Think Beyond Traditional Seasons,
Adjust Displays For Year-Round Selling.
Varmint hunters are serious, dedicated shooters — who are often overlooked consumers. In many states, varmint hunting is a year-round activity that dealers should take advantage of to ensure consistent sales throughout the year.
Varmints are two slightly different — but closely allied — markets.
“With predator hunting, hunters are calling animals to them,” said Michael Kinn, creative manager for ATK Sporting Group. “They could be calling coyotes, bobcats, foxes and even sometimes hogs. This category includes anything that’s seeking an easy target or an easy meal.”
The overall varmint category is broader, said Rod Haydel, president of Haydel’s Game Calls.
“Varmints may be crows, groundhogs, prairie dogs and other animals,” Haydel said.
Hunters in both categories are enthusiastic about what they do — and some will spend big bucks to do it. Dedicated hunters will travel to take advantage of the year-round nature of varmint and predator hunting.
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Continual Selling Season
The “all the time” nature of varmint and predator hunting means dealers can make yearlong sales.
“There’s no ‘opening day’ like there is for big-game season,” Haydel said. “You don’t get a big rush of customers coming in, and it’s a lingering selling season; there’s no real big ‘push.’”
Both predator hunters and other varmint hunters use a wide variety of products dealers already have in stock, as well as some very specialized items.
“Varmint hunters going for animals such as prairie dogs use backpacks, firearms, shooting rests, spotting scopes and shooting benches,” Kinn said. “If they’re making very long shots or very close shots, they use a variety of ranging techniques.
“In the varmint world, everything comes down to distance and precision because the targets hunters are shooting at are small,” Kinn continued. “Typically, these hunters go out with a group of their friends, carry a trailer full of gear and usually stay in one location for an extended period of time.”
When it comes to predator hunting, hunters may go solo or with a couple of friends.
“That kind of hunting is very stealthy: You stay very still, and you’re fully camouflaged,” Kinn said.
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Successful Product Mix
Besides the staple items every hunter uses, there’s also gear solely for varmint and predator hunting.
“Retailers should use endcaps stocked with multiple items that cater to those disciplines,” Kinn said. “For example, you may want to show specific ammunition for that shooter. For prairie dogs, you might want to put out targets for hunters to sight in their rifles. Or you might want to put spotting scopes on an endcap. For predators, you might want to have electronic calls or mouth calls, or some face masks and other small items.”
Firearms and ammunition also are specialized.
“Most rifles will be more accurate and flatter-shooting than your average deer rifle,” Haydel said. “They’re usually a smaller caliber. Hunters also need to have optics that are able to pull the animal in so they can make that longer shot.”
From an accessories standpoint, this is a rich market to explore. One key category is calls — everything from crow calls to predator calls for raccoons, bobcats, coyotes and the like.
“You may want to look into products for hunting predators at night,” Haydel said.
Many states allow nighttime hunting, but dealers should check with their state game agency to find out the rules for their location.
“At night, hunters often have greater success bringing predators in,” Haydel said. “Hunters may need specialized lighting, which could be anything from a red lens on a spotlight to night-vision goggles.”
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Closing The Sale
One key to making the sale is to have your state’s varmint hunting regulations posted where you — and your customers — can see them. Not only does this keep customers on track legally, it also gives dealers a selling tool to point to and tell customers, “This is what you can be hunting right now.”
Haydel says posting regulations is important because sometimes a hunter can make an impulsive decision to get into varmint hunting.
“Many times a hunter will come in and say, ‘A coyote killed my neighbor’s dog last night.’ Then he’ll want a lot of information right then,” Haydel said.
Tell the customer that whether he’s hunting prairie dogs or coyotes, varmint hunting isn’t complicated.
“One thing hunters need to keep in mind if they’re hunting predators is the predator is using his nose and circling downwind when he comes in,” Haydel said. “Other varmints don’t do that. So when your customer is hunting predators, scent-free products come into play.”
Kinn suggests dealers group varmint-hunting products in one area.
“You need to dedicate one spot to varmint or predator hunting products, and put them all together,” he said. “It makes your customers’ purchasing decisions much easier when they can see the products all tied together.”
Haydel said in many cases, products dealers already have will do double duty.
“Oftentimes, a varmint hunter will be sitting up against a tree,” he said. “A turkey hunting stool will work just fine for that. So many items you carry in the store already are items a varmint hunter can use.”
The bottom line? It doesn’t take a huge new inventory to reach out to the varmint hunting market. Tapping into this market is more about thinking beyond the traditional seasons, making some additions to existing product lines, and adjusting displays to group the right products together.
Kinn says POP graphics also help.
“You need something that speaks to that audience,” he said. “When you see an image of a coyote hunter, you know exactly what he’s doing because of his unique setup. You don’t mistake it for big game or waterfowl. Very specific POP imagery customers can key in on visually is important.”
“There’s no ‘opening day’ like there is for big-game season,”
said Rod Haydel, president of Haydel’s Game Calls.
“It’s a lingering selling season.”
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One important component for successful varmint and predator hunting sales is educated and knowledgeable staff, according to Kinn.
“They should be well-versed in both types of hunting,” he said. “That way, they can help guide the consumer to what he needs.”
Staff should be aware of state regulations, any seasons, and other basic information about varmint and predator hunting — just as they do for big-game and waterfowl seasons.
“Varmints are available year round,” Haydel said. “They’re something your customer can go out and hunt fairly cheaply. He doesn’t have to buy a big-game tag or an expensive license; usually a small-game license is sufficient for varmints.”
The family-activity factor is another driving force propelling customers toward varmint hunting.
“It’s really neat to get kids involved in this kind of hunting because the dads are out there,” Haydel said. “In a deer-hunting situation, a dad may not want to take a young kid out who may spook his trophy animal, but he won’t mind taking a kid coyote hunting. A father can spend that time with a youngster, and if he moves and spooks the coyote, so what? It’s the experience that counts.”