Archive for the ‘Featured’ category
By Mark E. Battersby
Illustrations by Pixel Pushers
An employee benefit that also benefits ownership
Employee ownership in a shooting-sports business can be accomplished in a variety of ways. Employees can buy stock directly, be given it as a bonus, can receive stock options, or obtain stock through a profit-sharing plan. Some employees become owners through worker cooperatives where everyone has an equal vote. But by far the most common form of employee ownership in the U.S. is the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP). In addition to being an excellent exit strategy with significant tax savings for gun shop owners and shareholders, ESOPs are also great for motivating and rewarding employees and for taking advantage of incentives to borrow money for acquiring new assets in pretax dollars.
Almost unknown until 1974, ESOPs today are used by many businesses for a variety of purposes other than the succession planning with which they are most closely associated. But launching an ESOP isn’t just about benefiting the business owner. Business owners willing to go to the trouble of implementing such a plan frequently have the interests of their employees and the business in mind.
An ESOP is a qualified retirement program in which employees receive shares of the business rather than stock. ESOPs are said to be “qualified” because they qualify for federal income tax deferral until the stock is turned into cash at retirement.
An ESOP offers employers two advantages. First, the business gets significant tax breaks. It can, for instance, borrow funds through the ESOP for expansion or for other purposes, deducting both the repayment and interest when the loan is repaid. (With ordinary loans, only interest payments are tax-deductible.) Second, the owner of a firearms business who sells his or her stock to the ESOP can defer or often even avoid capital-gains taxes associated with the sale of the business. With these essentials, ESOPs have become an important tool in succession planning for business owners preparing for retirement.
In addition to an important succession planning tool for shooting-sports business owners thinking about retirement, employees also benefit from an ESOP. When it comes to the employees, ESOPs are in most respects similar to 401(k) plans, except that, instead of cash, the business providing the ESOP “pays” in its own stock. Under both an ESOP and a 401(k) program, employees receive monetary benefits on retirement or in the event of death or disability. The chief difference is that with a 401(k), the funds paid in are usually invested in a diversified portfolio; in the ESOP, they hold only the company’s own stock. The advantages and risks of ESOPs derive from this difference.
An ESOP can also be a useful tool when it comes to buying and selling the shooting-sports business. In fact, an ESOP is often an excellent tool for selling a minority interest in the business. By selling a portion of the business, an owner can invest in other assets, providing much-needed wealth diversification.
For example, a business owner nearing retirement age can sell his or her stake in the business to the ESOP in order to gain tax advantages and provide for the continuation of the business. According to many experts, transferring ownership to the operation’s employees in this manner is preferable to a third-party sale.
After all, with a sale to a third party, buyers may be difficult to find, and after the transaction, collecting installment payments may turn out to be difficult or costly. With an ESOP, more certain results are possible.
The ESOP can borrow money to buy out the owner’s stake in the business. If, after the stock purchase, the ESOP holds more than 30 percent of the business’ shares, the owner can defer capital-gains taxes by investing the proceeds in a Qualified Replacement Property (QRP). QRPs can include stocks, bonds, and certain retirement accounts. The income stream generated by the QRP can help provide the business owner with income during retirement.
ESOPs can also prove helpful to those interested in buying a small business. Many individuals and businesses have raised the capital for financing a purchase by selling nonvoting stock in the business to its employees. This strategy allows the purchaser to retain the voting shares in order to maintain control of the business.
As attractive as these tax benefits are, there are limits and drawbacks. The tax laws do not allow ESOPs to be used in partnerships or most professional corporations. ESOPs can be used in S corporations (a form of corporation that meets specific Internal Revenue Code requirements, giving a corporation with 100 shareholders or less the benefit of incorporation while being taxed as a partnership), but do not qualify for the unique rollover treatment accorded those ESOPs using regular corporation entities. They also have lower contribution limits.
Privately held firearms businesses are, for instance, required to repurchase the shares of departing employees, and this can become a major expense. The cost of setting up an ESOP is also substantial; it can be as much as $40,000 for a simple, basic plan for a small business, far more for a larger enterprise with more employees.
And remember, anytime new shares in the business are issued, the value of the stock owned by existing owners is diluted. That dilution must be weighed against the tax and employee motivation benefits an ESOP can provide. Finally, ESOPs will improve corporate performance only if combined with opportunities for employees to participate in decisions affecting their work.
Reportedly, only about two-thirds of ESOPs are used to provide a market for the shares of a departing owner of a profitable, closely held business. Most of the remainder are used either as a supplemental employee benefit plan or as a means to borrow money in a tax-favored manner. Less than three percent of ESOP plans are in public companies.
Is an ESOP right for you? Weigh the pros and cons presented here and then consult with your tax professional.
At A Glance
ESOPs have a number of significant tax benefits, the most important of which are:
Contributions of stock are tax-deductible. That means a firearms business can get a current cash flow advantage by issuing new shares or treasury shares to the ESOP. Doing so, however, means the shares of existing owners will be diluted.
Cash contributions are deductible. The business can contribute cash on a discretionary basis year to year and take a tax deduction for it, whether the contribution is used to buy shares from current owners or to build up a cash reserve in the ESOP for future use.
Contributions used to repay a loan the ESOP takes out to buy shares in the business are tax-deductible. The ESOP can borrow money to buy existing shares, new shares, or treasury shares. Regardless of the use, the contributions are deductible, meaning ESOP financing is done in pretax dollars.
Sellers in a regular C corporation (the most common type of corporation) get a tax deferral. With an incorporated business, once the ESOP owns 30 percent of all the shares in the business, the seller can reinvest the proceeds of the sale in other securities, deferring any tax on the gain.
In S corporations, the percentage of ownership held by the ESOP is not subject to income tax at the federal level (and usually the state level as well). That means there is usually no income tax on 30 percent of the profits of an S corporation with an ESOP holding 30 percent of the stock, and no income tax at all on the profits of an S corporation wholly owned by its ESOP. However, the ESOP still must get a pro-rata share of any distributions the firearms business makes to owners or shareholders.
Dividends are tax-deductible. Reasonable dividends used to repay an ESOP loan, passed through to employees, or reinvested by employees in the business’ stock are tax-deductible.
Employees pay no tax on the contributions to the ESOP, only the distribution of their accounts, and then at potentially favorable rates. The employees can roll over their distributions in an IRA or other retirement plan or pay current tax on the distribution, with any gains accumulated over time taxed as capital gains. The income tax portion of the distributions is, however, subject to a 10 percent penalty if made before normal retirement age.
Not too surprisingly, all contributions are subject to certain limitations, though these rarely pose a problem for a well-advised firearms business.
By Wayne Van Zwoll
Europe’s gunmakers are well known for beautifully designed products, the prices of which would bankrupt a prince. and yet, these manufacturers also offer a variety of handsome yet affordable models that will appeal to many North American hunters.
After the tide of surplus Mausers receded and the spawn of the slim 1903 Mannlicher-Schoenauer expired with the 1961 MCA, Europe’s gunmakers forfeited their standing stateside. By 1974, Browning’s Belgian FN plant had dropped its High-Power rifles. In Finland, Sako Finnbear and Forester bolt-actions had yielded to the Model 74. The classic Swedish Husqvarna was gone. Austria had replaced Mannlicher-Schoenauers with its first Steyrs. Germany’s commercial 1898 Mauser had vanished decades back. In the U.S., riflemen still mourning Winchester’s old Model 70 wept and gnashed their teeth.
Europe’s climb out of this dark hole has been glacial, marked by costly rifles with sloping combs, hooked wrists, fish-scale grips, and intricate set triggers. QD scope mounts of Teutonic complexity listed for more than box seats at the Super Bowl. Current rifles, however, brighten the horizon, and a fresh look to Europe is in order. But to sell these storied names effectively, you need to know who the players are and some of their rich history.
Ushering in a New Age
Compared to Europe’s gun industry, firearms manufacture in the U.S. is a young enterprise. Our oldest manufacturer, Remington, just celebrated 200 years in business. Austria’s storied gunmaking enclave in Ferlach, though, dates to 1246. European bolt-actions of the late 19th century ushered in the smokeless age, and in 1889, Fabrique Nationale d’Armes de Guerre (FN) emerged in Liege to produce Mauser rifles for Belgium’s government. FN owes its genesis to the Model 1889, which also confirmed Peter Paul Mauser as the continent’s ace rifle designer. His Model 1892 introduced the non-rotating extractor that grasped case heads as they rose, so it emptied the breech even if the shooter short-cycled. No jams.
Improvements on the 1892 produced the Model 1893 “Spanish” Mauser—whose deadly fire from San Juan Hill figured into the U.S. shift from the Krag to the Springfield. Mauser’s 1898, adopted by the German Army that year, improved on the 1893. Exported to many countries, it was built in many more.
I wasn’t awed by the Walter Gehman short-throw rifle acquired by Mauser and announced as the Model 66 in 1965. The 3000 (with the 2000 and short 4000) built by the Friedrich Wilhelm Heym Arms Factory of Münnerstadt, West Germany, was sold by Mauser-Jagdwaffen GmbH, Oberndorf. The equally unexciting Models 77 and 86 followed. In 1995 Mauser was gobbled up by the Rheinmetall Group. Its gun-making branch, Oberndorf Waffensysteme GmbH, built a Model 96 straight-pull rifle. The 1898 Mauser appeared in a limited run on its centennial. The next year, Mauser Jagdwaffen GmbH began building M98 hunting rifles in Isny/Allagau, Germany. In 2003, Mauser announced its un-98 Model 03, a nicely finished but costly rifle with interchangeable barrels and bolts.
A decade later, Mauser introduced the more affordable M12, a fetching rifle with a straight-comb stock (walnut or synthetic). Its full-diameter six-lug bolt (three pairs of two) has two plunger ejectors and an extractor in a lug. There’s a three-position safety and an adjustable trigger. The detachable box fits flush and can be loaded in the rifle. The M12 in .270 I took on a chamois hunt was nimble, accurate, and well finished.
