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Full-strut profits: cash in on the turkey hunting passion!

Read carefully: $1.8 billion! That's how much turkey hunters spent in 2003 in pursuit of gobblers. Impressive, right? But, how much was spent in your store? Are you ready for this spring's turkey season?

"Turkey-hunting equipment is our primary business in the spring," said Chris Dekle, manager of St. Nicholas Guns and Sporting Goods in Jacksonville, Fla., and an avid turkey hunter. He says selling turkey-hunting equipment is essential to the store's financial well-being.

"For this year, I ordered $1,100 worth of turkey calls alone," Dekle said. "Turkey products sell during the time between our fall hunting season and spring and summer saltwater fishing."

Matt Charipar, national sales manager at Hunter's Specialties, says many dealers minimize the importance of turkey season because they focus on other business.

"On the other hand, some stores become known as a 'destination' for turkey hunters," Charipar said. "There are so many different types of products to use when turkey hunting. Just look at the number of turkey calls. Turkey hunting is very interactive and very gadget-intensive. Products range from those to keep you off the ground so you're not cold and wet, to those that put you in just the right position with a gun rest because turkeys have great eyesight."

So, in addition to turkey shotguns, the gadget-heavy nature of turkey hunting translates into a lot of accessory sales.

Dekle says there's some overlap between what he carries for fall hunting and for turkey season, particularly since portions of the landscape stay green all year in northern Florida.



"There's crossover in a lot of the clothing and some in the popup blinds. A lot more people use blinds for turkey than for deer hunting," Dekle said.

For turkey hunters, Dekle stocks blinds, calls, decoys and clothing, including Bug Tamers, face masks, turkey vests and general camo garments. He also carries a product category most northern dealers don't: snake boots.

"We sell a lot of snake boots for turkey season," he said. "Rattlesnakes are always out here."

Margins on accessories vary a lot, Dekle says.

"We should make a lot more on clothing than we do," he said. "But we mark them down because we're competing with a Wal-Mart right down the road. Luckily, they don't carry a lot of hunting stuff."

On calls and other accessories, Dekle says the store makes anywhere from 25 to 40 percent. At the national level, Charipar says margins can be higher.

"On calls, some retailers can easily garner 45 to 60 percent," Charipar said. "On other gear, such as gun rests, camo tape and other accessories, margins are similar. On blinds, which have a higher price point, margins come down a little bit, and are more in the high 30- and low 40-percent range."

The often-held belief that firearms garner the lowest margins does not apply to turkey shotguns, according to Dekle.

"We make more on guns than we do on calls," Dekle said. "Turkey guns are very specific now." (See Bonus: "Gobbler Shotguns.")

Dekle carries shotguns from Benelli, Beretta, Browning, Mossberg and Remington, including the Remington 870 Youth in 12-gauge.

"In shotgun ammo, we carry a lot of turkey shot of various gauges and sizes, from 20- to 10-gauge, and number six to number two (sizes) although most people use between a six and four," Dekle said. "We also carry turkey chokes like Kick's Industries Gobblin' Thunder. A lot of companies have their own turkey chokes now and they're very popular."

Hook Customers On Turkey Hunting

So, are you ready to maximize the turkey-hunting opportunity? Perhaps you don't think you have the customer base to justify all the additional SKUs and knowledge needed to handle this segment of the market.

It's likely you already have the customers to support your turkey-hunting efforts. According to Charipar, 97 to 98 percent of deer hunters also participate in another hunting activity.


"Of these, a high percentage participate in turkey hunting," Charipar said.

Dekle says the crossover of other hunters to turkey hunting in his store is considerable, but not as high as the national average. To help those hunters take up turkey hunting, Dekle uses his experience as a turkey hunter to "talk up" the sport and to help novice hunters understand how to get started. He demonstrates calls, advises on turkey-hunting strategies and shows customers how to use the equipment they purchase.

"There are so many different items to choose from, and a lot of times a customer will just look at me and ask, 'Well, what do you use?'" Dekle said. "My passion for turkey hunting helps me sell it to other people. Many times a customer will come back in and tell me something worked, or that they tried something but didn't get a shot. Most of the time, that's enough to get a new hunter hooked."


Dekle also stocks products specifically for novice hunters.

"This year, I stocked a call 'starter kit,'" he said. "Several companies are coming out with them. The one I stocked is called the Super Strut Combo from H.S. Strut. It includes a crow call, an owl call, a mouth call and a slate. It makes it easier for someone new to get started in the sport."

When you get a customer to try turkey hunting, Charipar says, you'll have a turkey-hunting customer who comes in every year.

"Most people are hooked once they have a successful turkey hunt," he said. "There's just something about seeing a tom come over a hill or down a little logging road all puffed out, or in full strut. Just getting a bird into that 30-yard or so range gets people hooked on turkey hunting."


Promoting The Hunt

The very complexity of turkey hunting, with all the gear and the necessary strategies for bringing in birds, can work to your advantage in bringing in new customers. Sponsoring seminars with pro staff and regionally known turkey hunters will draw customers into your store. The seminars can help novice turkey hunters understand what they need and how to approach turkey hunting.


