Trends In Long-Gun Sales

New Offerings Keep The Market Fresh
For Hungry Customers.

For the past couple years, we’ve had a market where every gun sells. The popularity of the modern sporting rifle (MSR) has changed what hunters and target shooters are buying, and it has opened the door to new trends in long-gun sales.

“There’s a new normal,” said Jason Gilbert, owner of Gilbert’s Guns in Frankfort, Ky. “The continued popularity of MSRs is due to the ability of customers to accessorize them. There’s so much modularity built into some of the features on those platforms that it doesn’t take a gunsmith to make changes if someone wants to personalize his or her rifle.”

Ben Barcus, manager of Thunderbolt Guns in Savannah, Ga., says sales of MSRs are continuing to normalize after a tumultuous couple of years.

“MSRs are still very popular,” he said. “The market was flooded with them, but now prices have dropped and they’re moving the way they should. For instance, if you look at the price of the Smith & Wesson M&P15 Sport, that gun was running at $900. Now, it’s back down to $650 — where it should be.”

One reason why customers find the S&W M&P Sport attractive, Barcus said, is its price.

“It’s a good entry-level firearm for new shooters, especially for the MSR platform. I sell all the way up to Daniel Defense and PWS; those guns can cost $2,000-plus,” he noted.

Sales of traditional rifles are slow, according to Barcus. “Hunting rifles, like the bolt-action Remington 700, are still popular. Rifle calibers such as .308 and .243 are seasonal,” he said.

Barcus observed some new bolt-action rifles, such as the Ruger American, are also claiming a small share of the long-gun market. However, weather in the Deep South affects the sales of traditional rifles, he said.

“It’s hot and humid here. Traditional wood-stocked guns still sell, but most customers go with laminate. It looks like wood, but gives you the durability of fiberglass,” he added.


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ported barrels, extended choke tubes and the Pro Balance system, which allows shooters
to customize weight distribution and balance of their gun.

High-End Movers

Jason Gilbert said he’s seeing strong sales of high-end MSR-style rifles at his store in Kentucky.

“We sell a lot of higher-end tactical rifles, particularly in .308, to long-time hunters and shooters,” he said. “When it’s not hunting season, they’re getting into long-range precision shooting. There are quite a few excellent rifles in that $1,000 price range they can build off of, such as the Savage 10 series.”

Some of Gilbert’s customers are crossing over to .223 rifles built off the same style of heavy-barreled long-range rifles.

“That’s a strong part of our market,” he said. “We’re also seeing a strong push from some of the optics manufacturers to build optics around those rifles, which has been a great convergence in the market.”

To help keep sales moving, Gilbert said he keeps a lot of accessories in stock so customers can set up their MSRs any way they like.
“We keep a broad selection of stocks, forearms, vertical grips and accessories for slings,” he said. “This allows the customer to select the rifle and choose the options he or she wants. That market has so many accessories surrounding it, which helps it stay fresh. You can go with a platform that’s been around for seven or eight years and very quickly allow a customer to make it exactly the way he or she wants it.”

Gilbert takes note of manufacturers that make solid, well-built MSRs customers gravitate to and adds them to his inventory.

“We stock a variety of models from Smith & Wesson’s M&P15 series,” he said. “They have some models in the $599 range, and they go up to $1,700 or $1,800. This covers guys who are just getting into it, right up through folks who want precision triggers and an accuracy setup. SIG SAUER does a number of great introductions that do well, and Ruger has models that sometimes don’t stay on our shelf more than three or four days. Daniel Defense rifles are also extremely good sellers.”


With tactical shooters in mind, Springfield Armory’s compact M1A SOCOM 16 is
chambered in 7.62 NATO and is available in a variety of finishes, including
Multi-Cam (pictured), Flat Dark Earth, black and OD green. It has a 16.25-inch
barrel and comes with a 10-round box magazine.

Rimfire Sales Rebound

At Gilbert’s Guns, the availability of ammunition for centerfire rifles has helped drive sales.

