Doors Opened!

Use Predator/Varmint Sales
To Pursue Fresh Opportunities

Photo: Howard Communications

Varmint and predator shooting is an often-overlooked niche of overall firearms sales. While rifle and pistol sales remain at an all-time high, now is a great time to pursue the benefits of this lucrative submarket.

You’re most likely already taking advantage of the popular .223 caliber in AR-15 products, but are you offering these firearms in other configurations? In most cases all you need to do is expand the cartridge selection for those geared more toward varmint and predator shooting. This doesn’t have to be done all at once. Doing so, however, will not only open the door for new firearms sales, but also the broad range of profitable secondary sales that inevitably follow.

A Retailer’s Outlook

Arnzen Arms is a full-service firearms retailer in Eden Prairie, Minn., going on nine years now. Owners Dan and Kate Arnzen have gone the extra mile of offering varmint/predator shooters a wide selection of firearms and accessories and it has paid off.

“In Minnesota, coyote hunting is the most popular varmint hunting segment,” said Jason Gentz, manager of Arnzen Arms. “It’s open year round with no daily or possession limit restrictions. There are other species such as badger, bobcat, fox and raccoon where seasons and/or limits apply.”

Arnzen Arm’s caliber selection is extensive.

“When we look at customer feedback and success stories, as well as social media, it’s clear varmint and predator shooters are everywhere.”

Matt Willson, Product Manager Ruger

“Our top-selling varmint rifles are Cooper Firearms of Montana, PROOF Research, Christensen Arms, JP Enterprises, Bergara and Tikka. These are generally topped with Swarovski, NightForce or Vortex optics. The most popular caliber is no doubt the .223/5.56. These are closely followed by the 6.5mm and 6mm Creedmoor for those who want to extend their range with fewer corrections. The classic .243 Win., .22-250 Rem. and .204 Ruger are all still common, but are certainly not the most popular,” Gentz observed.

I asked Gentz if there was any crossover in varmint hunting and predator shooting with home-defense AR-15 owners.

“No doubt the modern sporting rifle is extremely flexible,” he noted. “While the majority of our customers are purchasing them for home defense and/or sporting purposes, a solid percentage of these rifles are performing crossover duties if not purchased specifically for hunting.”

According to Gentz, optics are at the top of the list for secondary sales for the varmint/predator segment.

“Optics generally go hand-in-hand when selling a varmint rifle. In the last several years we’ve also seen an uptick in suppressors and thermal or night vision.
Minnesota regulates the use of certain optics and hardware based on season and species,” he said.

Clever Conversions

Like most firearms retailers, chances are you know the advantage of AR-15 sales in .223 caliber — so this would be a great place to start expanding sales. Rock River Arms, based in Colona, Ill., specializes in custom-built AR-15 rifles and parts.

Rock River Arms’ Buy Group & Distributor Sales Manager Dawn Wehunt informed, “The Fred Eichler series is probably our most popular varmint/predator line. These rifles were designed with the help of Fred Eichler, who is a world-renowned varmint and predator hunter from the ‘Predator Nation’ show. This series has a proprietary paw print handguard as well as a special FE (Fred Eichler) muzzlebrake and is available in tan, Gun Metal gray, Ghost Camo and black. The Predator Pursuit, Varmint and ATH models are also popular. All of the Fred Eichler models are in .223 Wylde, which takes standard 5.56 or .223 caliber.”

We also asked Wehunt about crossover between AR-15 shooters using their .223 rifle for both varmint/predator shooting and home protection.

“It’s a good question,” she replied. “Our varmint/predator rifles are geared toward hunting as most have a heavier stainless steel barrel (some have a standard chrome moly), a two-stage varmint trigger and a winter trigger guard (curved for a larger opening in case the hunter is wearing gloves). The bottom line is could they be used for both? Yes. But with all of our other models, why not buy two? One for hunting and one for personal protection.”

Where does Rock River Arms sell the most of their varmint/predator rifles? “Geographically speaking, we see a lot of varmint/predator sales in the Western states where these animals seem to be more prevalent, but we do sell a good number of them also right here in the Midwest,” Wehunt concluded.

CZ-USA 457 Varmint Precision Chassis


Hot Factory Sellers

We spoke to representatives from two well-known firearms manufacturers to get their input on the hot sellers in the varmint and predator segment of their lines. While O.F. Mossberg & Sons is well known for their broad range of shotguns, they do carry a line of rifles specifically for varmints and predators.

“The top-selling varmint/predator rifles we sell happen to be in our premium featured Patriot Predator platform,” said Bill Brown, director of sales for the company. “The traditional .22-250 is a top-selling caliber, and two relatively new offerings, 6.5 Creedmoor and 6.5 PRC, are getting a lot of shelf space.”

Brown shared it’s a mixed bag for customer crossover between .223-caliber firearms being used for both varmint/predator shooting and home protection.

“Not so much on the rifle front,” he said. “But we do see a lot of crossover when a shotgun is used for varmint/predator control. With recent advances in ammunition, specifically TSS (Tungsten Super Shot), the range of a 12 GA shotgun can extend out past 75 yards.”

In terms of geography, Brown shared the Pennsylvania and Ohio markets provide the strongest sales for the company — “with most of the focus being on predator control,” he added.

Matt Willson, Ruger product manager, shared insights about the company’s bestsellers for varmint and predator rifles.

“The Ruger American Rifle has been our most popular predator platform the past few years,” he informed. “Truthfully, 6.5 Creedmoor has taken the top spot in bolt-action rifles, including the Ruger Precision Rifle, and while we always think about it for long-range shooting or deer hunting it’s an excellent cartridge when pressed into service for predators and varmints. Also, .223/5.56 NATO, .243 Win. and .22-250 remain popular, but the .350 Legend has really surprised us with strong adoption by coyote and hog hunters.

“Within rimfire calibers, the American Rimfire in .22 WMR is often the best answer for a lot of customers who need more juice than .22 LR — but not all the range and energy of a bigger centerfire round,” Willson continued. “With the Ruger AR-556 platform, of course, 5.56 NATO is the obvious choice. This caliber can fill a lot of roles today with a variety of bullets available. The AR-556 MPR models in particular are an excellent platform out of the box and have plenty of handguard space for mounting an illuminator and camera in addition to a bipod and sling.”

“Scopes, rangefinders and thermal optics (where night hunting is legal) are all prospects for secondary sales, as well as the usual suspects like carry bags, gun cases, reloading supplies and gun-maintenance products.”

We asked Willson whether Ruger saw much crossover of the .223 caliber being used for both varmint/predator control and home protection.

He responded, “Definitely. It’s a good plan for a lot of people because the ‘must-haves’ overlap: accurate, reliable and good ballistics from barrel into the target. The Ruger AR-556, Scout Rifle and American Rifle in 5.56 NATO, 6.5 Grendel or 7.63×39 would all be excellent candidates.”

Willson advised on how to sell a rifle that would appeal to both audiences.

“Avoid high-magnification optics, fragile NV/thermal gear and extraneous accessories that result in a very specialized setup. Keep a dual-use rifle simple by choosing something like a 1-8x LPVO or red dot sight and magnifier to get the most out of it in a variety of situations,” he noted.

Because of Ruger’s distribution model, sales geographically proved hard for Willson to pin down.

“Selling only through distributors it’s hard to know exactly. However, when we look at customer feedback and success stories, as well as social media, it’s clear varmint and predator shooters are everywhere,” he concluded.

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