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There are the zombie fans who dress up at Halloween and tune into "The Walking Dead" every week.
And then there are the zombie fans who travel hundreds of miles to zombie shootout contests, stock up on shooting targets that depict the undead taking living hostages and, if they're really looking to make an investment, drop $2,500 on the "Zombie Slayer," an AR-15 rifle equipped with a "zombie muzzle thumping device."
Grand Island, Neb., ammunition maker Hornady Manufacturing Co. is hoping both groups are in the market for another zombie-related product: an ammunition line it's calling "Zombie Max."
The green-tipped bullets, which come in several calibers, are very real.
Their intended target? Not so much.
"All of our products until this point have been geared toward a specific segment: hunting, personal defense," said company spokesman Everett Deger. "This is our first package design for something that is, for lack of a better term, nonexistent."
On Hornady's website, shoppers can watch an advertisement that looks like a trailer for a horror film: A man walks slowly in a field littered with abandoned cars. A ghoulish-looking hand reaches out of the ground, and suddenly the undead are everywhere, staggering toward him. "They said it could never happen," says the voiceover. "They told me I'd never need them."
The man reaches into his waistband, pulls out a pistol and starts taking out the zombies, one by one, presumably with Hornady's Z-Max bullets. When the shooting is over, the ad fades to a shot of the brightly colored ammunition boxes. "Zombie Max," they read," Just in case. ..."
Steve Hornady, the company's president, came up with the zombie bullet idea, Deger said.
He's a big fan of "The Walking Dead," the AMC television series about people trying to survive in a world overrun with zombies. Now in its second season, the show is a hit; the midseason premiere on Feb. 12 attracted more than 8 million viewers, the biggest telecast ever for a drama series on basic cable.
Off the screen, zombies are invading just about everything else, too.
There are zombie video games and board games. Zombie T-shirts and books. You can run a "zombie-infested" 5K (while being chased by runners in full zombie garb), go on a zombie bar crawl and order a zombie wedding cake.
Westlake Ace Hardware, a regional chain with several stores in the Omaha area, made headlines around the world last fall when it ran a "zombie preparedness" marketing campaign. During the month of the promotion, traffic on the company's website jumped by a third — even though the hardware stores weren't selling any actual zombie products.
And there are events like Outbreak Omega, a zombie-themed shooting competition that's been held annually in central Minnesota for the past four years.
Organized by St. Cloud, Minn., gunmaker DPMS Firearms, the event started small. Product manager Adam Ballard said the company wanted to put on a fun event for customers, one where they'd spend the day shooting and grilling brats. About 80 people participated the first year.
This year, DPMS is expecting somewhere between 1,200 and 1,300 people to show up. They'll work their way through a shooting course that depicts a zombie invasion, complete with zombie targets lurking in fake buildings. The setup is similar to Wild West-themed shooting events that draw participants in full cowboy garb and feature a mock town setup.
Many participants will bring standard guns and ammunition. Some will come with an arsenal of zombie-themed products, ranging from zombie ammo cans and zombie knives to real zombie firepower.
Ruger makes a zombie edition of its LCP pistol ("Zombie Slayer" is scrawled on one side in bright green, and guns come with a copy of "The Zombie Survival Guide.") Spike's Tactical, a company that manufactures rifle components, makes a part that allows the user to select between "live/dead/undead" settings.
A Utah rifle manufacturer, Specialized Tactical Systems, made the "Zombie Slayer" for the first time last year. The company made just one, to auction off at a special fundraising event. It brought in $13,000 — and plenty of interest from people who wanted one of their own.
STS has made 50 of the rifles and sold about 30 of them, said CEO Rob Clark. Some of them have been snapped up by gun collectors. At least a few are the weapon of choice for overseas contractors. Clark isn't sure how many might turn up at an event like Outbreak Omega.
Hornady's Deger said the people who attend events like Outbreak Omega make up a sizable chunk of the market for the Zombie Max line. Others, he said, buy the bullets for the novelty, either to keep in the box or use at the shooting range. He said the company was quick to emphasize that the bullets, despite their lighthearted marketing, were real ammunition and not toys — there's a big label saying as much on every box.
The zombie line is sold with the company's other ammunition at a variety of retailers. Depending on the type, you can pick up a box for somewhere in the neighborhood of $15 to $25. (The green tips, by the way, don't have any particular zombie tie-in. Most of the company's bullets are tipped in red, so the different color was to make them stand out.)
The company declined to share sales numbers, but Deger said the bullets have been popular — and they'll be made only this year in limited numbers.
"We've been very happy with the response," he said. "It's been positive. There have been people who have praised us for having a unique eye or take on that type of (market) segment."
Ballard, with DPMS Firearms, said the crowds that show up for zombie shooting events might choose to live in a fantasy world for a while, but when it comes to zombie-fighting gear, they're not always swayed by something with a zombie label. Fans still have to think practically, he said — whether they think zombies are real or not.
"If someone was truly in a zombie situation, they'd go with as economical of a choice as they can."
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