Selling Small Game Gear

Don’t overlook the significance of small-game gear to your store and the shooting sports.

Selling Small Game Gear

It’s inarguable that small-game hunting has declined in the past few decades due to myriad factors. The rise of big-game hunting, technology and social media, habitat changes on the national landscape, access to huntable property and other contributors are to blame. But what also is inarguable is that small-game hunting still remains a viable part of the fabric of hunting that should not be ignored by retailers. 

Small-game hunting is the gateway. It is rare that a young boy or girl immediately jumps into hunting deer or elk, humps it into the timber after moose or bear, or sits in a hot ground blind in August trying to bowhunt a wary pronghorn. They eventually may do those things, of course, but for the majority of hunters there was a well-worn path: learning about firearms and hunting safety, tagging along, small-game hunting, and a progression into big-game hunting. 

Retailers were and still are part of that progression. Tagging along with an adult to look at hunting (or fishing) items can leave quite an impression. Among those memories often taking root at an early age are buying BB or air rifles, BBs or pellets, targets and safety equipment. Retailers helping make positive memories like those may create lifelong customers, or at the least contribute to the hunting heritage battered by myriad forces. 

Among the first memories of my young hunting life was purchasing yellow-and-black cardboard tubes of BBs at the Western Auto in my hometown. Mr. Stewart had an outdoors section complete with shotguns, rifles, ammunition, riflescopes, binoculars, knives, boots and some camouflage clothing. It helped that he was a hunter, of course, but he knew his customers. More than 45 years later I easily recall going in there to purchase BBs and look at other things. Just a block away, the hardware store had BBs and Case pocketknives. My first Sodbuster Jr. knife came from there; quite possibly, my father’s well-used Buck 110 came from there, too. If, for some reason, those two stores were closed, the Otasco also had BBs and air rifle pellets. 

Fortunately, all these years later I still enjoy hunting and I don’t care what it is. From squirrels and raccoons with good hounds, to deer, turkeys, waterfowl and even alligators, I’m all for it. The affinity for small game, though, remains strong. I absolutely love dropping some ammo in the pockets of my old Filson vest and heading out to wander with my .22 rifle or 20-gauge shotgun. Aside from the bite of nostalgia, such ramblings are just fun. They help me unwind, take my time, look around and observe the woods a bit more intensely. I may find a turtle shell or old skull, maybe some tracks along a creek. They’re the same kind of ramblings I indulged in as a kid.

Gamo in Spotlight

Air rifles and BB guns have long been an easy, affordable and accepted entry for young hunters and shooters. My first dove hunts with my father included me dragging along my Daisy Red Ryder and plinking soda cans, dirt clods, pine cones and aiming at doves. I recalled those times years ago when I attended my first Gamo Squirrel Masters Classic in Alabama. The annual event is held in late February after deer season ends. Southern Sportsman Hunting Lodge east of Selma hosts young hunters, parents, dog handlers, outdoors media, Gamo representatives and other friends for a couple of days of fun, camaraderie and friendly competition.

Gamo uses this event for several reasons. One is to reinforce the connection of those in attendance with the fun of shooting and hunting with air rifles. Typically, six teams of 8-10 hunters fan out on land in the area offered by friends of Southern Sportsman’s owners. With tins of pellets, extra magazines for the 10-shot repeating Maxxim air rifles, orange safety vests and a lot of anticipation, the teams head out each morning for a hunt. They return to Southern Sportsman for lunch and to shoot at the range, and then back out to the woods in the afternoon. If you go away hungry or without making a few new friends and gaining some knowledge of the Gamo Maxxim, something’s not right. 

The Squirrel Master Classic may sound like a big ol’ boondoggle, but it actually has an important trickle-down effect. Gamo benefits by getting its products in the hands of young and older hunters. The outdoors media on hand produces content for print, television and online outlets. Hunting, of course, is fun. And the Gamo reps may learn a bit more about their product from in-field use and immediate feedback. That knowledge can then flow to you.

Small-Game Hunters Matter

Every five years, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service publishes its National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, & Wildlife-Associated Recreation report, which reveals the data about hunting, fishing, outdoors pursuits, wildlife watching and other categories. Within each category, FWS officials ask about different interests, time spent pursuing them and other questions. 

The 2016 FWS survey results showed that about 1.5 million people considered themselves small-game hunters. The report for the last five years hasn’t been issued yet. It likely will show a similar number, possibly with a slight uptick thanks to a year or more of the pandemic surge. The numbers for other categories, such as fishing and wildlife watching, also may be higher. 

Small-game hunters, as we know, are now part of the minority compared to those pursuing deer, turkey, waterfowl, elk or other game. But they’re no less important. Consider how many people you have who seek ammunition for .22 rifles, .410 and 20-gauge shotguns, game bags or vests, leashes for hounds or other gear. They may want targets or other gear to take their kids to the range. 

You might not have a huge number of people asking for those items, but every customer is important. Whether you have something in stock or can order it, be sure to do what you can to help these small-game hunters. Especially if they have children in tow, because those young eyes and ears are listening to the conversations.

What to Sell?

Well before your local hunting seasons, plan accordingly and stock up. We live in an era when shipping overnight is easy, but with the lingering impact of supply chain issues it’s worthwhile to think down the road. 

I’m fortunate that I stocked up on almost all of my small-game hunting needs years ago. My gear may be older but it still works. My .22 rifle has enough to eat, although I always seek more ammo to sock away. My negligence in doing the same for the 20-gauge and .410 causes me to always check now when I’m in a store. I don’t want to wait until dove, squirrel or rabbit season gets here to start looking around. 

Everyone is after ammo. That’s no secret, and definitely should be on your radar. Based on your sales history, whatever you can get and have ready is going to be a benefit. Dove season is a huge social event in the Southeast and Southwest. Stores displaying shotgun shells and other gear for the hot September openers will be popular. Vests, stools, decoys and coolers are big sellers, too. 

Every young hunter wants to look like dad and mom, whether they’re playing dress-up at home or suiting up in camo for a trip to the woods. Boots are a big deal, too. DryShod offers a line of kids’ boots, for example, that are identical to their adult lineup. It has boots in plain or camo, and even in purple or with pink, purple or teal trim. DryShod’s boots are comfortable, warm, offer stability and sure grip, and have an oversized heel kick to help with removal. Sell these to kids and they’ll remember you for years. 

Of course, and it would be wise to include some Daisy BB rifles, Gamo air rifles or whatever you think is best. Do not forget about BBs and pellets. Know the difference in the .177 and .22 air rifles, and why that matters. Eye and hearing safety, along with easy-to-see targets from Birchwood Casey or Champion, could be big sellers. Stock the basics. Traditional targets with square grids or circles with an X- or 10-spot will get the job done. A kid with a Daisy or Gamo doesn’t need a target with a Christmas tree mil-dot windage whatever. They’re going to be happy punching paper. 

If you have Demo Days or some kind of Hunting-Shooting weekend blowout, don’t forget about small-game hunters. Have some rifles or shotguns and ammo to display. Set up end caps or store displays with relevant items for the rabbit, squirrel, upland bird and dove hunters. Every customer is important, from the guy in the faded T-shirt needing 20-gauge shells for the squirrel hunt to the local executive going to his first whitetail hunt in Saskatchewan. 

Plan well and don’t overlook the small (game) stuff.


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