Today’s Airgun Market
By Tim Barker
Odds are, there’s not a single airgun for sale in your shop. It might even be the sort of thing you’ve never even considered. After all, why set aside valuable shelf space for “toys”?
Maybe this is the time to remember not all airguns are toys. Most certainly you can walk into any Walmart and find a selection of lower velocity BB and pellet guns designed to look like the real firearms you do sell. But these days, airgun manufacturers offer a wider range than what you’ll find at the big-box stores. Some of them are powerful enough to be used for hunting coyotes, turkey and even deer.
That’s no surprise, of course. History buffs know Capt. Meriwether Lewis carried a Girandoni air rifle on his westward expedition with William Clark. The .46-caliber Austrian rifle could fire more than two dozen times before its air reservoirs had to be refilled by hand pump. The expedition is said to have used the rifle in demonstrations for the Native American tribes encountered along the journey.
AirForce Airguns E-pump Compressor
Advancements In Airguns
Today’s airguns fall roughly into four categories. The variable pump and CO2 guns are the more toy-like offerings. At the upper end are the break-barrel rifles and pre-charged pneumatic (PCP) rifles — along the lines of the Girandoni carried on the Lewis and Clark Expedition.
Those latter two designs represent some potential for gun shop owners looking to try something different.
Airguns are nothing new for GAT Guns in East Dundee, Ill., where manager Randy Potter said the store has carried them since before he started working there in 1996.
The shop, located northwest of Chicago, gives evidence of a potential market for other stores. This isn’t the case of someone finding a niche and exploiting it through online sales. All of their business is local.
“It’s a good business,” Potter shared. “But it’s still a side business. It wouldn’t exist on its own. It’s a good crossover business.”
The store has about 20,000 square feet of retail space. Airguns get about one percent of it.
With limited inventory space, you must be careful in choosing what to carry. GAT Guns focuses on the stuff you won’t find at the chains and big box stores.
“These are adult air rifles. It’s a whole different level of quality,” Potter said. “We do what’s not being done by anyone else in the area — at least not in this part of the state.”
Their biggest sellers are the break-barrel rifles. They aren’t quite as powerful as PCP rifles (maybe 90% on the best models), but they’re easier to operate when you consider the PCP rifles require some sort of pump for refills. Hand pumps cost around $200, though more serious PCP airgunners use more expensive compressors or scuba tanks.
The average sales price of their airguns is in the $250–$300 range. They don’t even try to compete with Walmart and other stores on the lower-priced, high-volume stuff. When you can only make five dollars on the sale of a Red Ryder BB gun, what’s the point of putting them on the shelves?
SIG Air ASP X-FIVE
Overcoming Sticker Shock
The challenge is getting people to pay prices sometimes higher than what they’d pay for a new firearm. The most expensive air rifle they carry, for example, is the RWS Model 54 at $699.
“A lot of people kind of flinch at the price of these guns,” Potter mentioned. “But you help them understand it’s more than likely going to be the gun they shoot more than anything else.”
They certainly offer advantages over firearms. You don’t need to make a trip to the range to shoot them. They’re cheap to shoot when you can buy a box of 500 pellets for $10. There’s no smoke, so no worries about ventilation if you set up a bullet trap in the basement. And, they’re considerably quieter than a firearm. But they’re not silent — something to consider for customers thinking about shooting in their backyard.
“If you live in an area where you have neighbors, they’re going to know you’re shooting,” Potter noted.
As with any other type of gun, there’s an opportunity for additional sales. Not surprisingly, pellets are the top seller. Airguns can be a bit finicky about what they’ll eat, so it’s not uncommon for a new buyer to pick up several brands of pellets when making a purchase.
And there are scopes — generally those designed for rimfire rifles or specifically for airguns. As with regular firearms, a buyer may spend 80 percent or more of the airgun’s cost on a new scope.
Probably not much of surprise, but pellets represent a strong add-on sales category for your airgun hunters or enthusiasts.
Airgun Hunting Sales Impact
Located in an urban area, hunters don’t make up a particularly large part of the business at GAT Guns. However, the top-line air rifles are certainly capable of taking game.
Consider the Benjamin Bulldog by Velocity Outdoor (formerly Crosman). The PCP rifle, selling for around $600, comes in .357-caliber, putting it roughly on par with a 9mm — particularly at closer distances according to Jay Duncan, director of marketing for Velocity Outdoor. It can be fired dozens of times before it needs to be recharged.
As Duncan puts it, “They’re ethical tools for taking game.”
To be clear, these guns don’t achieve the same range of a “powder burner.” The company recommends hunting at 70 yards or closer.
Potter knows of shooters who have successfully used air rifles on coyotes out to 60 yards. The store’s top seller in the PCP line is the Benjamin Marauder; it comes in calibers from .177 to .25.
“These are a dream to squirrel hunt with,” he said. “You can get 20–40 shots before the pressure starts to drop off.”
These guns could see their hunting roles expand in coming years. Duncan said the Airgun Sports Association is lobbying to have airguns included in modern hunting seasons. In some states, they’ve even had success setting up airgun seasons.
(Two prime examples: Texas and New Hampshire have each introduced new guidelines to legalize airgun hunting — with AirForce Airguns and SIG AIR playing integral roles in their home states, respectively.)
“It just gives hunters another option,” he contends. “If you’re going to put guys out there with muzzleloaders, why not airguns too?”
And while the PCP and break barrel airguns deliver the most power, he said there’s still an argument to be made for the CO2 guns, particularly after SIG SAUER sparked new interest in the segment with the introduction of an MPX clone.
Crosman followed suit earlier this year with the debut of its own full-auto MSR-style BB gun, weighing in at a beefy 6 pounds.
“These types of airguns are toys. But they’re fun toys,” Duncan concluded. “You can’t say full-auto BB gun and not have a smile on your face.”
Umarex USA Ruger Yukon Magnum
Dealers, have your say: Do you see airguns as a valuable part of your store’s inventory? Why or why not? Send us a note — firstname.lastname@example.org
What Your Customers Are Reading: GUNS Magazine
To match the growth of the airgun segment in recent years, Shooting Industry’s sister magazine GUNS Magazine has added a regular airgun-centric column: Air Power. Aimed at educating consumers on recent developments in the airgun sphere and providing new product reviews, this column represents a fresh forum for the possible recruitment of additional airgun enthusiasts.
“Airguns are just pure fun, even for adults! But, enjoyment aside, air-powered weapons offer the chance for enthusiasts to shoot even in anti-firearm states — so I really believe this part of the industry is only going to grow,” said Brent Wheat, editor of GUNS Magazine. “This is why I think our new Air Power column by well-known writer Tom McHale is a real winner!”
Recent advancements in airgun technology have appealed to greater numbers of customers, with companies like SIG AIR, FN America, Umarex and others manufacturing product with the same controls as their live-fire counterparts. Consumers have realized their utility in training applications, introducing new shooters to the sport or ethically hunting game with a quieter platform — especially if they’re integrally suppressed.
Visit www.gunsmagazine.com for the latest trends in the consumer market.