By DAVID RAINER. Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
Judging from the turnout at the recent Buckmasters Expo, the appeal of the great outdoors remains high, with plenty of 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, one positive did come from the restrictions.
“Thank God, the pandemic is pretty much behind us,” Bushman said. “The only good thing I’ve seen out of it is the increase in the activities in the outdoors. The people in the outdoor industry can’t make enough product to meet the demand. As this pandemic fades away, we just hope the people who got a chance to enjoy the outdoors because of it will keep the same enthusiasm and share that vision with everybody. I think in most parts of the country, hunting and fishing license sales have been up. As far as the industry, the sales have been the best they’ve ever had.
“We’ve got a lot of vendors here and the aisles are crowded. Donna Gross has been doing this show for 28 years. She’s the best of the best. And it’s the little things that we take great pride in. We’re probably one of the few shows that helps you set up your booth and take it back out. The AUM (Auburn University at Montgomery) baseball team has a volunteer project they do each year, and they pick the Buckmasters Expo, so we’ve got all the baseball team helping the exhibitors.”
When he started Buckmasters 38 years ago, Bushman recalled that he would travel to outdoors shows across the country without any help. He erected his booth, took it down and moved on to the next show.
“That’s how I signed up people for Buckmasters, every subscription,” he said. “I put everything up by myself and took it down by myself. Nobody came by to see if I needed to go to the bathroom. I said if we do a show, I’m going to help these folks get in and out. That’s what’s different about our show, and I’m proud of it.”
With participation in outdoors recreation high, those who hunt or participate in shooting sports have likely experienced the impact of the pandemic and sky-high demand for products.
Take ammunition, for example. Both Federal Ammunition and Remington representatives at the Expo said the overall availability of ammo is better, but some of the popular calibers for deer hunters remain in somewhat limited supply.
“We’re making ammo as fast as we can – 24/7,” said Bill Becker of Federal. “There are still going to be some popular options that are going to be hard to find, but we’re making it as fast as we can. In .270, 30-06 and .308, we’re making more ammo than we ever have, specifically in our Premium line.
“Demand seems to be leveling out a little bit. It’s not at 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 are sitting on the shelves a little bit longer. I wouldn’t say we’re caught up. The larger-caliber rifles are slowly catching up. The large-caliber magnums are probably going to be the last to catch up. You may not be able to find the exact bullet or load you’re looking for, but there will be product available.”