2017: It’s a Tough Economy for the Gun & Hunting Industry Right Now

2017 tough ecnomyThe health care chaos last week on Capitol Hill notwithstanding, things have been looking pretty good since President Trump’s election last November. The stock market is up and consumer confidence is high as the President reduces burdensome regulations on business and moves to act on tax reform this summer.

But ironically the election of our first pro-gun president in 8 years has slowed the sale of firearms and softened the overall shooting/hunting market. In recent years, with anti-gun Barack Obama at the helm and with the prospect of Hillary looming for another 8 years, law-abiding and freedom–loving Americans had a deep and well-founded concern that their gun rights were in serious jeopardy, and so we purchased guns and hoarded ammunition at a record pace.

But now, with President Trump in the White House and our Second Amendment rights secure for now, firearms sales have slowed and as a consequence cast a pale over the entire industry.

Colt, Savage, Remington and Federal Premium recently announced that they are constricting business and laying off employees, and many industry experts predict that other manufacturers will follow suit.

The record sales and profits from firearms and especially ammunition of the last 5 years carried over into the general outdoor and hunting market, and helped to account for decent to good sales. For example, a guy walked into a Cabela’s store to buy 3 boxes of ammo, and he picked up a new camo jacket and some other stuff on the way to the register. But many of those impulse buys have dried up and dried up fast.

In addition to declining gun/ammo sales is the overall retail industry’s struggles of 2017 and beyond. Namely, how do retailers with heavy investment in brick-and-mortar survive and grow in the Amazon world? You likely have empty storefronts in your hometown that thrived just 5 short years ago.

You might have heard that Gander Mountain recently declared bankruptcy, and as a part of that will close 32 of 162 retail stores in 11 different states. Click to see if a GM store near you is on the list to be shuttered.

Word is that Bass Pro Shops’ $4.5 billion deal to buy Cabela’s could be in jeopardy as federal regulators have requested more information from both parties. But most financial experts predict that the merger will still be approved and completed, most likely later this fall.

The bowhunting industry is not immune. The Outdoor Wire spoke with industry experts who pointed to significant problems facing the archery business and the considerable drop-off in bow and gear sales. One big reason—the trend of manufacturers toward high-end bows that cost $1,000 to $1,500. Not all hard-working hunters can fork out a good chunk of a mortgage payment for a new bow, so fewer bows are sold each year, and people are upgrading less and keeping their bows for 4 or 5 years.

While the gun/bow/hunting/outdoor industry is facing uncertain and tough economic times, there is light on the horizon. If President Trump can get our dysfunctional Congress to work together for once and approve meaningful tax reform for corporations and individuals alike this summer, and retroactive to January 1, 2017, the industry (and all retail) will receive an immediate boost. History shows that every time people get even a little more money in their pockets, they will spend some of it on their passions. There are no more passionate Americans than deer hunters. Give us back some more of our money and we’ll buy a new rifle or bow or trail camera or camo, just in time for the 2017-18 season.

As for the manufacturers, you will continue to see some constriction and shifting business strategies in the short term, but that can be a good thing. Smart business leaders step back, analyze changing market trends and then build and market products that people will buy in 2018, in this case quality and affordable guns and bows.

For retailers large and small, the future is inescapable and simple. We all still love to go to a Cabela’s,  Bass Pro or Gander store, and we love our local gun shop. We’ll still buy at those stores, but if a company is not heavily online and Mobile, they’re out of business or soon will be.

What about you? Are you spending less on gear? Buying more online? Will you purchase a new gun this year? Does a new bow cost too much?

Easy & Cheap Homemade Deer Blind

homemade deer blindFrom our friend Kclap in Virginia:

Hello Mike, thought I’d pass along a few pics of a couple deer blinds we made out of old swing/play sets for kids.

Start with the wooden frame of an old play set, similar to the picture below. The old sets we used were both headed to the landfill. You can often find free ones in local papers or on Craigslist.

Add a few sheets of cheap plywood sides and roof with screws, match the paint to your hunting area and they’re ready to go. The blinds are great for scent control and offer a steady shooting rest. Add a comfortable arm chair and you can sit and hunt all day. Good luck and safe hunting. –Kclap from VA
wood swing set

 

 

Pick-Your-State Deer Skull Hangers

skull hang 1I always get taxidermists to do my European mounts with no plaque. They look better and more natural with just skull and antlers, nice for setting in a corner, on a shelf, on a coffee table… Besides, I have never seen a wooden or steel wall skull mount that I like, until now.

