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Alternative financing options for small businesses are growing quickly. But you need to look closely before you leap.
Small-business lending is becoming big business, with hundreds of millions of dollars raised from new and unique platforms such as crowdfunding, peer-to-peer lending, and marketplace lending. How can a shooting, hunting, or firearms business, particularly one that might have been denied funding from more conventional sources, take advantage of these speedy financing options while avoiding the risks associated with borrowing from these relatively unknown and unregulated lenders?
First and foremost, you need to understand the various options now on the market. The basics:
Crowdfunding employs an online platform to raise small amounts of money for a project or venture from large numbers of people. Only recently has crowdfunding entered the equity arena. Peer-to-peer (P2P) lending involves matching borrowers and lenders through other online platforms. The newer marketplace lending, while largely undefined, encompasses lenders that make loans to higher-risk, lower-income borrowers using micro-finance from larger-scale lenders.
The entire online lending marketplace, sometimes referred to as “shadow banks,” is an emerging segment of the financial services industry that increasingly uses online platforms to lend directly or indirectly to both consumers and small businesses. Borrowers in need of capital are able to gain access to funds quickly, and typically at lower interest rates than those offered by many banks, making them an attractive loan alternative for borrowers. Let’s take a closer look at each segment of this intriguing and evolving source of capital.
Crowdfunding platforms are most commonly known for raising money for worthy causes and special projects. Popular platforms include Kickstarter, Indiegogo, and Crowdrise, which provide reward crowdfunding and, more recently, crowdfunding equity and debt financing. Today, with the permission of the IRS and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), crowdfunding is challenging venture capital and angel funding as an alternative source of financing for many small businesses, including, where permitted, firearms businesses. Equity-based platforms provide backers with shares of the business in exchange for the money pledged. In fact, thanks to the Jumpstart Our Business Startups (JOBS) Act of 2012, small businesses can raise more funds from small investors with fewer restrictions, thus creating more interest in crowdfunding.
New businesses or those in their early stages can pitch an idea to ordinary people as well as wealthy investors who might be interested in investing small amounts of money. In exchange, the business owner offers some small incentive to donors (e.g., a free T-shirt) or a larger incentive (e.g., equity in the business).
The new SEC rules allow businesses to raise up to $1 million online from non-accredited investors in a 12-month period. The compliance (essentially, the federal rules under which lenders must operate) usually required in private fund-raising is waived, though borrowers still must provide financial statements. These statements, however, do not have to be audited. Naturally, the ATF’s “responsible persons” rules, as well as state and local laws, apply.
The amount an investor can invest via crowdfunding will depend on the investor’s income. According to the SEC, an investor with an annual income and net worth of less than $100,000 can invest $2,000, or 5 percent of their net worth, whichever is greater during a 12-month period. An investor with annual income or a net worth equal to or more than $100,000 can invest 10 percent of their annual income or net worth, whichever is greater.
The crowdfunding sites, not the firearms business, must be registered with both the SEC and the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
Borrowing from individuals and other organizations has also grown rapidly and moved into its own category, often referred to as P2P (peer-to-peer) lending. Much like crowdfunding, P2P lending matches borrowers and lenders through an online platform. P2P borrowers can gain access to funds quickly, and often at lower interest rates than those offered at banks, making this, again, an attractive alternative to more conventional bank loans.
The loans issued are made up of funds from many different investors, ranging from individuals to institutions. P2P lenders underwrite borrowers but don’t fund the loans directly; instead, they act as an intermediary between the borrowing business and institutional investors such as hedge funds and investment banks. Those third-party investors can invest in the loans on online P2P marketplaces, and they, not the P2P lenders, take on the investment risk.
Both individual and professional investors benefit by being able to lend money at a range of interest rates based on proprietary credit scores assigned by each platform. Since investors typically fund only a portion of a loan, they can potentially receive steady, attractive returns with the risk spread among multiple borrowers.
As a borrower, the firearms business interacts only with the P2P lender. After investors agree to fund the loan, the P2P lender transfers the total loan amount into the borrower’s bank account. The business/borrower repays the P2P lender, and they deal with repaying the investors.
As a more diversified set of investors, especially institutional investors, become involved on lending platforms, they are driving what has become known as marketplace lending. Online marketplace lending refers to the segment of the financial services industry that uses investment capital to lend directly to small businesses and consumers. Although the volume is tiny when compared with traditional bank lending, marketplace lending is growing.
Marketplace lenders employ new, largely automated underwriting processes. Some lenders purportedly rely on big data not evaluated as part of a traditional bank’s underwriting processes. However, there has yet to be one consistent, concise definition of what marketplace lending truly means.
The U.S. Treasury has issued a rather broad definition for “Marketplace Lending,” stating that it is: “The segment of the financial services industry that uses investment capital and data-driven online platforms to lend either directly or indirectly to small businesses and so-called consumers.” They go on to say: “Companies operating in this industry tend to fall into three general categories: (1) Balance sheet lenders, (2) online platforms (formerly known as “Peer to Peer” or “P2P”), and (3) bank-affiliated online lenders.” In general, a marketplace lender can be described more concisely as a non-banking financial institution that heavily leverages technology to drive simplicity and speed of process, and serves a two-sided market of consumers and investors.
Marketplace lenders are currently required to comply with federal consumer financial protection laws, such as the Truth in Lending Act, Equal Credit Opportunity Act, Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, and Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act. Peer-to-peer lenders who fund loans through third-party investors (rather than from their own balance sheets) may also be subject to securities regulation. For the most part, though, marketplace lenders usually are not subject to comprehensive federal or state supervision. However, many marketplace lenders rely on banks to originate loans and merely purchase those loans for resale to platform investors.
For these lenders, a borrower may indirectly receive the same regulatory protections as any bank customer. In addition, a marketplace lender that acts as a service provider to one or more banks may be examined by bank regulatory agencies.
Old Or New?
The majority of alternative online lenders lack a brick-and-mortar presence with which to interact with borrowers. This makes it extremely important for borrowers to spend the time necessary to differentiate the models. As previously explained, each type of lender has its own unique business model, with varying revenue streams and diverse motivations for serving their customers.
Bank loans continue to dominate the financing space for small and mid-size businesses in need of capital. But by design, online funding portals are more nimble, enabling them to operate with lower costs by not having to follow the same compliance and regulatory requirements. Crowdfunding, peer-to-peer loans, and the closely related marketplace loans offer an often less expensive source for the funds needed by a firearms business. They also tend to be much faster than funding through a more conventional bank or financial institution. Deciding which alternative will benefit your firearms business and be less costly may require the services of a loan broker or other qualified professional. At the very least, all options should be thoroughly researched on the internet they all utilize. In this case, it surely pays to look before you leap.
—Mark E. Battersby
—Illustrations by Adofo Valle
For Sig Sauer, building a state-of-the-art ammo plant required a whole new approach
E. W. Bliss was a manufacturer of heavy equipment (power-stamping presses and the like), founded in Brooklyn, New York, in 1867. It has long been out of business. So, why, you might ask, will you find one of its vintage machines on the brass line at Sig Sauer’s brand-spanking-new ammunition factory in Jacksonville, Arkansas? A factory that was designed—according to Daniel Powers, president of Sig’s ammo business—to be a state-of-the-art ammo plant created from “the ground up with a clean slate” to use the latest in efficient production techniques?
Because Powers is no dummy, and he knew that those old Bliss machines, once properly retrofitted with modern software controls, would work splendidly with Sig’s new high-tech machines, some of which he personally designed.
Another question that might occur, given the competitive nature of the ammo business, is why Sig Sauer is in the ammo business at all? The answer to that question is supplied by Bud Fini, Sig Sauer’s executive vice president.
“Why did we feel it was necessary to design and build a new ammo plant? Well, there were two reasons. First, as a manufacturer of firearms, we shoot an awful lot of ammunition while testing and developing our products. Millions of rounds per year. And we found that the ammunition we purchased on the open market was not up to our standards.”
Think, for a moment, about the magnitude of that problem. You’re spending precious resources to develop high-quality firearms, and you don’t know if function issues are the result of a design or production flaw on your part or the ammo you’re using in testing.
“We realized it wasn’t the firearm,” Fini says. “It was the ammunition. And the only way to get the quality of ammunition we wanted was to make it ourselves.
“Second, Sig is an international company. We do a lot of business overseas with governments, military, and police, and those people have become accustomed to what a lot of people have become accustomed to—one-stop shopping. Consumers like to go one place for a complete system.”
That rationale dovetails into the first.
“If they [government, military, police] do a tender for a firearm and someone else supplies the ammunition, who do they go to if they have a problem? Is it an ammunition problem or is it a firearm problem? Selling complete packages solves the problem.”
One last question. Why should a retailer carry Sig Sauer ammo? What’s the benefit?
“I’ve been in the industry for 42 years, and I’ve worked with or for a number of manufacturers,” Fini says. “I find Sig to have the highest customer loyalty of any company I’ve ever worked for. People are truly dedicated to the brand.”
Fini believes a smart retailer can take advantage of that brand loyalty. “I think a retailer’s sales ability increases when he tries to give someone a corresponding product made by the same manufacturer.”
In other words, if a customer purchases a Sig Sauer firearm, the retailer should be able to put a box or two of Sig ammunition in front of that customer and make that additional sale.
There’s also something else at work here: a company ethic that prizes quality above all else. “At Sig, we do things a little differently,” Fini says. “We don’t buy other people’s inventions or companies and re-brand them. We start from a clean sheet of paper and we build it from the ground up because we think we can build a better product.
“Jacksonville started with a completely clean slate. The building was a former warehouse, and that allowed us to custom-design the facility exactly the way we wanted. That gives us an incredible competitive advantage. And it gives the retailer who carries Sig ammo along with other Sig products a competitive advantage in a highly competitive marketplace.”
Proving the Theory
Sig Sauer made the decision to manufacture its own line of ammunition in 2012. By early 2013, ammo was rolling off the line in a 25,000-square-foot plant in Kentucky. It wasn’t an ideal site, but it was a start.
“Kentucky proved our theory, that we could make our own quality ammo,” says Powers. “We started with five products, and within a year were producing 26.”
What became very apparent, very quickly as it turned out, was that the Kentucky facility was woefully inadequate to meet Sig’s long-term needs. It didn’t even have enough room for a brass line, a component for which Sig wanted full control. Sig not only needed a facility large enough to house those old Bliss warhorses, it also required a site that could accommodate the manufacturer’s ambitious plans for growth. The Jacksonville ammo plant covers 70,000 square feet, leaving plenty of room for expansion. In addition, the company purchased another 43 acres of adjacent land.
“A clean slate and a new site required new thinking and a new way of doing things,” Powers says. And that “clean slate” concept allowed Sig to incorporate on-site testing facilities into the original design in Jacksonville. “We couldn’t shoot on-site in Kentucky,” he says. “Here, we have six ranges on-site, and we can shoot indoors, in controlled circumstances. It saves us a lot of valuable time.”
The ammo plant also has a climate-controlled room where specs can be checked. For example, during my visit, a technician was checking the runout of selected casings. Here, again, you will see a blending of the old and the new. The stout gauge stands were from the 1940s, but they were equipped with state-of-the-art instrumentation, all of it tied into computers and iPads.
Another room is devoted to making ballistic gelatin. The hot-water tank where the gelatin is dissolved and the refrigerators where the blocks are stored are precisely controlled for temperature. In this way, Sig engineers know they will have a consistent and unvarying medium into which to shoot. Testing for FBI protocols is across the hall, limiting the distance the gelatin must travel. Doing so also saves a great deal of time, further enhancing the efficiency of the facility.
This attention to detail extends to the components sourced from other manufacturers. “We work with various powder and primer manufacturers and test 50 to 75 different loads of every powder and primer for overall performance before selecting the combination that meets our goals for each particular round,” says Powers. “Similar care is taken when selecting the best brass from various sources, and we are moving toward making our rifle brass in-house.”
Precision and Consistency
Powers likes to say, “We consider ourselves to be an engineering company. Right now, the plant employs 72 full-time workers, 10 of whom are engineers.”
He’s proud of that ratio. “We spend more on R&D than any other company,” he says.
Here’s just one example of that philosophy in action. Sig engineers are obsessed with ignition consistency, as they believe, rightly, consistent ignition helps produce consistent accuracy. So, they designed and built a proprietary machine that could precisely fashion the flash hole that would help deliver that consistency.
These telling details also help explain the overall design of the plant. The engineering team can get to the line quickly and easily, and the testing areas are just off the main floor. Powers believes the layout of the factory lets his team be “more nimble,” which helps lower the cost of the final product. But to Powers, the most important aspect of the new ammo plant just might be quality.
“Here, we can control quality right from the beginning.” And that’s a great place to be.
Currently, Sig Sauer ammunition is available in the following configurations. Pistol: V-Crown (JHP): .380 Auto, .38 Spl., 9mm, .357 Sig, .357 Mag., .38 Super +P, .40 S&W, 10mm, .44 Rem. Mag., .44 S&W Spl., .45 Auto, and .45 Colt. SIG FMJ: .380 Auto, .38 Spl., 9mm, .357 Sig, .357 Mag., .38 Super +P, .40 S&W, 10mm, and .45 Auto. Rifle: Match Grade Open Tip Match (OTM): .223 Rem., .308 Win., .300 Win. Mag., 300BLK Subsonic, 300BLK Supersonic, and 6.5 Creedmoor. Hunting: Sig HT: .223 Rem., .308 Win., .300 Win. Mag., and 300BLK Supersonic.
—Slaton L. White
Used guns can be a valuable profit center, but not if they’re relegated to a dim corner of the shop
Hoo-boy. Twelve hundred bucks. “I remember when these sold for $25!” I couldn’t help saying so. The proprietor shrugged. “Wish I’d bought a bunch of ’em, too!” He understood. An old Krag carbine propped in a corner once got all the attention of a broom. Now, an unaltered specimen is a prize.
None of the rifles in that secondhand rack had escaped damage or tinkering. I’d scrutinized all, from aged infantry arms to a bruised Savage 99 perforated for a side mount. The dozen or so shotguns had seen hard field use, with one exception—An early Ithaca 37 appeared factory-fresh. No tag. “How much?”
“I’ll knock off some for cash.” He then quoted a figure six times as much as the 16-bore had cost new. I sighed, thanked him, and perused the pistols. A Python at two grand. A reblued S&W K38, a few 1911s, and Ruger single-actions.
Paying the Bills
You may not have left that shop, as I did, without a closer look at those new striker-fired guns or the AR-15s and synthetic-stocked bolt rifles lining the wall. But if you’re selling, not shopping, your habits matter little. Customers pay your bills, and right now in many gun stores, traffic is migrating toward secondhand racks of used guns.
“We get regular visits from old duffers,” a shop owner told me. “They shuffle past the new stuff, hoping they’re first to a recent trade-in we’ve underpriced.” While we talked, one of his regulars entered. Plaid shirt and roomy jeans. Fleshy middle. Silvered hair thin at the hem of a ball cap. He paused briefly at the Krag, lifting his chin to check the price through bifocals. “A hard sell,” nodded the proprietor. “Knows guns. But he’ll strip out the green if he thinks someone might otherwise beat him to a deal.”
Later, in another shop, I watched a repeat of that scene. This time the customer was young, in his mid-30s. He wasted not a glance at a row of shiny new MSRs. Instead, we shared the rack of used guns.
If visitors to your shop are spending less time browsing lately, they’re probably spending less. As automobile dealers know, people kept onsite, eyes and hands on product, are most apt to buy. You’ve no doubt completed 4473s for customers bent only on leaving with specific hardware, but such blessed sales may well diminish as the imperative to snap up modern sporting rifles has faded, if only temporarily. From what I see and hear, enthusiasts are now supplanting first-time buyers of bedside pistols and novice hunters sifting prices of entry-level long guns.