Recently Mauser reintroduced a beautifully rendered 1898 sporting rifle, and a dangerous-game version on the famous square-bridge Magnum Mauser action. Both are costly but may be worth a divorce. The Magnum boasts pillar bedding, dual recoil lugs, and a three-leaf express sight. Barrel bands secure the front ramp and swivel stud. The walnut stock has point-pattern checkering, and a steel grip cap. The deep magazine holds four rounds in .375 H&H, four in .416 Rigby.
Mauser now shares its Isny manufacturing site with Blaser (it’s blah-zer, not blay-zer) and Sauer. Michael Luke and Thomas Ortmaier control the L&O Group that owns these brands, plus SIG Sauer in northern Germany. Bernhard Knöbel, CEO of Isny operations, runs Blaser. Thorsten Mann heads Mauser, Matthias Klotz the Sauer works. The three factories are, literally, a walk across the parking lot from each other.
Less than 70 years old, Blaser is gaining traction worldwide. Its straight-pull R93 and R8 (named for years of introduction) rank among Europe’s most innovative. I’ve used them in the States, Europe, and Africa, in timed target events and on hunts. No turn-bolt matches their speed or trumps their accuracy.
Thanks to its telescoping, radial-head bolt, the Blaser action is about 2 inches shorter than that of a standard bolt rifle. Both the R93 and R8 lock with a bolt-head collet forced into a circumferential groove in the barrel shank. The newer R8 is strongest. It has endured pressures of 120,000 psi.
A thumb-piece cocks the R8. Shove it forward, and you’re ready to fire. “You can carry a Blaser safely with a round chambered,” stresses Knöbel. The R8 also features interchangeable hammer-forged barrels. Plasma nitriding boosts surface hardness. Scope rings engage barrel notches so securely and precisely, you can remove the scope and replace it without losing zero. I’ve tested that claim at 600 yards and found it to be true. The R8 has a first-rate adjustable trigger. Its compact, aramid magazine/trigger assembly is easily removed by hand. You can top-load a stack in the rifle. R8s come in a plethora of chamberings, to .338 Lapua—even the .500 Jeffery special-order features include internal recoil-damping devices.
More conventional and less costly is Sauer’s 101. Of the eight versions, I favor the Forest, a walnut-stocked carbine with iron sights on a 20-inch barrel. The Scandic is a twin, in laminate. Both point to the sights, high enough to nearly match the sightline of a scope. My Forest in 9.3×62 drills sub-minute groups.
Last fall I met a new Sauer. The 404 has a cocking switch, not a safety—thumb it forward to cock. In five sub-models with two-piece synthetic or walnut stocks cradling an alloy receiver, the 404 has a six-lug bolt that locks into the barrel. The bolt head and barrel are easily changed (with a take-down wrench in the front swivel). Sauer lists 13 chamberings, .243 to .375 H&H. The 404’s Quattro trigger adjusts .3 inch for reach and down to 1.2 pounds. The Sauer Universal (saddle) Mount returns the scope reliably to zero.
After securing a Leica scope atop a 404 in .300 Winchester, I benched that Sauer in wind and rain on the steeps of western Scotland. It fed without fail. Twin ejectors spilled cases briskly. It rang steel to 1,000 yards. The synthetic stock shrugged off afternoon sleet as we traipsed through sopping heather. When my stalker spied an aged stag in a distant swale, we splashed across an icy stream and scrambled to the ridge-crest beyond. The fury of the North Atlantic pummeled us. I bellied a few more yards, swabbed the front lens, and squeezed. My Hornady ELD-X bullet quartered to the off shoulder. One kill is no test of rifle, scope, or load, but my pals on that trip got similar results with Sauer 404s.
No bolt rifle in the world is smoother than Austria’s Mannlicher-Schoenauers of yesteryear. The first appeared in 1900. The famous 1903 followed, in 6.5×54. Its “butterknife” bolt handle ran so eagerly through its split bridge that a downward flip of the muzzle would zip an open bolt forward and turn it into a battery. Cartridges fed fluidly from the spool magazine. The 1903 begat a long series of M-S rifles, the last built 50 years ago. None were manufactured by Mannlicher or Schoenauer, who were designers, not company chiefs. But their genius fueled the Steyr works, in the Austrian city of that name.
Leopold Werndl established the Steyr company in 1821 to make gun parts. He died of cholera in 1855, leaving the business to son Josef. Steyr started building rifles in the 1860s, after Josef returned from a stint in the U.S. at Remington and Colt. Military contracts blessed the Steyr factory. A visionary, Josef brought hydropower to the city in 1883, making it the first in Europe with electric lights.
Bolt rifles from Steyr appeared at roughly two-year intervals until 1910. In 1918, as the company began producing vehicles, Josef died of pneumonia battling one of the town’s periodic floods.
Steyr-Daimler-Puch resulted from a 1934 merger. That union dissolved in 1996, leaving firearms production alone under the Steyr shingle. Current twin-lug Steyr rifles have a Mauser-style bridge and can endure pressures spiked by a factory load behind a bullet lodged mid-point in the bore. In profile and features, the push-feed Steyr SM12 borrows from M-S rifles and its immediate predecessor, the SBS. A Classic in .338 RCM delivered half-minute accuracy for me. Hammer-forged barrels in 10 chamberings have a signature twist near the breech. Front sights adjust for elevation, rear for windage. The cocking switch moves easily, unlike some that don’t yield to weak or cold thumbs. The SM12’s trigger can be set for a 12-ounce pull.
In 1936, the Czech government moved its arms factory to Uhersky Brod, 25 miles from Slovakia and as far as practical from Germany. Hitler’s intentions were clear. The first CZ plant had sprung up in the 1920s farther west. In Strakonice, it produced pistols to augment post-WWI rifle output in the central Czech town of Brno, where Zbrojovka Brno built rifles for the army. In 1921 it became Ceska Zbrojovka: “Czech armsmaker.” By 1939, the Uhersky Brod facility was a subsidiary of CZ Prague. Early structures had peaked roofs, so in bomb sights the factory would look like houses. After Chamberlain capitulated in Munich, Hitler snatched Sudetenland, then the rest of the country.
At war’s end, Czechoslovakia became, briefly, self-governing. Communists gained control during 1948. In 1955 the Uhersky Brod enterprise separated from Strakonice. Within a decade, the government further pared production at Brno and renovated the Uhersky Brod plant. As the Brno name had cachet, it appeared on ZKK, ZKM, and 527 rifles in the 1960s. All came from Uhersky Brod.
In 1989 a revolution led by poet Vaclav Havel overthrew Communist rule. Two years later, Czech industry was privatized. In 1993, the nation split. The Czech and Slovak Republics remain independent.
Internal problems bankrupted Zbrojovka Brno in 2004. Two years later a resurrected Brno began building shotguns and sporting rifles under the CZ label. The petite 527 bolt-action is for the .223 and kin. The CZ 550, clearly Mauser in design, has served for cartridges from the .243 to the .505 Gibbs. Last year a new push-feed 557 action replaced the 550 for standard rounds. Bigger rounds merit the magnum-length 550 and its Mauser extractor. The modestly priced 557 boasts a receiver machined from a steel billet, its top dovetailed for CZ scope bases. The bottom metal, with hinged floorplate, is steel. The trigger adjusts for weight, take-up, and over-travel. Hammer-forged barrels are lapped. The walnut stock has a straight comb and machine-cut checkering. I’m partial to the 557 Carbine. Its 20½-inch barrel has iron sights. My .30/06 is nimble but steadies quickly and routinely delivers sub-minute accuracy.
The moose surged ahead. Bang! The bolt snicked. Bang! I sent a third bullet at the buzzer. Bang!
“You must hit every shot,” said the stone-faced Finn.
Whiffing a moose target at 80 steps is not allowed. My next six shots were ragged, but better. The Finn shrugged, as if considering an act of charity.
Explored by Swedish missionaries as early as 1155, Finland remained Sweden’s protectorate until 1809, when it was surrendered to Russia. The Czar proclaimed it a Grand Duchy. Independence followed Finland’s 1917 break with Russia. Sako (Suojeluskuntain yliesikunnan asepaja) was established the first day of April 1919. (By the way, it’s not sayko or sacko. It’s socko.)
Sako’s petite Vixen appeared near the close of World War II, first in .22 Hornet and .218 Bee. It reached the States via Stoeger. In 1957 Sako grew its rifle line with the L-57 Forester, sized for the then-new .308 and .243. The L-61 Finnbear came three years later, for the .30/06 and kin and belted magnums.
In 1961, Sako unveiled its lever-action Finnwolf. It lasted a decade. On the heels of its successor came the bolt-action Model 74 to replace the Vixen, Forester, and Finnbear. Its three action lengths sold from 1974 to 1978, when they yielded to the AI, AII, and AIII series (short, medium, and long). A similar Hunter arrived in the mid-1980s.
By 1983, Sako’s Riihimaki plant was producing a Model 555 rifle for another Finnish firm, Tikka. The 555 venture led Sako to buy Tikka. By 1989, Tikkakoski Works production had moved to Riihimaki.
In 1993, shooters welcomed Sako’s TRG rifle in .338 Lapua. Four years later the Model 75 came along for popular hunting rounds. Three locking lugs reduced bolt lift to 70 degrees. The subsequent 85, in six action sizes, is Sako’s current flagship, with a push-feed bolt that runs like a well-oiled piston. The two-detent sliding thumb safety has a tab that allows cycling with the safety on. Tapered dovetails accept Sako scope rings. In .375, the 85 Kodiak has a muscular 21-inch barrel with useful iron sights. The elevation-adjustable white bead is concave and won’t reflect light off-center. A shallow rear notch adjusts for windage. Crossbolts strengthen the stock around the flush-mounted four-shot steel box, which holds four magnum rounds. It can be loaded easily in the rifle. Its clever latch prevents accidental magazine drops afield. The Kodiak—and my 85 in .260—are stainless steel. The laminated stocks are comfortable, cleanly checkered, and closely inletted. Both rifles are supremely accurate; I’ve had same-hole hits even from the .375.