The State Skull Hanger from The Taxidermists’ Woodshop is a pretty cool idea. Pick the state where you killed the buck, and order that state’s hanger to display the skull/antlers on your wall.

The 10” steel hangers come with a flat black finish (other finishes available). Screw hanger to the wall and slip the skull down on the peg hanger. I have not used or purchased one of these, so I cannot tell you how sturdy and secure the peg is, though it looks to me like it will work fine with a whitetail rack. You can also use it to hang a bear or cougar skull on the wall.

Great price at $19.50 plus shipping; usually ships in 5 days.

skull 2

What do you think? I can envision you hanging 3 skulls from your home state in a pattern on the den wall…or really cool, say you have 5 skulls lying around from bucks you shot in 5 different states; hang those state skull racks in a row behind the bar in your basement for around $100.

I think that some of you will read this and order one or two. If you do, hang those skulls and send me a picture so I can do a follow-up post.

Honey Badger Wheel: New Meat Cart for Hunters

Out in Montana last fall, a guy came along with a little wheeled cart and helped me haul out the buck I’d just shot. I’d see such contraptions before, but had never used one. Well, that thing sure made it a lot easier to get my deer across a creek and back to the truck. I guess I had that hunt on my mind when I saw a press release for this new cart, which appears to have a better design and be more substantial than the one I used. I asked the company to send me some info and pictures to share with you, and here’s what they said:     

Hunters have been packing out deer, elk, sheep and other big game for decades on pack animals, or making multiple trips out of the backcountry carrying heavy loads on their backs. Teem LEED introduces the world’s smallest, collapsible, user-adjustable  big game cart for making that work easier and more efficient.

honeybadger 1

The Honey Badger is a game changer. It is the first lightweight all-terrain pack wheel designed for deer and elk hunters. This multi-purpose game cart can pack out an entire elk, deboned or quartered, in one trip. With the deer accessory, it can roll an entire deer out of the woods. It straps to your backpack for the hike in and weighs only 13.5 pounds. The kit comes in multiple wheel sizes with or without disc brakes, and accepts bicycle panniers or pack animal saddle bags.

honey badger 1a

The wheel can carry a buck up to 200 pounds with the deer accessory. Other big game such as elk can be carried out deboned or quartered, with up to 250 pounds of meat on the frame. The difference between the deer and elk weights–deer are carried on top, whereas quartered or deboned game are carried lower directly on the sides of the frame, which allows for more weight.

To carry a deer, you add sidebars and a front load bar. The wheel is placed upside down on top of the animal with the handlebars directly over the neck. The neck is strapped to the top handle bar and the lower quarter to the two side bars. Then the user flips the wheel right side up. It is simple physics. The load is carried completely over the axle of the patented frame design.

honey badger 2

The Honey Badger Wheel is the alternative to pack animals and gives backcountry hunters the ability to take out all their meat without the heavy load on the back. It is the first hunting product offered on the crowdfunding site kickstarter.com and is available for purchase now until the end of April.

Purchasing the setup now saves you 20% off the future website price, and all supporters receive the Honey Badger Wheel between July and August 2016, just in time for the season. Visit kickstarter to see the Honey Badger Wheel in action and support the project.

Hanback here: I find it very cool that the Honey Badger doubles as an off-road stroller/kid carrier. Young, active outdoor families will love that.

honey badger 3

While we’re at it, have you ever used a cart or similar carrier to get your deer out? I never had, but now I’m thinking I might. Sure does save your arms and back.

Hunt Gear Review: Manfrotto Befree Tripod for Spotting Scope

manfrotto 1 finalYou need a spotting scope, a good one, when hunting for deer or elk out West, or when glassing for whitetails on prairies or in large grain fields in the Midwest and elsewhere.

Without a spotter you might have to hike 3 miles and waste an hour to take a closer look at a buck or bull that you found with binoculars. Much more efficient is to glass an animal, set up a scope, zero and focus and determine quickly, “Nope, too small” or “Yes, a shooter let’s go!”

