Tips for Helping Traveling Bowhunters

Cater to your local customers, but also prepare your store’s aisles for the traveling bowhunter.

Tips for Helping Traveling Bowhunters

Traveling bowhunters require many of the same products as the local crowd, but be aware of unique products to stock with an adequate inventory to make an extra sale.

Bowhunting is not an afterthought for hunters like it was several decades previous. The full-blown obsession of bowhunting has edged into the pursuit of all big game species in nearly every ZIP code. Add to the fact that bowhunters travel more than ever in pursuit of adventure over what in the past was just another activity to spend an extra weekend afield near home. Today, bowhunters even travel to hunt whitetails in small-town America in addition to invading the Rockies for elk, mule deer and pronghorn. Sporting goods stores are just as likely to be assisting traveling hunters as locals in every nook of North America. 

Keep these numbers in mind. According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 2016 National Survey of Fishing, Hunting and Wildlife-Associated Recreation — the latest available data — nearly 11.5 million hunters take to the field annually. Approximately 3.6 million of those (32 percent) are bowhunters who account for 12% of the time spent in the field. My point: out-of-town and out-of-state bowhunters will be hunting in your neck of the woods. 

When bowhunters travel, they may require additional equipment that they forgot to pack or need immediately in case of a mishap. Others who travel by air may simply find it more economical and convenient to pick up items once they arrive at their hunting location. Needs may change depending on the hunting destination and climate, but if you have the item in question stocked and waiting for the traveling bowhunter, you could increase your bottom line with an extra sale.

Harry Langston is the archery lead manager for the Billings, Montana, Cabela’s store; he’s been there since 2016. As a certified national archery coach for 30 years and an avid bowhunter himself, he’s aptly suited to aid traveling bowhunters as they journey through Big Sky Country. He understands that the local bowhunters in Montana are his mainstay customers, but the additional benefit of the traveling bowhunter is something the store simply can’t ignore.

“I would say local bowhunters make up approximately 80% of the market for store sales. The remaining 20% of the market is definitely an out-of-state gain in sales. The economic breakdown likely mirrors the customer breakdown, and that’s more than enough reason to ensure we cater to this market,” said Langston.

Harry Langston, archery lead manager for Cabela’s in Billings, Montana.
Harry Langston, archery lead manager for Cabela’s in Billings, Montana.

Put Out the Welcome Mat

You likely have a good handle on what local bowhunters need, request and even demand. Many of those same items will handle the crossover demands of the traveling bowhunter. Whether you travel or hunt from home, your needs are the same, but as a store manager, you need to keep drop-in hunters in mind as you stock up for bowhunting season. A good example is in licensing. Many states offer over-the-counter license sales. Your customer service department should be set up to serve those customers. Staff should be trained to ensure quick and easy license procurement (if offered). One of the perks of being a license vendor is the additional amount of traffic it brings to your store. In addition to picking up a license, traveling hunters are also likely to purchase lost, forgotten, or last-minute items while in your store.

And you should advertise the fact you offer nonresident or OTC license sales via outdoor advertising, local radio ads and social media posts. Make your social media feed a big buck first stop for updates on trophies taken in the area. Once you gain a following, you can easily tag on sales, updates and a hearty welcome to visiting bowhunters. The hunting community appears large, but in reality, it is a small percentage of the overall population, and word spreads quickly regarding local, helpful stores. 

Whether you live and hunt locally, or travel to a hunting destination, your equipment needs tend to match the demands of the hunt. A review of annual sales and notes on missed sales opportunities will help you hone an inventory over the years, but Langston understands that discounts help drive sales. He’s supported by the national Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s brands with nationwide promotions, but any store can boost attention with seasonal hunting markdowns.

I know that a good sale helped draw me into a store one year to salvage a hunt. Several years ago, while bowhunting Kansas, a unique opportunity arose for a whitetail ambush where a treestand wouldn’t work. I didn’t have a ground blind sitting in reserve, so I drove to a nearby town and shopped for an immediate answer to the hunt. Instead of spending several hundred dollars on a top model, I shopped for a model on sale. I only needed it for a couple of days, and I was going to leave it with a buddy to stash for a future setup. Several models less than $125 caught my eye, and I chose one for the quick fix due to its affordable nature.

Langston visits with traveling bowhunters time and again in need of equipment support. He sees an even split of those looking for a good deal, but he also meets numerous traveling bowhunters who have already spent a small fortune to go on a hunt. They are willing to spend as much as it takes to guarantee the highest success on their upcoming hunt.  

“I get a kick out of the hunters that come out here on the hunt of a lifetime but forget some of the most important gear at home,” Langston said. “For many, the stuff they forget is just short of leaving their bow at home. In fact, one time, I actually did have a hunter admit he did forget his bow at home. We can’t always help someone with that lapse of planning, but most of the time we have a large enough selection of gear to get most up and hunting quickly.”