Enthusiasts include an eclectic mix of people, some with narrow focus. You won’t lure them all. However broad and competitively priced your selection of firearms, it will only by chance draw a check from an advanced collector. But the history, scarcity, and obsolescence that make guns collectible enhance the value of more available, affordable models. These can suck in traffic to your shop when monochromatic ranks of the latest MSRs fail to draw a crowd.
Remember wood? It once appeared on firearms. At a gun show decades ago, I bought a restocked Mauser with a lovely piece of French walnut because the owner had many rifles to sell and quoted a grad-student price. That .270 would bring with it the friendship of a man who, over many years, would teach me much about rifles. I bought a dozen more from him. He had no shop, but I was surely a customer.
A single sale can spark a relationship that serves buyer and seller. It can broaden the enthusiast’s field of interest, as it did mine. It all but ensures repeat visits as well. If memory serves, I’ve returned to every shop that has sold me a firearm, and referred other enthusiasts to them.
Unlike new models with only mechanical and ballistic virtues, secondhand guns have character. They’ve traveled, some to wild places. They’ve molded someone’s holster or scabbard, or pulled birds to someone’s prize retriever. Each has a past as unique as the walnut in its stock or grips.
Last fall I hunted with a borrowed 1899 Savage. This .25/35 had short reach, an anemic punch. But it brought to hand that innocent time before the Great War. Silently it carried an era all but palpable in its wear-polished walnut, barely veiled behind its brass front blade.
“I got a new rifle last week,” said a pal on the phone recently. He builds super-accurate rifles on costly actions, so I expected him to extol the virtues of some modern wunderkind. Instead, he said, “It’s a .22 High Power. Dates to the ’20s. Know where I can find some .227 bullets?”
You won’t get such interesting firearms from factories or distributors. You’ll have to buy or trade for them. The internet has reduced the chances you’ll find a steal in local classifieds. But not every hunter old enough to have paid $315 for his Browning Superposed or $95 for a S&W 38/44 Outdoorsman lives online or wants to ship guns. Let customers know you’re looking for used guns—and can appraise them. The best guns from estates often wind up with appraisers. When price stalls a customer ogling a new gun at your counter, recite the car-dealer mantra: “We give top dollar for trades!”
A car lot packed with shiny vehicles draws the most interest. So your shop will get more traffic if the used-gun racks are full. Plumping your secondhand inventory also costs less than adding new guns.
The Blue Book of Gun Values is a huge help in pricing firearms. Reaching beyond local markets, you’ll find more secondhand used guns and can nudge your asking prices higher. But staying local throttles advertising and shipping costs as well as risk. You get models and chamberings popular in your region, guns most likely to attract walk-in buyers.
Your gun shop isn’t a hardware store. Customers don’t need firearms the way they need hammers and doorknobs. They don’t dash in and hurry out. Instead, they loiter, holstering, aiming, and swinging as they imagine the next hunt or contemplate personal safety. They find in your digs other enthusiasts to chat up, learn from, and argue with. A used-gun rack triggers memories that fuel stories. Everyone likes stories. Everyone longs to be an important part of a larger narrative.
Oddly enough, many shops give secondhand guns second-tier status, stacking them at rack ends or in dim corners. To draw attention to used guns, display them prominently and apart from new ones, so buyers like me see them. Mark the model, chambering, and price on a hang tag anyone can read without having to handle the firearm. Add another tag to note attributes that hike value (“pre-’64” for a Winchester 70, for example). Accoutrements like costly scopes and folding tang sights may profit you most when sold separately.
Cabela’s taps into the imagination of customers with plush Gun Libraries that add perceived value to used firearms. Bristling with antlers bigger than most hunters will ever see afield, Cabela’s is a destination, not just a source. Your gun shop, if less palatial, can work the same magic.
Besides taxidermy, you can add posters and calendars. The iconic image of John Wayne, Winchester in one hand, saddle in the other, still appeals to men of his generation—but also to youth. The Duke was a screen hero; heroes command attention. Although black-and-white Westerns have given way to dark police serials, the appeal of a cowboy at full gallop, carbine or six-gun in hand, remains. Resurrect the Old West near racks of early lever rifles and stacks of Cowboy Action ammo, and you may attract even those ogling the guns of “black-ops” video games. Theme-based enticements to other firearms include hunting photos, vintage cartridge boxes, or copies or covers of period magazines. Old bullet boards and the more affordable tin reproductions of industry placards also set the mood.
Bringing your shop to life in this manner broadens the overall appeal of these guns and helps draw in new, younger customers. When bent, graying duffers in loose overalls must step around customers in their 20s and 30s to peruse your used guns, you’re on the path to bigger profits.
Cartridges and Caveats
Most shooters know the .244 and 6mm Remington are identical, that the 7×57, 7mm Mauser, and .275 Rigby are also one, and that the 7.62×51 NATO is a military .308. They know you can fire .22 Shorts in .22 Long Rifle chambers, .38 Specials in .357s, .44 Specials in .44 Magnums, .45 Colts in .454 Casulls. They may know the .41 Magnum, with a .410 bullet, doesn’t follow suit; .41 Long Colt bullets mic .386!
Knowing common cartridge substitutions in old firearms—and those to avoid—can help you sell guns bored for obsolete rounds. For instance, .25/35 ammo can be used in rifles for the .25/36 Marlin. But while .38/55 rifles accept .375 Winchester ammo, its high pressure makes it hazardous in vintage .38/55s.
A common question: Are the .223 and 5.56 the same? The .223 arrived in 1957 for the Armalite AR-15 rifle. After adoption by the U.S. military, and a couple of bullet changes, it became the 5.56×45 NATO. Remington began barreling .223 rifles with an abbreviated throat and steep leade (entering angle of the lands) to enhance accuracy. The generous chambers of battle rifles aided cycling with dirty ammo. Case dimensions for the .223 and 5.56 are the same. Ballisticians tell me, though, that the .223 is loaded to 55,400 CUP, 5.56 service loads to 58,500. Freebore in .223s is commonly .125 shorter than in 5.56s. SAAMI recommends that shooters do not use 5.56 ammo in .223 barrels.
Guarantees on used firearms? Your call. Whether buying or selling, I assume every sale is final. It’s the frontier way to deal in used guns.
Selling Tips By the Dozen
Having bought many firearms since my first in 1964, and sold far too many, I’ve learned the following:
1 Brands matter. Guns with a name other than the manufacturer’s (Glenfield, not Marlin) bring less.
2 Common models in pristine condition sell quickly and at a premium, especially with box and tag.
3 Pretty wood makes an ordinary gun look valuable. So do screws that have never been touched.
4 A light scrub with a toothbrush and boiled linseed oil renews checkering. Follow with a dry brush.
5 Refinishing and alterations repel enthusiasts, even if the changes don’t affect feel or function.
6 Cleaning a bore is like detailing the interior of a car: a quick, easy effort certain to be noticed.
7 A cheap or marred scope adds no value to a fine rifle. Ditto a cheap strap. A proper leather sling can!
8 Unscarred period scopes and mounts are best left on if the rifle was drilled or altered to accept them.
9 Custom-built rifles seldom bring near-replacement cost, and are often hard to move even when priced low.
10 A dark bore or a frosted throat doesn’t preclude tight groups, but it can affect how soon a gun sells.
11 Cylinder play on the crane and indexing tells much about a revolver’s past, and its accuracy.
12 Replacing a badly fitted or shaped aftermarket recoil pad, or a disfigured one, can help a gun sell.
—Wayne Van Zwoll
—Opening Photo by Tim Irwin
Tom Hudson had a vision, and when he acted on it, his community benefited
At one point in his life, Tom Hudson sold tractors to farmers. He also spent time as a media/ad executive at Meredith Corporation, a Des Moines, Iowa, media giant, best known as the publisher of Better Homes and Gardens magazine.
But he was also a shooter, one who was amazed to learn that this 600,000-person community had no indoor shooting range.
“I grew up in Wyoming. Guns were part of my lifestyle,” he says.
So, he put together a team that included seven investors and explored the idea of filling that void.
“I researched for 18 months, visiting ranges all over the country,” he says. “I looked at every one through the lens of what kind of operation my community would support.”
Hudson wanted a place that had the feeling of a local mom-and-pop shop—that all-important sense of community—but it also needed to be a facility with the feel of a national brand. That meant it had to be clean, well lighted, and well organized, with a friendly yet knowledge and approachable staff.
The model? Apple.
“The store itself needed to be warm and welcoming, and my staff needed to be able to connect with people in a positive way,” he says.
He early on decided against hiring the all-too-common irascible gun expert. “I can’t teach soft skills,” he says. “And being able to work with people, some of whom may have very little experience with firearms, is vital to our success.”
The Other Half
CrossRoads Shooting Sports opened in February 2015, in the Des Moines suburb of Johnston. The store, which I visited recently, is everything Tom Hudson envisioned. There are three shooting bays, two of which have windows so customers can watch the action. The third bay, used by law enforcement for practice and certification, has no windows in order to ensure privacy.
Rather than the usual long rows of shelving, CrossRoads features a series of shorter shelves, many of which are placed at angles to create a more inviting, less overwhelming shopping experience. The low-rise gun case/countertops use soft-glow interior lighting similar to that found in high-end jewelry and watch stores. Those display cases, which Tom Hudson admits “cost me a lot,” are also theft-prevention units with roll-down security covers.
Off the selling floor, Hudson has created a conference/training room for the various types of instruction CrossRoads offers, including permit renewals and concealed-carry courses. Another room contains a state-of-the-art simulator that also can be used to help shooters develop critical skills.
Sixty percent of his customers are new shooters, and 45 percent are women, half of whom come in alone. That may be why nearly half the staff is female, including range program manager Sheena Green.
Green, an accomplished shooter, says, “The number-one rule for selling to women is revolvers are great, but with all the other handguns out there, they shouldn’t always be the first option presented to a woman.”
Her experience behind the counter and on the line has yielded three other tips that can help retailers connect to women shooters. “First, you need to develop the right approach,” she says. “Be the salesperson who asks questions and really listens to the reason why she’s in your store. You may discover additional ways your business can provide service or training beyond a gun purchase. If you’re the one doing all the talking, you’ll never find those things out.
“Second, give her your attention. If a couple is in the store looking at guns, but the gun will be for her, direct all your questions to her. Buying a new gun and learning how to shoot can be an empowering experience, and your sales staff should take pride in being a part of that process.
“Third, keep a woman’s perspective. If you have female staff, chances are they have opinions about gear and guns. Find out what they are so you can use their experiences as examples when talking about different products. This is true when the products are designed for women. For example, I wrote up a list of talking points so our sales staff could have conversations with customers about the Can Can Holster line [concealed-carry holsters specifically designed for women] without me having to be there all the time.”
CrossRoads specializes in personal and home defense and concealed carry. It has a rental program that allows customers to try out firearms and calibers before they buy, which is all part of Hudson’s mission to create “total value to the customer, rather than just a financial transaction. We should be seen as a community resource.”
And though the business model is firmly rooted in personal protection, Hudson hasn’t forgotten the fun of shooting. The range offers several ongoing and popular thematic shoots, such as Friday Date Nights, Valentine’s Day, and Halloween. “We even have a Silent Night shoot, one that features suppressors,” he says.
CrossRoads was quickly recognized by NSSF as an exemplary facility, and it proudly posts its Five Star Range certificate. (CrossRoads earned this distinction under the old rating system; it is currently working on its application under the new NSSF Star-Rating Range Program.) It has also been honored with another award—The Crimson Trace Premium Range Award. In fact, it is the first range in the country to be so honored. It earned this distinction by participating in a retailer education program Crimson Trace calls the Crimson Trace Classroom, the object of which is to educate retailers about the benefits of laser-sight systems. The program includes a 50-round course of fire designed to give participating sales staff the kind of hands-on experience that can help them thoroughly explain what a laser sight is and how it works.
Crimson Trace believes such training is vital to its continued success. That’s why it has also established the Crimson Trace Premium Range Award.
“Crimson Trace has again raised the bar on customer service by establishing our Premium Range Program and working closely with top-tier firearms retailers across America to help them better serve their customers, who are also Crimson Trace customers,” says Lane Tobiassen, Crimson Trace president.
Casey Hauan, Crimson Trace’s regional sales rep, presented the award to Tom Hudson during my visit. “CrossRoads was easy to partner with because the range and shop are a symbiotic relationship,” he told me after the presentation. “They feed off each other.”
Indeed they do. And given that this operation is at the intersection of customer and community service, it is also very well named.
—Slaton L. White
Semi-autos rule the roost, but there is demand for pump-actions as well
Duck and goose hunters demand performance from their shotguns. Their guns must deliver heavy loads of shot reliably in the harshest conditions. Sell the right gun to a waterfowler and you can earn a customer who will be back time and again for ammunition, clothing, and gear throughout waterfowl seasons, which run almost non-stop from Canada geese and teal in September to snow geese in early spring.
When hunters come to you for waterfowl shotguns, here’s what you need to know.
Most waterfowl hunters want semi-auto shotguns. Most, but not all, who buy pumps hope to trade up to a semi-auto someday. Although there are some very good pumps made, the budget, entry-level models will be most popular. Over/unders are rarely seen in the marsh.
Gas or Inertia
Both semi-auto actions have their fans. In a nutshell, inertia guns are more reliable in bad weather and don’t get as dirty as gas guns, but they kick more. Gas guns offer noticeable recoil reduction, and the best of them are almost as reliable as inertia guns; they do require more maintenance, though. Be ready to explain the advantages of each. The hardcore hunter who goes every day and rarely cleans guns may prefer inertia, while the hunter who would like to use the same gun for doves and clays is better off with a gas gun.
The 3-inch 12-gauge will serve for all but long-range goose hunting. A 3½-inch gun costs a couple of hundred dollars more than the same gun with a 3-inch chamber, and 3½ recoil can be stout. That’s the case for a 3-inch 12-gauge, but understand that many hunters want the option of shooting 3½-inch shells whether they ever actually shoot them or not. They may also want to use the gun for spring turkeys with 3½-inch shells.
The 10-gauge has a small but loyal cult following, but there are only two 10s currently on the market. Unless you live in an area where Canada geese are king, you probably don’t have to stock 10s.
Twenty gauges have grown in popularity lately among experienced hunters, and they have always been the first gun of young waterfowlers, so you’ll want to have full- and youth-size 20s in your inventory. As more women come into the sport, the temptation for many retailers is to sell them a 20. However, unless your female customer is tiny, she’s probably better off with a 12-gauge gas gun, which will be soft-shooting and much more effective on game.
Never mind that our fathers killed birds with walnut-stocked guns. Most hunters now want synthetic, either in black or a camo pattern. Black guns usually sell for $100 less than camo. While camo looks cool to today’s hunters, a strong selling point of camo dipping is that it protects steel parts from external rust.
Guns get lighter every year, with many now under 7 pounds. It’s easy to sell a gun that seems to fly to the hunter’s shoulder when they try it out, and I won’t tell you to argue with them. The truth, though, is that heavy guns of 8 pounds or so are easier to shoot and absorb recoil better; lightweight 3½-inch guns can kick brutally. If a hunter mostly hunts ducks but wants the option of the occasional 3½-inch shell, let him buy a light gun. A goose hunter who plans to shoot a lot of heavy magnums will be happier with a heavier gun in the long run.
A 28-inch barrel is the most popular barrel length, though some hunters choose 26 or even 24 inches. The old standard 30-inch barrel is rare. Barrel length has to do entirely with balance and very little with ballistics or sighting plane. Shooters hardly ever wish they had bought a shorter barrel, but often wish they had bought a longer one. Push the 28-inch barrels.
Many semi-autos and a few pumps come with shim kits to adjust stock dimensions. Some guns also offer adjustable length of pull by means of spacer kits. Not only does that simplify the chore of altering synthetic stock length, which can be tricky, it allows a hunter to shorten a stock to accommodate heavier clothing in the late season. If you can learn how to perform an in-store fitting, you’ll be offering a service big boxes can’t match.
