Out In The Field

Expand Hunting Season Sales

By Carolee Anita Boyles

Hunting season customers are perhaps the most diverse customers to enter your store. They come from many backgrounds and hunt a variety of species. Hunters also like like gadgets, accessories and add-ons more than any other single group of customers.

Richard Sprague, owner of Sprague’s Sports in Yuma, Ariz., said his customers mostly hunt mule deer, antelope, elk and dove. He noted new products always drive business.

“A lot of people love advancements in technology, whether it’s GPS or clothing,” he stated. “Some of the clothing out now is very technically designed. It’s a small category overall and we’re not a super strong clothing store but we are a store full of hunters. The key to selling hunting gear is to have a staff that’s passionate about it and are users of the products.”

Sprague sells a lot of Sitka clothing to hunters.

“It’s upper-end clothing and works well in all kinds of conditions,” he noted. “Sitka keeps coming out with new products, and different patterns with different weights of fabric for different areas of the country. We’ve had a lot of people coming in and leaving hundreds of dollars to low thousands of dollars with us to get the proper gear.”
In other hunting gear, upper-end knife sales also are up.

“Our knife business is doing very well,” Sprague said. “We keep looking for knives that are new and innovative and have a little different slant on presentation, esthetics and operation.”

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Photo Courtesy of Remington Outdoor Company

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Richard Sprague, president of Sprague’s Sports, has recently seen a number of new,
high-quality firearms, optics and more to impact the hunting market. His customers
continue to look for innovative options
.

High-End Growth

Over the past couple of years, Sprague has observed a growing trend in his store: Customers purchase more high-end products overall.

“We’re selling more expensive clothing: it fits better, wears better and works better,” he said. “We’re seeing the same thing in optics; we’re in a down-trending market but our optics business is up. It’s the technology out there; you’ve got to understand it, and have the guts to stock it and the expertise to explain it.”

Sprague believes one thing driving this “technology trend” is long-range precision shooting.

“A growing interest in long-range shooting has really helped us with optics sales,” he relayed. “There are some new competitors in the market that keep pushing the envelope. Vortex has really risen to the top. EOTech is now in the optics business and Swarovski now has a sister company, Kahles. There’s continued refinement in the mid- to upper-end optics business.” He still has plenty of low-end business, but high-end sales are strong and getting stronger.
Sprague thinks innovation and an improved economy are what’s driving these high-end sales.

“People are looking for something different, new and innovative,” he said. “And look at the stock market. I think it’s all reflective of what’s going on in the stock market and the overall sense we have a businessman leading the country, even though we might cringe at some of the statements he makes and the way he handles some things. People are just more positive about the direction of the economy overall.”

Sprague shared he never carried a lot of dove decoys, but it’s about to change.

“Some of the small-game biologists tell me they really do work,” he said. “Even though a lot of local hunters don’t use them, everyone that does really likes them. So I’m going to be stocking a lot of more of them in the future. Any motion-type decoy seems to work well.”

Hunters also are asking for a lot of new rifles, Sprague noted.

“It seems like manufacturers have really upped the game with rifles that are better and more accurate than ever before,” he said. “New calibers such as 6.5 Creedmoor are super strong. The Browning X-Bolt, the Tikka T3X light and the Ruger American have been very good.”

Other companies also are playing to the hunting market.

“Companies like Yeti are coming out with products that keep raising the bar on the quality of the gear going out to the field,” Sprague shared. “Who would have ever thought you’d be going to hunting camp with coolers that cost $400 each but hold ice for two or three days longer than anything else you’ve ever used? There are some really excellent options out there now.”

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Nikon LaserForce 10×42 Binoculars

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EOTech HHSIII

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Leupold VX-5HD

A Similar Trend

At DNW Outdoors in Jonesboro, Ark., General Manager Graham Eldridge is seeing the same trend of customers moving to higher-end items. According to Eldridge, most of his hunting customers are targeting deer and waterfowl.

“We do a lot of archery hunting here,” he shared. “This area is very agricultural, with a lot of bean fields, so we get some pretty good deer.”

Archery season starts well before gun season, Eldridge said, and what his hunting customers purchase reflects this.
“You can’t use a rifle to deer hunt in this zone,” he noted. “You get two weekends of muzzleloading and slug guns. So we sell a lot of archery gear. I sell probably 800 vertical bows and crossbows a year. I carry BowTech, Mathews, Hoyt and PSE, which are the big ones. After that I have some Bear Archery, Obsession and Elite.”

In crossbows Eldridge carries TenPoint, Horton, Wicked Ridge and Barnett.

“The price tag on a good crossbow is crazy,” he stated. “They can go $1,600 or $1,700.”

Eldridge’s rifle sales diverge in two directions. Since rifle hunting is very limited in his area, hunters who are going afield locally tend to stick to less expensive rifles.

“The guys who are buying expensive rifles are going out West to hunt,” he said. “Most of those customers are buying Weatherby Mark Vs, Browning Hell’s Canyon rifles and Christensen Arms. I also sell a lot of slug guns, because you can use them to hunt here.”

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extra_Mesa_Studio

Mesa Studio

MSRs continue to be popular for hunting, Eldridge noted.

“Guys are buying them to hunt hogs and deer,” he said. “This is especially true when they have young kids. They can buy one gun with a collapsible stock and get it down to a size for the kid to use it — and it has no recoil since it’s a .223. You don’t have to load it with a 30-round magazine every time; you can put one or two rounds in it at a time and it still works just as well.”

What’s his number one seller to waterfowl hunters? Decoys.

“Dakota and Higdon are the two brands I do the best with,” he said. “It used to be the cheaper the decoy the better it sold. Now it’s moved to the opposite end. Guys are spending money on better decoys now.”

After decoys, Eldridge relayed hunters want new camo apparel and waders. He also is seeing the trend to higher-end products in waders.

“I still sell some cheaper waders, but the $300 price range on waders is not out of the limit,” he said. “It used to be $300 waders were crazy expensive. Now I have them for $600 or $700. Banded is one brand I sell, but any of the breathables are popular.”

Optics, too, are following the high-end trend.

“The days of cheap optics have gone by the wayside for me,” Eldridge observed. “My customers are really understanding inexpensive scopes are not going to be good for what they want to do, so they’re spending money on optics. I don’t stock any cheap stuff any more.”

The message from these two stores can be summed up as so: even in a downturn, hunters are still buying (and they seem to have no problem buying high-end products) and looking for the latest innovations. Will your store be on their must-visit list this fall?

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