Inventory Tip: DIY Products for Hunters

Two veteran retailers, one from the West and one from the Midwest, offer insight on stocking and selling specific products targeting DIY hunters.

Inventory Tip: DIY Products for Hunters

Is it the perfect storm for hunter recruitment and those doing it with a do-it-yourself mindset? Despite what the national news and anti-hunting crowd pushes, hunting is not a dying sport. It may still be lagging from the boom years prior to the 21st century, but consider recent license sales data compiled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

In 2004, 14,966,406 licenses were sold for the hunting of all game species. That brought in nearly $657 million in revenue sales that helped fund conservation via the Pittman-Robertson Federal Aid in Wildlife Restoration Act of 1937. Fast forward to 2021 and the stats seem even better. In 2021 there were 15,202,669 licenses sold for the hunting of game species. That tallied more than $821 million boosting support for conservation.

The number is not shockingly high, but it does indicate a continued interest in hunting despite approximately 80 percent of Americans living an urban lifestyle. Gone are the rural days of the 20th century where youth often locked firearms in their vehicles at school and hunted their way home after classes. Nevertheless, hunting is not going the way of the dodo bird just yet.

So, what is this perfect storm helping hunter recruitment and pushing the DIY movement? Like many issues, a variety of factors play into the role of steady or growing license sales. First, you cannot ignore the pandemic. According to a statement from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, the pandemic was good for the business of hunting and fishing.

“From March 2020 to February 2021, the DWR sold 222,124 combination licenses (which allow the holder to legally fish and hunt in the state of Utah), compared to 183,358 from March 2019 to February 2020. A total of 417,883 fishing licenses were sold during the 2020–21 time frame, an increase of more than 100,000 licenses from the year before. And 68,265 hunting licenses were sold, up from the previous year’s 50,551 hunting licenses.”

In the past year, inflation has skyrocketed, leading many to procure their protein from the outdoors. That also leads to more folks trying to DIY it when they go afield. Add to fact that it is more difficult than ever to get on land for hunting, and you see more hunters than ever using our public lands to launch their efforts. Responsive Management, a survey research firm, has looked at the issue of access and published this in one of their access articles. It sums up what many discover as they knock on doors as strangers asking for access.

“Studies conducted by Responsive Management in several states, including Delaware, Georgia, and Maryland, show that overwhelming majorities of landowners allow deer hunting on their land, although most of those who allow hunting allow only friends and family.”

Other private lands are simply shut off to any hunting or leased by outfitters, prodding more to visit public lands with the DIY attitude. As the DIY trend continues, it is something your store should consider to appease that crowd and increase profits. Consider what DIY opportunities exist in your market region to exploit. Once you have inventoried the archery hunting prospects, it is time to put that focus on your aisles to grab the attention of the DIY bowhunter.

Surge to DIY

Ron Lee is store manager for Rocky Mountain Discount Sports, in Sheridan, Wyoming, a chain of three sporting goods outlets in the state that cater hugely to the archery crowd. He has been manager for nearly 15 years and realizes that the DIY customer equals a great return. An expanded selection of bows, arrows, archery tackle and a full-time pro shop to fix issues in a timely manner has given the store credibility to local bowhunters, and visiting nonresident hunters to the Wyoming backcountry.

For nearly 15 years, Ron Lee has been the store manager for Rocky Mountain Discount Sports in Sheridan, Wyoming.
For nearly 15 years, Ron Lee has been the store manager for Rocky Mountain Discount Sports in Sheridan, Wyoming.

Because Wyoming is synonymous with hunting, he believes the pandemic did not have as large of impact on archery equipment sales as may have been see in other regions of the country. After the initial Covid shock and awe to the country, Lee saw a bump in spring 2020 turkey hunting equipment sales, and especially camping as the early months of pandemic lockdown were too much for many Wyomingites to take. The outdoors was calling, but he believes by the time traditional fall hunting seasons arrived, the average hunter was simply on track to continue what they do already: hunt. And the DIY crowd is always a big slice of the pie.

“DIY hunters are the majority of our business,” Lee said. “I estimate that at the very least, 70 percent or more of our clientele are DIY hunters, and that includes resident and nonresident hunters.”