I’m told that in Finland, game is managed by 300 state-sanctioned associations comprising around 2,370 clubs with 140,000 members. Hunters needn’t join, but members get access to the best habitat in a country that puts 300,000 riflemen afield after moose. About 84 percent of the 22 million pounds of meat marketed annually in Finland is moose. Many of those animals fall to Tikka rifles.
The Whitetail of the 1990s was not Tikka’s first rifle. The company dates to 1893 and is 26 years older than Sako. Tikka has long made gun parts; during WWII it built sewing machines as well as sub-machine guns. Later it designed other sporting arms. The Whitetail got a tepid reception stateside. Then in 2003, Tikka announced the T3. It had many features of the costlier Sako 75 as well as improvements. Its two-lug bolt had the 70-degree lift of the three-lug 75’s and disassembled without tools into four components. The recessed face had a plunger ejector and a Sako extractor. A steel stock insert served as a recoil lug, engaging a receiver slot. Grooved for scope mounts, the T3 was drilled and tapped too. Early Tikka bolt rifles came in two action lengths, but the T3 was built on one. Bolt stops accommodated different cartridge lengths.
The T3 was succeeded in 2016 by the T3X, with a modular synthetic stock. Interchangeable slabs let you customize the grip. A more robust recoil pad reduces the shock of hard-kicking loads; foam inserts in the butt-stock muffle noise from the stock shell. The T3X’s ejection port is larger, for easier single-load feeding. A metal shroud caps the bolt’s tail. Tikka lists 19 configurations of the T3X, in chamberings from .204 Ruger. Both Sako and Tikka are now part of Beretta.
Best Buys from the Old Country
“I can’t compete against $400 rifles in the U.S.,” lamented one CEO of a European firearms firm. “Our labor is more expensive. Tariffs and shipping add cost. Our adverts duel with iconic American names.”
Still, there’s hope for Europe’s current hunting rifles, and profit for dealers who sell them. While the under-$600 category is Uncle Sam’s, a Tikka T3 can be had for as little as $650 and is a fine rifle. CZ 527s and 557s list in the $700s. At just over $1,000, the CZ 550 is the bargain among magnums. Toward the upper end of mid-price, Mauser’s M12 and Sauer’s 101 come in at $1,500. Steyr’s SM12 slides under $2,000, Sako’s 85 retails for little more. The Sauer 404, at $2,500, might give you pause. Blaser’s R8 is a $4,000 commitment, but there’s no other rifle like it.
By Christopher Cogley
As the market expands, the knife industry is responding with a huge assortment of knives for all purposes
It seems the concept has finally caught on. There was a time when the only people who carried knives on a regular basis were military and service personnel or ranchers and outdoors enthusiasts. But more and more people in small towns and big cities across the country are beginning to see the benefit of carrying a quality, reliable knife with them everywhere they go, and the offering of new knives at the 2016 SHOT Show proved that the knife industry is responding to that demand with an increased assortment of everyday-carry options that meet the needs of a wide range of consumers.
In addition to the new tactical and outdoors knives that were launched this year, nearly every major manufacturer has released at least one new folder with a 3.5-inch blade, which seems to have become the go-to size for everyday-carry knives. And while the sizes might be relatively standard, there is definitely nothing uniform about the selection. From different handle materials and improved locking mechanisms to modern designs and new blade treatments, there have been so many new features released this year that it’s a safe bet that even those enthusiasts with the most complete collections will be able to find a new reason to clip a knife into their pocket every day.
Boker has added three new elegant and effective folders to its collection of high-quality knives. With a 2.55-inch blade and 6.75-inch overall length, the Davis Hunter II Backlock was designed by W.C. Davis to be a smaller version of the Davis Hunter, with a satin-finished CPM S-30V blade and a backlock mechanism copied from its big brother. SRP: $239. Boker has also released a smaller version of its Kwaiken Titan. The Boker Plus Kwaiken Mini Titan features the same VG-10 blade and titanium handle wrapped in a sleek, modern package that has made the original such a popular everyday carry, but the Mini puts all that functional design into a knife with a 3-inch blade and 7.25-inch overall length. SRP: $189.95. For the more aggressive customer with a taste for titanium, Boker has released the Boker Plus Scoundrel, designed by American Bladesmith Society Master Smith Steve Kelly. With an SRP of $199.95, the Scoundrel features a solid titanium handle with a Hinderer lock stop that keeps the 3.18-inch VG-10 blade from overextending. (bokerusa.com).
|Boker The Plus Scoundrel features a solid titanium handle.|
Thirty-five new knives join Browning’s hunting and Black Label Tactical lines. The new Overtime knives for hunters include 3 3/8-inch D2 high–carbon-steel fixed blades designed for skinning and caping. Both models feature a handle with laminated G-10 scales and include a leather belt sheath. SRP: $114.95. The Hell’s Canyon Speed has a 3.5-inch fixed blade made of ATS stainless steel with a carbon-fiber insert. With an overall length of 8.75 inches, the Hell’s Canyon features an aggressive, minimalist design with a drop-point blade and comes with a polymer belt sheath. SRP: $79.99. For tactical customers, Browning is expanding its Black Label collection with two new versions of the Stacked Deck folding frame-lock knives. Both the modified spear point and tactical wharncliffe versions feature 3.5-inch VG-10 stainless-steel blades and sculpted matte titanium handles. SRP: $179.99. Browning’s new Pandemonium Full Auto knife features a 3.5-inch modified tanto-style blade made of 440 stainless steel with fully auto deployment. The U.S.-made Pandemonium features checkered black G-10 scales on the handle and has an overall length of 7.75 inches. SRP: $309.99. (browning.com).
The much-requested interchangeable blade knife from Buck is finally back this year with the introduction of the 550 Selector 2.0. Originally launched in 1990, the Selector developed a huge fan base because of its practicality and ease of use. The Selector 2.0 is based on Buck’s Open Season hunting line and includes an interchangeable drop-point, partially serrated drop-point, and gutting blades that are all made from 420HC steel and heat-treated with Buck’s patented process. SRP: $125. Buck has also released a new set of throwing knives this year. The 073 Kinetic Series was originally created in 2005 at the request of Chuck Buck, but it was never introduced into the market. Now, after extensive testing and a few refinements, these blades are finally available. Made from Buck’s signature 420HC steel, the knives are well-balanced for throwing and have an overall length of 9 7/8 inches. The throwing knives have an SRP of $95 and include a genuine leather sheath. (buckknives.com).
A new family of folding knives designed by legendary knife makers Grant and Gavin Hawk have glass-filled nylon handles with aluminum accents and feature blades made from carbonitride titanium, which is reported to be 10 times harder than untreated steel. The Heat has an overall length of 8 inches and an SRP of $49.99; the Wildfire is 7.25 inches long and has an SRP of $46.99; and the Sizzle is 6.5 inches long and has an SRP of $44.99. Camillus has also released the new M-13 machete, which has a stylized 13-inch full-tang titanium blade complete with a gut hook. SRP: $39.99. (camillusknives.com).
The line of popular rubberized handled knives that Coast released last year is getting a welcome addition with the introduction of the DX318. The everyday-carry folder features a 3.75-inch 7Cr17 stainless-steel partially serrated blade housed in the trademark handle, with a comfortable TPR grip. The DX318 has a new feature, however, in the double-lock mechanism, which adds an additional level of safety and security. SRP: $25. (coastportland.com).
|Coast The DX318 is an everyday-carry folder that features a 3.75-inch 7Cr17 stainless-steel partially serrated blade.|
Columbia River Knife & Tool
This year CRKT has released its new Ruger Collection of hunting, tactical, and everyday-carry knives. Included in the offering is the Go-N-Heavy tactical folder, which is available in a standard version with a 5-inch blade and a compact version with a 3.5-inch blade. Both varieties feature an 8Cr13MoV blade and a stylized black hard-anodized aluminum handle. SRP: $99.99. The line also includes two versions of the Accurate fixed-blade knife, designed for outdoors enthusiasts. Both the drop-point blade and the rising-point blade versions are made with 8Cr13MoV and feature full-tang construction with rubber over-molded handles. SRP: $99.99. CRKT has also launched the Forged By War label of knives, which are designed to help combat veterans recover from personal challenges experienced during war by creating tools they wished they’d had in the field. CRKT will donate a portion of the proceeds for each tool purchased to the veteran’s charity of choice. Among the initial offerings in the new collection is the Sangrador double-edge knife designed by Darrin Sirois and the Clever Girl designed by Austin McGlaun. Both knives feature SK5 black powder-coated blades with G-10 handles. (crkt.com).
Gerber Legendary Blades
There are some classics that simply beg for an upscale upgrade. That’s exactly what Gerber did with the Gator Premium Fixed Drop Point. The blade that made Gerber a favorite of hunters around the world is now available in a premium version. The American-made knife has a full-tang 4-inch CPM-S30V steel blade with the signature Gator Grip handle and features a polished cast-steel bolster and pommel. SRP: $146. Gerber also featured a pair of auto blades at the 2016 show. By taking the popular Applegate combat folder and giving it a spring-loaded auto release, Gerber created the Covert Auto. The knife has an SRP of $175 and features a 3.78-inch stiletto-style tactical blade made from S30V steel that’s deployed from the aluminum handle at the push of a button. Designed for the military, the Propel Downrange Auto has a 3.5-inch tanto-style blade made from S30V steel. The G-10 handle is available in tan or black and features a three-position adjustable belt clip to accommodate a variety of carry options. SRP: $194. (gerbergear.com).
|Gerber Designed for the military, the Propel Downrange Auto has a 3.5-inch tanto-style S30V steel blade.|
For 2016, Leatherman is featuring its new Signal Multi-Tool, designed to provide an assortment of essential survival tools in one convenient package. The Signal includes the tools that fans have come to expect from a Leatherman, including a knife, a can opener, a saw, and a pair of durable pliers. But it also features tools that will be extremely useful in a survival situation, such as a ferrocerium fire starter and a signal whistle. The Signal also includes a diamond-coated sharpener, a removable pocket clip, and a carabiner. The tools all have locking mechanisms and are designed for one-handed operation. SRP: $120. (leatherman.com).