What To Sell
Here’s a cheat sheet on the waterfowl shotguns your customers will be asking for:
Benelli Super Black Eagle 3: The new Super Black Eagle 3 has been slimmed down and lightened, and features an improved recoil-reduction system. It also has a bolt that eliminates the “Benelli click” misfire that occurs when the bolt is nudged out of battery. SRP: $1,799–$1,899. (benelliusa.com)
Beretta A400 Xtreme: Beretta’s flagship 3½-inch semi-auto is the last word in gas-gun technology. It’s reliable and soft-shooting and comes with a very effective Kick-Off recoil reducer in the stock and a slick magazine cap that comes off with just a half-turn. SRP: $1,750, black; $1,900, camo. (beretta.com)
Beretta A300: One of the best deals in a gas gun on the market, the A300 is a 3-inch gun based on the discontinued Beretta 391. SRP: $800, black; $900, walnut and camo. (beretta.com)
Franchi Affinity: The Franchi line (owned by Benelli) features inertia guns at a much lower price point. The Affinity also now comes in a Catalyst version with a stock designed for women. SRP: $849–$999. (franchiusa.com)
Browning Maxus: Browning’s top-of-the-line gas gun comes in 3- and 3½-inch versions and features low recoil, a unique forend latch in place of a magazine cap, and a “turnkey” plug that can be removed and replaced almost instantly. SRP: $1,379–$1,659. (browning.com)
Browning A5: An inertia gun with the humpback profile of the classic Auto 5, the new A5 is lightweight, reliable, and available in 3- and 3½-inch versions. SRP: $1,499–$,1759. (browning.com)
Winchester SX4: Re-plac-ing the popular SX3 gas gun, the SX4 is more or less the same gun at a lower price, thanks to manufacturing efficiencies. It also has a safety, bolt handle, and closer button. SRP: $799–$1,069. (winchesterguns.com)
Remington VersaMax: The softest-shooting gas gun around, thanks to its heft and a unique gas system, the VersaMax makes a good choice for hunters who shoot lots of 3½-inch shells. A no frills “Sportsman” is an excellent deal in a 3½-inch magnum. SRP: $1,069–$1,664. (remington.com)
Remington V3: Patterned after the VersaMax, the V3 is a 3-inch semi-auto that fills the shoes of the legendary 11-87. Very reliable, rugged, and easy to clean, it’s a very good buy in a gas gun. SRP: $895–$995. (remington.com)
Browning BPS: A well-made, high-quality gun, the BPS costs more than most pumps. Left-handed shooters love the BPS for its bottom ejection and top safety. Also available in 10-gauge and full-size and compact 20-gauge. SRP: $699–$949. (browning.com)
Remington 870 Express: Remington’s classic pump comes in several versions suitable for waterfowlers, from the low-priced base model to a full-camo, 3½-inch Super Magnum. Also in 20-gauge full-size and compact versions. SRP: $417–$629. (remington.com)
Mossberg 930 & 935: Mossberg offers its 3- and 3½-inch semi-autos in an impressive Pro Series waterfowler model with corrosion-resistant internal parts and stainless springs. SRP: $874–$959. (mossberg.com)
Mossberg 835: The first 3½-inch 12-gauge ever made, the 835 has a near 10-gauge diameter barrel for superior patterns with big shot. SRP: $518–$604. (mossberg.com)
Benelli Nova: With a one-piece polymer stock and receiver, the Nova is a durable, heavy, and slick 3½-inch pump gun. Also available in 20-gauge. SRP: $449–$559. (benelliusa.com)
Weatherby SA-08: This lightweight and inexpensive Turkish-made gas gun has nothing but satisfied owners. In 3-inch 12-gauge and full-size and compact 20- gauge. SRP: $649–$749, camo. (weatherby.com)
Chokes, Slings, and Cases
Most waterfowl guns come with sling swivels, so it makes sense to keep a selection of slings in stock. Avery’s (averyoutdoors.com) neoprene slings are popular among hunters. I like the Quake (quakeinc.com) rubber Claw slings. Floating gun cases (bandedbrands) are another good accessory to keep in stock, as are magazine plugs.
Waterfowl hunters love choke tubes almost as much as turkey hunters do, and they make a good upsell with a new gun. Patternmaster (patternmaster.com) are probably the most popular, but Kick’s High Flyers (kicks-ind.com), Carlson Cremators (choketube.com), and Brileys (briley.com) also sell well. Instead of being sold by constriction, most are labeled by purpose, such as “over decoys” (usually a Light Modified) or “pass shooting/long range” (Improved Modified). Most hunters want the tightest choke they can get, but really they should have two—an open choke and tight choke.
Waterfowling is Big Business
Forget the Golden Age of the middle of the last century. today’s waterfowlers are wading chest-deep in some of the best conditions in modern times. A stable, and in some cases increasing, number of duck and goose hunters are enjoying an unprecedented boom in both numbers of birds migrating and length of seasons. Manufacturers and retailers are recognizing this trend and are jumping on the duck boat bandwagon with a host of new product lines and marketing efforts that are reaching an increasingly young and hungry group of waterfowl hunters.
“In terms of species abundance, variety, and availability, it’s never been better for most hunters alive today,” says James Powell, director of communications for Ducks Unlimited. “Growing, stable, and healthy waterfowl populations for significantly more than a decade have led to long seasons and generous bag limits for most species and in most flyways, with few exceptions.”
According to the most recent Trends in Duck Breeding Populations survey jointly released by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Canadian Wildlife Service in July 2016, overall duck populations were estimated at 48.4 million, 38 percent higher than the 50-year long-term average. That includes a projected fall flight index for mallards, the most popular target for duck hunters, at 13.5 million, one of the highest totals on record. A growing population of Canada geese adapting to urban areas has led to August and September seasons for these nuisance populations, while the Spring Snow Goose Conservation Order keeps dedicated waterfowlers in the field through April and May. In some areas it’s possible for hunters to chase some type of waterfowl 10 months out of the year.
In recent years, there has been a broader awareness and acceptance of waterfowling in and among the general public and in all forms of media. Whether you attribute that to the explosive popularity of Duck Dynasty or the efforts of conservation organizations such as Ducks Unlimited and Delta Waterfowl, which have both grown significantly in public recognition over the past five to 10 years, waterfowl hunting and that unique way of life has really captured the attention of other hunters, and even nonhunters, who now seem to be intrigued by duck hunting and the waterfowling lifestyle.
“I definitely experience professionally through my travels and personally through my 13-year-old son and his friends that duck hunting has become cool again,” says Powell. “I routinely see the DU duck head and other waterfowl-related stickers on truck windows. I also see waterfowling apparel worn at school and around town. And waterfowl camo? It’s everywhere. A younger generation seems to really have embraced waterfowling as not only okay to do, but as a fashionable and socially acceptable lifestyle to embrace.”
Powell also notes the phenomenon is not limited just to guys. “I see it across the entire gender, race, and income-level spectrum. I keep reading in reports there are fewer and fewer duck hunters around, but what my eyes see, and my ears hear, is that there are lots of us out there.”
After years of decline, anecdotal evidence suggests that waterfowler numbers are increasing or, at the very least, stabilizing. And more to the point, these hunters are passionate and dedicated to their sport, perhaps even more so than other casual hunters. In terms of gear, waterfowling is one of the most equipment intensive of the hunting pursuits, requiring a spread of decoys, a lanyard full of calls, weather-beating apparel, insulating waders, a durable shotgun, and, of course, a case of shells. Consider this, too: A deer hunter may shoot one cartridge a season, but a waterfowler may go through a box (or more) of shells a day. Bottom line: Waterfowlers require a wide variety of products, and they’re more than willing to spend the dollars to get them. Manufacturers and retailers who ignore them do so at their own peril.
“I see and hear marketing experts turn their noses up at waterfowlers as a desired demographic because there aren’t as many of us as there are big-game hunters,” says Powell. “That’s a short-sighted mistake, in my opinion. We’re a stable, once-again growing group that is more passionate and committed to our pursuit than anyone else I can think of. And importantly, we spend more on gear, on average, than other hunters.”
For whatever reason, waterfowlers thrive in the worst conditions imaginable. From crashing waves to wind-driven snow and sub-zero temperatures, the more difficult the elements, the better the gunning, or so goes conventional wisdom. It’s this kind of weather that duck and goose hunters regularly find themselves battling, and for that, they need apparel that keeps them out in it. It doesn’t hurt if it looks good too, with swamp-specific camo such as Realtree Max-5, Mossy Oak Shadow Grass, and Optifade Marsh serving as a mark of honor signifying membership in the brotherhood and sisterhood of waterfowlers.
A number of brands have recognized the need for functional, quality apparel (including footwear). Tech-forward tailor Sitka introduced a waterfowl line a few years back and recently expanded on it with a line just for duck hunters who find themselves deep in the dark timber. Drake and Banded both led the way in terms of waterfowl-only apparel makers. Even the big-box stores are in on it, with Cabela’s touting its Northern Flight line and Bass Pro trumpeting its long-standing Redhead brand. All this competition for duck-hunter dollars has led to increased innovation and, for waterfowlers, better gear that works as advertised.
“Waterfowling has gone through several changes in the last decade, all revolving around equipment,” says John Gordon, public relations manager for Banded Holding, which recently acquired the popular waterfowling brand Avery. “The four-wheeler has given way to the UTV side-by-sides, surface-drive mud motors are more the norm than novelty, decoys have become ultra-realistic, semi-auto shotguns equipped with high-performance choke tubes have taken over in the fields and blinds, and nontoxic shotshell technology has made new offerings better than lead loads of years past. However, maybe the biggest change has been on the apparel side of the business. High-tech fabrics have spilled over from the mountain expedition and skiing worlds, and have helped create clothing that is lighter, warmer, and more comfortable than anything duck and goose hunters have worn before.”
Older waterfowlers, and those of us who hunted through the 1980s and 1990s in hand-me-downs, might not recognize the trim, tech-forward footwear and apparel hunters enjoy today. That leap from the ski hill to the swamp has led to better-performing products. Gone are the cold, rubber waders, cotton-waffle long johns, and bulky parkas, all of which have been replaced with modern wool blends, aerospace-grade insulations, and advanced laminates that shed wind and rain without adding bulk or weight. And while the price tags may match the technology, waterfowlers rarely balk if it means staying warm and dry in the worst weather.
“Gone are garments that kept you warm and dry but sacrificed comfort,” says Gordon. “Consumers in this hunting environment are looking for the same things we value at Banded—performance and comfort. And we listen to consumers to improve constantly on our existing designs. So, we develop and test new gear with those standards in mind. How does it hold up under extreme conditions? Will it last for years under the duress waterfowl hunters put on it on every hunt? Is it as comfortable as possible in hunting scenarios? These are the questions each of our products must pass in order to come to market.”
The other big-ticket item (not counting shotguns) for which waterfowlers willingly part with their paycheck is a realistic decoy spread. While there are hunters who find success with a handful of old blocks, most duck and goose hunters prefer dozens of the newest dekes to lure flocks that are experiencing increased pressure up and down the flyways. Like apparel (and many other categories), decoys have also benefited from modern manufacturing techniques and a renewed emphasis on quality construction versus hitting a nominal price point.
“Decoys have seen the most advancement in the waterfowl world, with a constant evolution to be more lifelike in the carvings and molds, and to be more realistic with the paint and painting process, as well as flocking and the flocking process,” says Mario Friendy, western sales manager for Avian-X decoys and Zink waterfowl calls. “There are always new materials being discovered, new processes to make those products, as well as new ways to promote the products at a point of sale or in the media.”
Like apparel, the market is wide open when it comes to decoy manufacturers, with all of them trying to hit the X where durability, performance, realism, and affordability meet. Avian-X, now under the Synergy umbrella, is certainly one of the big players, but Avery/Greenhead Gear, Flambeau, Final Approach, Higdon, and Tanglefree are all competing to be at the top of the decoy pile. The motion-decoy market also continues to be a hot seller, with manufacturers like Lucky Duck and Mojo leading the way in innovation with advances in different types of motion, different decoys, and multiple spinning-wing decoys at once on one frame to make setup quicker and easier.
“At Avian-X, we are fortunate enough to have Fred Zink and Jimmy Wren, both of whom have been in the decoy industry for a very long time,” says Friendy. “They have the thought process to always be ahead of what is next or to be bold enough to create what should be the next big thing in decoys. It is just incredible how realistic and durable the decoys have turned out. Paint adhesion has always been the biggest downfall on waterfowl decoys, and these two have taken that to the next level for our company and have certainly set the bar for the waterfowl decoy market.”
Little Things Equal Big Returns
Like any hunting endeavor, waterfowling also has room for lots of smaller add-on items and, of course, hunters are always looking for a better mousetrap. The underlying theme is that consumers seek the best quality goods at the best prices, as well as the newest gear and gadgets.
One growing segment retailers should consider adding to their mix is packs and bags. Whereas once waterfowlers went to the blind with little more than a call or two and a box of shells, now they have everything from a stainless, insulated cup (likely a Yeti) to decoy remotes and batteries, a call for every situation, and a handful of energy bars. All that stuff requires something to carry it in, and most manufacturers are now offering an expanding selection of blind bags and packs designed just for waterfowling.
Among the hottest growth categories are portable, above-ground blinds, such as the Tanglefree Panel Blind and the A-Frame from Avian-X. The latter is so popular the company has had a hard time meeting demand, and other manufacturers are sniping some of that business with their own models.
“Those old A-Frame blinds that were so popular on the East Coast decades ago have come full circle,” says Friendy. “Geese got so used to getting shot at on the edge of a field, they changed their behavior. So, hunters changed tactics, giving birth to the layout blind. A few years ago, Fred Zink got the vibe that the geese were getting very hip to the layout blind game and decided to go back to his roots of hunting out of an A-Frame-style blind. After success again using that style blind, he then created the Avian-X A-Frame blind. The difference from the old-school A-Frames is that this one is portable, lightweight, and can be moved by two hunters in just minutes.”
Whatever new waterfowl gear hits the market this season, the one quality hunters demand is durability, so equipment must address the specific gear needs of hunters who routinely deal with mud, water, ice, and the worst conditions imaginable.
“Real-world durability is the always-just-out-of-reach holy grail of waterfowling gear,” says Powell. “Waterfowlers can rip, tear, and generally demolish anything we use. It’s just a different environment to be in than you and your gear experience during any other activity. We want gear we can’t break even if we try.”
Capturing the Spend
Due to the sheer numbers of whitetail hunters alone, deer hunting dominates the fall product mix, but smart retailers leave room for other pursuits as well. Among the most gear intensive is waterfowling, and waterfowlers aren’t afraid to open their wallets. Capturing that spend should be a top priority for anyone on the business side of the industry.
“Waterfowling incorporates the very best of experiences—braving the elements and adverse conditions, hunting together with friends and family in beautiful settings, and the challenge of wingshooting wary, but abundant, ducks and geese,” says Powell. “Retailers and manufacturers need to capture and share that experiential story through their product-marketing campaigns. Done right, we can all create a growing base of passionate, conservation-minded waterfowlers and a new generation of customers. That outcome will benefit the outdoor sports industry, the waterfowl resource, and our society and culture.”
Avery Heritage Jacket
A throwback to the good old days, this 8-ounce waxed cotton classic is water- and windproof. Chest pockets are fleece lined, while the lower pockets can be stuffed with a box of shells. $220. averyoutdoors.com
Browning Wicked Wing Timber Fleece Hoodie
Next-level layering blends stretchable, mid-weight fleece with a smooth outer to make slipping on a shell easier. Wind- and water-resistant material on the sleeves are added protection. $186–$199. browning.com
Drake MST Guardian Jacket
A slimmed-down shell with the same waterproof, three-layer construction found in their breathable waders. All seams are taped, cuffs are made from neoprene, and even the zippers are water-resistant. A toasty fleece liner is inside. $300–$310. drakewaterfowl.com
Nomad Heartwood LVL1 Base Layer
A lightweight wool-blend base layer wicks moisture away from the skin. SilverZ material eliminates odor at the microbial layer. $55. nomadoutdoors.com
Banded Redzone Breathable Elite Waders
Banded built this set of insulated waders from advanced materials and fully taped seams, then reinforced key wear areas with an additional 900-denier facing. $380–$400. banded.com
LaCrosse Alpha Burley Pro
A warm neoprene lining finished with a durable rubber outer. Now available in a pattern designed for the wetlands: Sitka’s Optifade Waterfowl Marsh. $170–$200. lacrossefootwear.com
Sporting Dogs at Work and Play
Q&A with Steve McGrath, Director of Marketing, Signature Products Group
SHOT Business: What trends are you seeing in the sporting dog category?
