Hunting: It's not just for the Duck Dynasty set anymore. The activity so often associated with rural America is increasingly being marketed as an adventure sport, with more consumers signing up for "luxury" hunting trips and buying high-end gear and apparel.
Also driving the trend is the rise of the so-called "hipster hunter"—that urbanite who's into the locavore/farm-to-table movement seeking to kill his or her own food and signing up in droves for butchering courses in New York and San Francisco.
"The free-range/organic movement fits hunting and butchering your own animal to the fifth degree," said Jason Hairston, who founded upscale hunting apparel company Kuiu five years ago.
Companies like Kuiu and Under Armour, which started marketing hunting apparel a decade ago, as well as traditional outdoor retailers like Bass Pro Shops and Cabela's, are primed to benefit from this phenomenon.
"There's a shift within the pool of people who hunt—it's becoming a lifestyle thing. Younger people are buying into it, too, so they want to wear hunting apparel to identify with it," said Rob Southwick, president of Southwick Associates, a research firm that studies the economic impact of hunting and fishing for the National Shooting Sports Foundation. "There's a lot more specialization, there's a bigger overall selection in stores, and price points are going up because people are willing to pay more."
The pursuit of hunting as a travel or adventure activity is catching on, observed Matt Powell, sports industry analyst at NPD Group. "Particularly with boomers, these experiences are becoming more popular," Powell said. "They might go on hunting expeditions and buy some expensive apparel to do it. There's definitely an upside to the category as a whole."
Under Armour recently launched a line of hunting gear for women—including infrared leggings, camo hats and a whole range of boots—due to the growing demand. "We try to appeal to and educate people who are first-timers. And more experienced hunters are doing longer hunting excursions now, so they want products that can make them more comfortable and stay out longer," said Bryan Offutt, the brand's vp, outdoor marketing and sales. "We compete by coming up with better innovation and better fabrics."
Bass Pro Shops appeals to both entry-level and experienced hunters, and both groups are buying more gear, said Stan Lippelman, the company's vp, marketing.
"Years ago, you bought a bulky parka to keep yourself warm, and now there's more technology with new insulation and better fabrics," he said. "Consumers are spending more, and they're getting a lot smarter. If someone is going to be hunting in the mountains in Alaska for one or two weeks, there's no amount of money they're uncomfortable spending so that they're safe and warm when they go there."
Kuiu aspires to be an aspirational brand for serious mountain hunters, Hairston explained. "It's similar to what created North Face in the beginning," he said. "Kuiu stands for something, and it makes you stand out from your peer group in hunting. We sell the dream of going to Alaska or going to the Northwest Territories. We shoot and post videos and photos on hunts in remote places, and that's inspired a lot of people to go there and to use our clothing to do it."
Still, some retailers continue to be wary about entering the market because of the stigma around hunting, said Hairston. He singled out North Face and Patagonia as "too concerned with what their customers would think if they put their fabrics in camouflage. Fortunately for us, we filled that gap."
This story first appeared in the March 28 issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.