Lee is quick to appreciate the outfitters and guided hunters who also use the store as a base for gear needs, but he understands that everyone does not have the financial means to go on an outfitted hunt. Pulling together a hunt on your own is the answer.

“In our region, deer and antelope are the two species most DIY hunters are targeting,” he said. “It simply comes down to the fact that there are more licenses available for these species, even more than elk, despite their popularity.”

Lee believes that there are many factors at play making DIY an engaging way to launch a hunt, especially in the West. In addition to many factors listed, he sees the admiration of hunters who watch high-rated TV and online hunting shows that emphasize the DIY reward. While talking with customers, he hears more and more of them wanting to try it after seeing that it is doable by others sharing experiences on shows. Even with planning, sometimes they need quick updates to their hunting arsenal.

“They are pretty well geared, but if the weather changes or they have forgotten something, buying habits change when they get here,” Lee said. “They pick up extra cold-weather gear, hunting unit maps, game bags; stuff of that nature because they may not have anticipated the hunting conditions or simply overlooked the small stuff.”

Across the country in Michigan, Ed’s Archery and Sporting Goods store owner, Steve Gilkes, has also seen a surge in DIY whitetail hunting efforts. The pandemic has also been profitable for his store. In fact, he has just experienced the best three years of business ever over the past 44 years with pandemic government payouts helping bankroll purchases and people simply wishing to escape to the outdoors from Covid burnout. Still, he feels much of the DIY push in Michigan whitetail country has resulted in regulation changes regarding baiting in sections of the state. Without bait, more and more hunters are turning to food plots for an attraction. If a food plot is not possible or not economically feasible, hunters are turning to attractant scents. This has boosted sales in those two categories, among others.

“I think a lot of people are staying local and educating themselves since they can’t bait,” Gilkes said. “That education has been heavy on how to create food plots, investing in food plot products, and researching suitable locations on their hunting properties for those plots. It basically is building a smarter hunter.”

Ed’s Archery & Sporting Goods Owner Steve Gilkes (left) explains the features of a new compound to a Michigan whitetail hunter.
Ed’s Archery & Sporting Goods Owner Steve Gilkes (left) explains the features of a new compound to a Michigan whitetail hunter.

Gear for the DIY Crowd

Lee admits that the DIY crowd is well prepared. Even so, it seems habitual for hunters, particularly visiting hunters, to stop by the local archery shop for a visit. Sometimes that stop is prodded by sudden changes in weather. Others may stop to purchase a new maps or updates for their GPS to show public land and, of course, there are always the last-minute items that Lee relies on for success.

“In our country, you rarely get the opportunity to drive up to a game animal and toss it into a truck,” Lee said. “That animal is probably coming out on your back, and so we prepare for those last-minute sales. Game bags and knifes, including the popular Havalon and Outdoor Edge series, those styles with replacement blades, are huge sellers to the DIY crowed. Hunters today, particularly the younger generation, want the ease of the replacement knives, and those along with game bags for meat are one of our larger sales items.”

Selling game bags for meat and replacement blades for knives may not seem like big money, but Lee believes it takes a complete inventory to attract the DIY customer. Having the small items could lead to items that many go getters need costing a few more dollars. Two areas where Lee says the profit margins expand are in trail camera sales and solar charging equipment to keep everything battery operated at maximum energy levels.

“Trail cameras have been a big market item for our store,” Lee said. “And with the introduction of cellular compatible models, the category has grown even more for expanded sales. It has been a huge category for us with no slowdown in sight. In a similar wave of technology, we are seeing our solar charging gear sales increase, and the reason is obvious. When you are in camp or the backcountry, you need a way to charge all your devices. Nearly every DIY hunter uses a hunting app on their smartphone, and those who don’t use a GPS. Most operate on a rechargeable system, and solar provides a recharging platform when you can’t plug a device into an outlet.”

Rocky Mountain Discount Sports is seeing more demand for solar charging equipment due to the higher number of handheld electronic devices being used on DIY hunts.
Rocky Mountain Discount Sports is seeing more demand for solar charging equipment due to the higher number of handheld electronic devices being used on DIY hunts.