“There are a number of factory-loaded .308 rounds that are available. There have been times when we didn’t have ammo, but there’s never been a duration of many weeks when we can’t get it,” Gilbert said.

Since .22 ammunition is becoming available again, Barcus said .22 rifles are moving better than they had been the past couple years. Barcus also noted customers still gravitate toward the Ruger 10/22.

“It’s a nostalgic gun,” he said. “It takes you back to your childhood. It’s a classic gun that never dies, and people tend to gravitate toward that.”

Barcus still sells a few bolt-action .22s, but they aren’t as popular as the 10/22. “Ruger makes one and Savage makes one,” he said. “But most people will go with the 10/22 or a classic lever-action like a Henry.”

In contrast, Gilbert’s market is somewhat different from what Barcus has experienced.

“We still see pressure on the .22 market because of the lack of availability of ammunition,” he said. “From time to time we have enough ammo to feed everyone, but that lack of ammunition has been tough on the .22 market.”

At times when .22 ammunition is available, Gilbert also sees a considerable uptick in sales of rifles.

“We sell a number of versions of the Ruger 10/22,” he said. “For the more traditional folks — who are interested in bolt action guns or youth guns — the Savage rifles are good sellers. The Savage Mark II series is a lot of gun for the money, and I sell a lot of the Model 93 series in either .22 Magnum or .17 HMR. Those are all very strong, and have outpaced the rest of the competition in that market.”

Gilbert observed the sales of all three calibers are driven by the availability of ammunition in his store.

Barcus noticed a considerable difference between sales of the .17 HMR and the traditional .22 long-guns.

“The .17 HMR isn’t all that popular here. Ammo is more expensive than for the .22 or .22 Magnum.”


Models from Smith & Wessons M&P15 line consistently sell well at both Thunderbolt
Guns and Gilbert’s Guns. Chambered in .22 LR, the M&P15-22 features a six-position
adjustable stock and adjustable front and rear sights.

Shotguns Reign For Home-Defense

When it comes to shotguns, Marna Miller Tracy, owner of Tampa Tactical Supply in Riverview, Fla., has observed customers who are interested in purchasing a shotgun are looking to use them for personal- and home-defense.

“I’m seeing a whole lot more shotgun purchases for home-defense than I am for hunting or skeet,” she said. “People are buying shotguns with pistol grips, such as the Mossberg Cruiser and the Kel-Tec KSG. They’ve always been popular; you can clear your house more effectively with a shorter firearm where you’re not going to knock your barrel on the doorway as you’re going through it. A 20-gauge is easier to handle than a 12-gauge when it has a pistol grip.”

Tracy said her customers generally don’t customize shotguns as much as they do rifles.

“People want to add accessories, such as a flashlight, but adding a rail to a shotgun has been very expensive. Now there are more options that are cheaper, and there are more options coming from the factory,” she said.

Tracy noted she sells a few shotguns for sporting use.

“We have a clays range near here, and I’m hearing the word ‘skeet’ a little more often,” she said.


Consumer rebates, such as Mossberg’s current summer-long BLAZIN’ HOT promotion,
encourage customers to visit their local dealers and make a purchase.

Communicating With Customers

When it comes to getting the word out about sales, specials and new inventory in the shop, Barcus said he relies heavily on radio advertising and social media.

“We advertise on three different stations,” he said. “I personally advertise a lot on Facebook.”

For retained customers, Gilbert communicates primarily through social media and his website to let them know what’s going on in the store.
“We do well with both print mail and emails. For potential customers we’re trying to reach, we do social media and we also try to direct people to our website from forums and other venues we sponsor,” he added.

Manufacturers’ rebates help with sell through, Gilbert said.

“Many customers go to manufacturers’ websites to view new products. Smith & Wesson, for example, does a good job of talking about their new promotions on their website. That’s a good incentive for customers to come in and look at those products, and it makes it easy for us to say, ‘Here, purchase this rifle and get a coupon worth 15 to 20 percent off the value of the rifle for additional products.’ A number of companies do that, which really helps our sales,” he said.
By Carolee Anita Boyles

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