Steve McGrath: We are seeing the gear getting more specialized to the intended activity, meaning there has been considerable interest in upland and waterfowl as separate categories. Not only have the products become more targeted, but we’ve also seen things getting away from the “one size fits all” mentality. Pet owners want performance and fit out of the box, which has become a priority on vests. We’ve also seen an uptick in sales on the lifestyle pieces like beds, solid-colored collars, and leashes.
SB: How are sporting dog owners shopping and what are the buying?
SM: Well, it’s not just men. The spouses in many cases are the ones buying for their pets. We offer a wide variety of Browning training items, but the off-season purchases are just as likely to be pink and light-blue collars. Dogs are a part of the family and treated the same when it comes to buying goodies for them.
SB: Are sporting dog owners just buying field/hunting-related dog gear or are they also interested in lifestyle gear and products designed to make pets comfortable in the home?
SM: The pet product category has grown to much more than just hunt/field-related gear. It’s a passion the owners seem to want to live 24/7. The Browning-branded items extend far beyond camo-clad pieces. We have a lifestyle category that competes right with the performance side of the business. Everything from pet beds to dog dishes and, of course, the toys are selling well in the Browning line.
SB: What can retailers do to capitalize on that trend and capture more dollars related to sporting dog owners and enthusiasts?
SM: The retailers who have seen the most success have set aside a specific aisle or area for the pet products and carried those items year-round. Pet products and accessories have no season; collars, leashes and toys will sell at any time of the year. When a retailer hosts a waterfowl weekend, or something similar at the beginning of a new season, don’t forget to highlight the pet gear. It sells. spgoutdoors.com
Flambeau Outdoors Storm Front Pintail
A bull sprig is a waterfowler’s ultimate late-season trophy, and these bulky resin blocks are painted in Flambeau’s UVision highlights for enhanced visibility. A versatile keel design makes for all-season use. $79, per six. flambeauoutdoors.com
GHG Pro-Grade Fully Flocked Mallards
Avery has added mallards to its flocked collection, with a soft-touch exterior that looks like real feathers and eliminates fowl-flaring glare. Anatomically correct shape and plumage detailing are enhancements. $100, per six. greenheadgear.com
Avian-X Goose Sleepers
Just the ticket on cold, snowy days when geese lay up even during a feed. One-piece shells based on carvings from world-champion decoy carver Rick Johannsen stack easily. Available fully flocked or with flocked heads only. $140–$160. avian-x.com
Mojo King Mallard
Mojo has reinvented the motion decoy with the remote-controlled motor, wing mounts, and a drop-in battery in a housing separate from the body. A rubberized skin slipsover the top. $170. mojooutdoors.com
Hard Core Man Cave
A cavernous blind, yet with a low profile. Its comfortable, padded seat and headrest are easy on the back during long, all-day hunts. Waterproof tub-style bottom. $280. hardcore-brands.com
Dive Bomb C1 Crane Silhouettes
Chasing cranes is a hot trend, and these large dekes pull birds in from afar. Features include a textured body with a realistic paint job. $150, per 12. divebombindustries.com
Rig Em Right Step-Up Jerk Rig
An old-school jerk rig adds motion to an otherwise static spread. This one includes an anchor, main line, and four oversize decoy clips. $40. rigemright.com
—Opening Spread Photo by Tess Rousey
Is cash still king? Not for long
One of the oldest adages in business is, “Cash is king.” But is it? These days, emerging alternative technologies are pushing cash to the curb. Admittedly, many people still do use cash. However, debit cards now appear to be the most popular form of payment, closely followed by cash and credit cards. The rest is a mix of checks, money orders, prepaid cards, electronic payments, and online bill paying.
Retailers and others have plenty of reasons to eliminate cash. Doing so obviously reduces the temptation of employees to steal and helps reduce the chances of a robbery. It also means no one has to count change, make sure a cash drawer balances, or haul cash to the bank at the end of the day.
Though credit cards help solve these problems, they come with a cost, one that retailers tend to pass on to customers. Retailers typically end up raising the prices charged to everyone—including those who pay with cash—to cover the fees that the credit card companies charge.
As an alternative to government-issued cash, Bitcoin made its first appearance in 2009. Today there are hundreds of other cryptocurrencies, often referred to as “altcoins.” These are mainly used for large transactions, and in the U.S., the IRS has ruled Bitcoins and several of its counterparts are not actually currencies, but rather an “investment” vehicle that fluctuates in price. You may read a lot about Bitcoins, but as a gun-store owner, you really don’t have to pay much attention to it (at least for now).
A few years ago, the Federal Reserve predicted there would be $616.9 billion in cashless transactions in 2016. That’s up from around $60 billion in 2010. Not too surprisingly, governments have been increasingly pushing for a cashless society, as cash transactions that support underground economies and criminal money-laundering efforts are difficult to track, unlike e-payments, which leave an easily traced trail in their wake.
In Germany, strong moves toward limiting cash transactions are underway. Nearby Sweden has advanced far along the cashless path, as many banks no longer accept or dispense cash of any sort; bill and coin transactions now represent only 2 percent of Swedish commercial activities.
While the elimination of cash is not yet a government policy in Canada, the country is voluntarily moving toward credit and debit card payments at a remarkable rate. Right now, a whopping 77 percent of responders to a recent survey said they preferred to eliminate cash altogether. In the Netherlands, cash is definitely not getting the royal treatment; in many places, it has simply ceased to be recognized as legal tender. More and more Dutch stores, from the upscale health-food Marqt stores to local bakeries and bagel shops, take credit or debit cards exclusively. Some retailers even describe going cash-free as “cleaner” or “safer.”
Though American consumers are not as far down the cashless road as their European counterparts, there is no doubt that cash alternatives will continue to command more attention, especially with younger buyers.
Mobile commerce, or M-commerce, is the buying and selling of goods and services through wireless, handheld devices such as cell phones and personal digital assistants (PDAs). It represented 34 percent of all eCommerce transactions globally in 2015. PayPal, the online payment system, continues to add more merchants, and now counts 14 million merchants to complement the platform’s 170 million users. Users can utilize PayPal’s mobile phone app online and in stores.
Electronic money, or e-money, is the money balance recorded electronically on a stored-value card. E-money is a floating claim on a bank or other financial institution that is not linked to any particular account. Examples of electronic money are bank deposits, an electronic funds transfer, direct deposit, payment processors, and, of course, digital currencies.
Although the digital era has been in full swing for some time, many shooting, hunting, and firearms businesses have yet to invest in the latest technology. Near-field communications (NFC) is one such technology retailers might consider as part of their marketing campaigns. Many mobile payment systems have been introduced in the past few years, including Google Wallet and Apple Pay. With these and other similar applications, consumers with mobile devices have a “digital wallet” accepted by shooting sports merchants with active NFC terminals. The list of digital wallets accepted by merchants is growing. According to many reports, Wells Fargo Bank will soon launch an NFC-based mobile payment service.
To use these mobile wallets, such as the one Wells Fargo plans, consumers enter their credit card information in their phone. Then, when shopping with merchants who use NFC technology, the consumer holds the phone over a payment terminal and taps a button on the phone or enters a PIN.
Another benefit of the new NFC technology is integration with social media. Imagine, with a quick scan customers can automatically alert followers of their location—your shop or firing range—along with an invitation to join them. A firearms business can achieve similar results by setting an NFC tag by the shop’s entrance, and a friend or “like” request for your operation’s web page will be sent to customers with an NFC-enabled phone as they enter the premises.
Along with the convenience offered by cashless transactions is an increased awareness of security concerns. A good example is provided by the new chip-encoded smart cards, which an estimated 90 percent of consumers will soon have.
By now, every gun shop owner and manager should be aware of the so-called liability shift that occurred when the new EMV (Europay, Mastercard, and Visa) technology was introduced (See SHOT Business, October/November 2015). No longer will credit card companies be liable for fraudulent use of credit and debit cards scanned or keyed into the old, non-chip credit card payment transaction technology. Instead, businesses that continue to utilize the older non-chip technology will find themselves, not the credit card companies, liable for fraud.
Finding a suitable approach for transitioning from conventional credit cards to the new EMV smart card technology has been difficult. Fortunately, there is good news for merchants in that true integrated solutions have recently been introduced. This new tool is a cutting-edge implementation of technology that takes current POS system data and migrates the communication with a chip-processing device. This streamlined process meets regulations, consumer demand, and the bottom-line concerns of merchants.
Adopting any of these new and emerging payment systems largely depends on what the customers of your firearms business prefer and are willing to deal with. Right now, it’s probably safe to say your older customers would prefer to use the payment devices with which they are most comfortable—credit cards, checks, and cash. But your younger customers think and act differently. Many rarely have cash on hand, preferring to use payment devices accessed through their smartphone. In order to attract and keep such customers—something essential to the long-term health of your business—you will have to eventually accommodate their payment preferences. And that means you will have to take that big step into a world without cash.
—Mark E. Battersby
—Illustrations by Pixel Pushers
50 law enforcement products that should command the attention of any retailer
Law enforcement related products remain a strong segment of the firearms and accessories industry. With just a shade over one million sworn officers, this would seem to be a niche market, but civilians also crave cop-capable equipment. It would take an encyclopedic volume to highlight all that is new, but here are 50 police-perfect products—including guns, optics, ammunition, and accessories—that are sure to turn the heads of cops and civilians, and put cash in your registers. (Note: Three trends that any retailer should be aware of in this arena are thermal optics, refined MSRs, and rifles in 6.5 Creedmoor.)
Law Enforcement Firearms
1 Bergara B14 BMP BMP stands for Bergara Match Precision, and this rifle’s chassis is machined from 7075 T6 aluminum. It incorporates QD swivel attachments and Magpul M-LOK slots. The incredibly smooth action and barrel nut allow the barrel to be changed or replaced, and the magazine well can be used as a support brace. Available in .308 Winchester and 6.5 Creedmoor, with a threaded #5 contour barrel, this should be an ideal designated marksman rifle. SRP: $1,699. (bergarausa.com)
2 BNTI Arms Battle Rifle This Florida-based manufacturer is the U.S. headquarters for small arms exported to vetted African armed forces and police units. Its new .308 Winchester Battle Rifle features a mil-spec forged lower and upper receiver, with a hard-coat anodized or Cerakote finish, a 16.5-inch match-grade barrel with a 1:10 twist, and a Magpul ACS stock. (bntiarms.com)
3 CMMG MkW Anvil XBE A new carbine from CMMG, the MkW Anvil XBE is chambered in .458 SOCOM. With CMMG’s unique Powerbolt design, the rifle uses a modified AR10-size bolt for increased durability. The rifle is also built on an AR10-size frame with a custom receiver to minimize weight and increase ergonomics. It has a 16-inch barrel, billet upper and lower receivers, and a single-stage mil-spec trigger. It weighs 7.5 pounds. SRP: $1,849.95. (cmmginc.com)
4 CZ Bren 2 The ever-evolving needs of military forces led to further development of the Bren platform. The Bren 2 has a shorter gas system that allows for barrel lengths down to 8 inches, with settings for normal use, suppressed use, and adverse conditions. It is available for military and law enforcement only via special-order. (cz-usa.com)
5 CZ 805 Bren S1 Pistol With its 11-inch barrel, the S1 has proven to be a popular SBR candidate for customers wanting to convert it into an NFA firearm. Those who don’t wish to register with the ATF can equip it with CZ’s adapter kit, allowing easy installation of aftermarket arm braces. Chambered in .223 Remington/5.56 NATO, and 300 Blackout, the 805 Bren S1 Pistol retails for between $1,799 and $1,899.
