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Enthusiasm for outdoors high at Buckmasters Expo

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.”

Remington Product Manager Ronnie Evans echoed Becker and said the number of new firearms owners also has the ammo manufacturers trying to catch up.

“The industry as a whole just got overwhelmed by the amount of ammunition people are trying to buy,” Evans said. “In the last two years, we’ve had 14 million new gun owners. That’s a lot of ammunition for 14 million new people, not considering all the folks who have been buying for years. We’re making it as fast as we can, and it’s starting to look a little better. I’m starting to see some product 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 are very, very, very popular rounds, and there’s a lot of demand for those. We’re really pushing on those, and I think it’s going to get a little better. It’s just going to take a little time. But if you see your favorite ammo on the shelf, you better go ahead and get it.”

Evans, like Becker, said your favorite bullet and weight may not be readily available, but ammo in most calibers will be available. They caution that if you do have to change ammo to be sure and head to the range before heading out to hunt. Any change in ammo can change the point of impact on the target, whether it’s paper or wild game.

“I shoot a 7mm magnum and normally shoot 140-grain bullets,” Evans said. “But if I can’t get 140s, I will shoot the 150s. If you change, you’ll have to go to the range and adjust your scope a little bit because each bullet weight will shoot a little different.”

Bobby Webb of Webb’s Sporting Goods, which had a table full of ammo at the Expo, said he’s seeing more availability in rifle and pistol ammo, but waterfowlers may feel a pinch if they haven’t already stocked up on steel shot.

“They’re shipping rifle ammunition and pistol ammunition, but they’re still struggling to get enough components for steel shot,” said Webb of DeWitt, Arkansas. “I purchase direct from the manufacturers, and they still are seeing a shortage of primers and a couple of other components. We still don’t know if we’re going to get all the steel shot we’ve ordered this fall.

“If waterfowl hunters see steel shot, they better grab it, and don’t even look at the price. Like the TSS shot I was selling for $49.95 a box two years ago, I’m paying more than that myself this year. We’re right in the middle of waterfowl country with about 150 outfitters that we cater to. I ordered more than 1,000 cases of Fiocchi steel shot last year and got two pallets (200 cases).”

While many of the past expos 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 who are on the TV show “Cowboy Way,” and put a plan together to bring bull riding to the Expo.

“I went to Mayor Steven Reed and his assistant, Chip Hill, and said, ‘Hey guys, I’ve got an idea. This one might work. I want to bring professional bull riding to downtown Montgomery,’” Bushman said. “They said, ‘You want to do what?’ I think they were thinking about the running of the bulls in Spain. I told them, no, this is a production. They asked if I could make it work, and I told them I would need some help. The city guys brought in 40 loads of dirt to 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 unbelievable. It was amazing to watch the production of the show and watch the athletes – the bulls and the bull riders.”

PHOTOS: (David Rainer) When the Montgomery Zoo brought a turkey to the Buckmasters Expo, The Turkey Man, Eddie Salter, was obliged to make him gobble. Ammunition manufacturers are working around the clock to catch up on the unprecedented demand for ammo. With the Montgomery Convention Center packed with vendors, the aisles begin to fill with Buckmasters Expo attendees.

David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

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