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The tarantula dance

by B.B. Pelletier

Announcement: Rodney T. Hytonen is this week’s winner of Pyramyd Air’s Big Shot of the Week on their facebook page. He’ll receive a $50 Pyramyd AIR gift card. Congratulations!

BSOTW winner Rodney T. Hytonen and his Beeman P17.

Some call it negotiating or the art of the deal or something else, but it means the same thing. It describes what happens whenever two or more enthusiasts get together and try to trade.

Imagine two hairy tarantulas meeting on a trail in the woods somewhere. When they meet, they instantly go on the defensive, each knowing the other could either kill him or make a very satisfying meal. Unless something overpowering happens nearby to break their concentration, these two competitors are certain to follow through on their intentions! They’ll dance backwards and forwards, maneuvering for an advantageous position.

And so it is whenever two or more airgunners get together. If one has something the other wants, or worse — if they each want something from the other guy, you’re in for the human equivalent of the tarantula dance.

I see it at all the airgun shows, but not so much in the main show area as in the shadowy places around the fringes of the room or out in the parking lot or perhaps at a restaurant before or after the show. Being both an airgunner and an alpha competitor myself, I’ve danced many times myself and, of course, I’ve watched others. Today, I’d like to describe some of the more common steps in the dance.

The straight two-way deal
Two guys each want something from the other. Or in some cases, one of them wants something the other guy has, so he postures and maneuvers until he convinces the other guy that he also has something worth wanting. Once that’s established, they begin the straight two-way deal.

The steps are pretty straightforward, though there are almost infinite variations and regional modifications to add interest. Neither guy will admit how much he wants what the other guy has. If one of them does indicate an interest, he also says that it isn’t worth what he has to offer.

As the dance unfolds, each person is allowed time to present his case, free from comment by the other party. Making a comment when the deal is being explained is the equivalent of a baboon displaying his red buttocks. You might as well sock your opponent in the kisser with brass knuckles!

After both parties have presented their case, the negotiations can begin. While they talk, it’s best for each person to hold the object they’re trying to acquire. They can then nervously putter with it, trying all the levers and buttons, or they can scrutinize it in close detail, looking for flaws.

When you find what you believe to be a flaw, it’s best not to blurt it out. Instead, slip it into the conversation subtly by saying something like, “Did you know this gun is refinished?” or the even more insidious, “Do you think this finish is original?” A good counter for that is to answer quickly, “Yes, I’m pretty sure it has been refinished.” Then stop talking. Do not defend your item any more, because you only lose ground if you do.

Then come numerous other moves, ranging from the ever-popular, “I’m cash-poor at the moment, so I really need to trade,” to the equally scintillating, “I’ve got another guy who’s serious about this, so I don’t really have to trade today.” You can say whatever you like in a negotiation — nobody expects you to stick to the script, much less make sense. Tell jokes, swap lies; you can even discuss politics during this emotion-charged period — everything will be either forgotten or forgiven when the deal is done.

The straight two-way deal is the most rudimentary type of negotiation, but don’t think that it isn’t complex or fascinating. If, for instance, one of the competitors knows that he has something the other guy wants, he can play him like a sport fish for quite a long time. This happened to me just this week.

A more complex deal
I went to a trading “party” last week, knowing beforehand that I had something one of the other guys wanted. This guy is a very sharp trader, so having this knowledge gave me a rare and valuable advantage over him.

My trading parties are informal events, set up at a range so we can try the guns we like; and we set up our wares on picnic tables. In the beginning, I could get only three people together at one of these parties; but now that we’ve held several with good success, it’s usually no trouble to get 7-10 guys together at once. If each person brings 15-20 things to trade, you have a mini airgun show.

No emotions!
Let’s say the sharp trader wanted the FWB 150 I’d laid on my table. When he asked what I wanted for it, I said I really didn’t want to trade it at all. It’s one of my favorite airguns. That was entirely true, but it really set him off! Why did I bring it if I didn’t want to trade it…he wanted to know. So, from just this one maneuver, I knew I had him. Whenever you’re trading, try not to show your emotions.

To keep the fish on the line, I encouraged him to take my 150 to the firing line and shoot it. I even provided the ammo! When he returned from the line, the look on his face told me that he really wanted the gun. He then asked if there was anything I would take for it. I told him I might consider selling it, which was true, and then quoted a price that was the top retail. Since he likes to buy things with a profit margin, he was stumped. He wasn’t going to pay my high price, but he still wanted the gun. If this guy had been a swordfish, I had just set the hook and let him start his first run!