6 CZ P-10 C This is CZ’s newest pistol, and the CZ grip angle avoids that brick-in-the-hand feeling that plagues many striker-fired handguns. Interchangeable backstraps allow it to fit a wide variety of hands, and the P-10’s trigger breaks at a clean 4 to 4.5 pounds, with a short, positive reset. It has a fiber-reinforced polymer frame, a nitride finish, and metal three-dot sights. With a 15 or 17+1 capacity, the CZ P10-C is available in 9mm Luger or .40 S&W. There is also a suppressor-ready variant in 9mm. SRP: $499 to $541. (cz-usa.com)
7 Dan Wesson Specialist Commander When police departments approached Dan Wesson to build a more reliable and durable 1911, the manufacturer said, “Can do!” The Specialist is available in 9mm or .45 Auto and has a forged stainless–steel slide with a serrated rib and a single tritium dot in the rear and front sights. It also has an integral rail, front strap checkering, an undercut trigger guard, a recessed slide stop, an ambidextrous thumb safety, and an extended magazine release. Available in Commander and full-size. SRP: $1,597. (cz-usa.com)
8 DPMS GII AP4-OR A new optics-ready carbine built on the revolutionary GII platform, the AP4-OR has a forged monolithic bolt carrier, dual ejectors, an Aermet extractor, a steel feed ramp, and reduced bolt geometry. The upper receiver has been improved for left-handed shooters, and it is available in .308 Winchester. SRP: $1,349. (dpmsinc.com)
9 FN 15 DMR II A re—engineered version of the DMR, the DMR II uses the all-new FN Proprietary M-LOK Rail System to provide extreme rigidity and less deflection to ensure that mounted accessories do not shift. It has an 18-inch match-grade, cold–hammer-forged barrel with a 1:7 twist, a Surefire Pro Comp muzzle device, a Timney trigger, and a Magpul MOE grip and buttstock. SRP: $1,999. (fnhusa.com)
10 The FN 15 Tactical Carbine Chambered for the 300 Blackout, this carbine is duty-ready out of the box. Equipped with FN’s proprietary rail system, it offers a stronger, more rigid platform for accessories and optics. It features a 16-inch barrel, a carbine-length gas system, a low-profile gas block, a Surefire ProComp muzzle brake, and Magpul MOE furniture. SRP: $1,599. (fnhusa.com)
11 FNS Compact The Compact FNS offers the same features as standard FNS pistols, but comes in a shorter, 3.6-inch barrel. The snag-free design should help better conceal the firearm and deliver a faster draw time. The front sight also has a larger dot for faster target acquisition. The FNS Compact has a 12- or 17-round capacity, depending on the magazine used. It weighs 23.4 ounces and is 6.7 inches long, and should be ideal for plain-clothes officers or detectives. SRP: $599. (fnhusa.com)
12 Nighthawk Sky Hawk Korth The Sky Hawk is a compact six-shot revolver chambered for 9mm Luger, but half- or full-moon clips are not required. Every part is machined from billet steel or aluminum, and it’s available with a 2- or 3-inch barrel. A gold bead front sight, Houge grips, hard-coated frame, TSA-approved travel case, cleaning rod, grip-removal tool, lubricating oil, lanyard, and proprietary speed loader are standard. SRP: $1,699. (nighthawkcustom.com)
13 Remington Model 700 Magpul The new 700 Magpul features adjustability in the comb and length of pull to allow for a perfect fit. The 22-inch heavy barrel is threaded for a suppressor or other muzzle devices, and the detachable magazine is perfect for tactical applications. It’s available in .308 Winchester and .260 Remington. SRP: $1,175. (remington.com)
14 Remington RP9/RP45 This new polymer handgun is a high-capacity striker-fired pistol with a very slim and adjustable grip profile. It’s available in 9mm or .45, with a respective capacity of 18+1 or 15+1. It weighs only 26.4 ounces, and with a suggested retail price of $489, it should be popular with officers who must purchase their own firearms.(remington.com)
15 Ruger American Compact Ruger’s striker-fired American Compact features a trigger with a short take-up and positive reset. It is performance-tested for sustained +P ammunition use and is equipped with Novak LoMount Carry three-dot sights. The pistol has a modular grip system, can be field-stripped easily, and has an ambidextrous slide stop and magazine release. With its 3.35-inch barrel, it measures 6.65 inches and weighs 28.7 ounces. SRP: $579. (ruger.com)
16 Savage MSR 15 The new 15 Patrol and Recon carbines from Savage mark the company’s initial entry into the MSR market. Both rifles have 5R button-rifled, 16-inch barrels with a long-lasting Melonite QPQ finish, and Savage’s trademark zero–tolerance headspace control. These rifles also feature the proven .223 Wylde target chambering and a standard gas system. SRP: $849, Patrol; $999.99, Recon. (savagearms.com)
17 Savage MSR 10 Savage has also introduced two AR10 MSR variants. The MSR 10 Hunter and Long Range models address some longstanding shortcomings of MSRs designed for larger cartridges. Both are compact units that feel and handle more like an AR15, and both utilize custom-forged uppers and lowers. Available in .308 Winchester and 6.5 Creedmoor, the Hunter has a 16- or 18-inch barrel, and the Long Range has a 20- or 22-inch barrel. SRP: $1,399, Hunter; $2,199, Long Range. (savagearms.com)
18 Stoeger P3000 This is a tactical, pump-action 12-gauge shotgun available with a field or pistol-grip stock and an 18.5-inch barrel. It will accept 2¾ or 3-inch shells and has a fixed Cylinder bore. SRP: $299 to $349. (stoegerindustries.com)
19 Stoeger M3000 The new M3000 Tactical semi-auto is available with either a field or pistol grip and comes with an 18.5-inch barrel. The inertia-driven gun will also accept 2¾- or 3-inch shells, and like the P3000, it has a fixed Cylinder bore. Police department purchasers will undoubtedly love the price. SRP: $599 to $649. (stoegerindustries.com)
20 Weatherby VAC The new Vanguard Adaptive Composite (VAC) rifle from Weatherby is intended for precision work and has a threaded barrel. VAC rifles are guaranteed to deliver sub-MOA three-shot groups at 100 yards, and come with an adjustable two-stage trigger, a three-position safety, and a fully adjustable stock. Vac rifles are available in .223 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor, and .308 Winchester. SRP: $1,269. (weatherby.com)
Law Enforcement Optics
21 GPO Passion HD Binoculars Many forget the importance of binoculars for law enforcement. Whether used for surveillance or evaluating a disaster scene from a distance, GPO has five premium models to choose from. Available in 8×42, 10×42, 8.5×50, 10×50, and 12.5×50, these binoculars feature a custom–molded carry case, HD Glass, hydrophobic coatings, and tripod adapters. SRP: starts at $1,000. (gpo-usa.com)
22 Leupold Mark 8 3.5-25x56mm This new riflescope seems almost purpose-built for the police marksman, as it offers all the optical qualities that precision and long-range shooters expect. Weighing just 32.5 ounces, the Mark 8 3.5–25x56mm has a powerful 8:1 magnification ratio, which is ideal for target engagement and observation—the two primary roles of a police sniper. Simplified ZeroLock dials are a welcome addition, as is 90 MOA of elevation travel and a generous field of view. The scope is also available with a variety of high–performance reticles. SRP: $3,899.99. (leupold.com)
23 Trijicon REAP IR Small, light, and lethal, the Trijicon Electro Optics REAP IR is a mini-thermal riflescope. The REAP IR features a 12-degree field of view, 2.5X magnification, a stadiametric rangefinder, five reticle patterns, and an 8X digital zoom. For tactical units operating in total darkness, it earns its badge and name, and weighs only 21 ounces. SRP: $7,999. (trijicon.com)
24 Nikon Blackforce 1-4×24 Blackforce is a new category of optics from Nikon, and it offers models engineered for precision long-range and active shooting. Those looking for rapid-action targeting capability with AR/MSR platforms should find the 1–4×24 riflescope ideal. When dialed down to 1X, the reticle’s illuminated double horseshoe center portion serves as a quick reference for fast engagement, as well as to establish moving target leads. SRP: $399.95. (nikonsportoptics.com)
25 Nikon Blackforce 4-16X50 For law enforcement’s precision shooting tasks, this riflescope comes with X-MRAD or X-MOA tactical-style reticles synchronized to elevated windage and elevation turrets. Accurate and repeatable, the adjustments enable precise dialing of elevation come-ups and wind compensation. It is affordably priced at $599.95. (nikonsportoptics.com)
26 Trijicon IR Hunter This compact thermal-imaging rifle sight combines a full 640×480, 12-micron thermal image sensor and fully digital, 60 Hz image processing with digital focus and contrast controls. Four models offer various features and magnification, including 8X Digital Zoom, multiple reticle options, and turret-style adjustment knobs. SRP: $5,999.99. (trijicon.com)
27 Trijicon IR Patrol A versatile, multipurpose, high-performance monocular that provides a clear, sharp image in total darkness, the IR Patrol is available in five models that offer various features and magnification. The LE100 is a handheld model with a 19mm objective lens. The LE100C has the same features as the LE100, plus an image-capture feature. The M250 can be helmet-mounted, and the M250XR features a 4.5X optical zoom, 8X digital zoom, and a stadiametric range finder. The M300W can be mounted to a rifle. SRP: $4,995 to $5,595. (trijicon.com)
28 Trijicon MRO Patrol Trijicon’s MRO has become a favorite carbine sight with tactical operatives. The new MRO Patrol adds the most-requested accessories to a combat-ready, red-dot optic. These include lens covers, an ARD Kill Flash, and a new lightweight, quick-release mount. It weighs 5 ounces and retails for $919. (trijicon.com)
29 Trijicon SNiPE IR This thermal-imaging weapons sight has a full 640×480, 12-micron thermal image sensor and fully digital, 60 Hz image processing. Its advanced VisRelay collimating optic eliminates parallax with partnered day optics. The SNiPE IR mounts in front of an existing day optic and is optimized for use with the 4×32 ACOG. It features No-Shot Zero sight-in, is 7.4 inches long, and weighs 24.6 ounces. SRP: $9,999. (trijicon.com)
Law Enforcement Ammunition
30 Federal Premium Gold Medal Rifle with Berger Bullets Federal Premium Gold Medal rifle ammunition has always been a top choice for law enforcement designated marksmen. Now, those shooters have even more accurate options, with new Gold Medal Berger loads featuring Berger bullets with high ballistic coefficients. New offerings are available for the .223 Remington, 6.5 Creedmoor, 6.5 Grendel, and .308 Winchester. SRP: $32.95 $34.95. (federalpremium.com)
31 GBW Legend Pro A manufacturer based in Venice, Florida, GBW Legend offers a full line of defensive handgun ammunition, which it calls Legend Pro. Loaded with all-copper projectiles, each is designed to provide barrier-defeating performance. GBW also offers centerfire rifle cartridges for common law enforcement chamberings such as the .223 Remington, 300 Blackout, and .308 Winchester. (gbwcartridge.com)
32 Federal Premium .38 Special 135-grain HST The .38 Special has always been a favorite back-up gun for law enforcement officers, and Federal has just made it better with the new 135-grain HST load. The load was engineered to be ideally adapted to the snub-nose revolver and utilizes a 135-grain version of the popular HST bullet. (federalpremium.com)
33 Polycase .357 Magnum ARX Once the darling of police agencies, the .357 Magnum has faded from view. But Polycase’s new .357 Magnum load, which utilizes its copper-polymer injection-molded projectile, should restore some luster by offering .357 Magnum power, but with less recoil. The 86-grain ARX bullet leaves the muzzle at 1,650 fps. SRP: $19.99. (polycaseammo.com)
34 Remington Freedom Buckets For officers in small departments who have to purchase their own training ammunition, Remington has expanded its Range Bucket line to include the .380 Auto, .40 S&W, and .45 Auto. The .380 Range Bucket will contain 500 rounds, the .40 S&W 300 rounds, and the .45 Auto 200 rounds. SRP: $90 to $200. There’s also a new Freedom Bucket containing 180 rounds of 300 Blackout for $33.73. (remington.com)
35 Sig Sauer .223 Remington 77-grain Match Elite With a muzzle velocity of 2,750 fps, this 77-grain Sierra OTM (open-tipped match) bullet is ideal for designated marksmen or other officers assigned perimeter protection with patrol rifles, carbines in the AR platform, or even precision bolt-action rifles. SRP: $24.25, per box of 20. (sigsauer.com)
36 Sig Sauer Expanding Sonic 300 Blackout Intended as a hunting load for the 300 Blackout, this ammunition is ideally suited to law enforcement because it offers a high degree of terminal performance without an audible signature. With wide expansion and deep penetration, the subsonic Blackout load should be perfect for police snipers and other tactical team applications. SRP: $28.50, per box of 20. (sigsauer.com)
37 Hornady Black Hornady’s newest ammo line, Black, is specifically tailored to firearms generally considered to be within the tactical arena, many of which are commonly used by law enforcement. The packaging is easily identifiable, and the loads are intended to provide high performance for high-volume shooting. Offerings include .223 Remington, 5.56 NATO, 6.8 SPC, 300 Blackout, .308 Winchester, 7.62×39, and 12-gauge. SRP: $15 to $35, per box of 20; 12-gauge, $16.33, per box of 10. (hornady.com)
Law Enforcement Accessories
38 CRKT Homefront Tactical The in-field, no-tool-needed, take-apart capability of the Home-front lets you disassemble it and clean it—anywhere, anytime. It has a tanto blade and is surrounded by ergonomically designed glass-reinforced nylon handles to provide a secure grip in the face of mud, blood, rain, or sand. Open length, 8.125 inches; weight, 4.3 ounces. SRP: $99.99. (crkt.com)
39 CRKT Rune This is a compact—and remarkably lightweight—tactical axe. Infused with the practicality of a modern SWAT tactical tool, but wrapped in ancient Nordic design, it has a practically indestructible 6.7-inch carbon-steel head with a black powder-coat finish. The Rune would make a great addition to any patrol car, because, as every street cop knows, you never really know what you will be faced with. SRP: $150. (crkt.com)
40 Galco Wraith 2 Holster An evolution of Galco’s popular Wraith belt holster, the Wraith 2 combines features from the existing Paddle Lite and BlackGuard models, along with four patent-pending innovations, to create a highly versatile and concealable multipurpose holster. For plainclothes officers or others who do not desire Level 3 security, the Wraith is an easy-on, easy-off, versatile holster. SRP: $49.95. (galcogunleather.com)
41 Hi-Vis Fiber Optic Sight Hi-Viz is now offering a front- and rear-sight set with interchangeable LitePipes and easy-to-adjust rear sight elevation for Smith & Wesson M&P pistols. The new Adjustable Sight Set fits all M&P full-size and Pro pistols in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 Auto. SRP: $95.95. (hivizsights.com)
42 Monadnock AutoLock X3 Baton Monadnock (a Safariland brand) has a new baton with a larger-diameter shaft. The AutoLock X3 HG baton meets the demand for smaller-size batons that can still provide a large surface–contact area. The baton also features an updated cam and stainless-steel ball-bearing design in order to provide reliably consistent locking action and a more solid feel when performing control techniques. Closed length: 8.75 inches. Open length: 19.75 inches. SRP: $196. (safariland.com)
43 Protech Hard Armor Protech Tactical, another brand in the Safariland Group, has introduced several new hard-armor products, including a Boltless Helmet Suspension System (SRP: $675), a Boltless Shield with Ballistic Lens Cap ($5,280), and a Tactical Weapon Trunk Box ($2,592 to $2,670). These are forward-thinking, life-saving, law-enforcement tools. (safariland.com)
44 Safariland 7TS Holster Officers with the Taser X26P and those with a Surefire XC1 light attached to their firearm can now enjoy the benefit of comfortable carry with the highly sought-after 7TS holster. This includes holsters that will fit Surefire XC1–equipped Glock 17, 19, 22, and 23 pistols, as well as 4.25-inch barrel S&M M&P pistols in 9mm and .40 S&W. The 7TS holster is injection-molded and constructed of Safariland’s proprietary SafariSeven material. It is available in plain black, basketweave, and high gloss. SRP: $95. (safariland.com)
45 Safariland Vievu With all the recent focus on body cameras for police officers, Safariland and Vievu have partnered and developed a proprietary camera auto–activation system to automatically activate a Vievu LE4 body camera any time a firearm is drawn from a connected Safariland 7TS holster. An officer in a stressful or potentially life-threatening situation no longer has to make the conscious decision about whether first to turn on the camera or to draw a weapon. (safariland.com)
46 Safariland RDS Holsters Safariland has a new line of holsters designed for handguns with red-dot optics. The majority of these models feature Safariland’s patented Automatic Locking System. The red-dot handgun sight is quickly evolving to become the future of the defensive handgun, and Safariland is evolving to meet that trend. SRP: varies according to model. (safariland.com)
47 Spyderco Stretch II Lightweight With a full-flat grind VG-10 stainless steel blade and an injection-molded fiberglass-reinforced-nylon handle, the Stretch II Lightweight is a great everyday-carry knife suitable for the general utility chores faced by today’s patrol officer. Closed length: 4.71 inches. Weight: 3.7 ounces. SRP $134.95. (spyderco.com)
48 Spyderco Opus The Opus is a versatile, all-purpose folding knife with a broad blade crafted from CPM S30V. It features a full-flat grind and a four-position hourglass clip supporting left and right side, as well as tip-up and tip-down carry. SRP: $334.95.(spyderco.com)
49 Surefire PR1 Peacekeeper Surefire Peacekeeper flashlights were developed for law enforcement and are powerful, rechargeable illumination tools. The PR1 features high-performance LED and a 600-lumen beam. It can also provide a useful 15-lumen beam, activated via its tail-cap switch. The PR1 is powered by a rechargeable 18650 lithium-ion battery, but it will also run on two disposable 123A lithium batteries. Length, 5.37 inches; weight, 6.2 ounces. SRP: $250. (surefire.com)
50 Leupold LTO Tracker The best new law enforcement product for 2017 has to be the Leupold LTO Tracker. This unbelievably compact thermal-imaging unit weighs only 7.4 ounces and is less than 6 inches long. It provides exceptional image quality, fast 30hz frame rates, and detection of heat sources out to 600 yards. Primarily intended for hunters, this cool device can change the way street cops or law enforcement surveillance teams do their job. It has more than 10 hours of continuous use from a single CR123 lithium battery. It is the pick of this 50-product litter. SRP: $909.99. (leupold.com)
The Less–Lethal Option
By Jock Elliott
Protecting lives and property doesn’t always have to rely on deadly force
Earlier this year, in Berkeley, California, some protesters at a conservative speaking event went into full-blown felony riot mode, injuring citizens and causing nearly a half-million dollars in damage to the University of California and local businesses. and In February, a conservative blogger who had his arm broken in three places by an anti-gun activist at an anti–Second Amendment event in 2015 was recently convicted in Portland, Oregon, of unlawful use of a weapon for pointing his semi-auto handgun at a group of protesters who he believed were menacing him.
Events such as these highlight the need for less-lethal options for protecting lives and property by both law enforcement agencies and ordinary citizens. To deal with the need to match the force of the response to the situation, the National Institute of Justice advocates a Use of Force Continuum that includes less lethal options. Many law enforcement agencies follow such protocols, which basically lay out appropriate responses for escalating situations.
Less-lethal options present an opportunity for gun dealers who want to help citizens protect themselves and law enforcement agencies better do their jobs. Ordinary citizens and law enforcement officers (LEOs), however, have different agendas in using less-lethal options—citizens want to deter and escape from those who would do them harm, while LEOs generally want options that will assist them in controlling and/or arresting people. Not all options available to law enforcement are available to ordinary citizens, and the options available to citizens, and the training requirements to use them, may vary widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.