"Once you get over the initial, 'Geez, that's pretty complicated,' it's really not that difficult," Charipar said. "Just letting consumers know you're a headquarters for turkey hunting and you have the essential gear they need to be comfortable and successful helps, as well."

One aspect of the sport that is gaining popularity is bowhunting for turkeys. For hunters willing to take on the challenge, Dekle stocks special broadheads.

"Most people shoot the same bow they deer hunt with," he said. "The big difference is the broadheads. Manufacturers make broadheads specifically for turkeys, because you don't want a passthrough with a turkey. You want a point that's going to slow down and deliver more energy."

Cash In

Yes, turkey hunters love to hunt and are willing to spend serious money in this growing market. Are you cashing in? Perhaps it's too late for you to fully take advantage of this spring's hunt. If so, begin preparing for this fall. Forty-one states have fall turkey-hunting seasons.

Gearing up for this fall's hunt will also set you well for next spring's turkey season--and the profits it will bring.

ADCO Sales 230
Advantage Camouflage 231
Ameristep 232
Benelli USA Corp. 233
Beretta USA 234
Browning 235
B-Square 236
Buck Wing Products 237
Bushnell Performance Optics 238
Butler Creek 239
Charles Daly 240
DK Flatwoods 241
Doskocil Manufacturing 242
DownWind 3D Camouflage 243
Feather Flex 244
Game Tracker/Eastman 245
H & R 1871 246
Haydel's Game Calls 247
Hindsight Hunting Mirror 248
HiViz Sight 249
Hunter's Specialties 250
Knight & Hale 251
Lohman 252
Lynch Outdoor Products 253
M.A.D. Calls 254
Michaels of Oregon 255
Mossy Oak 256
New England Arms Corp. 257
New England Firearms 258
O. F. Mossberg & Sons 259
Outland Sports 260
Pape's 261
Quaker Boy Game Calls 262
Realtree Camouflage 263
Remington Arms Co 264
Shannon Outdoors 265
Traditions Performance Firearms 266
Trebark Camouflage 267
TruGlo Inc. 268
Whitewater Outdoors 269
Winchester Ammunition 270
Winchester Firearms 271
Kick's Industries 272


Customers Demand High Performance

Twenty years ago, if a hunter went after a turkey, he picked up his serviceable, multi-purpose shotgun, grabbed some shells smaller than buckshot but larger than what he used for squirrels, and headed to the field.

Obviously, much has changed. Today, shotguns used to hunt turkeys are highly specialized and designed just for turkey hunting. The many changes have been driven by the significant increase in the number of turkey hunters.


"The market for turkey guns has become very large," said Paul Thompson of Browning and Winchester Firearms. "Fifteen years ago, we didn't have the turkey populations we have today. As a result, participation in the sport is a lot different. The sport is huge, largely due to the successes of conservation, and there are a lot of turkeys to hunt."

The rapid growth in the number of turkey hunters unleashed a high demand for shotguns that were more efficient and effective, Thompson says. He cites a number of ways turkey shotguns have changed.

Appearance. In the past, a turkey hunter used his regular shotgun, which might have a blued or even a nickel-finished barrel and a glossy stock. Today, turkey shotguns are as well-camouflaged as hunters.

"We used to sell shotguns with glossy walnut stocks and shiny blued barrels," Thompson said. "Then we went to a matte-finished barrel and a synthetic, dull stock. Now, our guns, pumps and semi-autos, are fully camouflaged so there's no glare, and if the hunter makes a little movement, it will blend in with his surroundings."

Length. Today's turkey guns are shorter than yesterday's shotguns, making them easier to handle.

"Now, 24-inch barrels are the norm," Thompson said. "Longer barrels are normally for long-flying shots. You don't need that for turkeys because you're not gaining pattern performance."

Choke tubes. Shorter barrels have their benefit, but they also spread the shot's pattern. That tradeoff is corrected with the addition of choke tubes designed for turkey hunting.

"There has been a refinement of choke tubes for turkey guns. Now, choke tubes are extended to provide as tight a pattern as possible. This kind of tube is specifically used for turkey hunting, because there's no other bird you need that for." Thompson said.

Heavy gauges. The arrival of the 3- and 3 1/2-inch, 12-gauge Magnum turkey loads means a cleaner, more efficient kill.

"You've got to hit a turkey in the head to put it down." Thompson said. "The 12- and 10-gauges are the preference today. In the past, those who shot a 10-gauge were usually goose hunters, but you see a lot of guys shooting a 10-gauge for turkeys today."

There are a number of hunters who don't want to shoot the heavier gauge/load combinations. The National Wild Turkey Federation has a strong effort to involve women and youngsters in the sport, and that means smaller gauges and lighter loads.

"Today, we even have a 20-gauge turkey gun in our pump shotgun line." Thompson said. "That's to get people who can't take the heavier recoil out into the field, and it helps get the whole family involved."

Sighting system. Yesterday's shotgun hunters sighted on beads mounted on the ventilated rib. Now, turkey hunters use fiber optic sights or low-power shotgun scopes.

"Today, we sell guns without ventilated ribs, with fiber optic sights, plus, they're drilled and tapped for scopes," Thompson said.

Carolee Anita Boyles
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Author:Boyles, Carolee Anita
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Mar 1, 2005
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