Military.com Outdoor Guide

The Wild Ride of AR Sales

Record breaking sales and record breaking back orders prove that the AR has locked in its deserved place in the American firearms line up.

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by Peter B. Mathiesen

It's no secret that political controversy has been one of the key catalysts driving AR sales through the roof for the past two years. Since the expiration of the Assault Weapons Bill during the Bush Administration, sales of ARs, AR accessories, and the ammo to feed them have hit an all-time high.

A Little History

This feverish rise in rifle acquisitions has seen several spikes. The Clinton Administration pushed the Assault Weapons Bill through the Senate on September 13, 1994. Prior to the bill's passing, Americans were going through the first wave of "AR fever" sending sales soaring. Although the Assault Weapon Ban of 1994 did stem the tide of AR sales somewhat with a magazine capacity limit and a few non-AR models coming off the shelves, various compliance options still enabled classic AR rifle sales to grow.

On March 24, 2004 the ban expired. A last minute amendment from Senator Dianne Feinstein of California tried to extend the ban another 10 years, but the amendment was soundly voted down on the Senate floor by a resounding vote of 8-90.

Returning military personnel and hunters continued to spur AR rifle growth. Even a major downturn in the economy couldn't stop the massive surge of AR sales from 2007 through 2008, while the country debated who would become our next president.

At the start of 2009, sales continued to clip at a record pace. If you strolled into almost any gun shop in February of this year, chances are you found only one or two rifles on the shelf, and they were most likely already sold. Many shelves were entirely bare of ARs.

With hunters now choosing the AR platform for everything from coyotes to big game, sales have marched ahead even in the firm grip of these difficult economic times. In a rare retail moment in firearms history, larger retailers are not doing as well as the independent stores. The combination of all these trends, along with scarce ammo availability and strong handgun sales, has the independent gun dealer experiencing one of the most profitable periods ever seen in the firearms industry.

Manufacturers

To date, all AR manufacturers report that they're back ordered from six months to a year. At Remington it's a year, and then some.

"Our production is out one year plus," said Linda Powell, Manager of Press Relations for Remington. For Remington, it's the hunting calibers, such as the new .30 Rem-AR that has really put a strain on their delivery dates.

"Our commitment to building a light AR-15 that weighs 4 pounds less than any other .30 caliber has created notable demand. It's not just this new cartridge that's keeping the machines running, there are tremendous orders for 7mm-08 and .204s. We're in the AR business to make guns for hunters. We believe the future of this platform rests with the everyday hunter who discovers the adaptability and inherent accuracy of these rifles make them products they want to own," said Powell.

With more calibers coming from numerous companies, it is unlikely that Remington will maintain its exclusive position with the lighter frame .30, but we'll see what's released at the SHOT Show in 2010.

The Dealers

What does the future hold? We asked retailers across the country to describe their store and give us a price on a current in-stock item. We also surveyed their opinions and inventories to give you a feel for the market trends this fall.

Buffalo Sporting Goods, Buffalo, Texas

Located just off of Interstate 45 south of Dallas, this full-line reloading, guns and ammo retailer stocks over 400 new firearms in 3,300 square feet of floor space.

"Our inventories of ARs have finally caught up. Sales have reduced from over 10 per week down to two or three. Bushmaster is selling the most units with Colts also doing well," said Archie Van Wey, III, president. Pricing for an Optics Ready Carbine Bushmaster was $995.

Paducah Shooter's Supply, Paducah, Ky.

This 11,000 square foot facility includes an outdoor rifle and pistol range. The store sells archery and soft goods, and carries an extensive inventory of shooting and reloading supplies.

"ARs continue to move in high numbers with an even mix of DPMS, Smith M&P and Bushmaster. The new Ruger AR is also getting very positive comments from customers," said Lynn McCutchen, owner. Starting prices on a DPMS Panther Classic 16 is $899.

Kane's Gun Shop, North Kingstown, R.I.

With 2,000 square feet, this smaller retailer brokers antique and historic firearms while stocking a significant number of new and used rifles, shotguns and handguns.

"Although it remains significant, we've seen a slow down in AR sales through the summer. Fortunately, spring was the best on record," said Sandy Kane, vice president. Top AR producers for this shop include Bushmasters and the New England produced, Stag Arms, all in .223. A base Stag starts at $800.

More Growth

Dealers also told us that the introduction of some respected American companies into the AR market continues to stimulate sales.

"If a customer is a Ruger loyal guy, they'll want a Ruger AR even if he already owns a different brand, said Marlin Fried, of Gun City, in Bismarck, N.D.

In addition to the classic Colts, Remington, Ruger and Smith & Wesson have joined the ranks of established gun companies that have tied their future to growth in AR production. Many dealers believe that as more "known" hunting gun companies build ARs, the caliber selection will improve and more competitive pricing will result.

A Time to Buy

As inventories rise in most parts of the country, you can look forward to a better selection, for a little less coin. Although you can't expect massive savings, you will have some bargaining power at the counter. Most retailers we spoke to say they would hold their pricing to within 5 to 10 percent of where it has been for most of the year. Those comments were based on sales remaining at current levels. If inventories increase and sales decrease, prices may readjust.

One of the greatest overall benefits will be a far better caliber and accessories selection. Earlier this year, most stores couldn't keep a .204 or .308 in stock for more than a few hours, let alone weeks. With a bit of a slowdown, we will once again have options.

Certainly no one can predict the future. Although unemployment numbers have only marginally improved in some areas, bad news often keeps AR sales strong.

"We have witnessed sales increases even when local factories have closed in our area. Right now, they're not buying super expensive accessories, but they are still buying ARs," said Jim Condon, owner of Little Crow Shooting Sports, in Hutchinson, Minn.

Of course, inventories and lower pricing may provide just a temporary breather. The day when Congress and the Senate revisit either a tax on ammunition or a new ban on ARs will most likely ratchet us back to bare shelves and higher prices. However, many political pundits theorize that given the current make up of the Senate, and with greater economic challenges ominously looming, an outright AR ban is unlikely. As Dave Hart, owner of Kirkwood Outfitters, in St Louis, Missouri told me, "Write your Congressman and Senator…often."

To be certain, the ride for AR owners has been a bumpy one. As these rifles continue to find their way into the hands of practical hunters, the industry's future remains guarded, yet cautiously optimistic.

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