One Platform, Many Uses

Whether For Self-Defense Or Sport,
Remember Shotgun Sales Potential

Mossberg International Gold Reserve – Black Label
Photo: O.F. Mossberg & Sons Inc.

It’s the season for scheduling hunter education classes and preparing for fall expeditions. I’ve been in contact with many stores, and — no surprise — most are squarely focused on self-defense items. Could they be missing the boat on the shotgun or sporting market?

Benefit Of A Larger Net

The number of hunters in the U.S. has been declining, but the number of gun owners is increasing. I’m hopeful we can increase hunting. At the onset of the pandemic last year, the shelves of many grocery stores were barren, and hunters, like me, were more than willing to share with friends who had no stockpiles of organic game meat. Additionally, in my home state of Colorado, we waived the in-person hunter education classes, affording new would-be locavores the chance to get out and pursue wild game.

“In 2020, 28,660 students took the online-only course, and just 1,887 were in person,” reported Melissa Neal, Colorado Parks and Wildlife hunter education program assistant. (This number is a significant jump from 2019, when about 15,000 total students took the class.)

“We try to sell add-ons, but we’re never pushy in our sales tactics. Our customers are happy to add them as the need comes about.”

Tom Younce, Owner McCarthy’s Outdoors & Gun Club

New hunters ask where to begin if they’re interested in hunting, and my answer is bird hunting. While big-game hunting gives a challenge and rush of adrenaline at times, opportunities are more limited than those afforded by waterfowl or upland hunts. For example, when I join new hunters during the SCI Sables’ group at the Bluffs Hunt Club in Beyers, Colo., I’m able to walk alongside the new hunter and talk her through the shot scenarios as she pursues pheasants.

The Bluffs offers loaner guns and ammunition for sale, but this is an area I see as a sales opportunity for you and other retail shops. Regardless of whether they’re male or female, the new hunter needs a shotgun, ammunition and more.

Even though the overall numbers are shrinking, there are still many hunting customers out there. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, there are nearly 1 million waterfowl hunters in our country. Considering this, and the number of new gun owners, one can hope the number of people pursuing healthy food can grow as well.

Olympic Inspiration

Before getting too excited about the possibility of new hunters, let’s look at inspiration from this year’s Olympians. Team USA shooters took home numerous medals in multiple categories, and trap and skeet always garner excitement on social media.

Trap is an excellent place for new shooters to practice swinging and shooting at moving targets. The women attending the SCI upland hunt all receive safety briefings and shoot trap as a warm-up before embarking on a quest for real birds. It’s fun to see the new shooters in the group learn and witnessing their smiles as the orange targets explode is an instant reward.

Motivating The Self-Defense Buyer

Most retailers are seeing new buyers make purchases for self-defense purposes. Tom Younce, the owner of McCarthy’s Outdoors & Gun Club in Springfield, Mo., noted tactical and semi-automatic-style shotguns are flooding the market. “Shotguns such as those in the Mossberg 500 Series make good tactical home-defense guns,” he said. “Customers are looking for lighter polymer guns with shorter barrels, handguards and rails for lights and accessories.”

To cater to these customers, your establishment should carry a variety of rails, lights, red dots and other attachments for home defense. However, don’t forget to remind new gun owners about the need for training and practice (think: trap shooting). In addition to the new gun owner’s eye/ear protection needs, your store can stock clay targets, as well as manual and automatic throwers.

These customers will need somewhere to practice. Gene Sears Supply in El Reno, Okla., has its own shooting range. While Owner Garland Sears shared the range has been slow this past year due to the price and shortage of ammunition, having a reputable range to refer customers to is an essential asset.

Beretta USA A300 Ultima

Don’t let the ammunition shortage or pricing be a hindrance for you. Remember, devices like lasers, light attachments or the MantisX are great for dry-fire training. Recommend to your customer they first unload and make their shotgun clear. Next, they can turn on the mounted laser or flashlight and practice their swing and dry-fire drills. The beam of light will make a flinch or jerk easy to see as they practice. (Of course, MantisX will give paying customers much more information to process.)

Another practice I’ve found handy for self-defense training is hunting in the field — where shooters can apply safety, awareness, proper gun mount and shot placement in a setting where they don’t have to worry about the threat of being in an actual self-defense situation.

New gun owners can use the “tactical-style” shotguns for hunting as well — Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 owners have the ability to take their home-defense guns into the field, too.

Stay Ahead Of The Game

Every shop owner I spoke to mentioned a challenge in keeping inventory — do your best to stay ahead of the game.

“We keep tabs on what’s happening in our region in two ways,” Younce shared. “First, we keep a record of market trends. Second, we calendar the hunting seasons, species and preferred firearms, ammunition and accessories. These factors combined make it easy to assist customers with guns, caliber, clothing and more.”

Having seasons calendared helps McCarthy Outdoors know when to bring items in and when to start clearance.

“Waterfowl, dove and turkey are huge here in Missouri,” Younce noted.

“Don’t let the ammunition shortage or pricing be a hindrance for you. Remember, devices like lasers, light attachments or the MantisX are great for dry-fire training.”

Sears added, “We have pretty much everything in Oklahoma. Hunters will go after it all.”

So, if you haven’t already, it’s time to research which seasons are in your neck of the woods. Once you’ve figured it out, recognize long-time hunters know which shotguns, chokes and ammunition they need, but newbies will need your help (think: add-ons).

McCarthy’s and Sears try to carry guns they know are reliable. Both shops mention light weight and camouflage as selling points for shotguns, but Garland reminds us variety is key: “Some people like wood, some like all black and then others like camo.”

I take note of Sears’ point, seeing as I’ve been made fun of, bragged about and found praise from others about “Big Black” for some time. I’ve been successful with the extra-long Benelli Super Black Eagle during waterfowl, turkey and other hunts for many years. As of late, I’ve been using the Charles Daly 214 over/under women’s shotgun during upland hunts. The break-action is easy to carry, the classic wood is beautiful and the ease of getting a correct mount with a ladies’ model is fantastic.

Maintaining a robust supply of sporting shotguns in-store will open up opportunities for
hunters out in the field — which in turn gives first-time and experienced sportsmen and
women the opportunity to pursue organic food. (Photo: Legit Outdoors)

Look For Add-Ons

Regardless of which shotguns your shop carries, always look for the add-on.

“Shell holders that fit on the buttstock are always popular,” Younce informed. “Include comfortable shoulder slings, choke tubes and quality gun cases. We try to sell add-ons, but we’re never pushy in our sales tactics. Our customers are happy to add them as the need comes about.”

Lastly, cleaning guns is essential. You may offer the service or add classes to your roster, but remember to have gun-cleaning kits for the variety of firearms you sell.

Olympic trap shooters may put 1,000 rounds a day through their barrels; hunters might run into dirt, moisture or mud. All guns need to be clean and dry.

I’ve experienced this personally as my daughter learned to shoot. She had her Remington 870 and worked at blasting clay targets. Her smile was huge as she watched bursts of orange in the sky — then a storm rolled in. As drops of rain pelted us, we stowed the shotguns in hard gun cases and headed for home.

The next day we pulled her shotgun out; it already had signs of rust on the edges of the action and barrel. Since then, we’ve made it a point to clean the guns immediately. Our local gun store benefited from several add-on purchases, like dry bags for waterfowl hunts and Flambeau Zerust capsules and gun plugs.

When it comes to sporting and hunting shotguns, add-on sales opportunities are limitless if you don’t stop learning.

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