Ontario Knife has added to its collection of high-quality knives for outdoors enthusiasts with the new Robeson Heirloom Series. The collection features both a drop-point and a trailing-point version of the knife. Both versions retail for $222.50 and feature 4 1/8-inch blades made from D2 Tool Steel with a hardness of HRc-58-60. The handles on the 9-inch knives are made from stabilized burl maple, and each knife includes a DeSantis premium leather sheath. (outdooredge.com).
|Ontario The Robeson Heirloom Series consists of both a drop-point and a trailing-point. Both versions feature 4 1/8-inch blades made from D2 Tool Steel with a hardness of HRc-58-60.|
Outdoor Edge is launching two new folders designed by custom knife maker Jerry Hossom. Both the Divide and the Conquer have 3.5-inch 8Cr13MoV stainless-steel blades that open on ball-bearing pivots. The Conquer features a wider belly, better suited for hunting and outdoors applications, and has a satin-stone finish with a multi-colored G-10 handle. The Divide has a sleeker design for tactical and everyday-carry use and includes a Blackstone finish blade and a black G-10 handle. Outdoor Edge has also added to its Razor-Lite series of replacement razor blade knives with the Onyx EDC. The Onyx features a 3.5-inch blade with three replacement razors mounted on a sturdy blade support system with a one-piece Grivory handle. (outdooredge.com).
The SGB Nomad Stag from PUMA is a handmade fixed-blade knife that is made with German steel and assembled in China. The Nomad has a 6.3-inch 440A stainless-steel blade with a deep belly for skinning big game. With an overall length of 11.8 inches, the Nomad features full-tang construction with a stag scales handle and comes with a leather sheath. The Stag version has an SRP of $149.99, but PUMA has also released a version with a Micarta handle for $64.99. (pumaknifecompanyusa.com).
|Puma The Nomad Stag is a handmade 440A stainless-steel fixed-blade knife with a deep belly for skinning big game. It is made with German steel and assembled in China.|
Remington has added two new knives to its Bullet series. The R11039 Trapper features an amber jig bone handle and includes a modified clip and a spey blade that are both 3.75 inches long and made from Damascus steel. Only 500 of the Trappers will be produced, and they will have an SRP of $34.99. Remington has also released the R11040 with a Genuine Stag Horn handle. Both the main blade and spey are 3.75 inches and made from 440 stainless steel. The R11040 will be limited to 1,200 and will have an SRP of $174.99. (remingtonblades.com).
SOG is celebrating its 30th anniversary, and to mark the occasion it has released a pair of commemorative knives as well as several new specialty blades, tactical knives, and multi-tools. The Quake and Quake XL assisted-opening folders feature solid aluminum handles with VG-10 blades that shoot into action with the slightest pressure, thanks to SAT 2 (SOG Assisted Technology). Instead of a thumb stud, the blades are released with a lever that flicks open with the blade to act as a cross guard for the knife. The Quake has 3.5-inch blade and an SRP of $191, while the Quake XL is an inch longer and has an SRP of $229. (sogknives.com).
|SOG The Quake assisted-opening folder has a solid aluminum handle with a VG-10 blade that opens quickly and easily.|
Steel Will intends to provide more options for those people who like the style and reliability of the popular Gekko folders but are looking for a more manageable size for everyday carry. The Gekko Mini features an Italian-made 3.5-inch N690Co blade that opens with Steel Will’s signature smooth mechanism and reliable lockback. The Gekko Minis have an overall length of 7.78 inches and are available with three different handle options: a black or green canvas G-10 handle, or, for the more modern user, a maroon Micarta handle. All of the models have an SRP of $199.99. (steelwillknives.com).
|Steel Will The Gekko Mini features a 3.5-inch blade that opens with Steel Will’s signature smooth mechanism.|
Taylor Brands is the umbrella company for Schrade, Old Timer, Uncle Henry, and Smith & Wesson knives. The Schrade Frontier series SCHF51 is a bushcraft-designed fixed-blade produced with a 5-inch 1095 high-carbon blade and TPE handle. Overall length is 10.85 inches. The model comes equipped with a ferro rod and a diamond-dust sharpening stone housed in a heavy-duty sheath. SRP: $53.33. The fixed-blade Old Timer 30OT has rosewood and ebony wood handle slabs and a 4-inch drop-point blade, and is crafted of 8Cr13MoV high-carbon stainless steel. The 30OT comes standard with a premium-quality leather sheath. SRP: $62.50. The Uncle Henry UHCOM2CP encompasses a multi-option fixed-blade hunting set. The knives feature Staglon handles and utilize 7Cr17MoV high-carbon stainless steel, both housed in a premium-quality leather sheath. Use the 301UH Detail Skinner for dressing or other detail work, and the 182UH Elk Hunter for larger skinning or all-purpose tasks. SRP: $60. The Smith & Wesson M&P SWMP10G clip-folding knife is constructed with an aluminum handle and 7Cr17MoV high-carbon stainless steel. This rescue knife features a built-in strap cutter as well as a ceramic glass breaker. SRP: $33.96. (taylorbrandsllc.com)
White River Knife & Tool
White River Knife & Tool is releasing the Sendero Classic modeled after Master Blade Smith Jerry Fisk’s design. The 4.5-inch blade is made from CPM S30V stainless steel and features a sleek drop-point design. The Micarta handle is ergonomically shaped to make skinning and other outdoors tasks easier, and features a large hand guard to keep fingers out of harm’s way. The U.S.-made knife has an overall length of 9.15 inches and includes a leather sheath. SRP: $250. (whiteriverknives.com).
Designed by custom knife maker Jens Anso, Zero Tolerance’s new ZT 0220 everyday-carry folder has a sleek, modern look. The 3.5-inch blade is made from S35VN powdered metallurgy stainless steel and has a stonewashed finish that adds a distinctive, fashionable element to the knife. The handle is made from bead-blasted titanium and features a titanium frame lock with a hardened steel lockbar insert. SRP: $260. (kaiusaltd.com).
|Zero Tolerance The ZT 0220 everyday-carry folder has a sleek, modern look. The 3.5-inch blade is made from S35VN powdered metallurgy stainless steel.|
By David E. Petzal
Photos By Justin Appenzeller
The design philosophy of Scandinavian knives allows a retailer to offer something completely different
Is there a Norse knife in your future? Probably. Because the United States
started as a yowling wilderness in which a knifeless man would soon be a lifeless man, our country has always been slightly nuts about knives. We have our own thriving cutlery industry, make our own fair share of cutlery steels, and have something on the order of 3,000 custom knife makers who will hammer you something really fancy if you want it.
But American knives are not the whole picture. Scandinavia has—for 1,000 years or more—turned out its own very distinctive knives, all of which are at least very good, and in some ways better than ours. Also, they sell.
Of the Scandinavian cutlers who have made it over here, Morakniv and Helle are probably the best known. Morakniv is Swedish and Helle is Norwegian. Finland’s most familiar knifemaking name is Marttiini. It owns Rapala, best known for its fillet knife—which has been around so long and is so popular that most people probably think of it as American—but recently branched out into hunting knives as well.
Scandinavians have developed a philosophy of knifemaking which states that if something has worked for 10 centuries, it doesn’t need to be changed. Because, as the Vikings put it, you dance with who brung ya. As a result, Scandinavian knives omit features that are almost universal on American knives and incorporate others that we hardly ever see.
Rambo would not carry a knife from northern Europe. The typical Scandinavian belt knife is small, with a blade of 3 to 4 inches. The one exception to this is the Finnish leuku (lee-ooo-koo), which is what we call a camp knife. It’s a big knife (though not a heavy one), with a 7- to 9-inch blade, which Lapplanders use for butchering and chopping firewood. Scandinavian knives do not have hilts. Their makers view a hilt as unnecessary on a knife with a correctly designed handle; they also believe the hilt is something that interferes with the making of a properly designed sheath.
Finnish, Norwegian, and Swedish knife makers also don’t believe in straps with snaps that can be cut through or pop open. They make pouch-style sheaths that swallow the knife except for an inch or two of handle. Most of these sheaths don’t ride rigidly fixed to a belt; they have big loops, attached to rings that allow the sheath to move with you.
Handles are, for the most part, wood, and of that, birch burl is the favorite. It’s cheap and durable, and will not cause you to yell in pain when you grasp it in really cold weather. Morakniv, in some of its more modern lines, has gone in for synthetics, but the basic handles are wood, some of them dyed red. Helle uses contrasting disks of wood or wood and antler; its handles are distinctive and quite beautiful.
In steels, the Scandinavians have us beat. Sweden, in particular, has had a highly advanced steel industry for years. Swedes not only produce very high grades of the natural metal, but also their own dedicated knife steels. They work in laminates of stainless steel and of tool steel, and in stainless that is better, by and large, than anything we have. Many American knives, especially the less expensive ones, employ the 440 series stainless steels: 440A, 440B, and 440C. About the kindest thing you can say about this trio is that they’re resistant to rust and that factories, with factory-sharpening equipment, can get a fair edge on them.
(A California cutlery company that specializes in knives for Special Ops personnel was asked to make a number of knives whose blades would fail in use so the people who were training with them would learn how to cope if it were to happen. Their choice for a guaranteed-to-fail steel was 440C.)
But once that edge is gone, and it will depart pretty quickly, very few of your customers will be able to get it back. The large number of outdoorsmen who claim they can’t get an edge on a knife is probably due to the large number of 440 series knives out there.
Not so with the Scandinavian knives. They all come with razor edges, and they can all be resharpened with ease.
There are no choils on Scandinavian knives. The choil is the cutout on the cutting edge just ahead of the handle. Descendants of the Vikings regard a choil as a waste of cutting edge. There are no fullers (lengthwise grooves in the blade), either.
Although some Scandinavian knives can have impressive price tags, most of them are remarkably inexpensive for what you get. A great many of the Morakniv models sell for under $20. The most expensive knife the company offers—a survival model with a high-tech sheath—goes for $115.
However, most of the prices you see in all three lines run from $30 to $80, with more on the $30 side than the $80.