At this point, I walked away and let the guy stew over the situation. I pretended to be interested in shooting some of my own guns and left him alone for 20-30 minutes. This is a dangerous maneuver, because he could have made a bunch of deals with the other guys at the party and walked away satisfied. But he didn’t.

Then Mac told me privately that he liked a particular gun on the sharp trader’s table. And Mac also had an airgun that I had been interested in for several days prior to this trading party, so he told me that if I could get the gun he wanted, he would give me the gun I wanted. Gentlemen, welcome to the three-way deal!

The three-way deal
The sharp trader’s gun Mac was interested in was worth much more than my rifle, so Mac said he would pay the difference if I managed to make the deal. In other words, I would trade my rifle, plus possibly some money to boot for the gun Mac wanted, and Mac would then give me the airgun I wanted, as well as paying the extra money I had to put up to make the deal. Are you following this?

So, at a time when he was otherwise occupied, I mentioned to the sharp trader that I might trade my 150 for one of his guns (the one Mac had privately indicated to me). I wish you could have seen what happened then. My interest took the guy by complete surprise! The swordfish now realized there was a boat on the other end of the fishing line that was stuck in his mouth!

He instantly turned all of his attention to me; and from his reaction, I knew the deal was done before it started. His gun was worth more than mine, and when he mentioned that, I immediately agreed. That was another surprise for him. The gaff was now in the water and the big fish was tiring fast.

He said, “Make me an offer for the difference between our two guns,” and he smiled. Big mistake! The fish had one more thrash left in him, but he was already alongside my boat…and I was moving the gaff toward his gills. So, I turned away from him and then said over my shoulder, “No. I said I didn’t care if I got rid of my rifle or not. You make me an offer!” The point of the gaff slid into the gills and the big fish was caught.

A minute later he said to me privately, “Give me $50 and we have a deal.” The fish was now in the boat, and I was getting ready for photography!

His gun was brand new and worth at least $100 more than mine. I expected to have to negotiate to get him down to the $100 difference in our guns, so I had signaled Mac to see if he was okay with paying that amount. He nodded yes. He later admitted that he felt the other guy’s gun was worth a minimum of $100 more than mine, but he wanted it enough to pay the difference.

When the guy said $50, I quickly shook on it and the deal was made. And that, I thought, would be the big story to tell today, but I was wrong. It was only the preamble to the main event.

The four-way deal
One of the guys at the trading party, let’s call him the old man, still owed Mac a gun for a deal they had made a year earlier. They had agreed on a certain airgun as payment, but the old man had been unable to find one in the interim. However, Mac spotted something on the sharp trader’s table that he really wanted, and it was close to the same value.

However, the old man didn’t have anything the sharp trader wanted. But then I made a deal with another trader I’ll call the big guy and gave him something the sharp trader wanted. So the old man took the big guy aside and they held held a private pow-wow. It was at this moment that I elbowed Mac in the ribs and said, “This is going to be my Friday blog! We are about the see a huge tarantula dance!”

After these two conferred for about five minutes, the old man came over to me and said, “The deal is done. Watch this!” The big guy he had been talking to went over to the sharp trader and made his offer of the gun we all knew the sharp trader really wanted. We knew that because he had openly denigrated it to everyone just minutes before.

When their deal was made, the gun the sharp trader gave up was passed (behind his back) from the big guy to the old man. The old man then gave Mac the gun he owed him. A four-way deal had been made! The sharp trader got the gun of his desires, the big guy got whatever it was that he wanted from the old man (sorry, I couldn’t keep up with everything) and the old man who owed Mac was absolved of his debt as he handed Mac the gun he wanted. The gun in play was “owned” by two of its three new owners for just two or three seconds each — the time it took to pass it from hand to hand — like a water bucket in a fire brigade.

Everybody wins!
When all the deals were done and everyone had packed up, each person was certain they had done the best they possibly could. No one would admit to letting someone else get the best of them. Everyone feels they’ve triumphed after making deals like this. Remorse doesn’t set in for at least an hour after all trading is over. Then, the second thoughts begin. This is not a good time to have an indecisive personality.

How to prosper in a trade
Despite my candid descriptions of events, I’ve always found it best to be completely honest during these deals. And that includes not feigning ignorance of the faults of my guns. I figure the finish of the gun speaks for itself; but if there are other faults that I know of, I’m sure to tell them, just as I’m certain to point out the positives of anything I bring to trade. I expect others to do the same, but I’ll also watch for those who are less candid in their dealings.

