind of slowed down,” Dennis said. “On the whole, bolt actions are generally more accurate. And you can buy a really nice one for under $400.”

Among their top selling products are the Ruger American, Savage AXIS, Thompson/Center Compass and Christensen Arms Ridgeline. Leading calibers are .300 Win. Mag. for larger game and the 6.5 Creedmoor for smaller stuff.

South Dakota’s hunters also have developed a love affair with the newer 6.5 Creedmoor cartridge.

“It’s the ultimate game-winning cartridge to have on the shelf right now,” said SoDak’s Hoffman, who touted it’s reasonably priced, low recoil and good for long ranges. “A lot of stars aligned to make it a long-range giant.”
This makes it perfect for hunters looking to take game at 200–500 yards, even if the effective range is much greater.

“I hear of guys shooting out to 1,800 yards. The average long-range guy is probably shooting somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,000 yards,” he said. “I don’t know of anyone hunting at that distance.”

The store also is tracking considerable interest in the new .224 Valkyrie in the MSR platform. They’ve already sold a dozen or so rifles, which aren’t as easy to find as the ammo. “We constantly have them on backorder,” Hoffman shared.

While some stores favor a wait-and-see approach with new products, Hoffman sees value in being an early adopter.
“If there’s something new, you’ve got to take it and run with it or you get left behind,” he advised. “Everything new is getting all the publicity.”

MOSSBERG 930 autoloading field shotgun – Bottomland

Weatherby Mark V CarbonMark

Don’t Forget The Glass

One of the oft-repeated bits of advice regarding rifle and scope purchases is shooters should expect to spend as much — if not more — on their optic. It’s certainly the case for western hunters stalking game at long distances. SoDak Sports carries a wide range of optics, with offerings by Axeon and TRUGLO at the lower end of the price spectrum and higher-end options by Swarovski and Leupold.

“The better glass is what your hunters are going for,” Hoffman said. “A guy who’s going to buy a rifle to hunt out west — he wants better equipment.”

As an added service, SoDak offers scope mounting and bore sighting for customers. With both of his stores inside city limits, they don’t have the option to step outside and actually sight in the rifle — except on rare occasions. They offer a seldom-used service, for $25 plus ammo, where they take the customer’s rifle out to a range to sight it in.

Back in Missouri, the top-selling scope brands are Leupold, Nikon and Vortex.

Dennis remembers doubting the latter’s prospects when it first entered the market. Yet it’s become one of the more popular brands in the store.

“We’re actually out of Vortex right now. We’re waiting for another order to come in,” he admitted. “We can’t keep it in stock.”

Part of the appeal is the wide range of prices — from $149 to $2,000. Though he also appreciates the company’s efforts at evening the playing field with online sellers by enforcing minimum pricing.

“You can buy them from us for the same price you can on Amazon,” he shared.

It’s also worth noting there is a difference between what a long-range target shooter buys compared with someone looking to hunt. For static long-range targets, a scope with higher magnification might be ideal. Hunters need to factor in the unpredictability of game, making a scope with versatility more appealing.

“When you’re out in the field, you don’t know if you’re going to be shooting at 100 yards or 300 yards,” Dennis said.

AJ Hoffman from SoDak Sports displays a Tikka T3x Compact Tactical Rifle. It has a 10-round
steel magazine and comes standard with a vertical angled grip for prone shooting.

Competing against The Online Contingent

Like everyone else, these stores are faced with the daily task of competing with online retailers who aren’t dealing with same levels of overhead.

And certainly, there are some areas where the online competition is intense. Particularly in areas like clothing, where online retailers can carry a much larger selection.

Dennis, however, does see some advantages over Amazon and other online retailers. Chief among them is the ability to let the customer see what he or she is considering buying: They can touch it and feel it.

How then, do you keep the customer from walking out the door and buying the item online after seeing it in person?
Dennis maintains the key is keeping careful tabs on what competitors are offering in terms of price. For them, it means watching what Cabela’s is charging.

“You wouldn’t believe how many times people will pull out their smartphones and check prices. So, you’d better be close,” he suggested.

They also have a staff full of hunters and fishermen who can offer experience and guidance customers won’t find while shopping online. “We’ve even got a guy who used to be an elk guide out in Wyoming,” he noted.

Hoffman, at SoDak Sports, worries the online shopping trend will only make things worse as time goes on. Indeed, there are loyal customers who prefer to support local businesses and tax base. What about younger consumers who do all their shopping online?

“A millennial sitting on his couch with an iPhone can buy a complete hunting outfit,” Hoffman offered. “It can be done in 5–10 minutes and he doesn’t have to move.”

As much as possible, they counter by keeping their name out through advertising pretty much everywhere they can — using in-store promotions and advertisements in the local paper, radio stations, TV stations and Facebook. They also have arrangements with some local hunting lodges.

Beyond that, he urged dealers to be aggressive: “You can compete on price if you want to,” he concluded.

Denis Dennis, owner of Denny Dennis Sporting Goods, holds a suppressed Christensen Arms BA
Tactical rifle. Forty states have legalized hunting with suppressors.

Top Hunting & Shooting Equipment Brands For 2017*

Rifle Ammunition Brand:
American Eagle
Reflex/Red Dot Sight Brand: Vortex
Scope Mount Brand: Leupold
Propellant/Powder Brand: Pyrodex
Bow Brand: Bear
Arrow Brand: Easton
Brand Of Nocks: Nockturnal
Archery Target Brand: Hurricane
Archery Sight Brand: TRUGLO
Reloading Press Brand: Lee Precision
Reloading Brass Shell Case Brand: Starline
Reloading Shot Brand: Eagle
Backpack/Waist/Duffle Brand: Badlands
Decoy Brand: Zink/Avian-X
Food Plot Brand: Mossy Oak Biologic
Trail Camera Brand: Wildgame Innovations
Hunting Knife Brand: Buck Knives
Holster/Ammo Belt Brand: BLACKHAWK!
Choke Tube Brand: Carlson
Grip/Buttstock Brand: Magpul

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