By Christopher Cogley
Photos By Justin Appenzeller
Figuring out which type of knife a customer needs is easier when you break down product lines into four basic types
Knives come in a seemingly infinite array of sizes and shapes, both of which affect functionality and, ultimately, customer appeal. To streamline the process of matching the customer to the knife that best suits his needs, think of this broad product category as a storage bin with four sections—hunting, tactical, everyday carry, and collectibles. The job of your sales associates is to ask questions that help them determine from which section of the bin they should pull a product.
“Hunting knives are more use-driven than any other knife type,” says Chris Cashbaugh, marketing director for SOG Specialty Knives and Tools. “When it comes to hunting knives, there’s more emphasis on function because the customer is buying it for a very specific purpose.”
The first step toward effectively selling hunting knives is to figure out what that purpose is and demonstrate how the knives in your case are best suited to accomplish that task. It’s important for sales associates to understand which knives are designed for the various aspects of hunting and be able to speak intelligently on topics such as the attributes of an effective skinning knife for big game versus the characteristics that are more suited to caping or quartering, or even breasting waterfowl. Aside from the knife’s size, shape, and design, much of the functionality of hunting knives comes down to the one element that isn’t necessarily obvious by looking at it.
“One of the most important aspects of selling any knife is the ability to understand steel types and why price points vary so much even if the knives look similar,” says Diane Carver, Browning’s knife and light product manager. “That ability is even more important when it comes to selling hunting knives.”
Because hunters view their knife as a tool that they will call on to perform a very specific task, and they need it to be able to handle that task quickly and efficiently in conditions that are often less than ideal, it’s important to explain to them how the different types of steel are designed to be more effective in different situations.
“Most knife customers are interested in shape, usage, materials, and blade steel once they realize their purpose,” says Joyce Laituri, public and media relations director at Spyderco. “From there, it’s relatively easy to see how one model suits them more efficiently than another.”
With the wide variety of steel types that are available today, it can often be overwhelming for sales associates to keep up with the latest introductions, but most reputable knife manufacturers are happy to provide training on steel types and knife design for retailers who request it.
“Insufficient knowledge or understanding of the product can be stifling when you’re trying to make that connection to the customer that will lead to a sale,” says Derrick Lau, Benchmade’s public relations and communications manager. “Knowing this, Benchmade Knife Company has implemented a wide array of resources for retailers, including online product training, in-store product training, a dealer portal, and even physical collateral.”
“With tactical knives, the type of steel generally isn’t as important as it is to customers who are looking at hunting knives,” Carver says. “And that’s simply because tactical knives typically aren’t used and sharpened as much as are hunting knives.”
Although most tactical knives are made with functionality at their core, that isn’t necessarily the aspect that appeals to the majority of consumers who come in looking for a tactical blade. “How the knife fits in the customer’s hand is certainly important,” Cashbaugh says. “But tactical knife sales tend to be driven more by style and looks than by functionality.”
The reality is that most tactical knives are very rarely—if ever—used. They are, however, a statement of the customer’s values and beliefs, an extension of his personality, and as such, they tend to be more of an emotional purchase than a hunting knife is. That doesn’t mean, however, that practicality doesn’t come into play.
“One of the most important considerations with a tactical knife is the sheath,” Carver says. “Knowing where the customer is going to carry the knife so they’ll be able to get to it when they need it will tell you which sheath will work best for them. From there, it’s usually not too tough to find the right knife.”
Tactical knives provide peace of mind for the people carrying them. They want to know that the knife will be there and be ready if they ever need it. Show them how a particular knife’s shape, design, blade material, and carry options can give them the sense of security they’re looking for, and it’s a safe bet you’ll see more tactical knives walking out of the store on the hips of your customers.
No knife category is as broad or diverse as the everyday-carry category, and the reason for that is simple—no other knife customer is as broad or diverse as the one who comes in looking for an everyday-carry knife.
“With everyday carry, it really comes down to what appeals to the individual customer. And all too often, what appeals to the individual customer usually comes down to price,” Carver says. “Browning tries to always have a wide variety of price points in our everyday-carry offerings, and that’s what retailers need to do, too, so they can be sure to have an option ready for everyone who walks in the store.”
That’s because the reality is that all of the customers who walk into your store can use an everyday-carry knife—whether they realize it or not. And the best way to demonstrate that fact is by first understanding the person on the other side of the counter.
“Ask questions,” Lau says. “If the customer has a favorite hunting knife, simply asking him what he likes about that particular knife can assist you in steering him to a knife in another category that may have similar characteristics, or perhaps even more enhanced characteristics.”
When you figure out what category of knife the customer is familiar with, you will have a better idea of what qualities are most important to him. And, because you have a diverse selection of everyday-carry knives in your case, you can easily direct the customer to a selection of knives that have the characteristics you know will appeal to that particular person.
“A hunter can certainly appreciate a sharp tool when field dressing, and translating that into everyday use is not a far leap,” Laituri says.
The same is true for customers who prefer tactical knives and are more likely to gravitate toward an everyday carry that has more tactical characteristics or a collector who leans toward a more classical style of a gentleman’s pocketknife. Sometimes, however, when it comes to everyday carry, it’s also a little bit about the bling.
“Everyday carry almost becomes a fashion statement—especially for guys, because we only have a couple of things that we ‘accessorize’ with,” Cashbaugh says. “A knife becomes a reflection of a guy’s style. It’s something he wants to show off.”
“The first—and biggest—difference in the collectibles market versus hunting or everyday carry is that the scope and breadth of products offered is much different,” says Fred Feightner, consumer marketing and communications manager for W.R. Case & Sons Cutlery Co. “For instance, when Case produces its Limited XX Edition knife series, it typically includes anywhere from 6 to 10 individual patterns. Case will offer single knives of each pattern for collectors, but they’re also accepted by those who carry knives every day. At the same time, we might offer the more hardcore collectors a complete mint set of these knives that bear special embellishing, serialization, and packaging. We try to mix things up a bit to keep the collectors active and engaged in the hobby. It’s what they want that truly drives the collectible offerings.”
Collectible knives are attractive because they offer something special that sets them apart from the other knives in your counter. Some of these differences might be minor, but others are extremely important to the collectors who know their trade. Just as in every other knife category, sales associates need to understand what traits are most valuable to the customer and be able to point out those characteristics to both the educated collector as well as those who are new to the hobby.
“The history is important, like our tang stamps, which help enthusiasts determine when almost any Case knife was manufactured,” Feightner says. “People also need to be reassured that the brand is here to stay, so we impress upon them our strict quality standards that are a result of more than 127 years of knifemaking experience.”
Although experienced collectors might know exactly what traits to look for in a collectible knife, it’s important to provide novices with a foundation of understanding upon which they can build. Encourage them to research collectible knives and figure out which features make a knife increase in value over time. At the same time, though, it’s also important to realize that the characteristics that the collectible market holds in the highest regard might not necessarily be the traits your customer values the most.
“It’s best to get to really know your consumer’s preferences before trying to sell him a knife he wouldn’t choose to buy for himself,” Feightner says.
As with each of the other categories, getting the right knife in your customer’s hand starts by understanding the customer.
“It all really does circle back to asking the customer questions,” Lau says. “Knowing what the customer needs out of the tool and knowing what tasks the tool will be used for helps you hone in on the product that will best serve the customer’s needs, regardless of the category.”
By Christopher Cogley
Photos By Justin Appenzeller
Firearms retailers who also sell knives can gain a step on the competition
It is no secret that firearms retailers inhabit a highly competitive world ruled by razor-thin margins. That’s why smart retailers have also invested in knives. Because knives offer significantly higher margins with significantly less hassle, they have the potential to quickly increase your store’s overall profit. Knives also take up a lot less real estate, so you can stock more product in far less space.
“One of the most obvious benefits of selling knives in your store is that they provide a much better margin than guns,” says Lynn Thompson, founder and president of Cold Steel, Inc. “You might get 20 percent on gun purchases, but with knives, you can expect to get 60 to 70 percent. That’s significant.”
That margin also takes a lot less of your sales associates’ time to achieve because, unlike with gun sales, selling knives typically doesn’t require mountains of paperwork to fill out, file, and store. Thompson also likes the economics behind knife real estate. “Your investment in shelf space is significantly smaller with knives. And because of the margins, that shelf space suddenly becomes significantly more profitable, especially when you consider how many knives you can fit in the same space as one handgun,” he says.
“For many of our retailers, knives are the most profitable category in their store.”
But this profit doesn’t just come out of thin air. You must be willing to give your sales associates the tools they need to successfully sell those knives on a consistent basis. “It all starts with the display,” Thompson says. “The time you spend on your display case will always come back to you in the form of increased profit. If you display knives correctly, they will sell every time.”
Thompson also stresses that the quality of your display depends on the quality of the knives you put in it. “You can fill your counter with cheap knives, but for the same space you could offer your customers really good knives.”
And though those “really good knives” will deliver the higher margins you’re seeking, keep in mind that it’s just as important to match the customer to the correct knife.
“There have been times when I’ve actually talked someone out of an expensive knife because I knew it wouldn’t do what they needed it to do,” says Nick Thomas, the knife buyer for Ashland, Ohio–based Fin Feather Fur Outfitters. “But those same people are still coming into my stores five years later and asking me for advice on which knife they should buy next because they trust me.”
That kind of trust comes not just by knowing your customers, but by knowing the product.
“Education is key,” Thomas says. “If you can get a guy on the floor who loves knives and knows knives, you’re going to sell knives. In fact, you’re going to sell a lot of knives.”
Although the passion for knives might come naturally to many of your sales associates, a comprehensive understanding of the different kinds of metals and edges and forging processes can often be overwhelming for even seasoned veterans of the knife industry. To help keep his sales staff educated on the basics of knife anatomy as well as the latest industry developments, Thomas says his employees routinely participate in in-house training sessions offered by Benchmade and several other knife manufacturers.
“A lot of people don’t understand the benefits of carrying a $200 knife, and if you’re going to have any chance of selling them that knife, you have to make sure your sales associates know what those benefits are,” Thomas says. “An educated sales associate is going to sell more knives than a non-educated sales associate. It’s as simple as that.”
