Charged For Growth?

Changes Impacting Muzzleloading & Black Powder Segment

In 2020, CVA expanded on its popular PARAMOUNT line with the addition of the
PARAMOUNT PRO. It’s built on a custom-quality Grayboe fiberglass stock, including
a TriggerTech trigger and a Cerakote finish. Photo courtesy of CVA

With the emphasis on home defense and self-protection the past 18 months, the muzzleloading and black powder segment flew under the radar. While modern firearms and ammunition sales skyrocketed, the demand for primitive weapons was never far behind. Sales are surging for these products as well.

Chad Schearer is director of advertising and media relations at BPI Outdoors, manufacturer of CVA muzzleloaders. He said all the factors that affected the rest of the industry last year affected muzzleloading also, although exact numbers are hard to quantify.

“We’ve seen an uptick in numbers, and sales are through the roof,” Schearer confirmed. “Trying to find components also is very difficult. I don’t know whether people are hoarding them, or it’s just the number of people using them.”

“ Muzzleloading is one of those things you can’t just jump into; it takes preparation and time. So COVID was perfect for it because people had a lot of time.”

Chandler Ferrell, Manager Hunter’s Refuge White Hall, Ark.

Part of what is driving increased interest in black powder, Schearer said, is supply chain issues in other industries.

“When there was a disruption in the food chain, people realized how fragile things can be,” he remarked. “Suddenly we saw even large grocery retailers limiting people to one or two packs of meat per visit and the shelves were empty.”

Schearer suggested this made a lot of people look for alternative ways to feed their families and put meat on the table. This led to a resurgence in hunter numbers, which had been declining.

“A lot of people looked at muzzleloading because it added days in the field,” he noted. “Hunters could pick up a different type of gun and get another season or draw a tag they couldn’t draw.”

Current Events Fuel Sales

Aaron Oelger, Hodgdon Powder VP of sales and marketing said recent sales represent the first real demand run that has affected not only smokeless powder, but black powder as well. Although COVID-19, political changes and social unrest all helped drive the demand for muzzleloading and black powder products, another factor entered into the rise in sales as well.

“People had a chance to take a breath,” he proposed. “They couldn’t go to the movies or to the beach, but if they had a gun, they could go shoot. I think people did the same thing with muzzleloaders.”

Oelger expects an increased level of demand to continue, at least to a certain extent.

“Based on the data I’ve seen, I don’t think this is anything that will change without a significant external event occurring,” he stated.
“Social unrest is going to go away, people are still a little uneasy about COVID-19 because we keep hearing rumors about different variants. Short of a new Congress taking over, which is a year and a half away, I don’t see anything that’s going to change politically. Even if Congress changes, we still have a president who, by his own admission, is very anti-gun. My guess is it’ll continue to drive demand; I would be surprised if anything changes in the short term.”

Encouraging Signs

At Hunter’s Refuge in White Hall, Ark., Manager Chandler Ferrell shared last year was the store’s biggest year ever in muzzleloading and black powder.

“I think it was just nobody could do a lot of other activities,” he said. “It was an outdoor activity people could do, which led to more people out in the field. Muzzleloading is one of those things you can’t just jump into; it takes preparation and time. So COVID was perfect for it because people had a lot of time.”

Ferrell expects to see a continued interest in muzzleloading, in part because customers made quite an investment in muzzleloading and black powder products.

“Hopefully, people will maintain and continue this year because they put a lot of money into it last year,” he said. “As things get back to normal, there will be a little bit of a drop off, but I think it will still be trending. You’re getting a lot of new people who are interested in it.”

“ Because we focus entirely on the historical aspects of black powder, not much changes. Black powder is a historical thing, and there aren’t many ways to reinvent the wheel.”

Liza Kindig, Owner Log Cabin Shop and Historical Center Lodi, Ohio

Ferrell said last year he had some trouble keeping up with the demand for muzzleloading and black powder products, but not as much as he had with other categories.

“We already had all our inventory,” he recalled. “We typically get it in earlier than we do other categories, and we had just gotten in all our muzzleloading shipments.”

One other thing Ferrell noticed was a shift in demographics.

“We’ve been seeing some younger people buying,” he said. “In our market it’s generally people who have more time to work with muzzleloaders, but we saw all different types of people this past year. It’s been young people who weren’t in school to middle-aged businessmen who had time last year.”

