A month removed, Airgun shooters flocked to this year’s Game Fair and Mat Manning reckons the big industry players missed a trick by not showing up to greet them.
The Game Fair returned in spectacular fashion last month, recording its ‘busiest ever’ opening day and more than 119,000 visitors across all three days at Ragley Hall. The weather was mostly kind, the atmosphere was as cheerful as ever and most punters seemed to be delighted to return to something close to normality.
One group of showgoers appeared to be somewhat disappointed, however, and they had good reason to be. Airgun shooters who turned up to drool over the latest must-have hardware weren’t exactly spoilt for choice. In fact, they had to look very hard indeed to find anything at all on the airgun front, be it retailers selling guns and gear or manufacturers showing off their new releases.
The Game Fair has never been really strong when it comes to airgun trade presence. Some of the big names started putting in an appearance four or five years ago but they have drifted away again, and the likes of Daystate, Brocock, Air Arms, BSA and FX were nowhere to be seen at this year’s event.
Unpredictable weather is one reason frequently cited by the big airgun players who are reluctant to attend outdoor events. When you take into account the expense of booking a stand, staffing it, paying for the team to travel back and forth and providing accommodation and meals for them while they are there—not to mention picking up the slack on the things they should have been doing while they were away from their day jobs—and it is easy to understand why some businesses feel inclined to give it a miss.
The other favourite excuse of airgun brands that can’t be bothered to put in an appearance holds less water, and that is the line about airgun shooters not attending the Game Fair because it’s too posh for them. If there was anything intimidatingly posh at this year’s event, I’m afraid I didn’t see it. What I did see, however, was a heck of a lot of frustrated airgun shooters who, despite being treated to a very interesting day out, wanted to see the big names in their sport on show.
I spent a big chunk of the Friday and Saturday on the Future stand, which included Shooting Times, Sporting Gun and Airgun Shooter magazines. During that time, I spoke with dozens of bemused airgun shooters who couldn’t understand why the famous brands from their sport weren’t there.
Airgun Shooter magazine contributor Richard Saunders, who attended the first day of the show with airgunning friends, said: “The Game Fair felt very well organised and really scored in the experiential side, giving people a chance to try things like clay and airgun shooting, archery and casting a fishing line. It felt better than the last one—people had a real desire to be out and about and the weather certainly helped.
“It was a pity not to see more airgun manufacturers represented. I can understand them not wanting to go to the trouble of setting up a large-scale stand because of the risk of bad weather but they aren’t being very creative in terms of finding a solution.
“There seems to be a gulf between manufacturers and retailers. It beats me that manufacturers don’t team up with retailers, help with their costs and make sure there is a display of their guns on the retailers’ stands. I am sure it would be well worth their while having a presence there.”
A handful of airgun brands were in attendance, and they appeared to be getting a lot of attention. The ASI stand was showcasing the Cometa range of pre-charged and spring-powered airguns, and was very busy when I visited.
Edward King of ASI said: “We saw a lot of airgun shooters and they were keen to handle guns.
“I would have expected to see more of the big names there—why would they not be? It was the first opportunity to attend a public show in a very long time. I think they made a mistake in not attending. The punters were certainly there and they must have felt disappointed.”
Highland Outdoors was there, showcasing Webley and Sig Sauer airguns, night vision and numerous other accessories, plus the Ridgeline clothing brand, which is extremely popular with airgun shooters.
Ryan Charlton of Highland Outdoors said he hardly had a chance to leave the stand, mainly because of crowds of airgun shooters who were eager to see and handle guns and accessories.
“It was great to get our brands in front of people, and they went down very well. There was a lot of interest in airguns and air pistols, and also in affordable thermal night vision kit, which is a big hit with airgun shooters,” he said.
“Another thing people were really interested in was the high-end bipods and scope mounts from Tier-One. Rising interest in airgun slug shooting has caused a big rise in demand for accuracy-enhancing accessories.
“People did seem to be disappointed that the major airgun players weren’t there. I think if they were to support the event it would attract even more of a relevant crowd.”
The Shooting Party attended with a retail stand, and owner Mike Hurney reported decent trade from respectable numbers of airgun shooters.
“The first day was mostly tyre-kickers and ice cream-eaters but the Saturday was better—people were there to buy. The layout was also good with wider aisles, signage and walkways were good and the Game Fair staff were helpful,” he said.
“There was a good airgunning crowd there and I can imagine that they would have been disappointed if they’d bought a ticket expecting to see the major airgun brands—some people seemed quite frustrated about it.
“In terms of what they wanted, people were after airguns, scopes and night vision—and we had a lot of interest in QYS pellets. We will never go back to the days of stalls selling out before lunchtime and traders having to go back for more stock. That was the pre-internet world but there does appear to be a healthy demand for an airgun presence. Those who don’t show up are missing a trick.”