Your sales associates’ education shouldn’t stop with a basic knowledge of the features, however. By making sure they have the practical experience to carry their knowledge to the next level, it will make all the difference in their ability—and their desire—to sell knives.
“My employees own the knives we sell,” says James McAnelly, owner of Kentucky-based Elizabethtown Gun & Sporting Co. “They use them every day and in the field, and that makes selling them easy because all they have to do is tell their own stories about the knives. It’s the best endorsement you could possibly have.”
That personal connection is also what can help you separate your small brick-and-mortar shop from the online megastores that will always be able to undercut your prices.
“The online stores can’t tell the story,” McAnelly says. “Experience is the best seller, and people are usually more likely to trust someone they can look at face-to-face.”
Even so, it’s hard to escape the fact that you will inevitably have those customers who come into your store, pull out their phone, and show you how they can get the knife online for significantly less than you’re selling it for. And while you might not be able to counter every determined penny-pincher, you do have some distinct advantages that can help you close the deal more often than not.
“You already have them in your store, and they obviously are interested in the knife, so now all you have to do is discuss price,” Thompson says. “Because of the margins that you’re getting with knives, you can sometimes match online prices when you add in the shipping costs. But even if you don’t make the margin, you’re still creating a customer who will likely come back and buy from you again.”
And that might just be the biggest benefit of selling knives.
“The most important aspect in business is your customers,” McAnelly says. “Once I get them in the door, I certainly don’t want to send them down the street to my competitor, so I try to make sure and get them the tools they need to make their time in the field more enjoyable. I know if I can do that, there’s a good chance I’ll get them back in the door again.”
That prospect is even more likely when you consider the one over-arching truth that has been undeniable from the time man first sharpened stone—it is fundamentally impossible for anyone to ever have too many knives.
By Slaton L. White
Crimson Trace takes laser-sight retail education to the next level
It’s certainly no secret that Crimson Trace sees its mission as one of enhancing a person’s ability to protect family, home, and country. That phrase has been part of the company’s marketing plan for years. But marketing director Kent Thomas likes to go one step beyond by saying, “Our goal is to make laser-sighting systems standard equipment. Just as no hunting rifle sold today is complete without a scope, no personal protection handgun is fully equipped without a laser.”
He notes that between 2007 and 2013, 42.9 million firearms were added to the U.S. market. Of that number, he says, surveys show that 87 percent of those purchases were for home defense, 76 percent for self-defense. “This emphasis on personal safety is driving strong growth in firearms ownership. It’s the white-hot core of the market,” he says. “Laser sights increase accuracy and confidence. And Crimson Trace has grown along with the market.”
“Furthermore, we know that consumers are increasingly looking to customize their firearms by adding enhancing attachments. The firearms accessories and equipment industry is a huge market, something around $5.6 billion. We know that consumers spend almost as much on firearms accessories as they do on the firearm itself. For example, men typically spent $547 on accessories after they spent $554 on the firearm itself. Women spent $457 on accessories, $469 on the firearm.”
That’s a lucrative market for CTC, as it commands more than 50 percent of the laser-sight market. “We’re more than twice the size of our nearest competitor,” Thomas says. “As the leading brand in the category, we can provide significant price points and margins for retailers under a well-recognized brand halo.”
To further drive home the message to retailers about the importance of the accessories market, Thomas notes that the average margin on a firearm is less than 10 percent, but the margin for accessories is far higher. “In fact, the margins on Crimson Trace products are three times higher than that for most firearms. The ability to upsell with our products can put a lot of money in a retailer’s pocket.”
Market domination gives CTC another advantage as well. “Right now more than a dozen original equipment manufacturers work with CTC to offer co-branded products,” he says. The approach helps cement CTC’s reputation as the go-to company for laser sights. It also means that when one of these manufacturers comes out with a new product, there is a corresponding CTC accessory right there with it.
Innovation is also a big driver of the company’s success. “We pride ourselves on our patent portfolio, and it continues to rapidly grow,” Thomas says. “Nobody offers as much innovation in this market category.”
At the 2016 SHOT Show, Crimson Trace rolled out another innovation—the LinQ system, a laser/light unit and pistol grip designed expressly for the MSR platform. According to Thomas, CTC worked on the design for 10 years. Essentially, it’s a closed wireless system that uses a 2.4 GHz signal, similar to what is found in common wireless mobile electronics today, to seamlessly link the controls in the grip to the module on the rail. In the process, a unique, encrypted bond (pairing) is established between the grip and module.
The unique “code” is stored in the memory in both units, Thomas says. Once paired, neither unit will be able to effectively communicate with any other LinQ systems. At the same time, the system, unlike Bluetooth technology, will not be visible to other wireless devices, which eliminates the potential for interference.
“In this way, the pistol grip and laser/light module synch up with each other so the operator can control the laser and light from the pistol grip,” he says. “There are no cables or touch pads, and the operator doesn’t need to use his support hand to control the laser or light. The LinQ system is activated by Crimson Trace’s proprietary Instinctive Activation, another innovation that no other manufacturer offers—period.”
Given the technological innovation of this accessory, some customers might assume that it will be difficult to install. Not so, says Thomas.
The grip installs like any other aftermarket AR-15/M4 grip. “We include the single mounting bolt,” he says. “The module installs onto a rail by tightening one hex bolt. The hex key is also included. The whole thing takes only minutes, and all of the required tools are included.”
The Big Issue
The big issue with laser sights, Thomas concedes, is retailer education. “We know that if the retailer doesn’t understand the technology, he won’t be able to explain it. And if he can’t explain it, he won‘t be able to sell it.”
To try to remedy that, CTC has undertaken a series of retailer education seminars under the trademarked name Crimson Trace Classroom. I recently attended a training seminar conducted by CTC regional sales manager Matt Frank at Williams Gun Sight Company in Davison, Michigan. The course is broken into two segments: classroom instruction with a printed guide on how laser sights operate (including references to specific Crimson Trace models) and range time, in which the store’s staff runs though a course of fire designed to drive home the points made in the presentation.
“We want to dispel any myths about laser sights,” Frank told me. “We want to break it down to its barest form: what a laser sight is, what it does, and how it applies to your personal-defense system. Basically, all a laser does is project the front sight onto the target. By doing that, you’re on one focal plane and you’re better able to focus on the threat. That’s where your attention needs to be.
“By definition, defense shooting is unconventional shooting,” he added. “It’s something that is very hard to replicate during practice. But this is exactly where a laser sight shines, so we’ve created some drills that show how effective a laser sight is in these situations.”
Frank starts with the basics—how to turn the CTC laser sight on and off. Next up is dry-fire trigger control. He does that because a laser sight delivers instant feedback to the shooter: Is he on target or off target? Is he flinching? That done, the range goes hot.
CTC supplies special targets, each of which shows a pair of silhouettes. The left is for iron sights; the right is for laser sights. The participants first fire five rounds using iron sights. The second five-round set uses the laser sights.
“We start with what most shooters know, then break it down and go to a non-dominant hand drill (both supported and unsupported),” he says. “Then we impair their vision through the use of special shooting glasses with fogged lenses.”
The impaired vision drill helps emphasize the fact that in a defensive shooting situation, you may be dealing with a variety of challenging environmental factors.
“Maybe you can’t find your glasses, maybe you have allergies,” Frank said. “But even if you can’t see clearly, in a threat situation, you still need to be able to defend yourself. This drill shows a shooter how a laser sight helps you do just that.”
That done, Frank lowers the lights and has the shooters fire from a modified retention position, which simulates a situation in which you are unable to bring up the gun to a traditional line of sight.
“These drills take people out of their comfort zone, but they show participants the value of laser sights in defensive shooting situations,” he says.
Live fire over, the shooters recover their targets for a closer look.
“This is the ‘aha moment,’” Frank says. “They can clearly see the benefits of a laser-sighting system. More important, they can explain it in simple terms to a customer. Many of our shooters keep that target behind the counter and use it as a reference tool.”
After going through the course of fire myself, I can see the value of the program. I also experienced a key insight about personal-defense situations that Frank touched on when he described how a laser sight works.
“Defusing a situation without actually having to pull the trigger is a real positive,” he says. That’s because the threat may disengage when the laser paints the target. And, as Frank says, “Disengagement is what it’s all about.”
By Wayne Van Zwoll
Photograph by Wayne Van Zwoll
The accuracy of Ruger’s precision rifle will bring a smile to any shooter’s face
The naked joy of hitting targets set farther than you can see well without optics has prompted a run on new rifles and scopes, and a new crop of cartridges. The latest rifle built for accuracy at distance is the Ruger Precision Rifle, which vaulted from idea to steel quickly. I first dropped prone behind it at the FTW Ranch, a rural Texas property with hills that twist and throttle wind to blow bullets wide of distant gongs.
“It’s 18 inches tall,” said Doug Prichard of the speck floundering in the mirage, now at high tide in my 20X Burris XTR. “Figure a minute of drift, add a half.” A former Navy SEAL, Prichard calls wind expertly. Before conditions could change again, I pressed the trigger. The speck shivered. Three seconds later a faint thwop floated back.
Distilled, the purpose of any rifle is to send a bullet to a distant mark. Misses don’t count. Rifles that help you hit become favorites. The newest centerfire from Sturm, Ruger & Co. was designed to hit. A bolt-action built around the company’s wildly popular American, the Ruger Precision Rifle has elements of that entry-level sporter, but its profile is distinctive, with an MSR-style buttstock and handguard—even a hanging grip. It certainly doesn’t look like a hunting rifle.
“You’ll get to wring it out for three days,” said Mark Gurney. “We’ve had stunning results at the factory. Averages for five 5-shot groups come in under an inch.”
That got my attention. It’s one thing to put three bullets, or five, into a nickel-sized knot. Few rifles stand the test of multiple five-shot groups.
Hitting little targets has bumped my pulse since my parents relented and loaned me $5.95 for an airgun. I learned about trajectory by watching BBs arc from that asthmatic Daisy. Their metallic slap on cans, bottle caps, and then nails in barn boards thrilled me.
