Judging by the turnout at the recent Buckmasters Expo, the attraction of the great outdoors remains high, with many spectators and vendors attending the 28th annual event in downtown Montgomery.
Jackie Bushman, Buckmaster Founder and CEO, said while the COVID pandemic has had a devastating impact on many aspects of our lives, there has been a positive effect from the restrictions.
“Thank God the pandemic is pretty much behind us,” Bushman said. “The only good thing I’ve seen is the increase in outdoor activities. People in the outdoor industry cannot make enough products to meet demand. When this pandemic subsides, we only hope that the people who have had the opportunity to enjoy the great outdoors will retain the same enthusiasm and share this vision with everyone. I think that sales of hunting and fishing licenses have increased in most parts of the country. As for the industry, the sales were the best they’ve ever had.
“We have a lot of vendors here and the aisles are crowded. Donna Gross has been doing this show for 28 years. She is the best of the best. And it’s the little things that we’re very proud of. We are probably one of the few fairs that will help you set up and dismantle your stand. The AUM (Auburn University at Montgomery) baseball team does a volunteer project every year, and they choose the Buckmasters Expo, so we have the entire baseball team helping the exhibitors.”
When he founded Buckmasters 38 years ago, Bushman recalled traveling unaided to outdoor shows across the country. He would set up his booth, take it down and move on to the next show.
“That’s how I signed people up for Buckmasters, every subscription,” he said. “I set everything up and took it down by myself. No one came to see if I needed to use the restroom. I said if we do a show I help these people in and out. That’s what makes our show special and I’m proud of that.”
As participation in outdoor recreational activities is high, those who hunt or participate in shooting sports have likely experienced the impact of the pandemic and skyrocketing demand for products.
Take ammo for example. Both Federal Ammunition and Remington representatives at the expo said that overall ammunition availability is better, but some of the popular deer hunter calibers are still somewhat limited in availability.
“We make ammunition as fast as we can — 24 hours a day,” said Federal’s Bill Becker. “There will still be some popular options that will be hard to find, but we’re doing it as fast as we can. In .270, 30-06 and .308 we make more ammunition than ever before, especially in our premium line.
“Demand seems to be leveling off a bit. It’s not what we call the old normal, but the demand is still there. There are still a lot of orders on the books. The small caliber, like 9mm, and small rifle products and primers have been on the shelves a bit longer. I wouldn’t say we’ve caught up. The larger caliber rifles are slowly catching up. The large caliber magnums will probably be the last to catch up. You may not find the exact bullet or charge you are looking for, but there will be a product.”
Remington product manager Ronnie Evans echoed Becker, saying the number of new firearm owners is also prompting ammunition manufacturers to catch up.
“The industry as a whole has just been overwhelmed by the amount of ammo people are trying to buy,” Evans said. “In the last two years we had 14 million new gun owners. That’s a lot of ammo for 14 million new people, not counting all the people who’ve been buying for years. We’re doing it as fast as we can, and it’s starting to look a little better. I’m starting to see some products on the shelves now, but we’re not where we want to be yet.
“We’re starting to see some of the pistol calibers, but the .270, .308 and 30-06 calibers are very, very, very popular cartridges and there’s a lot of demand for them. We’re really pushing it and I think it’s going to get a little bit better. It will only take a little while. But if you see your favorite ammo on the shelf, you’d better go ahead and get it.”
Evans said, like Becker, that your favorite bullet and weight may not be readily available, but ammunition in most calibers will be available. They warn that if you need to change ammo to be safe, head to the shooting range before you go hunting. Any change in ammunition can change the point of impact on the target, whether it’s paper or wild.
“I shoot a 7mm magnum and usually 140 grain bullets,” Evans said. “But if I can’t get 140s, I’ll shoot 150s. If you change you have to go to the shooting range and adjust your scope a bit as each bullet weight shoots a little differently.”
Webb’s Sporting Goods’ Bobby Webb, who had a table full of ammo at the expo, said he sees greater availability of rifle and pistol ammo, but waterfowl might feel a pinch if they haven’t already stocked up on steel shot.
“They ship rifle ammo and handgun ammo, but they still have trouble getting enough components for steel shot,” said Webb of DeWitt, Arkansas. “I buy direct from the manufacturers and they still see a lack of primers and some other components. We still don’t know if we’ll get all the steel shot we ordered this fall.
“When waterfowl hunters see steel shot, they better grab it and not even look at the price. Like the TSS shot I sold for $49.95 a box two years ago, I’m paying more than that myself this year. We’re in the middle of waterfowl country with about 150 outfitters that we supply. I ordered more than 1,000 boxes of Fiocchi steel shot last year and received two pallets (200 boxes).”
While many of the past fairs have had a live music component for Buckmasters members, Bushman tried something different for 2022. It was called Bulls and Buckmasters. Bushman teamed up with the folks featured on the TV show “Cowboy Way” and put together a plan to bring bull riding to the expo.
“I went up to Mayor Steven Reed and his assistant Chip Hill and said, ‘Hey guys, I have an idea. This one might work. I want to bring professional bull riding to downtown Montgomery,'” Bushman said. “They said, ‘What do you want to do?’ I think they were thinking about bullfighting in Spain. I told them no, this is a production. They asked if I could get it working and I told them I needed some help. The townspeople dumped 40 loads of dirt in the parking lot. They set up the cages and everything. They brought five PBR (Professional Bull Riding) bulls with them.
“I thought it might work, but the first night it was standing room only. It was amazing. It was amazing to see the production of the show and to watch the athletes – the bulls and the bull riders.”