Make the Most of Whitetail Hunting Sales

By Carolee Anita Boyles

Photo by Howard Communications

Deer season can mean lots of sales if you have the right mix of products in your store. Deer hunters spend money on more than just guns and ammo; they also purchase clothing, boots, calls, blinds, scents (both cover and attractant) and oh, so much more. Catering to this market can drive significant dollars to your bottom line.

New Trends, Top Sellers

Bill Vancleave is a co-owner of Outdoor Country in Bishop, Texas. A self-described “gun guy,” Vancleave said the biggest trend he’s seen in the guns deer hunters buy is a change in calibers.

“They used to buy .30-06, .243 and .270,” he relayed. “Now they’re going to 6.5 Creedmoor. Most of the guns are still bolt action; they’re buying Weatherby and Ruger, and we’re still selling some Remingtons.” (The particular models customers are buying, according to Vancleave, depends on the individual.)

Other than guns, big sellers at Outdoor Country include new optics. In fact, Vancleave shared optics are the number-one item purchased at his store.

“Down here, everyone already has their favorite gun — unless they’re buying a new caliber,” he said. “So, they’re putting new optics on their favorite gun. The ones my customers are buying include Nikon and Leupold.” (The Nikon model customers are asking for is the BLACK FX1000.)

“We’re selling a lot of them,” Vancleave disclosed. “In the Leupolds, they’re buying 4-12s. The model they buy depends on the price range they want, but it’s the size they’re buying.”

“We try to get the feel of where the customer is going,
what he’s going to be hunting, and what type of terrain
he’s going to be hunting in.”

Jeania Canel, Department Manager
Jay’s Sporting Goods
Clare, Mich.

And of course, there’s camo. The camo sold in south Texas isn’t necessarily the camo being sold throughout the rest of the country, however.

“Our customers buy GameGuard camo, which is a south Texas camo,” Tammy Johns, a sales associate and internet specialist at the store, stated. “It has cactus and mesquite on it. It’s made specifically for this area, but I understand they’re trying to expand into Oklahoma as well.”

Another south Texas camo Outdoor Country carries is Brush Country.

“We’re currently trying to find another camo,” Johns remarked. “Camouflage is hard to come by. It’s hard to get a pattern other than the big ones you can buy at Walmart or any other store — and we want to carry something different you can’t buy anywhere else.”

Competing With Manufacturers?

Another strong selling category for Outdoor Country, even during the winter, is snake boots. The store sells snake boots both in the store and online.

“Probably our biggest selling brand is Chippewa,” she said. “We also have Justin, Danner, LaCrosse, Irish Setter, Rocky and Twisted X.”

Outdoor Country started the online segment of its business long before many retailers were even thinking about it.

“We started selling online in 1999,” Johns revealed. “We put SnakeGuardz and GameGuard online before anyone else did. It was great when we were the only retailers doing it.”

One issue the store has found with selling boots online is manufacturers have started competing with their own retailers.

“In the past, the manufacturers supplied the boots and the retailers sold them,” Johns recalled. “Nowadays, manufacturers are selling to the public through their websites as well, and they’re selling product for the same price they tell us we have to sell for. As a consumer, when I’m looking at somewhere to buy and I can buy a pair of boots from a retailer I’ve never heard of or direct from the manufacturer for the same price, I’m going to buy them from the manufacturer. It really hurts small retailers.”

Berger’s new 6.5mm 156-gr. Extreme Outer Limits (EOL) Elite Hunter bullets are purpose-built for hunters demanding a heavy-bullet solution for their Creedmoor, PRC, 26 Nosler and other 6.5-caliber long-range hunting platforms.

Finding The Right Setup

The deer hunting situation in Michigan is very different from the one in Texas. In Michigan, different firearms are allowed in different management zones, creating a patchwork of regulations and a wide range of what hunters purchase. This necessitates an inventory of hunting products both deep and wide.