As attractive as they may be for application in the appropriate situation, less-lethal options have their limitations:
• Nothing works 100 percent of the time. The less-lethal option that may be effective on one person may not be effective on another.
• All less-lethal options can be lethal or cause injury under the right circumstances. Dave DuBay, vice president of Less Lethal for Safariland, says, “Every use of force has the potential to cause injury, and products can be misused.”
• All less-lethal options should be accompanied by training. Ty Weaver, director of advanced weapons and munitions for Sage Ordnance Systems Group, says, “People need to know what they have and how to use it properly, whichever less-lethal option they choose to deploy.”
• Legality depends on location and policy. Legal use of less-lethal options for personal and home defense is highly dependent on whatever laws apply in the jurisdiction in question. This requires a knowledge of federal, state, and local laws. In addition, the use of less-lethal options for law enforcement depends not only on applicable laws, but also on department policy.
The range of less-lethal options is extraordinary:
• Batons/canes: These are effective at arm’s length, can be used by civilians (again, where legal) and law enforcement, and offer the potential to hold someone at a distance or to deliver a variety of blows that can cause pain or injury.
• Pepper (OC) spray: These offer a maximum range of about 15 feet and are frequently carried by law enforcement. Availability to civilians varies by jurisdiction. Pepper foam and gel are also available to law enforcement.
• Tear gas (CN, CS) spray: These dispensers offer a maximum range of about 15 feet and are available to law enforcement. Availability to civilians varies by jurisdiction.
• Taser: This tool offers a maximum range of about 15 feet and is frequently carried by law enforcement. Availability to civilians varies by jurisdiction.
• Malodorants: These can provide area control across a variety of ranges depending upon how they are deployed. They are available only to law enforcement.
• Hand-thrown munitions: These may contain pepper gas, tear gas, smoke, or other options. They are available only to law enforcement.
• Pepperball projectile launchers: These are effective out to about 60 feet. They are available to law enforcement and may be available to civilians in some jurisdictions.
• Less-lethal ammo for conventional firearms: Such munitions offer an effective range up to 30 feet, depending upon the type. Readily available to law enforcement, their availability to civilians depends on the jurisdiction and the type of projectile.
• Specialized projectile launchers (such as 37mm and 40mm launchers): These tools are available to law enforcement only. They can be had in both smoothbore and rifled configurations, and may have a range up to 150 yards, depending on the ammunition. A wide array of munitions are available for these launchers, including impact rounds, soft-impact rounds, ball rounds, multi-ball rounds, powder (OC, CS, and inert) rounds, smoke rounds, and more.
The way in which manufacturers of less-lethal options work with gun dealers varies. For example, Sage Ordnance Systems Group has a distributor and dealer network that stocks products for non-NFA-controlled items. If a dealer sells a controlled item, such as a 37mm launcher and ammo, to an agency, Sage will drop-ship direct. Both the ammo and launchers are regulated. By contrast, Safariland does not stock dealers and will only drop-ship directly to agencies. Both Sage and Safariland offer dealer sales support and training to end users.
The key to selling less-lethal options to law enforcement is finding a match between what the agency needs and what the dealer has to offer. Retailers need to know and understand the applicable laws in their jurisdictions; the need for additional or specialized insurance, if any; the products and how they should be applied; and the strategic needs of the law enforcement agency with which the retailers are working.
Safariland (safariland.com) offers impact munitions (40mm, 37mm, and 12-gauge); launchers; accessories; chemical-agent devices, including chemical grenades and devices; and tactical devices, training aids, batons, and training for agency personnel.
Sage Ordnance Systems Group (sageinternationalltd.com) offers: launchers; ammunition, including multiple variants of less-lethal ammunition in 37mm smooth bore, 37 SAGE Rifled, 40x46mm NATO, and 12 gauge; and hand-thrown munitions, aerosols, and malodorants. Sage also provides training for agency personnel, including instruction in applicable case law.
In-Depth Look at an Extraordinary Four Days
in Las Vegas at 2017 SHOT Show
Without question, one of the major attractions of the 2017 SHOT Show is the vast amount of new product lining the miles of aisles. But it’s really much more than that, as this sampler, taken from the pages of SHOT Daily, amply demonstrates.
Nikon’s Top Sales Reps
Nikon Sport Optics recently announced the winners of this year’s sales rep awards. Recipients were selected based on a number of criteria, including superior customer service.
“This year’s sales rep award winners deserve a lot of credit for standing out among our excellent sales team. We firmly believe that we have the best salesforce of any optics company in our industry,” said Randy Garrison, associate general manager of Nikon Sport Optics sales and operations.
Nikon’s Salesman of the Year award was presented to David Deveny of Owens Outdoor Sales. Deveny’s professionalism, reliability, and significant sales percentage increase over 2016 made him a clear choice for the award.
“My focus this year was to spend significant time with my customers and provide the best customer service possible. I also tried to identify the right Nikon products that will sell the best for each dealer to help them grow. I credit Waylon Owens for setting the mantra, ‘Attitude determines altitude,’ ” said Deveny.
The Staff Choice award went to Mike Freiberg of Elevated Outdoor Sales. Nikon also announced six Elite Salesmen: Tom Wiley, Professional Marketing, Inc.; Aaron Doolin, The Dolph Co.; Brent Vogler, Owens Outdoor Sales; Jake Porter, Odle Sales; Nick Gamel, Odle Sales; and Bret Dolph, The Dolph Co. (nikonsportoptics.com)
Otis Technology Sales Awards
Outstanding performance merits recognition, and Otis Technology honored two of its best at 2017 SHOT Show
Otis Technology announced its 2016 Sales Representative of the Year award Tuesday morning at the 2017 SHOT Show. The manufacturer presents this award annually to the sales representative who has shown initiative, sales growth, and outstanding effort and customer service. The recipient was J.B. McCarty of Ken Jefferies & Associates. McCarty covers North Carolina and South Carolina, and he is an avid outdoorsman. In addition to being an accomplished sales professional, McCarty is also a pit master who has won the North and South Carolina State Championship as well as earning consecutive top-five finishes at the World Champion-ship Barbecue Cooking Contest in Memphis, Tennessee.
Jeff Scarlett, Otis Technology’s Eastern region sales manager, said, “J.B. has been integral in expanding business in the Carolina market. His concentration in farm and home accounts has been instrumental in the growth of that channel and the brand as a whole.”
Frank Devlin, director of commercial sales at Otis Technology, said, “The synergy between J.B. and Jeff is one of the main drivers behind the growth of the territory. Their collaboration has really had a positive impact on sales results this year.”
Otis Technology also presented Sokol Associates with the 2016 Sales Agency of the Year award. Sokol, based out of Oakdale, Minnesota, took top honors in 2013 and 2014, and has more than 50 years of experience in the outdoor sports industry. It represents Otis Technology in the upper Midwest and Great Lakes -territories.
The award was presented to Jon Sokol by Devlin, who said, “We are extremely fortunate to have aligned ourselves with outstanding sales agencies. The Sokol team as a whole has really embraced the Otis brand and is an excellent extension of our salesforce.” Otis Technology is known for manufacturing advanced gun-cleaning systems. Its Breech-to-Muzzle design has positioned it as the gun-care system of choice with the U.S. military. (otistec.com)
Sign of the Times
Call it a sign of the times. Med-Eng, a division of Safariland, used the 2017 SHOT Show to launch the Avenger Remotely Operated Vehicle (ROV). The bomb disposal and tactical robot has been engineered to provide police and military response teams with enhanced capabilities to manage ongoing and emerging threats posed by terrorists, particularly in urban environments where car bombs are of concern. The Avenger’s dexterous arm and claw can easily reach inside, above, and below cars, pickup trucks, and delivery vans to remotely investigate suspicious devices. The system includes an on-board computer that fuses data from multiple Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear & Explosive (CBRNE) sensors and cameras and relays it to a command post. This integrated sensor suite provides a mission-critical tool for managing CBRNE and Hazmat threats, such as a terrorist’s dirty bomb, mitigating risks to the surrounding public. The numerous sensor ports are compatible with many specialized sensors that bomb squads already have, so they can make use of their existing equipment and attach new tools in the future. (med-eng.com)
TNW Tweaks the ASR
TNW Firearms, a designer and manufacturer of modern and historical firearms, located in Vernonia, Oregon, is now offering the innovative and popular Aero Survival Rifle in versions that comply with California and New York firearms regulations. Previously prohibited in these states due to restrictions on long guns with a pistol grip and a detachable magazine, this new variant of the Aero Survival Rifle (ASR) comes with an ergonomic fixed stock that meets the criteria allowing the use of a detachable magazine with a rifle. Like all ASRs, the California-compliant model is a takedown firearm, “making it the perfect pistol-caliber carbine for outdoor enthusiasts, ranchers, pilots, or anyone else who needs a portable, rugged, and reliable semi-automatic rifle,” says company spokesman Matt Foster.
Though similar in appearance and manual-of-arms to an AR-platform rifle, the ASR is an original design that uses Glock magazines. It is available in 9mm Luger, .357 Sig, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and 10mm. The design allows a user to switch between similar cartridges with nothing more than a change of barrel and bolt assembly.
Blowback-operated for simplicity and reliability, the ASR has both an upper and lower receiver machined from 6061-T6 aluminum, and is available finished in hard-coat anodized black, dark earth, and OD green, as well as two variegated finishes—Tiger Pink and Tiger Green. Like an AR, the ASR has a buffer tube and a right-side push-button magazine release. The California-compliant ASR uses a Thorsden stock. It also comes with one 10-round magazine. SRP: $829.99. (tnwfirearms.com)
When a pair of pros team up, the result is a superior line of tactical knives
When Browning introduced its Black Label line of knives at the SHOT Show a few years ago, nobody knew exactly where the venture would lead. To some, it seemed like yet another attempt by a company to extend its name into a different product category by shamelessly slapping its logo on products it really knew nothing about. But what Browning did was different. The knives it produces are of superior quality and honor the brand’s storied heritage.
Black Label Tactical knives are designed primarily as a joint effort between world-renowned veteran SWAT officer and martial arts instructor Jared Wihongi and master bladesmith Russ Kommer. The line has since expanded to include a variety of tools and implements of self-defense for various situations and needs. They also happen to be quality blades that are well-made, always with an eye toward style.
“For me, there are three basic elements to a good knife: functionality, quality, and good looks,” says Rafe Nielsen, Browning’s product manager. “The Wihongi Signature Series knocks all three of these out of the park. Especially the good looks part. It’s hard to beat a knife that just flat out looks cool.”
It’s Wihongi and his unique background that bring the extra flair to many of the Black Label knives. Their shape, construction, materials, and even attitude are all on full display in his new Signature Series.
“Jared Wihongi is one of the most respected knife experts in the country. To have his influence on his own Signature Series really brings the authenticity to a new level,” says Nielsen. “And then to have it based on his Maori background, it almost feels like a custom knife from him.”
And it appears Wihongi and Kommer have been busy. There are seven new entries coming to the Black Label line this year, five of which bear the knife designer’s name.
“Our Black Label knife line continues to grow and develop into a comprehensive line for our tactical customer. For 2017, we have something for just about everyone,” Nielsen says. “These are fully functional, high-quality, and authentically designed knives that live up to the Browning name.”
First up is a distinctive new tool, the Wihongi Signature Series Tomahawk. The blade, which is ¼-inch thick throughout, is etched with a Maori warrior tribal motif as a tribute to Wihongi’s heritage. The hawk features a semi-sharpened blade edge on the spike end and holes machined into the steel for balance and weight control. The head is attached to a forked tang with three flush-mount screws atop a cord-wrapped handle. The hawk also comes with a rugged Kydex belt sheath. SRP: $69.99.
A bit small but just as stylized, the Wihongi Signature Dagger has a fixed double-edge full-tang blade of hollow-ground 7Cr17MoV steel with a brushed finish and etched Maori designs similar to the Tomahawk. It also includes flush-fit mosaic scale pins, a stainless-steel bolster, and a butt cap with silver accents. The dagger comes with a black Kydex sheath with slots and eyelets for easy attachment to belts, packs, or other gear.
Another etched blade, this one a bit bigger, is the Wihongi Signature Kukri (pictured above). The knife has a vicious-looking recurved full-tang kukri blade, again with a brushed finish Cr17MoV steel and a deep-draft reverse tanto blade profile. Again, the blade is etched with a Maori tribal design. The folder features an ambidextrous thumb stud and a steel pocket clip. (browning.com)
The Power of Passion
Passion, not price, is the key to continued success
Ken Schmidt, former director of communications at Harley-Davidson, began his tenure with the company just months before its near collapse. But he was on board during a storied brand recovery. Schmidt’s passion for the outdoors parallels his love for motorcycles. As the keynote speaker at the NSSF’s Executive Management Seminar, he opened with the question, “Who in this room created a hunter this year?”
He then explained the need for every member of the shooting sports to take responsibility to bring one more hunter into the fold annually. “It’s about changing the conversation to how much fun we have as hunters, instead of engaging in the arguments that are against our industry. Let’s talk about how cool it is to shoot a deer, drag it back to camp, and put it on the dinner table. It’s simple: If we don’t bring new hunters into the sport, we will die.”
Schmidt pointed to numerous parallels that motorcycles have with the shooting sports industry and warned about the race to the basement. His example included the flat-screen television market, which has seen prices plummet from $1,200 to under $500. “You can buy a Honda for $16,000 less than a similar Harley, but enthusiasts still pick a Harley. That’s the power of passion.”
And it’s that passion that can help ensure the future of the shooting sports. “Everyone must be on board with a brand that’s committed to passion for the American dream,” he said. “That’s the key.”
—Peter B. Mathiesen
Science and Colors
First Lite Performance Hunting is launching an addition to the technical apparel brand’s arsenal of camouflage and solid-color options. Using the scientific backbone of the popular Fusion pattern, Cipher offers a lighter color palette for hunters who understand Fusion’s effectiveness but want an option with lighter colors and tones.
Launched in 2015, Fusion was warmly received by hunters because of its ability to provide a sense of depth almost anywhere in the field. The DNA of First Lite’s family of patterns is derived from the Golden Ratio, which is the recurrence of particular shapes and colors throughout nature. By adhering to this algorithm and incorporating the perfect ratio of light and dark colors, First Lite believes Fusion and Cipher promote the negative space created by large and small-scale breakup instead of creating the “blob effect” found in most patterns.
“We see Cipher as the best possible complement to Fusion, one of the most effective patterns currently on the market,” says First Lite founder and co-CEO Kenton Carruth. “The key is the ability of the patterns to work at any distance. What we call ‘color blobbing’ has always been the biggest hurdle in traditional camouflage patterns. Most of these appear as a dark blob of color outside of 10 yards. But Cipher and Fusion incorporate enough visually disruptive qualities to give both bowhunters and rifle hunters an advantage both in close and at long range. We wanted to give the hunter a choice of proven, highly effective patterns, and we feel we’ve achieved that by offering Fusion, ASAT, and now Cipher.”
Cipher will be available throughout the First Lite product line as a sister pattern to Fusion, beginning with existing product late next month. New 2017 styles will be available in Cipher and other options later in the spring. (firstlite.com)
S&W’s M&P M2.0 is right on target
When a pistol is already a remarkable machine, people get nervous when that pistol undergoes changes, new versions, or updates. But if they’re done well, those changes amount to refinements that make that remarkable machine a truly fine pistol.
Such is the case with the new Smith & Wesson M&P M2.0, an update of the incredibly popular M&P line of handguns. The fact that it took 11 years for an update to be necessary is a testament to the original M&P’s design. The M2.0 is still a short recoil–operated, locked-breech semi-auto that uses a Browning-type locking system. It features a unique takedown method that doesn’t require a dry-fire pull of the trigger, for added safety.