I got my first centerfire rifle about the time American troops were landing in French Indochina. A sniper’s stage, Vietnam influenced the form of rifles for long shooting. In 1966, the Marines contracted for a stiff-barreled Remington 700, ordering 800 in 7.62 NATO (.308), 550 with Redfield 3–9X scopes. This Model 40 USMC rifle wasn’t a scoped infantry arm. Unlike its predecessors, it had more in common with the varmint and target rifles of civilian marksmen. It proved deadly. Twenty years later, Remington rolled out an updated M40: the M700 Sniper Weapons System with a Kevlar-reinforced, bipod-equipped stock. It weighed almost 14 pounds with a 10X Leupold M3A optic.
The new Ruger Precision Rifle in 6.5 Creedmoor is a bit lighter: 10½ pounds without a scope. The XTR II on my sample added considerable heft, but it delivered the sharp images and parallax correction useful in long-range trials. It also featured an elevation dial marked to match the arc of my factory loads. Over three courses of fire, with targets as far as 800 yards, the RPR treated me very well. The rifle banged out clean tallies on all, topping scores fired by other marksmen. (I erred by a click to overshoot a 630-yard gong on my last record shot the last day, a humbling finish!)
The brainchild of young Ruger engineer Jonathan Mather, the RPR owes much to the American rifle series, which has prospered since its 2011 debut on FTW’s 12,000 acres of Texas Hill Country. Owner Tim Fallon has made this complex of steel-target ranges an ideal testing ground. FTW shooting schools help riflemen improve their long-range skills and get faster in up-close dangerous-game scenarios. The American’s full-diameter bolt has three lugs in a low 70-degree lift. But the triple-lug design makes primary extraction (and bolt lift) harder because cam angles are steeper than they are in twin-lug rifles.
“We attacked that problem with dual cocking cams,” Gurney told me. Indeed, cycling the American is easy. Cartridges feed smoothly from a four-shot spool magazine. A bolt-face extractor and plunger ejector are sunrise-reliable.
The new RPR parts company with the American in several ways, but most clearly in stock design. The American’s molded polymer is of a traditional profile, mated to the tubular receiver with what Ruger calls “Power” bedding. (Actually, it was “PWR,” for Dwight Potter, Scott Warburton, and Bruce Rozum, the engineers who came up with it.) Power bedding comprises two steel V-blocks embedded in the stock. The guard screws pull angled mortises in the receiver’s belly into these blocks.
Starting from scratch, Jon Mather abandoned the American’s stock, to give the RPR its vertical grip and a “lower” composed of halves machined from 7975-T6 aluminum. The receiver and one-piece bolt are of machined, pre-hardened 4140 chrome-moly steel. A Picatinny rail, secured by 8-40 screws, has 20 minutes of gain, sloping up at the rear so you can click to targets far away without hitting stops or tilting the scope’s erector tube steeply. A reversible selector-style safety replaces the American’s tang safety.
Like an MSR, the new Precision Rifle features a tube-centered buttstock that brings recoil straight back. Hinged at the wrist, it folds to the left and can be locked there. Fold-and-lock latches and length-of-pull and comb-height adjustment cams require no tools. A pliable rubber buttpad pampers your clavicle and doesn’t slip. Ruger installed a toe rail to accommodate a folding monopod.
Up front, the lightweight tubular alloy handguard is rail-friendly and easy to hold with your palm. The barrel floats inside. I used a Harris bipod but also installed a Brownell’s Latigo sling on a QD swivel stud underneath. The RPR has push-style QD swivel receptacles for a side-mounted sling.
Of 4140 chrome-moly steel, the mid-weight, 24-inch, hammer-forged barrel in 6.5 Creedmoor has 5R-style rifling, and 1:8 twist. It mikes .75 at the muzzle, which is threaded 5⁄8-24 (protector supplied). Mather insisted on minimum bore, groove, and chamber specs to enhance accuracy. A gunsmith can rebarrel the RPR with AR tools, though you’ll want to think very hard before abandoning the factory tube.
This rifle is a cornucopia of clever ideas and why-didn’t-I-think-of-that? refinements. Beyond the finger-adjustable stock, Ruger installed a hanging grip with more slant and a quarter-inch more reach than most. (More than half of all riflemen find a standard MSR grip falls too close to the trigger.) The RPR grip fits both smaller palms typically found on women as well as my pork-chop paw. Want more reach? I’ve used the aftermarket AccuGrip to replace other MSR grips. A serrated base block lets you adjust the AccuGrip fore and aft.
The RPR’s oversize bolt knob is threaded and easily replaced, but in my view, you’d be nuts to do so. Ruger made this one just right; it helps you cycle from the shoulder. Perhaps because Mather, too, has misplaced Allen wrenches, he housed the trigger wrench in the bolt shroud. You can adjust trigger weight from 5 to 2¼ pounds without disassembly, through the magazine well. That sturdy, beveled well is also easy to grasp or hook on an improvised rest. It accepts a variety of boxes: M110, SR 25, DPMS, Magpul, and AICS. Dual latches secure side and rear lips.
If exceptional accuracy is the defining feature of a precision rifle, the RPR is only one in a field that includes models of many forms. But accuracy is a fickle mistress, and not entirely understood. It should follow tight tolerances: a snug chamber behind uniform rifling, and an action trued so the bolt aligns with the bore. Glassing and/or pillar bedding can stabilize the rifle. Stiff barrels and actions presumably enhance accuracy. Still, because rifles can show streaks of independence, I’ve drilled tiny knots with inexpensive bolt guns turned out like cookies and selling for little more than lawnmowers in January. Not all accurate rifles are, by design, precision rifles.
While the type is yet young, the precision rifle might be pegged as a mid-weight bolt-action with adjustments uncommon on sporting rifles (movable combs and buttplates), plus provisions for accessories that help you hit at distance (toe and front rails and an MSR-style grip). Alloy tubes are replacing traditional forestocks. Barrels commonly wear threads for suppressors. Some of these features have carried over from so-called “tactical” rifles. Others owe their genesis to target rifles. Both evolved to deliver hits without regard to the lithe form, modest weight, and pleasing cosmetics of popular hunting rifles. At this stage, rifles with the “precision” label lean heavily to modular design. Top-end modulars—like the AXMC from Accuracy International, the McMillan Alias, and Kimber’s new Advanced Tactical SRC—can plunge you quickly into poverty. Shooters out to save rubles by using their own Remington 700 action can tap Robar, which “accurizes” and fits a stainless barrel to produce its half-minute SR21.
“We designed the RPR from scratch,” Mather says. “It’s not a copy. We wanted a modular, mid-weight rifle that would sell at a modest price.” He’s quick to credit his Ruger team. “I had a lot of help and owe a great deal to suggestions from shop supervisors and experts in tooling.”
On its face, selling this new Ruger might seem a challenge. It’s not for hardened traditionalists. It can’t pace the self-loaders of Black Ops wannabes and 3-Gun competitors. It’s heavy for hunts afoot. But if you spend a week with the RPR, you’ll work hard to tear yourself from it. My three days in Texas left me itching for the next Vortex Extreme Challenge, a hike-and-shoot match I fired last summer.
The Spirit Ridge Rifle Golf range sprawls across the hills and valleys north of Tremonton, Utah. The event is scored mainly on shooting, but also on speed. If a congested station imposes a wait, that delay is deducted from finish time so as not to penalize affected teams. Each pair of competitors has eight minutes at a station, though the number of shots varies. One rifleman calls wind, spots, and coaches as the other fires. Then they swap functions. Except for a couple of targets designated for other positions, shooters fire over a bipod.
The first station, with gongs from 200 to 1,200 yards, tested our zeroes and teamwork. Once we’d signaled “start,” we had to load, aim, fire, find new steel, spin the elevation dial, load, re-assess conditions, aim, and fire again. The four silhouettes allowed us a minute each. We finished in time, but I missed easy shots. We picked up and marched off across a coulee to Station 2. The target was barely visible in sage shadow at 1,000 yards under a glaring sun.
And so it went. At the final station, three tiny targets bobbed in soupy mirage. We each had a choice: Fire three shots at the 500-yard target for a point per hit, three at 780 for three points. If you feel lucky, go for the gong at one mile. Six points.
Confident of my 700-yard zero, I chose 780 and bellied down. The gong quivered; the thud floated back. I repeated for a trio of hits and bonus points. My partner pounded the 720-yard mark twice, plus the bonus. We’d hiked 7 miles and finished in the upper quartile.
In the RPR, I knew I’d found the perfect rifle for the Vortex Extreme Challenge. It’s designed for prone shooting, and heavy enough to steady easily, but it’s not ponderous. It has a good trigger, a quick bolt, and a slanted rail. Stock adjustments help fit it to field conditions, a requisite for consistent accuracy.
The best part of the rifle may be its price. Few rifle enthusiasts cruising gun racks will spring for a $4,000 long-range rifle, no matter how accurate. But at $1,399, this new Ruger is easy to bring home to Momma.
The RPR’s introductory chambering is 6.5 Creedmoor, an efficient short-action round I adore for its light recoil and flat arc. I’ve used it on animals as big as elk and eland, though it’s more at home on deer-size game. Designed by Dave Emery and company in Hornady’s shop, it was inspired by 600- and 1,000-yard target ranges. The shoulder is set back on the .308 parent case to yield a neck long enough for leggy boattails that hold up well at distance. My RPR routinely sent 140-grain A-Max bullets into ¾-minute groups. One-holers at 100 yards were common. To broaden the rifle’s appeal, Ruger will be adding the .243 and .308.
“Have you seen this?”
That‘s a start. Pick up the rifle. Demonstrate its unique features, from the folding, easily adjustable stock to the magazine well that accepts side- and rear-latching boxes. Remove the bolt and pop the trigger wrench free. “You won’t lose this. And you adjust trigger weight through the mag well!” Note the RPR has many of the best features of Ruger’s SR-762 (MSR) rifle and the super-accurate American. “You can scope it with anything, on this rail.”