At Jay’s Sporting Goods in Clare, Mich., Gun Department Manager Jeania Canel shared customers purchase a wide variety of guns.

“Overall, bolt-action rifles are our more popular rifles for deer hunting,” she informed. “Ruger and Savage do well for us in that category.”

“Down here, everyone already has their favorite gun —
unless they’re buying a new caliber. So, they’re putting
new optics on their favorite gun.”

Bill Vancleave, Co-Owner
Outdoor Country
Bishop, Texas

Recent changes in Michigan regulations have meant a change in what hunters purchase.

“What they’re going to buy depends on what zone they’re hunting in,” she said. “Since they opened the shotgun zone to be more geared for straight-wall cartridges, they don’t have to use shotguns anymore. There, you’re talking more single-shot rifles.”

The terrain of the area also affects what people purchase.

“If you’re talking about a farmer who’s hunting open fields, he’s going to go for a bolt-action rifle more capable at greater distances,” Canel advised. “If someone is hunting on state land, or is hunting on private land in a swamp or wooded area, they’re typically going to go with a lever action that shoots a heavier bullet. This way if they’re shooting through brush, the bullet is more stable.”

Selling hunting guns in this environment means finding out what the customer plans to do before you help them select a firearm.

“We try to get the feel of where the customer is going, what he’s going to be hunting, and what type of terrain he’s going to be hunting in,” Canel stated. “Then we try to get into the right choice of firearm, whether it’s a bolt action, a lever action or a single shot. Next we help them select the right caliber to go along with their setting. Some customers come in and know what they want, and others come in and say, ‘This is what I want to do, what can you suggest?’”

To accommodate both of these customers, Jay’s keeps thousands of guns on display.

Model 1895 444 marlin
Savage Arms 110 Apex Hunter XP

When it comes to caliber, Canel confirmed a trend observed at Outdoor Country (as well as many dealerships around the U.S.): the 6.5 Creedmoor is the caliber of choice for many hunters.

“The 6.5 Creedmoor is a huge seller for us right now,” she said. “The .450 Bushmaster and the .350 Legend are the newest of the calibers, so people come in wanting those because they’ve read about them or heard about them.”

Canel has had a significant number of hunters come in and say they want to take an animal at 600 yards. Other hunters still shoot more modest distances of 100 yards or so.

“We have probably 30 different optics brands in our showcases,” Canel noted. “What customers want depends heavily on what they’re going to do. In standard hunting scopes, Leupold is definitely the leader. If you start talking long range, you’re probably looking at Nightforce, Vortex or Trijicon — that’s where you’re getting into big bucks.”

Bowhunting Surge

One of the big categories at Jay’s Sporting Goods is bowhunting. Department Manager Paul Penix has seen a big move to crossbows over the past several years.

“Once the law was passed allowing all hunters to use crossbows, the millennial bowhunters turned to crossbows,” he said. “I’d say 60–65% of bow sales are crossbows.”

At the entry level, Penix indicated customers are buying Carbon Express crossbows, and Ravin at the high end.

Paul Penix and Jeania Canel of Jay’s Sporting Goods have observed how legislation changes in Michigan are resulting in new trends for both firearm and bowhunting whitetail seasons. In firearms, straight-wall cartridges are building momentum, while crossbows have grown into a burgeoning category.

“They come complete, with a case and arrows, and they come with a built-in cocking mechanism,” he informed. “They have a sophisticated scope system so the hunter can just take it out and shoot it. Hunters do buy broadheads; broadheads don’t come with the package. Other than that, they have everything they need.”

Despite this trend, Penix has also been seeing an increase in the number of hunters purchasing recurve bows.

“June was crazy,” he relayed. “From the Farmington recurves to the real nice $600 Bears, and everything in between, June was really good. I’ve been seeing this trend for the past three years or so. Everyone is buying them: women, men and kids. Even the indoor target market is growing in recurves.”

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