By Ken Perrotte
Long-range shooting, whether for fun, competition or hunting has been on a steady upswing in recent years. How are retailers going the distance when it comes to their long-range customers? We asked managers at three stores.
Hunter Brooks, manager of Green Top Sporting Goods in Glen Allen, Va., said having a knowledgeable, conversant staff is key to meeting the demands of the precision, long-range shooting market — in addition to having an adequate representation of products for customers to personally inspect and handle.
“We regularly partner with supporting manufacturers to send our pros out to shoot the latest and greatest rifles and optics the market has to offer. They come back with the skills and excitement needed to get our customers well equipped with the knowledge and gear they need to succeed,” Brooks shared.
Joshua Hill, vice president of Smoky Mountain Guns & Ammo in Sevierville, Tenn., said his store focuses on carrying long-range hunting rifles, but they happily work the transfers for any kind of rifle sale.
“A firearm sale is more than just a gun. Anyone purchasing a new pistol will need ammo, a holster, possible eye and ear protection, cleaning accessories, etc. A rifle buyer will be spending even more with their gun purchase. This is where Smoky Mountain Guns & Ammo really makes the money,” he declared. “The long-range shooter will need an optic, rifle case, sling if it’s for hunting, shooting sticks or a bipod, scope cover, ammo, shooting rests and more. The sale simply can’t stop with the gun itself.”
Hill explained Smoky Mountain doesn’t view online retailers, especially those selling the actual firearm, as the enemy.
“Heck, we currently only charge a $10 transfer fee just to make sure the customer comes in our store so we can sell them these higher-margin accessories!” he exclaimed. “You make tighter margins on the firearms and you definitely make higher profits on all the add-ons.”
Bring Out The Big Guns
Jake Merritt, manager of Iron Horse Armory in Parker, Colo., said his store’s leading brands for long-range shooting include Bergara, Tikka and Remington.
“Those brands have good aftermarket accessories to build a quality and affordable long-range rifle,” he stated. “The reason we push Bergara and Tikka is because, from the factory, they have good barrels and actions.”
Some of Green Top’s overall top-selling brands in the long-range line are Bergara, Savage, Ruger and Masterpiece Arms, with rifles by Kimber, Ruger, Remington, Savage, Cooper, Gunwerks and Browning leading in long-range hunting.
“Customers generally focus on trigger pull, caliber and inherent accuracy when looking for long-range firearms,” Brooks noted. “Those who are looking for long-range hunting rigs are generally more concerned with weight and overall durability.”
Brooks and Merritt confirmed rifles with adjustable stocks and cheek risers to better fit the shooter are important selling points.
Savage is Smoky Mountain’s top brand “by far” with long-range hunters, according to Hill.
“They’ve come a long way in the features they offer in the Model 10 and 110 actions. The AccuStock with AccuFit found on many 110s is the cat’s meow as far as being fully customizable for the shooter. It has five comb risers as well four length-of-pull inserts. As far as sales go, this is followed by Ruger, Bergara and Browning,” he shared.
While some rifles are seeing popularity in both competition and hunting worlds — Brooks cited Bergara’s HMR (Hunting & Match Rifle) as an affordable example — shooters typically seek a vastly different set up when it comes to competition guns. Many competition rifles have an aluminum chassis and a thick, hefty barrel.
“Customers aren’t as focused on weight in this category because most shooting is done on a bench or prone,” Brooks explained.
Merritt said added weight translates to improved stabilization, allowing the shooter to better observe hits on target – providing gratification.
“Typically, you will see more traditional fiberglass stocks on hunting rifles and a full metal chassis on competition rifles,” he said. “Either system with the right accessories and fundamentals can make a person successful.”
“Some optics are very expensive and out of the range for most of us,” Merritt admitted. Iron Horse Armory’s customers favor midrange optics, typically spending about as much for the optic as they spent on the rifle.
Iron Horse offers a long-range shooting course taught by Andy Reinhardt, a competitive long-range precision rifle competitor at the national level and an experienced, certified firearms instructor. His students learn how to use various tools to address downrange bullet performance, such as Kestrel weather meters with ballistic software or a GeoBallistics Bluetooth app for a smartphone.
“Customers looking for long-range hunting
rigs are generally more concerned with weight
and overall durability.”
Hunter Brooks, Manager, Green Top Sporting Goods in Glen Allen, Va.