Challenge the customer to match the RPR’s accuracy: .8-MOA average for five 5-shot groups. Then, incredulously: “You don’t have a 6.5 Creedmoor?” Pause. Smile. “Well, this rifle makes the most of it!” Light recoil, flat flight, bullets that pull the rug from under deer-size game. Finally, the price. Say, “I can’t believe Ruger can sell this rifle for so little.”
By Richard Mann
Photograph by Richard Mann
Hitting at distance on a range is a very different animal from doing the same in the field while hunting. On the range, a 12-pound rifle is not a burden; if you’re chasing a bull elk at 6,000 feet, it is. Hunters want reach, not field artillery. To fill this niche, a proliferation of super magnums, such as the 6.5-300 Weatherby and .30 Nosler, are being chambered in rifles like the 8-pound Weatherby Arroyo and the even-lighter Nosler M48. These rifles can be carried all day. Proof Research’s less-than-6-pound Lightweight Mountain Hunter, which uses a carbon-fiber-wrapped barrel, is a high-end lightweight tack driver. At the other end of the price spectrum is Mossberg’s Night Train Patriot; it retails for less than $800 and comes with a riflescope and bipod.
Hobbyist long-range shooters and competitors only carry their rifles from the truck to the firing line. They like the added weight for the additional stability it can provide, and they have no interest or need to make a snap shot at a coyote. They want precision projectile launchers, purpose-built for static shooting. They want rifles like Weatherby’s Mark V TacMark Elite. This is a five-grand 12-pound boomer chambered for beast cartridges like the .338 Lapua and the .338-378 Weatherby. It offers buttstock adjustment, and with a suitable optic it can weigh as much as 15 pounds. Weatherby’s 10-pound Vanguard Laminate H-BAR offers the same adjustability but costs $3,500 less. It’s also chambered for tamer cartridges. Another option in this category is Bergara’s BCR 30 Heavy Tactical Chassis rifle. It, too, is chambered for smaller cartridges and offers adjustability like that seen in the Ruger Precision Rifle.
Sporting shotgun shooters preach the importance of fit. How a rifle fits a shooter is just as important for long-range success. This is because shot-to-shot variations in the launch platform—the way the rifle recoils and interacts with the shooter—alter point of impact. Little errors at the muzzle are magnified as time of flight extends. Because of this, length of pull and comb height become critical.
This is why the Ruger Precision Rifle, Bergara Competition Chassis Rifle, and the more affordable Mossberg Light Chassis Rifle have the attention of many long-range shooters. All three have highly adaptable buttstocks that allow for a custom fit that permits the launch pad to be tuned. The importance of fit also applies to more traditional sporting rifles intended for long-range hunting. Mossberg’s MVP LR Tactical with its adjustable comb is an example of how manufacturers are addressing this issue.
The mistake most new long-range shooters make is the assumption that they need high velocity and magnum force to go the distance. Truth is, flight time is what matters. The faster the bullet gets to the target, the less time gravity and wind have to affect it. It’s an aerodynamic thing, and it means even moderately powered cartridges, such as the 6.5 Creedmoor, can hang with hot-rod rounds if the right bullet is used. Because you don’t want to overburden a customer with a hard-kicking rifle, you need to be able to effectively communicate that the bullet’s ability to retain velocity is what really matters.
By David E. Petzal
Photograph by Tim Irwin
Long-range shooting is a big-ticket business. but before you can cash in, you need to know precisely what your customers need
The highest-grossing film of 2014, the highest–grossing war film of all time, and Clint Eastwood’s highest–grossing film were one and the same—American Sniper. It’s the story of SEAL marksman Chris Kyle, who killed more people while aiming through crosshairs than any other member of our armed forces.
Yet there was a time not long ago when one did not use the word “sniper” and “American” in the same sentence. Sniping was somehow less than honorable. It was something The Other Side did.
But that, along with a hell of a lot else in shooting, has changed—and with a vengeance. In the past decade or so, we’ve seen a blurring of the lines between military/police shooting and hunting. The modern sporting rifle has been widely accepted for civilian use. And the hunter who is admired is not he who relies on stealth, but he who is master of wind and trajectory.
So, long range is in, and it’s another world in which ordinary rifles, scopes, and ammo do not hack it. What does hack it is expensive—in many cases, very expensive—gear. But in order to sell that, you have to acquire a new wealth of knowledge. Back before I had become familiar with NightForce scopes, which are leaders in the world of long distance, the only dealer I knew who carried them explained to me that they had a feature that enabled a shooter to return to zero simply by pushing on the elevation knob. This is not how it works, and wallowing in such ignorance is the quickest way that I know of to lose customers. You, or someone else in your store, have to walk the walk and talk the talk.
For a century, the maximum range at which hunters were supposed to shoot was 300 yards. If you wanted to try beyond that, you bought yourself a fearsome rifle with tons of muzzle blast, recoil, weight, and velocity, and then relied on sheer speed to overcome distance. Now, with the development of range-compensating scopes and reticles, laser rangefinders, and superbly accurate sporting rifles, you can hit reliably way beyond 300 yards with a rifle that will not require you to know an orthopedic surgeon.
Back then, target shooters who wanted to shoot at long distance were pretty much restricted to NRA-sanctioned matches requiring a military rifle, lots of equipment, and the ability to shoot from bone-cracking positions designed for 19-year-old Marine recruits. That, too, has changed. The NRA now sanctions what are known as Any-Any matches, where you can use damn near any rifle and sight you want, do all your shooting from prone, and fire at targets from 200 to 600 yards—or farther, if the range allows. There is also F-Class, where you shoot prone over a pedestal rest, and F-TR, which is F-Tactical Rifle, where you’re limited to .223 and .308. F and F-TR competitors shoot side by side, and the ranges are 300, 500, and 600 yards. (There are no 400-yard distances.)
An F-Class rifle is usually less powerful than a hunting rifle, but it is more accurate and more consistent by several orders of magnitude. In F-Class shooting, the X-ring is only 3 inches in diameter, and even at small local shoots, there is no shortage of marksmen who can put 20 rounds in it at 600 yards in 20 minutes, and do so three times in an afternoon. It requires not only great skill, but a rifle that will shoot four 5-shot ½-MOA groups in a row.
Most F-Class and F-TR rifles are custom-built and cost in the neighborhood of $3,000 to $4,000. There are those, and then there are the various Savage competition guns, which cost about a third as much. Savage pretty much has a lock on this corner of the market; its reputation is that of rifles that will do the job if you can do yours. Savage will probably soon be joined by Ruger, courtesy of its brand-new Ruger Precision Rifle, a chassis-stocked work of genius in five versions that costs less than $2,000.
Scopes must be different, too. One of the most basic functions of a scope is to make consistent and accurate adjustments for windage and elevation. The average big-game scope is adjusted only occasionally, but competition scopes are constantly cranked up, down, and sideways.
Most scopes will not adjust with anywhere near the accuracy or consistency that is required to shoot well at long distance. The ones that will are built to an entirely different standard and are priced accordingly, which means $2,500 to $5,000.
And then there’s ammo. If you want to shoot at long range, you pretty much have to roll your own. Handloading is the only way you can get the accuracy required and keep the costs from becoming ruinous. Even if you’re a hunter rather than a competition shooter, you learn very quickly that the only way you acquire skill is by relentless practice. If you have a rifle in a military caliber, you might get lucky and find a brand of match ammo that you can buy in bulk and that shoots well in your rifle. Black Hills makes some very good stuff, and M118 7.62 sniper ammo, which is made by Federal, will shoot very well and can be bought in 100-round and 500-round lots. But handloading is still the cheapest way to go.
Accessories. Again, it’s a different world. Do you want to shoot in F-Class? You’ll discover in short order that an ordinary pedestal rest, which will do just fine at the range for a couple of days a year, will draw looks of pity and contempt. The pedestal rest of choice is a 30-pound, rock-solid, infinitely adjustable thing of beauty made by Sinclair, with a price tag of $600.
If you’d like to shoot in F-TR, which is Tactical Rifle, you must use a bipod. If you shoot with a standard gun-store bipod, which you bought for $30 or $60, you’ll discover that it’s not nearly as good as the ones Sinclair makes and sells for $200-plus.
This is just the basic equipment, but they’re items that the average customer has never heard of—or if he has heard, it’s the wrong information. Or he’s appalled at the price because no one has explained why some of these items cost so much. That’s where you, the retailer, come in. Your job is to know and to be able to explain.
Let’s take a simple case: There is no end of range-compensating reticles available. They all work—mostly. One claims to have survived 250,000 trial adjustments in its development, but I’ve seen one of these scopes so wrecked in the course of a prairie-dog hunt that it could not be gotten on target. Another, which relies on a battery-powered laser and calculates holdover for you, will do fine unless the temperature gets down to 10 degrees or below, which is the point at which its batteries drop dead.
If you want to sell successfully—have people happy with what they’ve bought—you have to remember that many of those customers will not work to achieve proficiency; many, if they bother to read directions, will not understand them because most directions are incomprehensible; and many, in the heat of battle (whether it be hunting or competition), will have what they do know go right out their head the moment the shooting starts.
So it falls on you to figure out what is simplest and easiest to master, as well as that which is least likely to fail under stress—and then push it.
It’s invaluable to be aware of ranges that offer shooting at more than 200 yards. In some parts of the country, finding one can be a real problem, but in others they’re relatively common. When I started working at long distance, I had to drive six hours each way to the range. There was simply no other choice.
You also need to know who can help. In April and October, the Scarborough (Maine) Fish and Game Club holds multi-class programs for beginners who want to try their hand at distance. It starts in the classroom and ends at the 600-yard line. Down the road in Exeter, New Hampshire, is a range run by SIG SAUER that goes out to 1,000 yards and offers professional instruction. Your job is to know about these programs.
With whatever you sell, you have to make this clear: No one who is good at long-range shooting got that way without work, usually years of it. Your customer is going to meet people who shoot so much better than he does that he will want to throw his rifle in the dumpster in despair. Remind him that no matter how much he spends, he is not going to shoot like a High Master without putting in the hours and the ammo and the effort. He is going to have to be patient and keep trying, and by and by it will come.
If he has any sense, he will thank you for your honesty. And he will come back to your store again.