October 18, 2019
The Best Store Setups For Whitetail Hunters
It’s the dream of every deer hunter. A magnificent buck comes silently slipping in, hidden by the lingering morning mist — until he steps from behind a tree. At first, he’s just a shape in the fog, but then the first daylight catches the points of his antlered crown. A deep breath, a steady aim and the hunter has the quarry.
The dream has remained the same as long as humans have been hunting. Over the past decade or so, however, hunters have changed. Gear has changed as well, from new calibers and high-tech riflescopes to new kinds of blinds and treestands.
Chance Clanahan is one of the managers at Paducah Shooters Supply in Paducah, Ky. He shared, his deer hunting clientele has undergone some significant changes in the past few years.
“There are a lot more women involved in deer hunting now,” he observed. “That’s been the biggest change for us.”
Whether or not the age range of hunters has changed is open to question.
“We talk about it all the time,” Clanahan continued. “I think, overall, the average age has gone up. I think deer hunters tend to be older than they were before.”
This change has resulted in alterations in the setups hunters are purchasing. However, Clanahan’s not convinced there’s any cause-and-effect ripple taking place — it’s more a significant number of hunters have been influenced by what they see and read.
“It seems like everybody wants long-range rifles,” he lends. “Hunters see people shooting deer on TV at 700, 800, 900 yards and they want to try it too.”
When hunters start looking for long-range rifles, Clanahan said, they look for a fast and flat-shooting caliber.
“The 6.5 Creedmoor leads the way,” he added. “Right behind it, we’re seeing the .300 Win. Mag. and the 7mm Rem. Mag.”
Of course, it takes good optics to complete a long-range setup — and this has changed from previous years as well.
“Hunters are putting more tactical, long-range scopes on a lot of guns,” Clanahan said. “But here’s where the difference in age comes in: Older guys who are coming in here buying new deer rifles look through one of those long-range scopes and hand it back. Every one of them says the same thing: ‘That’s too confusing.’ The younger guys want those advanced reticles.”
The most popular brand of riflescopes has changed as well, according to Clanahan.
“Our number-one by far is Vortex,” he stated. “Even my older guys who are hardcore, don’t-buy-anything-but-Leupold-gold-ring guys, are buying Vortex now. This includes both the long-range guys and the other hunters.”
The Vortex Viper line is the top seller at Paducah Shooters Supply.
“That’s across the board, whether it’s the basic scopes or the more tricked-out long-range scopes,” Clanahan observed.
The finishing touch in putting together a good hunting rifle setup is the right ammunition.
“The long-range group is buying Hornady,” Clanahan confirmed. “They’re buying a lot of the new bullets such as the ELD-X.”
One other thing hunters want, Clanahan said, is shooting houses.
“The demand for them doubles every year,” he shared. “I used to order one truckload and it would get me through the year. But we brought two truckloads in during April this year; we’ve already sold them and we’re working on the second two truckloads. And I have another two truckloads ordered that should be here in another three weeks.” (His number-one seller is Muddy.)
Clanahan expects the trend toward more shooting houses to continue for the next few years.
“I think you’re going to see it grow, and I think you’re going to see popup ground blinds continue to grow, too,” he predicts. “I also don’t see any end to the long-range trend.”
Another trend to watch, he said, is technical clothing.
“The days of guys going out in a pair of Carhartt coveralls are a thing of the past,” he said. “These people want waterproof and windproof. They want more technical fabric.”
Topography, Local Laws Impact Buying Trends
Bill Vancleave is a co-owner of Outdoor Country in Bishop, Texas. Like Clanahan, he’s also seeing a trend toward long-range in the riflescope combos deer hunters are setting up.
“Hunters used to buy .30-06, .243 and .270,” he recalled. “Now they’re going to 6.5 Creedmoor. Most of the guns are still bolt action; they’re buying Weatherby and Ruger, and we’re still selling some Remingtons.”
