Just by being in business, your range provides a valuable service to hunters looking for a place to test their firearms, sight-in, practice shooting and get ready for making memories in the field.
In today’s urban and suburbanized landscapes, that’s an essential function. Unlike a couple of generations ago, when we were a largely a rural nation, now most folks can’t step out their back door or drive to a gravel pit down the road to prepare for hunting seasons.
According to a National Shooting Sports Foundation study, almost 22 million American men, women, teenagers and children hunt; that’s almost seven percent of the population. Hunters should comprise a key segment of your clientele. But are you:
- Attracting all the hunter/shooters you can?
- Providing them with services, products and offers that cater to them and their specialized needs?
- Producing maximum revenue and returns from these hunting customers?
As a range owner or manager, how can you do a better job of serving this important clientele? Review these 18 strategies for making shooting ranges more hunter friendly and bringing more sportsmen, women and children in to shoot. Then decide which ideas to implement, considering your situation and setup as well as the kinds of hunters living in your area.
Let’s center the conversation on the kinds of game that hunters pursue and the types of shooting those hunters do to prepare for the open season.
Deer and Big-Game Hunters
Deer and big-game hunters comprise your most lucrative hunting market segment; nationwide, 90 percent of hunters hold deer licenses. Your primary goals for this group are to help them get sighted in and provide a place to practice. Many of these folks are one-trip-a-year hunters, but they still need to prepare.
Promote and Offer Special Deer Season Sight-In Days
Know when deer season(s) open in your state or neighboring states, then plan and promote special events inviting hunters to your facility to sight-in and get ready. Use social media, e-mail and your website, as well as some ad dollars if they are in your budget, to get the word out and jumpstart word-of-mouth. Tip: Don’t wait until the weekend before the season. You’re sure to get a big rush then anyway, so try to spread it out with special days earlier in the fall and even in late summer.
Provide Close-Range Shooting Options
Plenty of hunters are going to show up with a new firearm or one that’s way off in sight alignment. These shooters may not even be on the target paper at normal deer-shooting distances. Offer targets for close-range shooting from 25 yards down to 10. Help those hunters get on paper, save ammunition and eliminate frustration.
Provide Key 50-Yard Shooting
Truth be told, most white-tailed deer (the most common big-game animal hunted across the country) takes place at moderate ranges, and hunters know it. So it’s smart to provide 50-yard shooting for these hunters to gain confidence, as well as cater to the needs of shotgunning slug shooters, plus muzzleloader and handgun hunters. These shooters appreciate this “middle” target distance, and they can then move to 100 yards shooting if and when ready.
Turkey hunting continues to grow in popularity. Forty-nine states currently hold spring turkey seasons, and over 40 states also allow fall turkey hunting. Providing shooting options for these hunters can grow your business, especially in the late winter and early spring, right into spring turkey season.
Prepare Shooting Benches and Patterning Boards
Modern turkey hunters need to “dial in” their tightly choked turkey shotguns, so a shooting bench is important. Most hunters will want to check, sight-in and pattern their firearm at 25 to 35 yards or so, but they’ll probably also want to test their shot patterns out to 40 and 50 yards. Movable patterning frames/boards are essential. A turkey target is really only good once, so stock plenty of them for sale.
Provide an Area for Hunting Practice
Some turkey hunters want to practice with their shotgun while simulating a real-life hunting situation. This means having an area set up with something to sit against, as a turkey hunter would back up against a tree. Some hunters, especially youngsters or first-time turkey hunters, may also want to set up and get used to shooting out of a blind.
Late Winter / Pre-Season “Turkey Days”
The timing varies by latitude and weather patterns, but there should be a few weeks as winter weather fades but before turkey season comes in, for promoting special turkey days and the above-mentioned services at your range.
Upland Bird Hunters
Upland bird hunters are a serious lot, with shotguns, dogs (see sidebar) and trips planned for doves, pheasants and quail (both bobwhites and all the Western varieties), as well as ruffed grouse, prairie grouse such as sharptails and prairie chickens, and mountain grouse such as blues.
Promote Bird Hunters Warm-Up Days
Any time from mid- to late summer is great time for promoting bird hunters’ warm-up days and for getting hunters to your trap and/or skeet ranges. (Note: It’s also a good idea to make these services known to your big-game clientele, as many of them are also bird hunters).
