How’s Business: August 2014

 Time to get over the stubble and have a crack at Charlie, but with certain ammunition hard to come by, what’s a pest controller to do? Gun Trade News’s Rebecca Bailey finds out how customers are dealing with pests this autumn

The fields are clear, but with modern farming techniques, shooters have less time than ever to get the resulting pest control done. So retailers need to have their wits about them to make the most of the surprisingly quick rush in demand. After discussions with retailers about customer trends, however, I’ve found the market is finding more ways than one to survive this autumn. Keeping one step ahead is tricky, so what have customers been asking for in preparation for the coming season?

I put the question to Richard from the Cheshire Gun Room, who told us what had been selling well: “Just a lot of ammunition… the heavier shot,” he said. Despite most buys not following a specific trend, he added that Daystate Wolverine .303 air rifles had been drawing attention, with plenty of interest in lamping gear too. The Wolverine has been making waves as it moves in on the market of medium game shooting; the big-bore air rifle packs a serious punch, which means FAC-holding airgunners can’t get enough. More interesting still are the higher numbers of ammo sales – perhaps a symptom of the US ammo scare currently causing trouble for suppliers. The Cheshire Gun Room will be attending the Midland Game Fair later this month, so keep an eye out for any special offers on their stand. Although not decided, Richard mentioned there could be good deals on Hatsan and NiteSite for visitors, a great opportunity to pick up the perfect rabbiting duo.

Further afield, Scottish shooting shop Gamesport of Ayr has seen the lower-end airguns picking up in sales, the favoured brand being SMK’s model QB78 CO2. It’s “mainly pest control that we sell them for”, we were told, and the Deben Tracer range, both lamps and battery packs, have been selling well now the nights are drawing in once more. The classic lamping kit is often most popular when dealing with foxes or rats, but this season, market trends show some discrepancies.

Airguns are as popular an option as ever

Airguns have been seeing a great rise in popularity; as an economic option for the part-time pest controller dealing with rats and rabbits, it’s not hard to see why. We spoke with a representative from Gwynedd Firearms, in an area that sees high pest control sales consistently all year round: “I haven’t seen a massive increase, because it’s a lot of what they do up this end anyway.” He also mentioned that the shop has seen more amateur pest controllers than ever before: “This year the rabbits have taken off and you get a lot of hobby gardeners coming in and they’re the ones buying the cheap £130 air rifles to knock the bunny off the veg patch.” This is a trend we’ve noticed in earlier months: more and more gardeners and the like have turned to airguns to deal with pest problems, and there seems to be a steady increase in new potential customers. The Hatsan 60 .22 takes the favourite airgun spot for Gwynedd Firearms, closely followed by a special offer item, the Stoeger X20 Tactical package, complete with scope and gas ram. The spokesperson also remarked on how well CZ rifle sales have been doing, with .22 and .17 rimfires in the spotlight this month. Meanwhile, conventional lamping equipment has been bested by the Night Master 800 at Gwynedd Firearms, who commented: “Value for money: it’s a cracking torch”. At £180, it may be an investment for customers, but it’s certainly popular and living up to the hype.

Tony from Tony’s Camo and Airgun Centre has seen some very high sales recently and remarked, when asked which airgun was a best seller: “That’s an easy one: the Remington Express”. When we asked him why that might be, Tony added: “It’s a nice little package and it’s the right price.” Packaged air rifle sales seem to be to customers’ tastes at the moment, with air rifle and scope deals really seeing popularity. Tony mentioned that his current deal, the Remington plus scope at £159.95, had really impressed his customers. Meanwhile, Realtree camo has been selling well in the shop, a massive brand that’s becoming as popular for lifestyle wear as it is for hunting get-ups.

Another good buy, the compact Gamo scope 3-9×40 has surprised Tony with its sales. “We’re a bit rural and we’re just on the outskirts of a major city, so we do get a fairly good mix,” he said, “It’s probably 50/50.” Being so close to Chester and Wales, Tony’s sales definitely reflect the variety of potential quarry in this area.

Are rifle cartridges in short supply?

Lastly, we spoke with Chris from The Country Sports Shop in Devon, who had noticed a trend in alternative foxing practices: “There’s been more people shooting foxes with shotguns… It’s to get rid of them rather than kill them.” We asked him why he thought this was the case: “I think that’s because ammunition is becoming… a hard thing to come by at the moment.” Referring to a perceived ammo shortage in the USA, he added: “People are generally trying to save their ammunition for more pressing matters, such as deer.” With .22 ammo becoming more expensive and in shorter supply, it might be that the market has shifted to accommodate this trend.

While foxing can be achieved using a shotgun or other methods, rifles are still professionally preferred, but if ammo really is at a premium, rifles may well be kept on the gun rack until needed for deerstalking this year. On the airgun front, Chris mentioned that Hatsan was once again in favour, the pre-charged AT-44 .22 in particular. CZ 455 rifles, a good pest control option, were the best sellers in conventional foxing firearms. “Budget and reliability,” Chris explained, saying that “ammunition is cheaper for that one and more available, and it’s also a reliable firearm.”

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