Even hunters who aren’t buying new guns, though, are adding new optics to their deer hunting setups.
“The ones my customers are buying include Nikon and Leopold,” he said. “In Nikon, they’re asking for the Black FX1000. In the Leupolds, they’re buying 4-12s. The model they buy depends on the price range they want, but that’s the size they’re buying.”
And of course, there’s camo. Tammy Johns, a sales associate at Outdoor Country, said the camo sold in south Texas isn’t the same camo sold throughout the rest of the country.
“Our customers buy GameGuard camo, which is a south Texas camo,” Johns noted. “It has cactus and mesquite on it. It’s specifically for this area. We also carry Brush Country.”
In Michigan, different firearms are allowed in different management zones, which means a wide range of setups for deer hunting. At Jay’s Sporting Goods in Clare County, Gun Department Manager Jeania Canel said customers purchase a variety of guns.
“Overall, bolt-action rifles are our more popular rifles for deer hunting,” she said. “Ruger and Savage do well for us in the category.”
Recent changes in Michigan regulations have meant a change in what hunters purchase.
“What they’re going to buy depends on what zone they’re hunting in,” she said. “Since they opened the shotgun zone to be more geared to straight-wall cartridges, they don’t have to use shotguns anymore. There, you’re talking more single-shot rifles.”
The terrain of the area also affects what people purchase.
“If you’re talking about a farmer who’s hunting open fields, he’s going to go for a bolt-action rifle to shoot at a greater distance,” Canel noted. “If someone is hunting on state land or is hunting on private land in a swamp or wooded area, they’re typically going to go with a lever action. With a heavier bullet, it’ll be more stable if they’re shooting through brush.”
When it comes to caliber, according to Canel, the 6.5 Creedmoor is the caliber of choice for many hunters.
“The 6.5 Creedmoor is a huge seller for us right now,” she said. “The .450 Bushmaster and the .350 Legend are the newest of the calibers, so people come in wanting those because they’ve read about them or heard about them.”
In optics, Canel said, a significant number of hunters are coming in and saying they want to take an animal at 600 yards. Other hunters still shoot more modest distances of a hundred yards or so.
“We have probably 30 different optics brands in our showcases,” Canel said. “What customers want depends heavily on what they’re going to do. In standard hunting scopes, Leupold is the leader. If you start talking long-range, you’re probably looking at Nightforce, Vortex or Trijicon — that’s where you’re getting into big bucks.”
Technology A Key Driver Behind Long-Range Pursuits
Anthony Puglia is the manager at Puglia’s Sporting Goods in Metairie, La. He said his white-tailed deer customers are looking for rifle and scope combos that will allow them to shoot greater distances.
“More people are wanting ballistically faster rounds and a flatter shooting gun,” he said. “To complement that, they’re stepping up their ammo selection or getting custom ammo. They’re also stepping up their optics.”
In years past, Puglia recalled, he mostly sold Z-Plex reticles with standard crosshairs.
“Now, most of our customers are wanting a ballistic reticle,” he shared. “They want something they can use to shoot 500 to 800 yards.”
Puglia said he thinks the technology of today’s optics is part of what’s driving the trend to long-range hunting.
“Years ago, a deer hunter was happy to shoot 200 yards, even though the gun might have been able to shoot farther,” he said. “Since guns, ammo, scopes and rangefinders will all help share the capability of shooting that far, I think hunters are more confident of their ability. Hunters are more confident now with the tools available.”
Like other dealers feature here, Puglia is also seeing a strong market for the 6.5 Creedmoor.
“I think it has been our number-one caliber the past couple of years,” he said. “We’re also selling a lot of 26 Nosler. Probably our top three sellers are Christensen Arms, Browning Hell’s Canyon rifles and Bergara rifles.”
SITKA clothing is a hot seller for Puglia’s shop.
