The Extra Season

Hunting Doesn’t End With Big Game Prepare For Varmint/Predator Sales.

Just as dealers want to extend their sales season for hunting, customers are also searching for ways to extend their hunting season. When first-quarter sales are slumping and hunters are itching to get back into the field, varmint and predator hunting offers a solution for dealers and customers alike.

Neil Grant, owner of The Outdoorsman in San Angelo, Texas, has seen a large increase in interest in varmint and predator hunting in recent years, and he believes the extended hunting season it offers remains a major draw to customers.

“Our general season in Texas ends the first weekend of January,” Grant said. “Our traffic would just die off at that point. Now, come mid-December, my customers, who are also deer hunters, are starting to think about varmint season. Even though it’s a smaller group of hunters, it’s a very active group — made up of those passionate about the hunt.”

In addition to the extended season, varmint hunters enjoy the opportunity for cash payout, as varmint and predator competitions allow hunters to pay an entry fee for a chance to win prize money. And with fur buyers attending many of the competitions, varmint hunters also have the opportunity to sell pelts, making the sport even more affordable.

“Not only do varmint hunters have a shot at bagging the biggest bobcat and winning several thousand dollars, for example, but they can sell their wares and recoup their costs,” Grant said. “It’s very attractive from a financial standpoint, especially when the hunters have just come out of the more expensive deer season.”

And with deer hunting becoming more expensive in some parts of the country — as land owners increase fees to hunt on their property — Grant has found many hunters enjoy the affordability of varmint and predator season, as well as the opportunity it affords to befriend land owners.

“Land owners look at wildlife as a cash crop,” Grant said. “But they don’t want varmints and predators on their land. Even when access to the land is limited, varmint hunters don’t have to pay because the owner wants to get rid of the predators. It creates an opportunity to hunt on someone’s property for little to no cost.”

Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 RC

Mossberg MVP Predator

Remington R15 VTR Predator Carbine
While bolt-action rifles like the Weatherby Vanguard Series 2 RC and
Mossberg MVP Predator are still highly favored for varmint hunting,
MSR’s like the Remington R15 have seen a surge in popularity.

Small Caliber, Big Profits

When it comes to the firearm of choice for varmint and predator hunting, the bolt-action rifle is still king and the most widely-used gun in the market. But Grant asserted that modern sporting rifles (MSRs) are gaining popularity, as they offer the opportunity to quickly take a follow-up shot or fire at a second animal.

“Usually the 5.56 or .223 caliber is most popular for MSRs,” Grant said. “The .204 Ruger is very popular in our area, and the new Hornady .17 Hornet that came out last year has generated a lot of interest from our customers.”

As a whole, Grant’s customers prefer smaller calibers like .223 and .22-250 for varmint and predator hunting, as most of the hunters are looking to resell the hides. A smaller caliber eliminates large exit wounds and helps to preserve the value of the pelt.

When it comes to ammo, Hornady tops Grant’s best-sellers list in large part because of the company’s dedicated varmint lines like Varmint Express and Superformance Varmint. Hornady’s largest bullet category, V-Max, was designed specifically for varmint hunting.

Calls are a major aspect of varmint hunting; the Gallows caller from
Hunter’s Specialties is pre-loaded with 75 sounds and features 4GB of
internal memory and 16 pre-sets.

Scopes are a critical component of add-on varmint sales. The Redfield
Revenge Riflescope offers bright, clear optics and an “in-scope”
ballistic ranging system to aid in accuracy.

Boost Sales With Lights & Calls

In Grant’s location in central Texas, the vast majority of his customers choose to hunt varmints and predators at night, so stocking the right scope lights and spotlights is a critical part of his business. His customers tend to use a standard scope and an artificial light, with the Kill Light XLR100 from Elusive Wildlife Technologies proving to be his best seller.

“My customers mount the Kill Light on top of the scope with a clamp,” Grant said. “One of their buddies will use a spotlight like Light Force to find the animal. Then when the animal responds and comes in, they shut off the spotlight and follow the animal with the Kill Light. This product always gives light where you need it.”

The Light Force Spotlight is lightweight and easy to transport, and the LED Kill Light features a large parabolic reflector to focus the light downrange. In optics, Grant has also seen his varmint customers choose tactical scopes from companies like Trijicon and EOTech for use in close-range situations.

“Varmint hunters also like to have optics with minimal magnification that is designed for close-range target acquisition,” Grant said. “If a fox is running in and he’s just 20 yards away from you, tactical optics allow you to target that animal quickly.”

Calls are another major aspect of varmint and predator hunting, and FoxPro tops out as Grant’s best-selling electronic call brand. Grant likes FoxPro due to its different price point offerings, as the calls range from $199 to $699, and FoxPro also offers excellent sound quality.

“Varmint hunters are really drawn to the calling,” Grant said. “When you’ve spent the previous season sitting quietly in a deer stand, the hunters enjoy being more vocal. It creates a type of camaraderie. One hunter will run the light, another runs the gun and another makes the call. There’s a teamwork element and the excitement of watching those eyes come in.”

Hornady offers a dedicated line of varmint hunting products,
including Superformance Varmint ammunition.

Tap The Market

For dealers looking to tap into the varmint and predator market, Grant suggests watching specialized TV programs — such as Hornady’s “Carnivore,” “Dead Dog Walkin’,” “FoxPro Furtakers,” “Predator Pursuit” and “Predator Nation” — as well as The Outdoor Channel to gain an understanding of the sport.

“The Outdoor Channel gives an inside look at the varmint and predator industry and what has ultimately become a very popular sport,” Grant said. “You can see what products the hunters are using on the shows, from calls to rifles. Based on what’s being used and advertised on the shows, you can get an idea of what inventory you should be carrying in your store.”

Grant also said it’s important to listen to the customers, who can provide a wealth of knowledge and information about the sport they love. Varmint and predator hunters who participate in contests are especially looking for a competitive edge and can be trusted to provide insight on what products should be stocked.

“As a store, we’ve adapted to the industry,” Grant said. “Right now, tactical is very popular in the shooting sports, but varmint and predator hunting enjoys a nice slice of the market. Whereas the first quarter previously experienced little activity, varmint and predator hunting has become a solid first-quarter market for us.”
By J.K. Autry

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