Looking forward, Ferrell thinks we’re still going to have a lot of supply chain issues for a while. Unlike last year, he’s already running out of muzzleloading and black powder inventory. As this story was being prepared in late June, he still had not received his muzzleloading guns for the year.

“They’re already a month late, so it seems like we’re going to have some issues,” he said.

Staying Power?

In Lodi, Ohio, Liza Kindig is the third generation of Kindigs to own the Log Cabin Shop and Historical Center. She saw a lot of new interest in muzzleloaders and black powder last year.

“I think the modern ammo shortage and price increase drove people to look for alternatives,” she said.

Kindig also saw increased interest in visiting the Historical Center attached to the shop.

“People were looking for new things to do locally, and folks getting into the hobby are using it for an educational resource,” she said.

She expects to see some decrease in sales as we emerge from the pandemic.

“I hope the new people who are involved are going to continue with their enthusiasm,” she shared, “but I don’t look for the level of increase we’ve had.”

One of the newer developments to impact the muzzleloading space is the combination of the Traditions
NitroFire (below) and Federal Ammunition FireStick (above). The two companies, along with Hodgdon
Powder, partnered to produce new technology that makes muzzleloading safer and more reliable. The
FirstStick is an encapsulated powder charge impervious to moisture and can be decharged without firing
the rifle. The NitroFire series, available in eight SKUs, is the first muzzleloader to incorporate this technology.

New Products, New Technologies

In the core black powder market, many things remain the same year after year.

“I think this is part of the appeal,” Oelger affirmed. “Much of it is largely unchanged from a couple hundred years ago. I think it’s a strong attraction for people who are interested in the sport.”

This is particularly true, he said, for reenactors who place a great deal of emphasis on detail, including the clothes they wear, the food they eat and the guns they shoot.

“Most of the appeal of this is a throwback to an age where things weren’t complicated,” Oelger said.
Kindig agreed.

“Because we focus entirely on the historical aspects of black powder, not much changes,” she affirmed. “Black powder is a historical thing, and there aren’t many ways to reinvent the wheel.”

When it comes to modern muzzleloaders, however, manufacturers do come up with some new ideas.

“In muzzleloaders, we’ve seen some significant improvements over the last couple of years,” Oelger noted. One such improvement is the NitroFire, which is a joint project between Federal, Hodgdon and Traditions Performance Firearms.

“We introduced the NitroFire in 2020,” said Alison Hall, marketing manager for Traditions. “Federal is producing the Firestick, an encapsulated powder charge which loads from the breech. The NitroFire and Firestick system make muzzleloading safer, easier and more reliable than it has been in the past. Innovations such as the NitroFire may attract people who have not previously considered getting into muzzleloading.”

Schearer said CVA released the .40-caliber version of the Paramount, a long-range muzzleloader capable of handling high-propellant charges and muzzle velocities comparable to modern centerfire rifles.

“We also released the Paramount HTR,” Schearer added. “We’ve removed the ramrod so it’s a free-floating barrel. It also has an adjustable cheek piece and cheek comb on it, giving it better accuracy. It’s available in .40 and .45.”

Oelger said both these innovations — the Paramount series of muzzleloaders and the NitroFire — have had a positive effect on Hodgdon’s business.

Looking To The Future

Going forward, Schearer believes demand for muzzleloading and black powder products will stay higher than they were pre-COVID-19. Exactly how much of a sustained increase this segment of the industry will see, however, is speculative. In the reenactor market, for example, the average age of the participant is continuing to rise.

“If you look at the North-South Skirmish Association, the average age of their members continues to go up — which worries me,” Schearer observed.

One thing that may bode well for this market is reflected in some of the research on millennials.

“Research indicates they’re looking for simplification,” Schearer explained. “They’re looking for things that are simpler and more real; they’re looking for authentic experiences. I think it’s a good selling point for the industry and the category. There are some opportunities there, but I don’t think we can approach it as business as usual. We must reach out and show people how to use the products, and we’re going to have to have them. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future, but there are some concerns there as well.”

Whether your customers are new to muzzleloading or participate in local reenactments, consider hosting a sales event to keep interest in this category strong moving forward.

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