Fall Hunting Preview

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Image: Howard Communications

Fall hunting provides a major source of revenue for many gun stores and shooting ranges across the country. Despite the rise of big-box chains, local gun stores remain a go-to destination for firearms, ammunition, gear, hunting tips and advice. As pressure from anti-hunting groups and dwindling access to land continue to threaten participation, independent dealers are not only outfitting hunters — they’re helping keep hunting traditions alive.

How are hunting sales stacking up in 2023 compared to last year? Which firearms, gear and accessories are hunters purchasing? What new hunting products are dealers most excited about this season?     How are gun stores maximizing promoting their fall hunting?

For answers to these questions and more, we spoke with Bob Porter, general manager of Oasis Outback in Uvalde, Texas; Hunter Brooks, store manager at Green Top Sporting Goods in Ashland, Va.; Mark Gore, president of Black Wing Shooting Center in Delaware, Ohio; and Jeania Canel, gun department manager at Jay’s Sporting Goods in Clare, Mich. Here are the insights, tips and advice they shared.

SI: How important are hunting-related sales to your business?

Porter: Our idea to build this store, at this particular location, was based on the extensive hunting opportunities this area of Texas has to offer.

Brooks: The hunting segment is a vital part of our annual sales.

Canel: As a retail business, all sales are important to our business. We can capitalize on the seasons with the variety of products we carry. We have something for every season, whether it is big-ticket items or accessories.

Gore: It is a small, but not unimportant part of our business. The hunting market is not huge for our customer base. However, we feel it is important to offer those products and knowledge in the name of being a one-stop-shop for gun owners.

“Silencer sales continue to grow despite the long wait times. Hearing protection, recoil reduction and stealth in the field just make a lot of sense to so many more hunters.”

Bob Porter, General Manager
Oasis Outback Uvalde, Texas

SI: How do your hunting sales so far this year compare to the same time last year? 

Brooks: We just finished up a great spring turkey season. Early shipments of product helped contribute to earlier sales. We will likely see these earlier shipments later this summer for the fall season. We hope this trend will continue.

Porter: Our sales are down a little from 2022. I attribute it to the economy and fuel prices.

Canel: In the past couple of months, we have slowed down considerably. Last year, it seemed to be more of a steady flow at this time.

Gore: Most of our hunting sales center on deer season in the fall, which we haven’t hit yet. The 2022 season was slightly better than 2021, but mostly due to having a larger hunting inventory going into the fall.

SI: What are your expectations for the fall hunting season?

Porter: We have finally received some really good rains across the area. This should make for a really good dove season, and then carry right on into deer and quail season.

Gore: We expect it to be similar to prior years.

Brooks: With the availability of so much product, our expectations are high.

Canel: To have the product our customers are seeking with qualified staff throughout the store to assist our customers!

SI: Which types of hunting are most popular with your customers?

Canel: It depends on the time of year, of course. We get customers through here who are going on big-game hunts all over the country and on safaris. There are those looking to fill a bear tag or, if they are lucky enough to get drawn, for a Michigan elk tag. Turkey hunting is huge in this area as well. Of course, whitetail hunting runs from September through December, so we get several months of that traffic.

Gore: Deer hunting is the most popular with our customers, but we also have some turkey, pheasant, coyote and a little waterfowl. We also have the usual group of hunters who go out West to hunt.

Porter: We have extensive opportunities for all species of game animals found in this part of Texas — whitetail deer, mourning and white wing dove, bobwhite quail, blue quail, non-game species like Axis deer and other exotics. Hunting wild hogs and coyotes from a helicopter has really grown in this area.

Brooks: Archery season is a big deal in Virginia, and then we roll right into muzzleloading season (which is just as popular) and then gun season. So, deer is probably our most popular type of hunting. Waterfowl hunting is very strong as well. Spring turkey season never disappoints, because Virginia is one of the best places in the country to hunt an eastern gobbler. Predator hunting seems to gain popularity each year.

“Henry is a leader for us and a lot of it has to do with the wide variety of models and characteristics of their firearms.”

Jeania Canel, Gun Department Manager
Jay’s Sporting Goods

SI: Who is buying hunting products? Are they mostly longtime hunters or newcomers to the sport?

Canel: We get both! Last year we noticed customers bringing in older model rifles and getting scopes put on them, rather than getting a whole new setup. However, those new to the sport would get set up with a new rifle and scope. Lots of women and youth are getting involved and we love to see that!

Porter: Most of our customers are longtime hunters who have traded with us over the years.