And here is my biggest tip of the day. You know how art appraisers are always telling us to buy the art we like? Well, the same thing holds true for airgun trades. I pity the person who uses the Blue Book of Airguns to find out whether he should feel bad or good about a deal.

We’re trading cats and dogs. I’m offering my pair of $2,500 cats for your $5,000 dog. If you have a gun I want and I have something you want, we really shouldn’t care if we come out absolutely even on what the price guide says. If you’re happy and I’m happy, the deal was a good one.

author avatar
Tom Gaylord (B.B. Pelletier)
Tom Gaylord, also known as B.B. Pelletier, provides expert insights to airgunners all over the world on behalf of Pyramyd AIR. He has earned the title The Godfather of Airguns™ for his contributions to the industry, spending many years with AirForce Airguns and starting magazines dedicated to the sport such as Airgun Illustrated.

36 thoughts on “The tarantula dance”

  1. You started with tarantula, and ended with marlin?

    On advantage for the tarantula — they’re so near-sighted that if something knocks them apart by a few feet they may never find each other again to resume the tarantella…

  2. It happens in electronics surplus too.

    Until I went into business myself I never realized how little textbook type competition there is in the business world. It’s very cooperative, in the sense that animals cooperate at an African water hole. In Nature there’s hardly ever excess killing, it’s more like “a lion’s gotta eat”.

  3. BB, I was at a Market Hall gun show once and was involved in a 3 way deal. I can’t even remember for sure what I traded. I think it was a 10mm Delta Elite Colt 1911. I was in front of a table looking at the dealers guns and he was looking at my 1911. Another guy standing in front of the table had a Glock 30 with several mags and other accessories. The dealer wanted my 1911, I wanted the Glock 30, and the guy with the Glock 30 wanted something on the dealers table. The guy with the Glock 30 put the whole deal together. He figured out how much cash needed to change hands in addition to the gun swap so everyone was happy. The dealer had a glazed over look on his face and my head was spinning but I got the gun I wanted at a fair price, got a fair price for the 10mm 1911 and the everyone was happy.

    We are going to miss you tomorrow while we are shooting at Ron Bradfords. Greg called last night and he is driving up tonight and is going to shoot with us tomorrow.

    David Enoch

    • David,

      That was a three-way for sure!

      Tomorrow Mac and I will be at Valley Mills, shooting .17HM2s in a competition just for the owners of custom rifles made by another friend of ours. There will be prizes for winning, a barbeque and even a small swap meet. I will think of you — but not too much! 😀


      • It sounds like you guys will have a lot of fun.

        I find that a little time makes me feel even better about trades like that. Even if I don’t come out dollar for dollar monetarily I traded something I was willing to part with and got something new to try. That has value in itself. But, I usually come out well monetarily too. The secret to the whole deal is to buy only at the right price to begin with. That makes it easier from then on, whether you keep it or trade it later.

        David Enoch

  4. Howdy Mr. B.B., Ms. Edith & “The Gang”,
    Great writin’! Goin’ home with a dead tarantula/swordfish/new puppy slung over your shoulder is about 1/4 of the fun, The Dance is the biggie. Have a great weekend & shoot/ride safe.

  5. Good article, BB!

    I’ve never done very well in a trade if I really wanted what I was trading for. Only if it’s something I didn’t really care about at the time did I do well. Guess I’m too afraid of letting it “get away” for my own good. I’ll have to work on that… 🙂


    • /Dave,

      There is a zen trick for that. If you really want it, you need to convince yourself that you can also live without it. In other words, you have to be willing to let it “get away.”

      One way to do that is to help other people get some things you really want sometime. In other words, tell someone else about a thing you really want, then help them get it. I know that sounds crazy, but the more you do it, the more you can live when a deal goes bad.

      Mac told me years ago that the deal of a lifetime comes around about every 18 months or so. I’ve found that’s about right.


  6. B.B.

    Great article! Airgun deals are really like that – tarantula dance, at least in my experience. Well, the only trickier situation is, I suppose, trading airguns with girls, as there’s a possibility of female mantis vs. male mantis scenario 😀


  7. Great blog, B.B. I had to send this one to the printer. What strikes me most is how foreign this can be to someone. An understanding of cultures and subcultures is important for understanding what is happening. The “why” isn’t particualarly important to me. The process may be forward looking or it may be a tradition whose beginnings are long forgotten.

    Sadly, I never made it to alpha competitor. That might have helped me with some dealings I must engage in with the insurance company and multiple service providers. Even so, I believe what you have written is worth going over at least a couple of times.

