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March 29, 2019

Sighting In Long-Range Sales

By Carolee Anita Boyles, FMG Publications

For some time now, a certain subset of target shooters has been interested in — even obsessed by — long-range shooting. Recently, however, this interest has become a passion for a larger number of shooters, leading to increased potential for sales of guns, ammo and accessories for the long-range market.

“For the past 12 months or so, I’ve seen a huge move toward interest in long-range accuracy,” said Doug Gifford, director of operations at both Core Rifle Systems and GTO Guns & Sporting Goods in Ocala, Fla. “Specifically, people are asking for 6.5 Grendel and 6.5 Creedmoor. Those are very popular and are probably the fastest-moving modular sporting guns at the moment.”

Gifford added guns chambered in .338 Lapua, .300 Win. Mag. and .308 Win. also continue to be very popular.

“Those are the long-range accuracy bolt guns consumers are coming in looking for,” he asserted.

Long Range
With its accelerating growth, long-range shooting has developed a passionate customer group. “The long-range trend is moving into real science. Shooters are looking at parallax and focal plane; they’re getting into the science of optics,” said Doug Gifford of GTO Guns & Sporting Goods.

Although the interest in long-range accuracy isn’t new, Gifford lends it’s been overshadowed by sales of MSRs and other, similar guns.

“There’s been too much smoke in the air from the frenzy of buying any ‘black gun,’” he shared. “People were afraid the Second Amendment was in jeopardy, and they felt the need to get one in their gun cabinet — whether they had a particular interest in the platform or not.”

As the demand for the MSR platform has slowed, Gifford relayed those long-range accuracy enthusiasts have started moving to the 6.5 Grendel and the 6.5 Creedmoor (among other calibers). Part of this move has been made possible by increased availability of both of those cartridges over the past couple of years.

“Prior to this, you were hard-pressed to find the ammo,” Gifford informed. “Until the last couple of years it’s been tough. But once Hornady and some of the other big manufacturers got in the game as they have with these, you’ve started to see more ammunition become available.”

The 6.5 Surge

Increased availability from a variety of manufacturers has led to an avalanche of interest for rounds in the 6.5 family. Fort Thompson Sporting Goods (Sherwood, Ark.) General Manager Louis Janski says one of his store’s most impactful trends is the steep rise in the popularity of the 6.5 Creedmoor.

“You can pretty much sell that in any form or fashion you have it,” he noted.

Similar to Gifford’s experience, maintaining inventory presented an initial challenge.

“Hornady has done real well with 6.5 ammunition,” Janski said. “Now I’ve got plenty of Federal and Browning in 6.5 Creedmoor. We ran a little low in the Hornady Precision Hunter for a little while, but we’re in good shape now.”

Part of what makes 6.5 Creedmoor attractive to shooters is it shoots fast and flat, according to Janski.

“It also has very little recoil,” he shared. “I’ve got one, and the owner of the store, Tom Denniston, has one. I’ve always loved the 7mm-08 and the .260, and the 6.5 Creedmoor is kind of a cross between the two. The ballistic coefficient of the bullet is superb.”

How to Stay Current with Trends in Ammunition

The obsession with 6.5 Creedmoor has spilled over into long-range shooting as well.

“Guys are buying a lot of 6.5 Creedmoors,” Janski informed. “We’ve also sold a handful of .338 Lapua, and a few Remington Senderos in .300 Ultra Mag. I still do a few .300 Win. Mag., but most of the guys are coming in here and buying 6.5 Creedmoors.” One in particular shooters are asking for is the Kimber 84M Hunter.

At Pinnacle Firearms (Carmel, Ind.) Store Manager Vikram Mookerajee shared Hornady is his go-to manufacturer for new and unusual rounds, and until recently it was the best source for rounds in 6.5.

6.5 Creedmoor Ammo Options
Ammunition manufacturers have responded to demand by increasing options in the 6.5 family for customers.

“Today, you’re now seeing Black Hills Ammunition, Remington and Winchester making them,” he said. “And of course Hornady still is. These major brands — and some minor ones — have offerings that are fitting the needs of the marketplace as well as industry specs.”

For a while, the best alternative for aficionados of the 6.5 family of new calibers was to reload the rounds themselves. The increased availability of these cartridges, however, has not decreased any interest in reloading them. In fact, according to Gifford the opposite is true.

“You get some excitement over a new cartridge, and then people start buying it, and then you think it will decrease the need for reloading it,” he said. “But what you really do is create more interest in that particular cartridge and it brings people in who never even thought about it before. So the increased availability of these cartridges has had a positive effect on reloading them even though more people are buying them off the shelf. Plus now there’s a lot more brass at the ranges to pick up and reload.”

