What Varmint Hunters Want

Call In Sales With Steady Inventory, Quality Customer Service.

Varmint hunters come from the rank and file of hunters and shooters, but they take everything one step farther: Speed, accuracy and volume are their passion.

Jeff Rheborg, president of the Varmint Hunters Association, said two of the most important things varmint hunters want to find in a retail store are plenty of ammunition and components for reloading.

“Varmint hunters shoot often, we shoot a lot and we strive for accuracy,” he said. “We usually shoot from .223 up to 6mm. I’m very loyal to Savage for rifles, and to Hornady for reloading equipment, bullets and ammunition. I also go to Sierra for bullets.”

Scopes, clothing and calls are important accessories to varmint hunters.

“I use a wide variety of scopes, from Redfield up to Nightforce, and from little magnification all the way up to 56-power,” Rheborg explained.

He noted geography and available critters are predominant factors that drive varmint hunters to hunt in a given area and influence product predilections.

“For example, prairie dog shooters tend to like ballistic tip bullets,” he said. “If you’re in Pennsylvania surrounded by trees, you don’t want a scope with a lot of magnification. But out on the prairie, you need to see out further.”

Camo also depends on geography.

“Where there are trees, varmint hunters want darker camo,” Rheborg said. “Out on the prairie, they want lighter camo.”

Calls are essential.

“I use both hand calls and electronic calls,” Rhebord said. “I use FoxPro and Burnham Brothers.” Some states may not allow the use of electronic calls for some species; check the laws in your state.


The Savage Lightweight Varminter line is available
in a variety of calibers, from .17 Hornet to .223 Rem.


In game calls, the new FOXPRO SHOCKWAVE! features a four-speaker
system and comes with 100 FOXPRO sounds preprogrammed in the unit.

Stock Ammo, Calls And Camo

One retailer that’s made a point of serving the varmint hunting community is Runnings, a small chain of general farm and outdoor stores serving the Midwest. Robert Anderson is a manager-in-training at the Bismarck, N.D., store and oversees the sporting goods department.

“With prairie dogs and some other species, guys shoot hundreds of rounds a day,” he said. “Many of them reload for more accuracy and because it’s cheaper. I see them shooting .223, .22-250 and .220 Swift. The .204, .17 HMR and the new .17 WSM are popular.”

Hunters who purchase factory ammunition tend to like Hornady, Anderson noted.

“They like Hornady’s consistency and accuracy,” he said. “A number of guys also shoot Winchester; they buy value packs for the economics of it.” When it comes to bullets for handloading, Anderson observed customers buy a lot of Berger, Nosler and Hornady.

Anderson said a number of varmint hunters build their own rifles based on a Remington or Savage action.

“They buy a number of Savage rifles,” he said. “Remington is also popular with our customers, especially in .220 Swift.”

Having calls in stock is crucial, Anderson said.

“It’s especially important later in the hunting season,” he said. “Some guys hunt year round, but with fur prices the way they are, a lot of guys wait until late in the season, after November, as the furs get prime. Especially with the hunting contests they have out here, we sometimes have a run on calls, both electronic and mouth calls. In electronic calls, FoxPro is our top-seller, followed by Johnny Stewart. On the mouth calls, Primos is popular and we sell a number of FoxPro also.”

Anderson said some of his hunters really like snow camo. “We’ve had to work to keep up with the demand,” he said.

When it comes to optics, Anderson said, Vortex is strong. “Their warranty is a great selling feature,” he said. “We also sell Swarovski, Nightforce, Leupold and Nikon. 4-16x scopes are popular, and some guys go to 6-24x on longer range rifles.”

If a retailer isn’t addressing varmint hunters, he’s missing out on substantial sales segment.

“These guys buy volumes of ammo,” he said. “They may start with entry level rifles but they quickly move to mid- and upper-range rifles. A number of them shoot MSRs, and they want accessories that go with it. Optics are big; for the ones who shoot long range, you’re looking at upper-end optics.”


Optics represents an important segment of the varmint/predator market. Nightforce recently
added the 5-20×56 to the SHV riflescope line, which specifically targets varmint hunters.


Winchester Ammunition’s Varmint X line is available in .204
Ruger, .22-250 Rem., .223 and .243 Win.

Benefit From An “All-Year” Business

At Teton River Traders Gun Shop in Fort Pierre, S.D., co-owner Matt Harens said his varmint hunter customers are into precision and long range shooting.

“It’s an all-year business, with prairie dog hunters during the summer and coyote hunters in the fall and spring,” he said. “Competitive coyote hunting is becoming quite the business. You can win a couple thousand dollars in one of those contests. With prairie dog hunting, people try to hit prairie dogs further and further away. Eventually, they have to upgrade their equipment — meaning a better rifle, a better scope and higher precision reloading equipment.”

Harens said his customers want him to build rifles for long-range shooting. He uses a number of actions, but the one customers most often request is the Remington 700.

“We also do some Savages and some custom actions. Mainly, we stick with .22 bullets and 6mm bullets. Beyond that, hunters use many different cases, including Wildcats, the .22-250 and the .223,” Harens said.

The accessories varmint hunters want depend on geography.

“Around here, varmint hunters are getting into higher-powered scopes,” Harens said. “We’re putting on 6-18x or 24- or 32-power scopes on rifles so hunters can get longer shots. Two manufacturers that stand out in our shop are Nightforce and Vortex. We still sell Leupold and Nikon, but in the last year those two are the brands people have wanted for long-range shooting.”

Harens warned dealers not to overlook bipods.

“Most varmint hunters around here shoot with bipods because they can’t get steady enough offhand or even sitting,” he said. “Another popular accessory lately has been a suppressor. When you’re using one, prairie dogs will stay up out of the ground longer, and if you miss a shot on a coyote — or if multiple coyotes come in — you can get more rounds off before you scare the rest of them.”


The Caldwell CrossWind Professional Wind Meter features a 90-degree rotating
anemometer head to measure how crosswind will affect shot placement ­—
a plus for long-range varmint hunters.

Attract New Customers

Anderson and Harens both understand satisfied customers will “spread the word” to other hunters. Anderson reported word of mouth has been his best advertising with varmint hunters.

“We get guys in here and they see what we have,” he said. “Then they talk to one another. Meeting the needs of one customer brings in more customers.”

Harens also believes in serving his customers and letting them tell his story to attract new customers.

“Most of our new customers have come in because of word of mouth,” he said.

If you aren’t reaching out to varmint hunters, Harens said, you’re not only missing year-round sales, you’re also missing mainstream sales as well.

“Many people who come in as varmint hunters go on to purchase other firearms,” he said. “Varmint hunters usually buy the newest equipment before other hunters buy it. Most varmint and predator hunters also hunt other things. They’re usually very into deer hunting, and they hunt several months a year for varmints and predators instead of just a couple weeks for other types of hunting.”

If you have varmint-hunting gear in the store, you can capture not only this specific market, but all sorts of other sales as well.
By Carolee Anita Boyles

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