Start a Trap Range
If you have an outdoor facility but don’t yet have a trap range (or skeet field), consider the investment to round out your offerings and start attracting a whole new clientele. This would also offer the opportunity to begin summer shooting leagues to attract shotgunners.
Set Up a Skeet Field
Though perhaps not as popular as trapshooting, skeet actually provides better practice for many kinds of hunting. Grouse hunters especially find that the fast, crossing targets are great for simulating hunting conditions. Waterfowlers (see below) benefit from skeet shooting too.
Offer Trap Specials and Shells
Offer specially priced trap rounds to rifle or handgun shooters, to increase their time, dollars spent and enjoyment on their visit to your range. Stock plenty of trap loads for sale, and also have loaner or rental guns available for rifle or handgun shooters who didn’t bring their shotguns.
Although waterfowl hunters aren’t as numerous as they were a generation ago, the sport is experiencing a healthy resurgence. With a focus on tradition and considering the extensive amount of equipment and work that goes into conducting successful duck or goose hunts, it’s no wonder that waterfowl hunters want to connect on their shots.
Establish a Waterfowl Tower
Though any shooting is better than no shooting, waterfowlers benefit least from trapshooting. Skeet is better. Best of all is to set up a duck tower and have stations on a circuit around it so the shooter gets different angles and a variety of crossing and dropping shots, just like duck hunting. The Metro Gun Club in suburban Minneapolis, Minnesota, has a good setup, which you can see here (scroll down their page to see a duck tower).
Promote Waterfowlers’ Day
As with other kinds of hunting, waterfowlers want to know you are catering specifically to their shooting needs. Schedule special waterfowler days a few weeks before the season open. (Whereas deer hunters will flock in on the weekend before their opener, waterfowlers are usually more organized and ahead of the game due to the high level of commitment waterfowling requires.)
Provide a Patterning Station
With all of the alternative shot options available today, waterfowlers are forever testing new loads in their shotguns. It’s important to have a patterning frame or board that can be moved to different distances from 20 yards out to 60 or so. Offer patterning paper or, better yet, provide it and work the cost into your pricing.
Cater to Special Situations
Waterfowling is a diverse sport, with all kinds of shooting situations from boats to muck to field shooting. I once shot at a Wisconsin range that had a waterfowl boat sitting on an old skeet field! Some hunters may want to set up layout blinds, and practice rising out of them and shooting, to replicate field hunting situations.
The following traffic-generating strategies apply to multiple segments of the hunting public.
Invite Local Retailers in for Special Event Sales
Whether you’re focusing on big-game hunters, upland bird hunters, turkey hunters or waterfowls at a specific time, you can invite local retailers to come in for those special days or weekends to sell the kinds of merchandise you don’t carry. Negotiate a commission on the sales made.
Get a local retailer to donate an item or items, then hold drawings for giveaways on special shoot days. Anyone who shoots a round or buys a range pass is automatically entered. (By law you’ll have to let people who don’t shoot enter too.) The prizes could be big (a gun or turkey blind), small (duck calls) or in between (knives).
Invite local or regional experts in to conduct seminars for the kinds of hunting that are coming up. Deer hunters can’t get enough of whitetail tactics. Turkey hunters are always willing to listen to new ideas and get calling tips. Waterfowlers are passionate for calling techniques and hunting insights. Invite attendees to shoot while they are there. Or, just get your range on their radar screen. Your goal is to make yourself known as a place where hunters are welcome and valued.
Making your range hunter friendly is smart business. Implementing such a plan takes ideas, energy, enthusiasm and an understanding of hunters and their varying needs.
Certainly, some of your current clientele hunt. Many more hunters, however, need to know about your shooting range know that you can serve their specific shooting needs.
Put some of these ideas to work, adjust the approaches to fit your region and its hunting, and watch your business grow as your range becomes more hunter friendly.
Seminars: Being Dog Friendly Generates Business Later
Upland bird and waterfowl hunters love their dogs. In fact, many of these sportsmen wouldn’t hunt at all if it didn’t involve that special partnership between canine and human. Make your range dog friendly by planning a dog-training seminar in the off season. Work with local kennels and trainers who also want to let hunters know about their services. Again, the idea is to introduce yourself and your facilities to hunter/shooters. Here’s a hunting dog seminar that Ronnie Smith Kennels conducted with Big Springs Shooting Complex in Searsboro, Iowa.