Merritt said having an optic with good adjustable turrets and a mechanical zero stop are needed for the course. The zero stop allows a shooter to dial in more elevation to compensate for bullet drop and then make an easy, reliable return to original zero. Merritt also recommends scopes with first or front focal plane reticles, located behind the objective lens at the front of the scope and in front of the magnification assembly. These are becoming standard equipment for serious long-range shooters.
Green Top stages an annual range day where customers can shoot rifles at longer distances and experience the joy of hitting targets at 600 yards. Customers and staff alike gain a better understanding of scopes and other optics like range finders, binoculars and spotting scopes.
Brooks shared most shooters know the importance of having quality glass atop a long-range rifle.
“While there are always going to be customers willing to spend a decent amount of cash on a nice optic, the midrange market tends to be the highest seller,” he noted. “The Vortex Viper PST-II is a great example of this midrange segment, coming in at around $1,000. Nightforce, Vortex, Swarovski and Leupold all make great optics with a broad set of features that make up the bulk of our midrange sales.”
Smoky Mountain stocks optics from Leupold, Vortex, Burris, TRUGLO and Trijicon.
Hill said optics decisions always come down to budget and how well the scope pairs with the rifle the customer is buying. He believes long-range customers should expect to spend up to twice as much on the optic as they did the rifle.
Both Hill and Brooks said their staff members work closely with optics company representatives to ensure store employees can well explain and demonstrate the features of today’s top optics.
Hill specifically cited his Leupold representative as someone eager to lend advice.
“We have a full-time dedicated optics guy, Kim House, and he has been a huge asset in optics sales. You simply have to have someone who knows their stuff or you won’t sell the better optics,” he observed.
All three stores offer free mounting and bore sighting for any optic purchased at or through them.
When it comes to chambering and ammunition, 6.5 Creedmoor is the reigning champ according to all three stores. Hill said 75% of the rifles Smoky Mountain sells for long-range shooting — whether for hunting or competition — is 6.5 Creedmoor.
“We’re all partial to the caliber at the store and there are tons of ammo options for it now,” he noted. “For us, .308 is still a fairly hot one at number two. The 6.5 PRC and .300 PRC are gaining some interest, but haven’t taken off.”
Hornady ELD-X and Federal TLR ammunition are among the favored ammo brands of Smoky Mountain’s long-range customers.
Merritt’s store pushes 6.5 Creedmoor, calling it “a great, versatile round for long-range shooting and hunting at a price point customers can afford to buy off the shelf.” The .300 Win. Mag. and 7mm Magnum options are also popular with hunters taking the long-range course. “Customers want to shoot with the same calibers they use for hunting,” he added.
At Green Top, 6.5 Creedmoor has easily been the top-selling round for long-range shooting and competition and Brooks sees it gaining favor with hunters, as well. “It offers a flat trajectory and low recoil, plus it’s inherently accurate when combined with quality rifles,” he said.
Hunters shopping at Green Top tend to gravitate toward .300 Win. Mag. if they expect to do any distance shooting. Brooks shared they appreciate the downrange energy and the round’s capability for dropping large game. The newer .224 Valkyrie cartridge is also becoming popular due to its accuracy and effectiveness with small game at a distance. “Being a .22 projectile and staying supersonic at 1,100 yards is a big feature for sure,” he stated.
Brooks said product margins have shrunk slightly due to the increasing popularity of online shopping. He noted manufacturers who adopt MAP (minimum advertised price) protection policies mitigate it somewhat before echoing his earlier view that a professional staff providing the best customer experience possible is the greatest hedge against online competition.
Merritt pointed out Iron Horse can often beat online pricing for some accessories when things such as shipping costs are considered. Services like helping a customer get the rifle setup with needed accessories at no charge also add value.
“We’ve seen a lot of beginners order stuff online and then come to us. They end up spending more time and money than needed. If they had come to us initially, we could have guided them in the right direction,” Merritt added.
Hill also shared MAP helps guard against discounted online competition. His store currently operates with about a 15-point margin on ammo and about 30 points on other accessories. As noted earlier, sales of these accessories are what butter the bread.
“Value your counter staff; they’re your greatest asset. Training is key for them. If they know what a customer needs, they can sell it and do it at a higher margin. Train staff to offer all the accessories with the new rifle purchase and you will excel. Fit the customer out completely with their new purchase … even if it’s just a transfer from an online retailer,” he said.
“Ultimately,” Merritt concluded, “we want our customers to leave the range excited about their new experience. Being able to see the smile on their face when they hit a steel target at 600 yards helps us know we have done our job. Providing customers with a great setup and an understanding of why we set up our rifles the way we do helps ensure our sales.”