Although some of these examples from Lee relate to changes in technology and merely how the next generation of hunters expects immediate results, like with knife sharpening, Lee also sees some simplicity in DIY sales. For instance, one of the largest selling products going into archery season, even outselling the camping crowd, is freeze-dried meals.

“Dehydrated and freeze-dried meals sell at a much higher amount during archery season, even exceeding the sales at the peak of camping season during the summer,” said Lee. “It could be the fact that our camping season in the mountains begins late due to the snow pack, but it is obvious that bowhunters demand these goods, and it reflects in high sales.”

Freeze-dried meals are often needed on backcountry DIY adventures, making them especially popular with hunters hiking in the West.
Freeze-dried meals are often needed on backcountry DIY adventures, making them especially popular with hunters hiking in the West.

Lee also dabbles in backpacks, and although he understands most hunters arrive with a pack before the hunt, the store does quite well with even higher end pack sales such as their latest line from Mystery Ranch. Local hunters and those who have visited the area prior understand that to be successful, they are going to have to hike several miles into public lands, and that means packing out game if successful, according to Lee.

Geographical location means everything for sales and because of the location of his store, Lee understands some DIY gear just does not have the same appeal as it might say in the East or Midwest. Treestands and ground blinds are two such items.

“We seem to sell fewer and fewer hunting blinds,” Lee said. “We have one user group, antelope hunters, who rely on them to bowhunt antelope over waterholes, but deer and elk hunters do not use them as much as they would for deer hunts elsewhere. It is the same with treestands. We keep a selection of lightweight stands in stock, those that can be packed in and set up, but it is not a big mover in the store.”

That all changes when your target market is the DIY crowd that focuses on whitetails. Although Gilkes says treestand and pop-up ground blind sales have leveled, the interest in permanent, more expensive blinds, has grown each year.

“The new, big thing and it seems to be a better investment for hunters, is having permanent blinds on your hunting property, especially after investing in food plots,” Gilkes said. “I would say treestands leveled out, but permanent blinds, tower blinds, elevated blinds, sales of all of these are on the increase. With more parents taking kids, women and new hunters out, it is the ideal way to keep inexperienced hunters from freezing to death and enjoy comfort while outdoors. That provides everyone with a great hunting experience.”

Having the DIY gear does help the bottom line, and Lee explains it along these terms: ”Hunting markup is pretty standard. Bows are low markup items, along the lines of ammunition, but many products in the DIY category, such as trail cameras, do have a good margin. Backpacks and clothing also have good margins, along with all accessories including arrows and broadheads. It is a solid customer base to cover if you are looking at increasing store profits.”

Sidebar: Helping the Hunter With Info

Having the right gear for customers with a DIY attitude is your main goal, but Ron Lee, store manager of Rocky Mountain Discount Sports in Wyoming, says that your staff must be helpful beyond showing them the right aisle. One area he tells his employees to be educated and accommodating is access.

“What we have noticed regarding the DIY customer, the first question they typically ask us about is access,” he said. “They want to know where the public land is located, is it worth hunting, and are there any landowners around willing to allow access via a trespass fee.”

Lee admits that most of the traveling hunters are already versed and studied on the public land hunting opportunities when they arrive. What they are looking for is confirmation on their research, and whether they missed anything in their initial review. By being open, honest and aiding in their information quest, Lee believes he earns their respect, which in turn gives him a potential customer for that trip and return visits. He understands if they have a good first trip to the area, then they are highly likely to return, and when they do, they always bring more friends to join in the hunt.

Steve Gilkes, store owner of Ed’s Archery and Sporting Goods in Michigan, shares information and offers advice as well. He is a huge proponent of urging food plot enthusiasts to get soil tests, research crops for specific areas, and talk with those who have been there and done it. Even though he sells many food plot products at his store, he oftentimes suggests to hunters that a visit to a local farm elevator for even more advice is best.

“Sharing information and gaining their trust is a big part of customer service,” Lee said. “More than once I have shown hunters on a map where I hunt, where my daughter got her first deer, and areas we have heard are productive.”


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