While the original M&P’s target demographic was law enforcement, it quickly got into the hands and holsters of shooters in all walks of life and for all purposes for which a pistol is suited. The M2.0 is just different enough to make M&P fans giddy. The changes are subtle, but they were made with input from law-enforcement officers, professional competitors, and everyday concealed carriers who rely on the M&P.
The M2.0 retains the proven 18-degree grip angle of the original, which allows for natural pointing. But S&W engineers also looked at and made changes to the part of the pistol that contacts the hand the most, adding a more aggressive stippling. They also added a fourth interchangeable palm-swell insert that falls between medium and large on the size scale and is dubbed medium-large. While it may seem trivial, when you shoot the M&P in rapid succession with the different-sized inserts, you can really feel the difference in stability and comfort.
The factory trigger was always the big gripe about the M&P. Shooters found it to be mushy and quickly replaced it. S&W listened, and the M2.0’s redesigned trigger is crisp, with a lighter pull and a positive, audible reset.
And the Rest
The controls on the M2.0 are nearly identical to that of the original, with an ambidextrous slide stop, a reversible steel magazine release button, and an optional thumb safety lever. The M&P M2.0 is chambered in either 9mm or .40 S&W, and it comes with a 4.25-inch barrel. Best of all, it is available in gun shops now. (smith-wesson.com)
What Is All the Rage in Social Media?
Is Twitter dead? Should businesses pay more attention to Instagram and Facebook? And how can YouTube help increase exposure in a crowded marketplace? The latest in social media strategies for the firearms retailer was laid out at a 2017 SHOT Show University seminar with Michelle Scheuermann of BulletProof Communications, LLC, during her presentation, “Advanced Social Media Strategies.”
In the seminar, Scheuer-mann focused on three platforms she says deserve the most attention: Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. “Ignore the popular line of thinking that Twitter is the place to be. There are too many trolls, making the experience unpleasant and providing little to no value,” said Scheuermann.
She also stressed that retailers should only take on what they can comfortably handle and do well. “You aren’t giving your business any further service by halfway focusing on something,” she said. And if, as an owner, you find you can’t do it all, you can hire a specialist or find a trusted employee to manage the task.
Scheuermann said she’s having the most success with Instagram at the moment, even though it is owned by Facebook and they are starting to tweak the algorithms. Her tips for the photo-driven platform are to post often, use 5 to 10 hashtags per post mixed between unique and popular tags, and switch your personal account to a business account.
Finally, Scheuermann discussed YouTube strategies for increasing views on branded channels. Of all the platforms, YouTube is the easiest for making simple changes resulting in big gains.
“YouTube is very specific in its method of tracking videos and making them available to users. It needs to see you post often and use very specific keywords in your title, description, and tags,” she said.
No matter which platform retailers focus on, Scheuermann stressed that they have fun with it. “Above all, you need to show the personality of your store, and create a tribe of your own online. User-generated content is probably your best friend, so find those people who are zealots for your brand and cater to them, comment on their posts, and create a relationship.”
Blaser Steps Up
When Blaser USA executives went looking for an authority to guide them in their entry into the women’s market, they found Anne Mauro, who was instrumental in designing a line of shotguns for an Italian shotgun company. Blaser’s new line of shotguns and rifles is called Intuition.
Mauro, who is also the coach of the University of Maryland shotgun team, has applied her international competition–-winning knowledge of shotguns not only to the Blaser F16, but also to a woman-centric version of the R8. Everything in the R8 is modular, and one gun can be configured in 47 different calibers. The stock length, grip, cast, and pitch have been reduced and redesigned to fit a woman. SRP: starts at $3,787.
The F16 features assisted-opening, and Mauro says, “The crisp closer is very keen for a sporting clays shooter.”
A shorter length of pull, a slight Monte Carlo comb, a smaller grip radius, and a low-profile receiver make this 12-gauge well–suited to women.
“I can’t wait for the ladies to start shooting this gun,” said Mauro. SRP: Sporting, $4,195; Game, $3,795. (blaser-usa.com)
Hybrid Pack for Women
Looking to bring its signature designs and features to the first woman-specific, Western-oriented daypack in the Extreme line, Alps OutdoorZ has created the Monarch X. “After successfully introducing the Extreme line of hunting packs, we knew we couldn’t stop there,” says product manager Zach Scheidegger.
That was the impetus for the new Monarch X daypack–meat hauler hybrid. It can be used as a standard daypack, but it can also be used to haul out meat. The shoulder straps and waist belt are designed to fit a woman’s physique more comfortably than a standard hunting pack. Dual aluminum stays help distribute the weight evenly, while Lycra shoulder straps with built-in load lifters and a molded foam waist belt ensure a comfortable fit. (alpsoutdoorz.com)
Built to Last
After a century, Browning’s BAR is still going strong
In 1917, the Great War in Europe was in its third year. Here in the United States, John Moses Browning was working on an idea for a light, gas-operated machine gun that might help break the stalemated trench warfare being waged across the Atlantic Ocean. What was needed, he felt, was a relatively lightweight rifle that could be carried by an individual soldier, but that would still be able to fire fully automatic.
Existing machine guns already had proved themselves deadly on the battlefields. But they were large and heavy, needed to be mounted on tripods or wheeled carriages, and required two- and even three-man teams to operate.
It took him all of three months, but John Browning came up with a rifle the U.S. Army quickly accepted: the BAR M1918, aka the Browning Automatic Rifle. Or, as we know it, the BAR. The .30-caliber BAR was considered one of the most effective light machine guns ever made, and it saw significant action in World Wars I and II and the Korean War, and was even used during the Vietnam War.
Approximately 50 years after the BAR’s inception, the Browning BAR sporting version was introduced. While mechanically different from the original BAR, the sporting BAR featured a similar look and was as tough and accurate as the original. It soon became the go-to rifle for many American hunters.
All of which makes 2017 a doubly significant year for Browning: the 100-Year Anniversary of the iconic BAR and the fifth decade of the sporting BAR.
“The longevity of the BAR is a testament to Browning’s commitment to high quality as well as the strength of the basic BAR design,” says Aaron Cummins, Browning’s product manager. “Of course, the sporting BARs are much different internally than the full-auto military BARs. But both are Brownings, and that means they are built to last.”
To celebrate these milestones, Browning introduced new and upgraded BARs at the 2017 SHOT Show. The commemorative model is the BAR Safari 100th Anniversary rifle, and only 100 will be made. All are chambered in .30/06 SPRG. The stocks are made of oil-finished Grade V Turkish walnut, and there are special anniversary gold engravings on both sides of the receiver. With a 22-inch stainless-steel barrel and an overall length of 43 inches, the BAR Safari weighs in at just an ounce over 8 pounds.
Browning is also making the BAR MK3 and BAR MK3 Stalker, BAR MK3 in Mossy Oak Break-Up Country, and the BAR MK3 DBM. The MK3 models feature aircraft-grade alloy receivers and multi-lug rotary bolts as well as hammer-forged barrels.
Detachable magazines with the unique Browning hinged floorplate allow a shooter to drop the floorplate, detach the empty magazine, and pop in a new magazine in seconds. These BARs are drilled and tapped for optics, too.
“All of these 2017 BAR MK3s will also come with special 100th Anniversary serial numbers,” Cummins says. “It should add some collector value to these rifles as well as give people a chance to own a piece of Browning’s history. Not that we are going anywhere. We expect the BAR to be around for another 100 years.” (browning.com)
Clearing the Air
The redesigned Black Cloud ups its performance
Federal Premium’s popular Black Cloud waterfowl ammunition now comes in an improved version: Flitecontrol Flex. The new load will perform better and it will simplify a retailer’s life, too. Original Black Cloud was deadly stuff, but it patterned badly in ported choke tubes, leading to dissatisfaction and confusion among waterfowl hunters. Now you’ll be able to sell Black Cloud to all your waterfowling customers regardless of which choke they use, and you’ll be able to sell them ported tubes without having to explain that they shouldn’t shoot Black Cloud.
The Flitecontrol wad is designed to produce tight patterns by staying with the shot 15 feet past the muzzle, then separating cleanly. Rear braking fins pop open to slow the wad while window-shaped cuts in the side allow air inside the wad to equalize internal and external pressure. That’s all fine until you run a Flitecontrol wad through a ported tube, where the ports first chew the side windows like graters, then bleed off the pressure from expanding gases that are supposed to open the rear fins. The results are poor, erratic patterns instead of the deadly downrange performance for which Black Cloud is known.
The new wad is redesigned with new materials and thinner brake fins that will deploy regardless of drops in pressure. The side windows are gone, replaced by slits that are compatible with ported tubes. The results, as I saw on an early September goose hunt and on the patterning board, are excellent. Flitecontrol Flex patterned very well through the ported Patternmaster tubes I used on the hunt.
The new Black Cloud Flex contains the same mix of ridged Flitestopper pellets and round shot for better on-game performance and patterns. The new, lead-free Catalyst primer promises more consistent ignition and much cleaner burning performance, alleviating the complaint that Black Cloud dirtied gun barrels. Available in 10, 12, and 20 gauge. (federalpremium.com)
CRKT’s Homefront just might change the face of field knives forever
Sometimes the simplest ideas can be the most complicated concepts to carry out. Renowned knife designer Ken Onion and the team at Columbia River Knife and Tool weren’t necessarily looking to create a new knife category when they set out to design the CRKT Homefront, which they launched late last year. They were simply looking for a way to develop a versatile workhorse of a knife that was easy for people to field-strip. What they delivered, however, was a knife that might very well change everything.
“With most folders, if I’ve just gutted a moose, I’m probably not going to want use the same knife to spread peanut butter on my crackers at lunch,” Onion says. “But you should be able to, right? I mean, if you look at most of the things a soldier carries into the field, he can take them apart, clean them thoroughly, and put them back together without any tools. Why not a knife?”
It was that motivation that drove Onion and the team at CRKT to want to create a knife that could be taken apart, cleaned, and put back together in the field without any tools. It might seem like a simple idea, but the practical application proved to be anything but.
“We worked with Ken and came up with several ways to make it work, but we could never figure out how to create something for mass production,” says Doug Flagg, vice president of sales and marketing for CRKT. “We truly believed in the concept, though. So about three years ago, we made it a priority, and Ken dedicated himself to figuring out how to make it work.”
Onion and CRKT went through the arduous process of trying to materialize an idea from concept to reality. There were the usual ups and downs, successes and failures. Each solution led to new problems, but the biggest challenge the team faced was one of simplicity.
“Folding knives seem so simple, but the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts working together that the average consumer will never see,” Flagg says. “We had to figure out how to incorporate all those moving parts in a way that they were completely contained within the knife. You can’t have screws and other small parts falling out in the field when people are trying to clean it.”
The design also had to be intuitive. If it required a user’s manual in the field, there wouldn’t be too many people who would be eager to attempt the disassembly.
“When you are introducing an entirely new concept into the market, the first generation needs to be so obvious that everyone can understand what it is and how to use it just by looking at it,” Onion says.
The challenge wasn’t coming up with a solution; it was coming up with a solution that could be manufactured with consistent results. This proved especially difficult with the knife’s pivot point.
“You can’t have any blade play at all. But it also can’t be so tight that it doesn’t open smoothly every time. It’s a big challenge,” Onion says. “I probably had 20 different ways to do it, but the manufacturability was the problem. You had to be able to replicate it and have it work the same way every time.”
The solution was a small switch on the outside of the Homefront’s pivot point. By sliding the locking lever to one side and rotating the wheel at the base of the knife, the handle separates, leaving you with three easy-to-clean pieces. Simple? Yes. Game-changing? Yes, again. (crkt.com)
Henry Ford once remarked, “If I’d asked customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse.” It’s a good example of how customers are much more in touch with their needs (in this case, more speed) than they are with practical solutions for their problems.
Gerry Katz, vice chairman of Applied Marketing Science, explored this dichotomy during Monday’s inaugural NSSF Executive Management Seminar session “Voice of the Customer: The Most Misunderstood Term in All of Marketing.”
In a nutshell, the voice of the customer is not about listening to customers’ demands for features or technical specs, and it’s not about following industry thought leaders or reacting to anecdotes from your sales staff or tech support. Instead, Katz described a methodical process in which one-on-one interviews are conducted with current and potential customers, which are then transcribed and culled for key phrases about things the customers need. Next, those needs are grouped into categories and prioritized by those customers.
It’s important to have customers involved in each step. Our industry is full of enthusiasts, and Katz warns against mistaking our own voices for the voice of the customer. We may share values and need many of the same things as our customers, but we often prioritize those needs differently, and use the wrong words to describe them. Those words matter—they carry the emotional freight of the needs, and help ensure that the solutions you arrive at are the ones your customers are asking for.
—Robert F. Staeger
Think suppressors are a fringe product? Think again
In February 2016, the BATFE reported the number of registered silencers in the U.S. had exceeded the 900,000 mark. This statistic does not surprise Matt Ohlson, Remington’s director of consumer accessories. “Obviously, with our military contracts as well as growing civilian interest, it was a natural move for Remington to augment our firearms and ammunition lines with a silencer portfolio. That’s why we acquired Advanced Armament Corporation,” he said in an interview last September at Remington’s annual new-product seminar. “Silencers are not becoming mainstream; they are mainstream now, and once users realize the myriad benefits, they want to shoot everything suppressed.”
Ohlson also says that by SHOT Show 2017 he expects that well over one million silencers will be in consumer hands, boosted by hundreds of thousands of applications waiting to be approved for tax stamps in an effort to beat the ATF 41F July 13, 2016, enactment date. During previous years, tax stamp wait times stretched out to longer than one year. Last fall, though, approval time estimates fell to between six months to a year. Ohlson noted that the majority of the silencers added to the record had been sold in the past five years, with double-digit increases year over year. Presently, 42 out of 50 states allow for silencer ownership, and 40 states allow for some form of hunting with them. Prospective owners have to fill out federal paperwork, undergo a background check, pay a $200 tax per item, conduct the transfer through an FFL/SOT in their state, and wait for approval until they can take possession. This is in stark contrast to certain countries in Europe in which silencers, where legal, can be purchased relatively easily.
“Wherever there’s a firearm, there’s a silencer benefit,” says Ohlson. “Target shooting, plinking, home defense, hunting, military, law enforcement—even patrol officers. It really is an across-the-board benefit for any shooting discipline that you’re doing.”
According to Ohlson, three trends are currently driving the suppressor market.
Choices, Choices, Choices
Ohlson sees more companies coming into the market, new designs pushing the technical envelope, and prices dropping with increased competition. “Five to 10 years ago, suppressors were the realm of the specialist gun owner, someone who navigates all the legalese behind it and how to own it. What’s happened now is that suppressors are more mainstream. As a result, more everyday gun owners are jumping on the silencer bandwagon. As the market matures, there will be more product choices, and logically more price-point plays.”
There is increasing interest in the one-can-to-do-it-all, aka the do-everything-can for pistol, centerfire, and rimfire firearms. For one tax stamp, you can own one silencer that can be used on multiple hosts and multiple calibers.
“AAC offers suppressors that will cover multiple rifle calibers—such as .308 Win., 300 AAC Blackout, and 5.56 from a .30-caliber silencer—and pistol cans that shoot both centerfire pistol and rimfire cartridges. However, we don’t offer a do-it-all right now,” he says.
The modular silencer allows the user to switch the configuration from a full-size to a compact version by removing a module from the main tube. Again, for one tax stamp you can own one silencer that allows for some level of adjustment for different applications or scenarios.
“Our Ti-RANT 45M and our new Ti-RANT 9M are modular centerfire pistol cans that give our end-user the added flexibility to configure length, weight, and sound reduction to their specific needs,” Ohlson says.