Optics Boost

In terms of optics, there’s more interest in more traditional 30mm optics than there has been in the recent past.

“Over the past 10 years or so, the trend has been to red dot and laser-type stuff, which is close-in, personal-defense optics … human affairs,” Gifford said. “The long-range trend is moving into real science. Shooters are looking at parallax and focal plane; they’re getting into the science of optics.”

Gifford regularly recommends two brands for long-range shooting: Pulsar and Riton. “Riton is fairly new,” he noted. “They’re well-priced for the quality. They have a ‘replace it, not repair it’ lifetime warranty, and we’ve had good results with them so far. They have high-quality Japanese glass and they’re using argon-filled tubes instead of nitrogen, which I think gives a little better clarity.” Trijicon and Leupold also are favorites at Gifford’s store.

Mike Hollinger, a buyer and manager at Fin Feather Fur Outfitters in Ashland, Ohio, said the biggest trend he’s seen in optics the past few years is an increase in apps and computer technology.

Long Range Optics
With the rise of long-range precision shooting, Fin Feather Fur Outfitters’ Mike Hollinger has observed the use of smartphone apps similarly increase — further enhancing optics’ capabilities.

“This is especially true of Leupold,” he advanced. “You can sight-in your hunting rifle at 50 yards, and Leupold can cut you a custom dial with indicator marks for different yardages. It used to be people would buy a standard scope with a standard crosshair in it, and you’d sight it in for 100 yards; then if you had to shoot 300 yards, you were guessing. Now, with apps you can have on your phone in concert with Leupold doing these custom dials, longer range hunting and shooting has become easier because of this technology.” Hollinger said these custom dials are surprisingly inexpensive, and take only a short time to arrive, since the facility is producing them here in the U.S.

Correlating with the rise in long-range precision shooting, Janski is also selling a lot of riflescopes today.

“We’re selling long-range Leupold and Vortex,” he said. “We can sell anything in a Vortex PST, first or second focal plane. We have long-range shooters coming out of the woodwork. Our problem is getting scopes in here. We can get guns, but we can’t get the scopes we need.”

Vikram Mookerajee, store manager at Pinnacle Firearms in Carmel, Ind., has presided over a significant volume of sales in SIG SAUER and Trijicon optics.

“Those are the ones we typically recommend,” he noted. “In Trijicon it’s the AccuPoint and the AccuPower, depending on what the person is looking for in terms of application and magnification. SIG SAUER has a really solid optics line they’ve been selling the past couple of years. They offer good stuff at a good price point. When someone walks into the shop looking for an optic, I try to steer them to those brands and then figure out what features and models fit their needs best.”

Products That Have Opened Up The Market

Mookerajee concluded the Ruger Precision Rifle’s introduction several years ago had a significant impact on the expansion of long-range shooting — opening it up to both new and experienced shooters who wanted something different at an attractive price point.

“Historically and always, Ruger has been a good company when it comes to accessible firearms, and something that’s cool, different and works,” he asserted. “It’s in a great price point. You’d expect someone to have already come out with something this cool and this modular and has so many variations to it. It’s opened up a market some people might view as intimidating.”

Another rifle falling into the same category, according to Mookerajee, is the Savage Stealth. In its Evolution 110 BA and 10 BA configurations, it comes in a left-handed model.

“The Stealth falls into the same kind of offerings and price points: a weapon of something accessible that’s different,” Mookerajee added. “Both of these guns have customization and modularity to them. Some of them use standard spec magazines, which helps with the accessibility factor of being able to run them and be cost-effective.”

Advancements in optics manufacturing have also opened up the market due to a drop in price points. Hollinger pointed out a Leupold scope that sold for $239 a few years ago may sell for $199 today — while not a huge reduction in cost, $40 is significant to the price-conscious customer.

“There are so many different sizes and powers at every price point they can do the best for customers,” he said. “There’s a scope for a guy who’s deer hunting, one who’s shooting a 3-Gun competition and one who’s shooting elk at 500 to 600 yards. There are scopes for guys who want to pay $200, and scopes for guys like me who’ll pay $3,500.” The Vortex, NightForce and Sightron product lines are strong sellers at Hollinger’s store.

New offerings in ammunition becoming available have naturally given long-range customers more options to choose from, Mookerajee added.

“There’s more 6.5 Creedmoor and .224 Valkyrie than in the past,” he stated. “Those have been the two new flavors to go with your standard 6.5mm as well as .308 and the other popular calibers.”

A final thought: Keep in mind, your store’s locale will place limitations on how far you can stretch long-range sales. If your store is in a heavily urbanized environment with no long-range opportunities in driving distance, then there might only be the occasional customer. On the whole, however, all signs point to a continued burgeoning of the long-gun sales segment — will your store be a trusted go-to for customers?

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