Everyone loves a good deal and sales; discounts and promotions all help in boosting revenue during hunting season with visiting bowhunters. Nevertheless, Langston understands that traveling bowhunters have no problem spending money when it is a matter of moving the hunt along due to forgotten or malfunctioning gear.

“They’ll pay any amount of money to fix or upgrade gear so they can go hunting, especially when it comes to out-of-town bowhunters,” he said. “Locals may shop for deals, and new hunters may try to get by cheaper, but for most traveling bowhunters, they will spend what they can to hunt successfully.”

One of Langston’s favorite stories is of a bowhunter who left his binocular at home. He wasn’t shy about shopping for the best binocular the store had in stock. And, the hunter purchased two of the same binocular just in case he lost one during the hunt. 


Set the Table

Langston, first and foremost, looks to support the local bowhunting crowd with their top demands of product in addition to a helpful pro shop. As you might imagine, like ammunition in the firearm department, projectiles are top sales for the local customer.

“Pretty much you can count on the local bowhunters purchasing arrows and broadheads as their number one demand,” Langston said. “It’s our top priority, and if you look at our aisles, and displays you’ll see we keep a large selection of both to accommodate that need.”

Do your research, according to Langston. Trends change, and what may be hot one year could easily be a slow seller the following year. This is particularly true of broadheads, and he advises product managers to watch inventories closely. You can’t sell what you don’t have in stock. Langston has nonresident bowhunters regularly stock up on their favorite broadheads because they couldn’t get them back home. That’s a sale you’re stealing, merely due to proper stocking.

“Having a large selection of broadheads on hand and inventorying your selection is important during the hunting season. If you run out of a popular brand, it’s a lost sale,” advised Langston. “We see both the local crowd and our visiting bowhunters stocking up on backups for arrows and broadheads. Another item that locals purchase but traveling bowhunters also shop for during a pre-hunt stop, is a target. We sell lots of targets to bowhunters, especially those that fly in. Make sure to have a good selection on hand to fit all budgets because it is a top mover. When a bowhunter has been traveling, they want to check their bow in camp to make sure the sight wasn’t bumped during the trip.”

Targets are a good seller for traveling bowhunters who wish to check the accuracy of their bow after rigorous travel.
Targets are a good seller for traveling bowhunters who wish to check the accuracy of their bow after rigorous travel.

Another afterthought for many road-warrior hunters is what they are going to do with their game after a successful harvest. Antler preparation, meat storage and the associated necessities to care for taken game sometimes gets overlooked. It’s another last-minute purchase Langston witnesses and recommends sporting goods stores prepare for as additional income opportunities.

“Most visiting bowhunters don’t come with game bags (above), and during the early season, it’s a big purchase item for our store,” he said. “It’s not at all uncommon for them to forget gutting and skinning knives and having a large selection on hand ensures that extra sale. A well-stocked aisle with meat preparation items is paramount for any store but particularly critical to have to cater to the needs of traveling hunters. You may even sell a cooler or two for those who find themselves overwhelmed with too much meat.”

Mother Nature also helps drive sales. The local bowhunter has a closet available to them stocked with hunting clothes to handle all ranges of weather. Often the traveling bowhunter is limited to a duffel bag only. Whether they overlook the need for appropriate outerwear, or The Weather Channel drops a surprise climactic event in their lap, a change in the weather can be a boon to your sales.

Unexpected weather changes sometimes force traveling bowhunters to purchase extra garments.
Unexpected weather changes sometimes force traveling bowhunters to purchase extra garments.

“One of the great things about being in a renowned hunting location is the fact that lots of hunters return year after year. They know what we stock and stop not only for last-minute items but also to purchase completely new camouflage clothes and all the clothing extras,” Langston said.

“Depending on the weather, they may buy hand warmers, gloves, hats, socks or heavier jackets. We even have outfitters bring their clients into the store to make sure the hunters have everything they need for a great hunt,” he said.

A final area Langston recommends sporting goods stores evaluate is their pro shop and ability to assist bowhunters with equipment tuning. As a certified national archery coach, Langston coached his daughter to the 1996 Olympic team, where she was ranked in the top 10 archers in the world. He understands shooting technique and equipment requirements. If a bowhunter requires a repair or simply has a question about how his or her bow is shooting, Langston believes that pro shop help can lead to more sales, plus repeat business in future years. 

“I like to have them bring their bow in and see if it is tuned right if they bring up shooting issues. Some think they can fix it with a different broadhead or arrow, but when I look at many bows, about 80% of the time, it is out of tune,” he said. “I help them tune it and make sure they can hit what they are aiming at. If your store has that support, it can be a big draw for the traveling bowhunter.”

The needs of traveling bowhunter don’t differ much over your local hunting base but having what they need when they need it can create additional revenue during an already busy season. Cater to those needs and keep products in stock to become the all-in-one stop for the new breed of nomadic bowhunter.


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