The Ti-RANT 9M was launched at SHOT 2017. “That silencer is an extension of our legacy Ti-RANT 9 pistol silencer, which was, and still is, one of the quietest and softest shooting 9mm pistol cans in the market,” says Ohlson. “It was discontinued about 18 months ago when we introduced the Illusion 9 [an eccentric silencer]. The Ti-RANT 9M is a concentric can with all the features of the Ti-RANT 9, but now with the added modularity. We also include a standard ½-28 and a metric 13.5-1LH piston in the box.”
AAC has also been busy with the launch of a variety of new accessories, including SquareDrop Handguards, a new take on KeyMod-compatible MSR handguards; Glock 34 threaded barrels, with ½-28 and M13.5-1LH options available; new flash hiders for AR9 pistols/carbines with ½-28 and ½-36 thread pitch, M14-1LH AKs, and MP5-style 9mm three-lug mounts; a new adapter that enables AAC’s Ti-RANT 45-series cans to shoot subsonic 300 AAC Blackout with a direct thread attachment to an MSR; and new fixed–barrel, improved-design spacers for Evo-9/Eco-9/Ti-RANT 9/Illusion 9, and Ti-RANT 45 series silencers.
“If people want to support expanding our freedom to use silencers, they need to get behind the HPA (Hearing Protection Act) and support organizations like the American Suppressor Association and the NFA Freedom Alliance,” says Ohlson. “The HPA would take silencers off the NFA list.” (remington.com)
At the Bonnier Outdoor Group 2017 SHOT Show breakfast, SHOT Business honored seven industry leaders through the presentation of the SHOT Business Awards. The honorees were Centennial Gun Club, Independent Retailer of the Year; Cabela’s, Chain Retailer of the Year; Granite State Indoor Range and Gun Shop, Range of the Year; Rick Insley of the RSR Group, Sales Rep of the Year; Lipsey’s, Distributor of the Year; Smith & Wesson, Company of the Year; and Lew Danielson, Person of the Year.
“I take such pride in our team, and it’s magical to watch them accomplish their personal goals as well as our company goals each day. They know how to make things happen. This award means everything to us, and we appreciate the recognition very much,” said Laurie Lipsey Aronson, president and CEO of Lipsey’s.
Danielson, who recently announced his retirement, founded Crimson Trace Corporation in his garage in 1994 and built it into a global company with more than 250 laser-sighting and lighting products. He said, “It is with great pleasure that I accept this recognition on behalf of the Crimson Trace employees and the many customers who have purchased Crimson Trace laser sights.”
Zac Brown brings passion and precision to the knife business
Few things go together like firearms and knives, unless you want to add country music into that equation as well. Zac Brown’s Southern Grind, which was founded by the three-time Grammy-award-winning artist, had a booth at 2017 SHOT Show for the first time in its young history. It’s a mash-up encapsulating a knife company owned by a country music star on display at the largest shooting sports trade show in the world.
Brown’s passion for high-quality blades drives his focus to create some of best knives on the market, without taking away from the blue collar roots of the company. For example, all the Southern Grind fixed-blade knives start their lives as reclaimed sawmill blades, work-hardened from creating thousands of board-feet of lumber. Their first life slicing through tree after tree is made stronger by a constant cycle of heating and cooling numerous times a day.
Taking strength and durability even further, the GranDaddy knives are differentially heat-treated for maximum edge hardness, but they still retain enough flexibility to bend 90 degrees without fracturing the blade. Cerakote and Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) coatings are added to finish the process with a corrosion-resistant and non-reflective surface.
The folding knives also exhibit numerous features that don’t necessarily need to be on a standard production knife, but Brown has made sure that his products are held to a higher standard. For example, they all use solid 6AL4V titanium locks and liners, for strength and to save weight.
The Southern Grind metal workshop in Peachtree City, Georgia, is part of the Southern Ground family of brands. Located on 8 acres and totaling 150,000 square feet, this facility houses a collective of talented artists and craftsmen. Each person is a master in his respective craft—wood, leather, metals. Everyone who puts their hands on a product is passionate about quality, and there is definitely a sense of pride that they are being made in the U.S.A. However, the primary goal of Southern Grind isn’t just to manufacture high-quality knives—it supports Brown’s non-profit passion project, Camp Southern Ground.
Located on more than 400 acres in Fayetteville, Georgia, Camp Southern Ground provides extraordinary experiences for children from all backgrounds, races, and religions. The camp puts a special emphasis on those with Autism Spectrum Disorders such as autism and Asperger’s, as well as learning disabilities such as ADD/ADHD and dyslexia, social or emotional challenges, and those with family members serving in the military. A portion of the sales from Southern Grind helps support the camp. (southerngrind.com)
Most shooters know that hearing loss can occur from a one-time incident or happen gradually over a lifetime of pulling the trigger. In many cases it’s a combination of the two—which is why it’s so important to wear hearing protection every time you use a firearm, whether in the field or on the range. There are several brands of quality hearing protection on the market today for shooters to choose from, but one manufacturer has steadily been building its reputation for quality over the past 30 years: Howard Leight by Honeywell.
“We’ve always been dedicated to keeping our core customers—professional and recreational shooters and hunters—safe through superior hearing protection,” says Sean O’Brien, president, Honeywell, SPS Global Retail.
Expected to hit the market in spring 2017, the new Howard Leight Impact Sport Bolt electronic earmuff will have the same Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) of 22 dB and slim profile of the already popular Impact Sport, but with new and improved -features. The Impact Sport Bolt will offer improved circuitry, increased amplification of ambient sound, and an industry–leading attack time of .5ms, which is 250 times faster than the current model.
O’Brien says “attack time” is the interval between when the external sound level goes above safe hearing levels—such as when a shot is fired—and when the circuitry reacts to lower the amplification of external sound to a safe level. (howardleightshootingsports.com)
Equal to the Task
SOG’s new pack line is cleverly conceived and built right
A good pack is hard to find. Over the years, I’ve used a broad assortment of backpacks, gear, duffel bags, and other configurations of pouches and straps to haul things around in urban and rural environments. Not all were equal to the task. It usually comes down to the little things: the quality of the zippers and waterproofing, the stitching and the seams, how the fabric edges are finished, and the overall arrangement and design of the components. You can’t really get a feel for how a pack will function until you use it.
So when a company known for great edged items—such as tactical knives, hunting knives, folders, field tools, and tomahawks—says they’re going to start making backpacks, it’s natural to be a little skeptical. You think maybe they’ve strayed from their skill set. But in the case of the new line of heavy-duty packs from SOG Knife and Tool, I can state unequivocally that these are not novelty items with a company logo (though the green-beret skull does make a prominent appearance). They are solid gear-haulers with a ton of thought and engineering poured into their design.
The packs have been introduced as a full line, ranging from the compact 18L EVAC sling bag all the way up to the spacious 35L Seraphim backpack, with four other models in between. All have killer features in addition to 500-denier nylon construction (with a water-resistant polyurethane coating). The shoulder straps on all the bags are padded, have a rigid suspension system, and come with quick-release buckles, so you can cinch down the straps and still get the pack off in a hurry if you have to. The straps on all packs accept the sling bag and have an elasticized sternum strap that’s adjustable for length and height, something missing from many smaller packs. Plus, the small plastic buckle has an emergency whistle built in, just in case. Every SOG pack also has the ability to carry a hydration bladder, with pass-throughs for drinking tubes, plus guides on the straps.
The Scout 24 pack and the two larger models have stowable, padded hip belts, giving users the ability to carry heavier loads for longer periods. The Ranger also has a hip belt, but it’s unpadded. The two largest packs—the 33L Prophet and the Seraphim—feature stowable shoulder straps, so they can function as duffel bags, with the appropriate grab handles right where you need them.
That’s the great thing about the entire line—they have zippers, pouches, grab handles, and straps all over the place, but you never feel like the features are cumbersome or that they get in each other’s way at all.
Even the smallest pack has a pass-through laptop compartment, as computers are so often a component of our lives these days, even in the field. The larger packs have sleeves built into them meant for laptops or tablets, and every pack sports a semi-rigid impact-resistant top pocket (that’s the shell-looking thing with the hook-and-loop panel and SOG logo), with plenty of pouches and sleeves inside to organize fragile electronic devices. It’s crush-resistant, not crush-proof, but way better than just having things hanging out in a nylon pouch. Plus, it even has a walled-off place to stash a pair of sunglasses. These packs also have pass-throughs for earphones.
In addition, all the packs feature a laser-cut Hypalon MOLLE panel on the exterior for attaching additional gear. It works just like traditional MOLLE webbing, but it has a much lower profile and is stronger for extended use.
As a final touch, ring-shaped zipper pulls make it easy to get at them, even with gloves on. Speaking of the zippers, it’s truly amazing what adding a couple can do for a big pack.
The Prophet and Seraphim packs have four zippers on their main compartments, allowing users to open them from the top or bottom to access gear. (sogknives.com)
The Value of a Name
With licensed products, the key is quality and performance
Branded ancillary products are big business. It’s a cost-effective way for a company to extend the reach of its brand without having to add expensive factory floor space. The issue is finding the right licensing company so that the products it develops reflect the values of the company that granted the license. It’s harder than it seems, but one company that has mastered the process is Utah-based Signature Products Group (SPG). “We do a lot of things with a lot of companies,” says Steve McGrath, SPG’s director of marketing and public relations. “In the shooting sports arena, we partner with Mossy Oak, Ducks Unlimited, and Realtree, among others. But our biggest relationship is with Browning. It’s a trusted name in the outdoors, a name synonymous with innovation and commitment to excellence. So, the products we create for them have to reflect that. And they do.”
For 2017, SPG is rolling out three new Browning-branded product categories: footwear, socks, and pet accessories.
“The reintroduction of the Browning footwear line is a big deal,” McGrath says. “Back in the day, Browning was the first to come out with a lightweight upland boot—the legendary Kangaroo Featherweight.”
The new hunting line will consist of three categories—big game, upland, and rubber. The big dog in the big-game category is the Buck Shadow.
“This will be the signature boot, a lightweight 8-incher built for the spot-and-stalk hunter in demanding backcountry terrain, where light weight, stealth, and complete waterproof protection are essential,” he says.
McGrath notes that the trend toward lighter-weight boots continues to evolve. “Anyone can go lighter; that’s not the issue. Maintaining quality and performance, that’s the fine line. I think we’ve struck a great balance with the Buck Shadow. We’ve got a lightweight boot that’s structured so it can handle the heavy loads when big-game hunters pack out. As for durability, we’re using topnotch materials, and we expect it to last.”
The Buck Shadow will be available in three versions with four camo options. The boots utilize modern technology such as Ortholite open-cell foam for long-lasting cushioning and OutDry, a lamination process that bonds the waterproof membrane to the boot. (spgoutdoors.com)
—Slaton L. White
The Right Tools
Something sporting arms customers won’t see at retail is a special build Remington Defense calls the MSR/PSR/Mk 21. This modular sniper rifle features a Remington MSR titanium action, with a 60-degree bolt and a lightweight skeletonized chassis. Other features include a right-folding fully adjustable buttstock, a modular handguard with removable accessory rails, a Cerakote Gen II IR reducing finish, a two-position trigger, and two detachable magazines. It’s also available in three calibers—.308 Win., .300 Win. Mag., and .338 Lapua Mag.
“The key concept behind the MSR/PSR was adaptability and operator-serviceability,” says Joshua Cutlip, of Remington Defense. “Traditionally, bolt-action sniper rifles have had set configurations and required depot-level service for barrel replacements when the installed barrel was worn out. But with the MSR/PSR, the operator can change his own barrel in just a few minutes—all without losing the capability the weapon offers on the battlefield. This adaptability is valuable for many reasons—for example, to support more cost-effective training or to suit the ammunition that is available in the theatre. Sniper rifles are highly specialized weapon systems, and offering an added layer of adaptability can be a huge benefit.” The system was created to meet specific requirements of the U.S. military’s elite war fighters. (remingtonmilitary.com)
—Photographs By Justin Appenzeller
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By Robert Sadowski
Blackstone Shooting Sports offers shooters new and old a first-rate experience
Would you like a cappuccino after renting the H&K USP9-V1? Perhaps you want to kick back in the VIP Lounge and watch the big game after using the private, nine-lane range? The new trend in shooting ranges is something of a cross between a country club and a retail experience that rivals Barney’s, Neiman-Marcus, Bergdorf-Goodman, or Bloomingdale’s. Call them “guntry clubs.” Whatever the name, these shooting ranges are leading the charge to provide customers with a new experience, one that includes not only shooting, but shopping and other amenities as well.
Not the Sand Pit
Blackstone Shooting Sports, located in Charlotte, North Carolina, is an excellent example of this new culture. This is not the sand pit where your granddad brought you to shoot. Blackstone, like other forward-thinking gun ranges, has seen gun sales double over the past decade. Now, people from all walks of life want to shoot, and these guntry clubs offer a safe, clean place in which to do so.
Taylor Hayden, founder and owner of Blackstone, saw a need for an indoor shooting range and firearms store that did business differently. “I visited about 40 different facilities around the country and saw a need that wasn’t being met,” he says. “The shooting industry as a whole was sort of a good-old-boys’ network that wasn’t welcoming enough to new shooters—people who were interested in the shooting sports but were too intimidated at some ranges to ask questions.”
And though popular speak has seemed to settle on calling these shooting facilities “guntry clubs,” Hayden does not like the term because of its elitist connotation. He wants people from all walks of life to be able to have access to firearms and shooting.
Blackstone’s facility was specially designed to provide new shooters with a safe, comfortable, welcoming atmosphere, while still offering experienced shooting enthusiasts the challenges and amenities they expect. Blackstone, which opened two years ago, certainly caters to those who want the VIP treatment and are willing to pay for private lanes and a private lounge. But it also caters to those who just want to shoot in a safe, state-of-the-art facility with high-tech training classrooms and a modern retail space housing an extensive stock of firearms, ammunition, apparel, and accessories.
Personal membership fees run from $24 per month up to $149 per month (VIP membership), which includes the entire family. An initiation fee is required with all memberships. Membership has its privileges, as Blackstone provides complimentary eye and ear protection, as well as discounts on ammunition, accessories, and gun rentals. Corporate memberships are available, too, so you can network or cut a deal on the private pistol range instead of on the 18th hole. The VIP Lounge is a separate part of the facility, with comfortable sofas and chairs and big-screen TVs. The space can also be rented and catered. Events are a big part of the business model at Blackstone, and the club uses a preferred list of caterers that range from casual BBQ to fancier events with chafing dishes. Hayden says the space is very popular for bachelorette parties. Once the ladies are done shooting, they can continue the celebration with a full catering staff. A gas fire pit on an outside patio is inviting, and the area makes for a comfortable setting for small talk or business dealings.
Alcohol is allowed in the lounge, but only after all firearms have been secured and access to the range is closed. All shooters must also fill out a waiver, which is conveniently available on store iPads. The iPad form not only captures waiver information, it also allows Blackstone to send emails and market to customers after they leave.
Removing the Barriers
Concealed carry is the strongest segment of the market, so Blackstone offers classes for shooters where they can obtain their concealed-carry permit. It also offers other classes, one of the most popular being a followup to the concealed-carry permit class that really dives into the particular situations North Carolina permit holders may encounter. Since many new concealed-carry permit holders are also new shooters, Hayden feels it is important to be able to provide full service, from shooting and training to retail.
The latter is another unique aspect of Blackstone’s, compared to the typical firearms store. There are no barriers separating the retail staff from the customer. Blackstone’s retail buying experience is more like what you would find at an Apple store.
“We eliminated firearms counters completely and display our retail firearms in custom-built, upright cases,” Hayden says. “This allows our guests to browse much more freely and empowers our sales team to develop a more natural relationship with our guests. This is especially important to our visitors who are new to the industry, because entering a firearms store for the first time can be an extremely intimidating and daunting experience.” Hayden notes that the staff has been specially trained to assist customers in an environment that is easier to navigate and far less stressful.
The entire experience is designed to get customers to linger and socialize. And though a guntry club may be a new wrinkle in the shooting sports business, the idea of keeping customers around is an old idea. But in this case, it’s wearing brand-new threads.