“SITKA has really taken off for us,” he said. “It holds the biggest part of our clothing pie, even though we carry other manufacturers such as Browning and Beretta. SITKA has kind of revolutionized the clothing industries because of its features and advantages. They make everything from head to toe, and it’s flawless. They listen to feedback and make changes when changes need to be made.”
Puglia shared his customers like SITKA so much they come back for more garments, even though it’s one of the highest-priced clothing lines in the store.
“They come in and buy a pair of pants and a jacket, and they love it so much they come back and buy the vest or the liners,” Puglia added. “Then they come back and buy the gloves. Once they have the whole setup for duck hunting, then they come back and get it for deer hunting.”
Although he doesn’t sell a lot of ground blinds, Puglia said, the brand he sells the most of is Primos.
“There’s the SurroundView 360-degree Primos ground blind you’re able to see through the fabric,” he said. “You don’t have to look through a window or an opening. But if you’re standing on the outside, you can’t see anybody on the inside. It came out last year, and a lot of our deer hunters like that.” His bestselling ladder treestand is Millennium, both one-man and two-man stands.
While they aren’t part of a deer hunter’s basic “kit,” deer feeders are a hot item in Louisiana.
“We sell a lot of Moultrie feeders,” Puglia confirmed. “Not gravity feeders, but motorized tripod feeders.” The new thing he’s seeing customers buy in game cameras, Puglia said, is cell phone-operated cameras made by Covert.
The next big trend, Puglia predicts, is going to be rifles that are cosmetically different.
“Customers are asking for them,” he said. “Instead of just a standard blued or stainless barrel, some of our customers are wanting something that’s Cerakoted, in multiple colors. So, take one model and put it in the Cerakote bronze finish, and make one in grey Cerakote. So, you have different colored barrels and then put them in different colored stocks. Instead of a black synthetic stock, put them in a wood stock or a laminate stock. Use something to complement the color of the barrel. A lot of people like the carbon look, so maybe a grey carbon fiber stock.”
A Move Toward … Electric Bicycles?
Ronnie Groom owns C&G Sporting Goods in Panama City, Fla. Groom has seen some big changes in how hunters go after deer.
“Hunters are more conservative now,” he said. “They’re shooting older bucks and letting younger ones walk. There’s also a lot more leasing going on now. Sometimes it’s hard to find a public place to hunt, so leases have become more and more popular.”
In the past, you couldn’t find a gun and scope setup for under $400.
“Now, with companies such as Savage making lower-end guns that are still good quality, it’s opening up the field to sell more guns because people can afford them more,” Groom said. “We’re selling more guns because of this.”
Groom also is seeing the big trend to the 6.5 Creedmoor.
“It’s just taken over the market,” he asserted. “It’s our biggest-selling caliber. It’s a fine caliber, with less recoil. Some people buy an expensive, high-end gun, and some buy a lower-end gun, but they’re buying that caliber. We sell a lot of Brownings and Thompson/Centers.”
Popup blinds also are part of the north Florida deer hunter’s setup.
“It’s especially true where I am,” Groom said. “We recently had Hurricane Michael so there aren’t a lot of trees left around here. But even before that, popup blinds were really popular. We sell more Ameristep than any of the others.” His customers also buy a lot of game feeders and cameras.
Groom has an inspired idea for hunters who must walk a long way to their treestand.
“Electric bicycles,” he declared, “are really great. I think they’re going to really catch on. Right now, I have to park a quarter- to a half-mile from my treestand. I can get on my bicycle and ride quietly right up to the base of the tree, then get off and climb it. You can use the battery, pedal — or a combination of the two. It saves me a lot of walking and makes no noise.”
One thing that’s becoming clear: as technology continues to enhance firearms, optics, ammunition, clothing, blinds and more — deer hunters will continue to have more options than ever before. Your store’s ability to carry the right mix of products, sprinkled with a heavy dose of friendly know-how, will ensure hunters keep coming back to you for all seasons.