If your goal is to operate a successful retail sporting goods operation, you should always go the extra mile for your customers. When it comes to getting ready for hunting season that means more than just selling them a new rifle and box of ammunition. 

There are a wide variety of services that your store can offer to hunters. And once you’re known as a one-stop-shop for hunters, it may stay that way for generations to come. It is simply a matter of staffing your store with employees who are knowledgeable about hunting, and proactive when it comes to assisting your clientele.

It’s common for walk-in customers to include novice, intermediate, and advanced shooters and hunters — all in one eight-hour work day. Some of the most challenging clients will be new and novice shooters or hunters. Things that you as a sporting goods professional consider common knowledge will be completely foreign to new sportsmen, women and juniors.

For example, one day a nice lady contacted my store and wanted to buy some “gas.” I explained to her that we did not sell gasoline, if that is what she was looking for. She indicated that her husband had obtained a “gas operated” semi automatic rifle, and she wanted to by some gas so they could shoot the gun. 

Sometimes patience and good advise is what helps your customers the most.

So as hunting season approaches, consider that some of your customers might bring in firearms that haven’t been out of the closet since last hunting season — the same guns that were not properly prepared for storage when they were put away last winter. It’s not uncommon for these types of guns to become so rusted that they will no longer function at all. After safety checking the firearm, some sound advice about safe gun storage and pre-storage cleaning and lubrication will be in order. Keeping a helpful rather than a condescending tone during this conversation will help maintain customer relations.

Expanding this customer contact into a gun cleaning and maintenance lesson will not only be helpful to your client, it will probably also lead to your sale of some preventative maintenance gear. Offering complete firearms cleaning packages, like the MTM gun cleaning cradle — with solvents, bore guides, brushes, and rods — will save both you and your customer time in the long run. Make sure customers understand the importance of working in a well-ventilated area when using cleaning solvents, and wearing safety glasses when dealing with compressed springs.  If disassembly is required, provide exploded drawings and manuals to your customers so they will be aware of how all the parts fit back together. Magnetic parts trays will also help keep small parts from being lost.

Go over important inspection points on your customer’s firearm with him so he knows what to look for. Be sure the bore is clear of obstructions, and clean from lead and copper contamination. Allow your customer to view contaminated and clean bores through a bore scope, so he’ll understand the difference. Make sure the safety and trigger are properly functioning. Confirm that his scope base and rings are solidly mounted, and his reticle is level. Make sure the sling swivels are secure so they won’t pull out during field hunting conditions.

There are numerous hunting activities to consider when determining what products and services to offer in your store, including waterfowl, big game, predator and small game.  All categories of hunting will have specialty products best suited for the game being pursued. If your area of business has a couple of these game categories that are most commonly sought by local walk-in customers, it would probably be a good idea to focus on these specialty areas first. Then if you want to branch out into mail order business to serve hunters on a national and international basis, you could consider doing that second.

Let’s assume your store is located in big game country — with plenty of deer, elk, bear, and mountain lion. Elk seem to occupy the bulk of hunter conversations — they provide quality meat for the table, and even create competition among the hunters. So, how can your store help out your elk hunting customers?

First of all, learn about elk hunting yourself, and staff your store with some workers who also have ‘elk fever’. Ask your local game wardens for assistance in learning and understanding game regulations, and set your store up as a place to buy hunting licenses. Provide firearms safety training, equipment and hunter education. Expand these programs into beginner, intermediate, and advanced hunter training. Include wilderness navigation and survival training, along with related maps and equipment to help hunters be safe and successful. Consider linking your backcountry hunting customers with a hunter rescue service, like Global Rescue. Learning the details of the hunting world may even allow your business to expand into a licensed guide service for your area.

Preparing hunting rifles for your elk hunting clients; we’ll assume that you are located in western elk hunting country, and that 500-yard shooting will be a realistic hunting distance envelope. As the local gun shop operator, you will be called upon to be knowledgeable in the right equipment for elk hunting. Personal field experience and having hunters on staff will be very helpful in this area.

Considering the size of the animal, and the possible distances that will be encountered, a 30-06 or larger rifle, with premium grade hunting ammunition is reasonable. Reliable variable magnification scopes ranging from 1x to 25x, with heavy duty mounts, will also be reasonable. There are many good choices in these areas, but all are likely to be unsuccessful if your customers are not properly trained in centerfire rifle marksmanship.

Offering hunting specific marksmanship training to your customers can easily mean the difference between a successful and a failed hunt. Having an on-site shooting range at your store, or at least access to a good rifle range will allow you to provide enhanced service and training to your customers. Keep in mind that you may get marksmanship training requests from youth to seniors, male and female, so your store’s staff instructors will need to have an adaptable personality. Certain “sniper” techniques may be used in hunter marksmanship training, but hunting customers are likely to be turned off by a gunshop commando personality. Try to choose a professional hunter personality as the one to represent your business in the hunter-training arena.

Properly setting up rifles for your performance-oriented hunting customers will take more than a quick scope installation. Having on-site gunsmithing services to properly bed barreled rifle actions; install heavy duty scope mounts; lap scope rings; squarely install scopes and ACD levels; calibrate speed turrets; explain field practical ballistics and chronograph selected hunting ammunition will all be important steps toward a successful hunt — and business.

Try to keeping hunt training classes small, unintimidating, and with a good instructor to student ratio. Explain and demonstrate distance, wind, and angle shooting compensations for the short and long distances that hunters will be operating in. Explain rifle maintenance and how to make sure the rifle is ready for the hunt, and make sure that the correct ammunition has been selected.

Tell students that switching ammo after a trajectory chart has been created with another type or brand of ammo is not acceptable. Make sure they buy enough of the same ammo to get them through training, practice, and the hunt itself. Teach them how to range targets and how to apply their bullet’s trajectory information to intersect targets at various distances — even under changing wind and angle conditions.

After shooting range training, move student-hunters into the field to give them experience in applying the knowledge they learned on the known distance firing range under field conditions. Sometimes this portion of student-hunter training becomes so popular it expands into field practical competition shooting. This allows shooters to expand their field shooting experience and dramatically improve their hunting-related shooting skills, and learn the need for proper physical conditioning before the actual hunt. Hosting such competitions is another expansion opportunity for your business.

Do not end your hunt training with only rifle training at distance, as close range mountain lions and bears in camp can be a serious safety concern for your clients. Addressing wilderness defense at close range with an appropriate handgun can literally be a lifesaver for them.

Taking the professional approach to skills development for your customers will lead to improved field performance, and dramatically increase the probability of their hunt being safe and successful. Assisting others in achieving success in the field may very well assist you in the long-term success of your retail sporting goods operation.