Big expenditures in hunting and fishing tend to be rare for most people. For the most part, the outdoors has always been a rather humble sport, available to all in some form regardless of social status or financial means. Growing up, squirrel hunting economics were driven by the best deal you could get on a brick of .22 ammo. Trout and panfish didn’t seem as picky as they are now and crawlers were free to pick. Even deer hunting was done with a hand-me-down Bear with poorly fletched aluminum 2117’s that flew just as crooked as they were bent.
Today, we spend more on that which we enjoy, and I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. Gear and gizmos that expand the experience or otherwise make for a more enjoyable outing aren’t taboo in my mind, provided they don’t determine the pleasure you take away from doing what you love. The trick for almost all of us is always getting the most for your buck, and doing without until the time is right.
Given what I’m seeing in all aspects of the outdoors industry, that time may be now or at least very soon for big-ticket purchases. I’m talking about the many-hundred or multi-thousand dollar ones. Boats, fish-houses, trailers, and even rifles or bows. While I’m not involved in the day-to-day operations of all categories of outdoors manufacturing, it doesn’t take somebody plugged-in to know that the world is looking to be more expensive for years to come. Here’s just a few of the indicators and reasons why.
Raw goods and materials costs rise over time, and tariffs are at least in the short-term, influencing prices of steel and aluminum. That is not an indictment on anyone or a political stance; it’s a material reality that makers of anything metal are facing right now. When their costs go up, yours will inevitably creep upwards as well, the degree to which depends on timing, inventory, and a host of other variables that are more difficult to predict. While these source materials may drive the largest portion of future increases, there’s other factors at play as well.
Consumer buying behavior has also changed from what we’ve come to know over the past few decades, even the past few years. The brick and mortar retail market has contracted somewhat, and online sales have shifted business models for retailers everywhere. Amazon and other internet power players have aided in an overall loss of retail floor space, and in-turn our local hunting and fishing re-supply efforts have changed as well.
With consolidation comes a lack of choices, and typically increased cost of all products. Many goods that ship well or are relatively low-cost will always be somewhat price-protected, but larger, more expensive items you’d likely want to see in person before buying will still need to live in the retail spaces we’ve always purchased from. Even those that buy shotguns, ice augers, or fishing electronics online have likely spent some time in person with that product, whether out with a buddy or in taking the time to stop by an industry show or sport shop.
Especially with larger items, service provided by retailers is still vital to the help that consumers need with those products. These days you can buy anything anywhere, but not knowing how, when, or why to use it defeats the purpose of purchasing it in the first place. There’s also the fact that things don’t always work as advertised and may require additional work or maintenance that keeps people happy with shops that do a good job. That said, even though your average hunter or angler may be buying at an independent retailer or other local store for whatever level of service they provide, the product itself is not immune to price increases due to overall market consolidation.
Lastly and perhaps most importantly is the topic of financing a large purchase. We live in a time where borrowing money is extremely cheap, especially compared to previous decades. Especially in boats and fish-houses, financing options will play a big role for customers everywhere. With recent indications that the Federal Reserve Bank may increase its benchmark borrowing rate several times in the next few years, you’re likely to pay higher interest on any large item you finance moving into the future.
All of which is not a cry to dig up the coffee can in the yard and throw your money at a large hunting or fishing purchase! I will however, make no hesitation in saying that if you are buying in the foreseeable future, you’ll likely pay more the longer you wait. It’s true that no one can fully predict the future here, and markets are fickle, with complex factors at play which can always reverse trends. Not to mention, often the best time to buy something big is simple. Do it when you’re ready.