Most big game hunters do well to select a good spotting scope, but then defeat their purpose by choosing a flimsy $50 tripod for it. Big mistake, because you can’t use a spotter effectively—to zoom and size antlers or horns with rock-solid focus–without mounting it atop a quality tripod like the one reviewed here.

Manfrotto’s legendary full-size tripods are popular with professional photographers (some of our cameramen for Big Deer TV carry them). The company developed the Befree line for both amateurs and professionals who need a compact tripod that one can carry off the beaten path to get the perfect picture, without sacrificing the stability needed to grab a sharp image. So designed, the Befree has become a great choice for hunters and their spotting scopes.

man tripod 3

I tested and carried the Befree MKBFRA4-BH all-aluminum model dozens of miles last deer season, and used it to steady my Trijicon 20X-60X spotting scope (review on that optic to come later).

My first evaluation of any piece of hunt gear, be it a gun, bow or tripod, is simply the feel of it. First time you pick up the Befree tripod it feels sturdy and well-built.

The Befree tripod and ball head combo (more on the head later) weighs 3.09 pounds. The legs have an interesting “inverted-leg” folding design. Retract the legs, turn them over and fold them up and around the head to form a compact 15.75-inch package that fits easily into a medium-size backpack. The folded legs completely enclose and protect the head, a feature I like. 

The legs of many compact tripods only extend 22 inches or so, and confine you to spot from sitting or kneeling, which is generally okay because much of the time you’re on your butt and leaned back into a hillside as you look. But the Befree has 3 retractable sections on each leg that, when fully deployed and with the center arm extended, raise the tripod to around 57 inches. Now you can run your scope from the standing position as well, a big bonus.

The legs extend and retract easily and smoothly, and the 3 spring-loaded thumb toggles on each leg lock the sections securely into place.

On top of each leg is a silver selector knob. Twist each knob once and it sets and locks the tripod into a standard angle of 51 degrees. Twist it again to splay and lock the legs farther apart, to 25 degrees. This feature is designed to allow photographers to spread the tripod super low for dynamic ground-level shots. It can come in handy when you lay into the side of a mountain to glass for hours. With the tripod splayed and scope sitting about 14 inches off the ground, you have an incredibly solid spotting station.

To me a tripod is only as good as the head that holds, aims and pans your scope. The Befree’s aluminum ball head is small and moves smoothly and fluidly in its housing. You work a single wing knob to control the ball’s tension and aim your scope, which attaches to the ball’s platform with a quick release plate and mechanism. This mechanism does take a bit to practice and jiggling to figure out how to lock it in.

 While I generally prefer a pistol-grip head with a spotting scope, the wing knob works. It’s smooth and the tension control is precise as you move the scope a fraction in, out, up and down to find and focus on an animal. 

This Befree model is designed to support cameras that weigh up to 8.8 pounds, so it can handle any spotting scope for hunting. My Trijicon scope weighs 4 pounds and balances well on this tripod at various extended heights.

Professional photographers do a simple vibration test to check the stability of a tripod, and I did the same. I extended the Befree’s legs and rapid center column to 55 inches, and attached the scope. At full extension is when any tripod is least stable and susceptible to flexing that can put a camera or scope slightly off focus.

I’d tap the scope and use the stopwatch on my phone to record how long the scope vibrated. The less the “tremor time,” during which an animal would be out of focus in the scope, the better.

In 6 tremor tests, the scope vibrated for 3.8 seconds to 4.2 seconds before settling back into solid position. I kept my eye in the scope and on the target, and the real time of this vibration was negligible in a typical hunting/spotting scenario. Since the tripod proved steady enough at full extension, it would be even more stable the lower you use it for spotting.

Out west and on the prairies, the tripod was easy to set up and proved solid. I was impressed on the 4 really windy days I used it. In the wind I lowered the legs and spotted from a slouched sitting position, and worked the glass with negligible wind shake. 

In the end, at 7 pounds this tripod with my choice of spotter attached is not super lightweight (again the scope weighs 4 pounds) but the rig is easily packed for 95 percent of the deer and elk hunting we do. The Befree tripod alone is an excellent blend of compact size, light weight, stability and versatility for spotting of game.

No more cheap, flimsy tripods for me. I’ll be using the aluminum Befree travel tripod for many years. It is currently available at Amazon for $213, a killer deal in my book.  

man tripod last one