Brooks: The majority of our customers are longtime “veterans” of the hunting community. Our customer base is large and I have personally seen generations of hunters since I began working for the company in the ’90s. We still see newcomers each and every year. I am always happy to see more and more youth hunters and female hunters.

Gore: Most of what we see are people who grew up hunting and are now getting back into it.

SI: Which type/brand of firearms are your best sellers for hunting?

Gore: We’re restricted to straight-walled cartridges in Ohio, so lever actions from Henry and Marlin/Ruger, bolt guns from Winchester, Ruger and Mossberg and semi-auto AR-platform guns in 350 Legend.

Porter: Bolt action and lever guns are extremely popular. Semi-autos are really popular with hog and predator hunters — tricked out with thermal and night-vision optics.

Brooks: In shotguns, Benelli is number one. Beretta and Browning come in together as a close second. In rifles, Savage is number one, while Bergara and Tikka make it interesting in a close tie for the number-two spot.

Canel: Entry-level guns, Savage, Ruger and Mossberg are in line. However, when you get into the higher-end guns, it varies on the type of hunting the customer is doing. Henry is a leader for us and a lot of it has to do with the wide variety of models and characteristics of their firearms.

SI: Which hunting accessories, gear and equipment are most popular with your customers?

Porter: Camouflage apparel, game cameras, hunting blinds, feeders, knives and in Texas, deer corn is huge.

Brooks: Treestands (climbing or ladder) are always a big part of our business each year. Hunting blinds have become very popular in the past few years as well. Comfort plays a big role in what customers look for and purchase. With that being said, warmth sells. SITKA apparel and gear, Lacrosse boots, the new Lite boots — anything that will keep you warm or comfortable sells.

Canel: We sell a lot of bipods, tripods, slings, shooting rests and bags. It varies from customer to customer, depending on if they are new to the sport or just getting some accessories. Ammo, cleaning supplies, hearing protection and targets are always staple items.

Gore: Scopes and ammo are the most common needs on top of the gun. On top of that, we sell more bore sighters, cases, slings and even snap caps.

SI: What new hunting products stand out this year?

Gore: The biggest for us is the .360 Buckhammer cartridge. It is always hard to tell if a cartridge will succeed, especially when it is entering a crowded market. People love new and improved, though, so we hope it takes off. When 350 Legend came out, it unseated .450 Bushmaster pretty quickly.

Porter: Nothing really jumps out at me right now. Silencer sales continue to grow despite the long wait times. Hearing protection, recoil reduction and stealth in the field just make a lot of sense to so many more hunters. Thermal and night-vision optics are gaining ground in this area.

Brooks: The quality of hunting blinds seems to be getting better and better.

Canel: Curious to see the new custom-loaded ammo by Federal and some of the new rifle calibers being offered.

“Get involved with what your customers do. Have a big buck contest, a youth spring turkey competition or a ‘post your best outdoor picture’ contest on Facebook.”

Hunter Brooks, Store Manager
Green Top Sporting Goods

SI: How are you marketing hunting products?

Porter: We actually don’t do much advertising of specific products. Early on, we put significant effort into getting our name out there and then let word of mouth, our good reputation and our location do the marketing. I’ll admit more marketing efforts would have helped, but we’ve done well so far.

Brooks: We constantly use social media to assist in educating our customers and keeping them informed of “what’s new.” We promote particular items during pertinent seasons, working with industry brands and sharing their content as well.

Canel: Merchandising strategies, social media, billboards.

Gore: Given hunting isn’t a huge part of our sales, we focus our marketing efforts on the services side — mounting scopes, bore sighting, etc. Typically, this takes the form of social media posts, signs in-store and mentions in our email blasts.

SI: What advice would you give to dealers who want to maximize their hunting sales?

Porter: Number one is to have a sales staff who know the products and have good people skills. Next, be as close to the hunting opportunities as feasible. Keep good inventory levels of the core items and brand names most hunters know and trust. 

Brooks: Be promotional! Get involved with what your customers do. Have a big buck contest, a youth spring turkey competition or a “post your best outdoor picture” contest on Facebook.

Gore: Our success in a particular season, especially the past few years, depends on if we have the right products at the right time. Often this means ordering earlier than you would typically and sitting on it for 6+ months. We do this with the “no-brainer” products. In our market, some examples are .45-70 ammo, lever actions in deer-legal calibers and Remington AccuTip slugs.

Canel: Customer service is number one! If you take care of your customers, they’re going to keep coming back. Product knowledge is crucial. Inform your associates; get them training on the product they are selling. Get it in their hands, let them use it so when they are waiting on the customer, they have confidence and can speak based on experience. Make every experience personal. Build that relationship early in the game!

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