By Russ Thurman
Hunting may be the key to rejuvenating sales this year. Yes, personal defense still ranks highest in reported firearm and associated purchases, but the soft sales this year reveal a shift in consumer focus. Gone are the “must-buy-before-they’re-banned” purchases. This shift away from anti-gun pressure buying has impacted firearm sales significantly.
“Customers aren’t making any rash purchases. They’re buying guns they’ve always wanted to own,” said John Stephenson of Metro Shooting Supplies in Bridgeton, Mo. Stephenson reports Metro’s sales remain brisk, ahead of last year’s sales.
Dealers also report they are doing extremely well selling used firearms. Many of these guns are trade-ins, ones consumers used in recent years to finance the purchase of soon-to-be-banned firearms. Now those guns — many of them hunting rifles — are being snatched up by consumers.
Also fueling the hunting market is a notable increase of women hunters. The increase began — or at least gained the attention of the national media — a few years ago. In its Nov. 2013 issue, National Geographic reported on the increase in women hunters, which was widely reported by other media.
“In recent years, American women are spending more time in treestands and deer blinds — and putting fresh meat on the table. Although men still account for the majority of the 13.7 million U.S. hunters, the number of women actively hunting is on the rise,” the magazine reported, while capturing the reasons women hunt.
“Hunting offers an alternative to the grocery store that lets women provide truly free-range and organic meat for their families, while also helping create a more sustainable food system,” says Lily Raff McCaulou, author of Call of the Mild: Learning to Hunt My Own Dinner.
NSSF, citing data from the National Sporting Goods Association, reports the number of women hunters increased 104 percent from 1.8 million in 2001 to 3.67 million 2016. By all accounts, that percentage continues to grow.
Attracting Today’s Hunter
NSSF also reports in 2016, 33 million people participated in hunting or target shooting in the U.S. The largest age group — 6.7 million — was 25–34-year-olds. In all, NSSF reports 18 million hunters took to the field with a firearm in 2016.
While hunting firearms lead sales for most dealers, those who also specialize in bowhunting enjoy further rewards. The additional challenge associated with bowhunting, along with the extended time in the field, are key selling points. And, in what may surprise many, millennials are the most devoted, growing segment of bowhunters.
“In ways no one could have predicted, bowhunting is quickly becoming the sport of young, hip millennials eager to plunk down some change for quality gear and gadgets,” wrote Taylor Smithfield in Shooting Industry’s Outdoor Marketplace (“Forest-To-Table: Red [Meat] Is The New Green,” September 2017).
Smithfield presented data from an Archery Trade Association survey, showing 51 percent of millennials increased the time they hunt with a bow, compared to 27 percent of baby boomers. Just as important, 44 percent of millennials say they are likely to buy a bow every four to five years, compared to 26 percent of those in the boomer generation.
Another key to attracting today’s hunter is the vast array of advanced products, many of them must-buys, especially for newer hunters and those in the 25–35 year-old age group. Catering to them is key to success, according to Jim Curcuruto, NSSF director of industry research and analysis.
“Think about what you wanted when you were that age. Likely the latest and greatest, right? That means you’d better be up to speed on the products that are cutting-edge technologically. For instance, you’ll want to have this year’s trail cameras (because last year’s are so, like, last year). Same with clothing and footwear,” Curcuruto said.
Manufacturers, distributors and dealers are unleashing an unprecedented number of promotions to attract hunting sales this fall and winter. These generous consumer-friendly deals are vital to rebounding from a sluggish spring and deep summer slump. It would be ironic, if hunting, which has posted slow-to-negative growth for years, provided the catalyst for stabilizing industry sales.
With consumers “buying guns they’ve always wanted” and the increase of women and younger hunters, it could happen. Beyond the obvious benefits for all of our businesses, it would return hunting to its long-earned status as a growing and respected tradition of our industry and national heritage.