By Ashley McGee
Each year, Americans spend billions on hunting gear, accessories and vehicles. Whether it’s archery hunting for whitetail or using a shotgun to knock down waterfowl, each new species or specialty a hunter pursues requires different setups.
When it comes to varmint and predator hunting, often the same firearm for small or medium game can be used, so not every person entering this segment will be in the market for a new firearm. Of course, there are those who are taking up hunting for the first time or those looking for any excuse to add to their growing collection of firearms. Regardless, the largest opportunity to turn predators into profits lies in add-ons and accessories.
Your dealership’s area of opportunity will vary depending on where you’re located. Think of what segments you currently aren’t serving or are underserving. It could be feral hog hunters, fox hunters or even small-game varmint (like crow, squirrel or prairie dogs) hunters. In some cases, the answer is more than one.
Determine which has the most growth opportunity and focus your efforts there. This might mean the segment that will generate the most revenue, the one that will result in the greatest inventory volume sold in terms of units or the segment with the highest potential profit margin. The key takeaway here is instead of focusing on doing a lot well, shift your attention to the one or two things you can do great.
Coyote Is King
Fortunately, for your bottom line there is a widespread predator who doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. An estimated 500,000 coyotes are killed each year yet their population seems to be increasing throughout the country. In fact, according to the Quality Deer Management Association’s 2016 Whitetail Report, not a single state in the eastern half of the country has a decreasing coyote population.
“Coyote is the most pursued predator species in our area,” said Seth Dortch, marketing manager at Final Flight Outfitters. “Within the past five years, we have seen a large, steady increase of hunter involvement for coyote.”
A family-owned business, Final Flight Outfitters has been serving western Tennessee since 1998. Based on his experience, Dortch attributes the increased involvement to two primary factors — area farmers seeking to protect their livestock and hunters interested in pursuing another avenue of common hunting.
Varmints like coyote, feral hogs, prairie dogs and others are considered a nuisance. While each state has their own rules and regulations regarding hunting these species, they are generally much more lax compared to game animals. In some states they can be hunted year round, making varmint and predator hunting a great way to boost sales, especially between game species seasons.
Savage Arms 110 varmint
Black Hills gold .22-250
Regardless of platform, the most popular calibers for predator hunting are typically .223, .22 and .17 HMR rifles.
“Many of the hunters who start engaging with varmints/predators, specifically coyotes, isn’t so much to eliminate the nuisance. Rather, it gives them a great opportunity to build a MSR to their liking and field test it more than just shooting it on the range,” said Dortch.
Despite the popularity of custom-built guns, Final Flight Outfitters’ most consistent bestseller is the Japanese-made Howa 1500 Hogue bolt-action rifle. It features a two-stage trigger and delivers out-of-the-box accuracy at an affordable price point.
At Gary’s Gun Shop in South Dakota, Sales Manager Duane Plucker said the Advanced Tactical Hunter from Rock River Arms is among their most popular models for varmint and predator hunting.
“Our customers tend to want something they can use for more than one purpose,” he said. “The same setup one uses for coyote hunting can also be used for prairie dog hunting.”
With two locations, the family-owned and operated dealership stocks its 4,000-square-foot retail space with more than 2,000 firearms.
Based in Illinois, Rock River Arms offers several LAR-15 models specifically designed with varmint and predator hunting in mind including the Varmint A4, Predator Pursuit and Coyote Carbine. They start for as little as $900, but for a few hundred more can be customized with extra features like a nicer trigger, barrel or sighting system.
The Advanced Tactical Hunter combines Rock River’s renowned tight lower-to-upper fit, ensuring a solid build every time. Weighing in at 7.6 pounds empty, it’s great for spot-and-stalk hunting.
“Our customers love that Rock River guns are made in the USA,” said Plucker. “Plus, they’re backed by the company’s lifetime warranty.”
Add-Ons & Accessories
Most avid hunters will already have a firearm in his or her arsenal suitable for varmint or predator hunting. But, it doesn’t mean there isn’t an opportunity to gain them as a customer.
Add-ons and accessories are a lucrative business that shouldn’t be overlooked. Coyote in particular is a nocturnal species — making a quality scope critical for success. Both Final Flight Outfitters and Gary’s Gun Shop cited Vortex as their most popular optics brand for varmint and predator hunting.
“The Vortex Diamondback and Viper collections are our most asked for,” said Dortch. “With these scopes, hunters are able to succeed in many distances, environments and situations.”
Though your first inclination might be to stock the most expensive options for accessories, higher cost doesn’t necessarily yield a higher profit margin. Plus, you run the risk of alienating an entire portion of your customer base.
“Vortex offers comparable power and clarity at an affordable price point,” Plucker added. “They’re often $100–$150 less than the high-end competitors, but get the job done just as well.”
In terms of ammunition, Gary’s Gun Shop’s two primary brands for varmint and predator hunting are Black Hills Ammunition and Hornady. Black Hills Ammunition is also based in South Dakota, and is a popular choice for customers who prefer to shop local. Hornady is based in neighboring Nebraska and has the mainstream name even novice hunters will recognize.
For Final Flight Outfitters, the most demanded gear accessory in this segment is electronic game calls.
“FOXPRO and Primos are our most requested brands for electronic calls,” said Dortch. “In terms of models and styles, there’s a broad range across the board with the greatest variable being what type of conditions the hunter is hunting and what will meet their needs best.”
Due to varied needs, Final Flight has found the best way to market to this segment in their region is to ask consumers what they need in the field and use the feedback as the basis for their buying decisions.
“A lot of our customers are starting to use suppressors for hunting coyote to cut down noise and minimize giving up their location,” said Dortch. “We’re a Class 3 dealer, so this allows us to special-order whatever suppressor the consumer needs.”
Final Flight’s in-store inventory consists of PTP, SIG SAUER and GEMTECH — with PTP the top seller, according to Dortch.
Rock River Arms consistently ranks as a top seller at Gary’s Gun Shop. According to Sales Manager Duane Plucker, versatility is a powerful sales point: “Our customers tend to want something they can use for more than one purpose, he relayed.”
At Final Flight Outfitters, Vortex leads the way in optics for varmint/predator hunters. “The Vortex Diamondback and Viper collections are our most asked for,” lends Seth Dortch, Final Flight marketing manager.
Think Beyond The Firearm
From optics and calls to ammunition and concealment, there’s ample opportunity to earn the business of varmint and predator hunters if you take the time to understand their needs and stock the products to meet them. If you don’t think beyond the firearm, you’re bound to leave money on the table.