    No airgun shooting today, but this evening we will see the Houston Ballet perform Giselle, in The Woodlands. We will enjoy it from the mezzanine seating, which is free. I do appreciate the fact that someone has made this possible.

    Have a great weekend,

  8. Love this topic, many times I’ve gone to gun shows with only enough money for admission and a drink plus a few items to trade and left with a new gun and cash in pocket. I also have experience buying low and selling high which I learned from my uncle who I consider the king of the tarantula dance, when he acquires something I can’t live without it can take weeks for us to come to a sale/trade, can be brutal just waiting, which he uses to his advantage, but he usually gets such great deals that he can make a profit and I still get a great deal. I think the search and hope for that great deal is half the fun of this great hobby.

  9. Good one BB! I’m in the process of looking for a car since the one my daughter drives was stolen, recovered, and totaled so this all applies.

    I had a three way deal a few years ago at a gun show. The “Guy for the Street” has a really nice M-1 Carbine. The “Dealer’s Friend” has a old military 1893 Mauser and a Chinese SKS that the “Guy from the Street” wants. The “Dealer’s Friend” wants cash, no trades and won’t take the M-1 Carbine (Not very smart). I ask, “Can I look at your M-1 ?” I look and ask, “How much do you want for it ?” “Guy from the Street” says “Enough to buy those two guns”. I ask the “Dealer’s Friend”, “How much for the Mauser and the SKS ?” He says, “$225.00” So, I give “Guy from the Street” $225.00, he gives me the M-1 Carbine and gives the “Dealer’s Friend” the $225.00 and takes the Mauser and the SKS. Everyone was happy! Especially me!


  10. I really should be doing this but for some weird reason I can’t. I don’t seem to be able to trade, I only want to buy, buy, buy.
    Maybe I don’t have enough airguns to start trading yet?

    You don’t mention trading for services… trading something for the refinish of a stock or a tune seems like a good idea to me. I have 2 rifles (Relum Telly and Slavia 618) that would need a little fixing but it would cost me more than what the rifles are worth but I don’t have the knowledge to fix them and the Relum has sentimental value and I’m not willing to risk damaging either of them, I’d rather keep them broken than to take the risk to damage them BUT I’d be willing to trade a rifle to have them fixed!


    • J-F,

      I should have mentioned that trading for services is another part of this. Of course it can be done. I”ve done it many times. And for those who perform services, like woodwork, tuning and metal refinishing — it’s often how they get their start.


  11. I must disagree with the idea that a good deal is possible whether or not you come out on top, money-wise.

    The thing is, you could get something you don’t want that worth more and trade it for something else you don’t want thats worth more that you could sell, and use the money to get something the other party wants, and trade for something you want and still make a tidy profit.

    Not always possible, in fact sometimes its very impossible, but overall the best way to go and the only way to trade anything, IMHO. And you can usually do better than you might think, if you stay sharp and keep your eyes open.

    I guess its my scottish blood and engineering mind (read nickel-an-dime mind) that colors my opinion!

    • Guest,

      The reason I hit that point so hard is that value is such a subjective thing. That was the point of the cat-and-dog discussion at the end of the article. If a thing really has no good value, or means of evaluating it — other than some subjective price guide that may by only one man’s opinion of what it is worth, it is better to open your mind and get the things you want, rather than to strive for the things that others say are “worth it.”


  12. B.B., okay, we know that you guys love the tarantula dance after all, not just the goods. 🙂 I could see that this might possibly be fun where everyone knows the rules, but outside that things could get ugly. When I was in Hong Kong on a tour, one guy was having fun with the bargaining system by offering ridiculously low prices and seeing what the other guy would do. Some kind of deal was set up with a Chinese-speaking member of the tour, and a little mild-looking guy showed up with imitation watches for sale. Our buyer made a ridiculous offer. The meek fellow conferred quietly with the translator and left. And soon as he was out of sight, the translator exploded at the buyer. He said that the offer was ridiculous, that the guy was deeply insulted, and that if the buyer tried that again, he was likely to end up in a gutter! Yikes. On the other hand, my brother sneaked in to observe some blackmarket deal in China where people were haggling over a motorcycle. This went on for 8 hours; who knows what they were saying. A number of times, the proceedings almost came to blows. Finally, a deal was struck, everyone sat down for convivial drinks and the buyer told the seller that he was a pushover. At another incident, a young Japanese tourist in Beijing bargained down a fruit vendor to something like 5 cents for a bag of oranges. But it was all for sport and he walked away without buying. The lady was ready to throw the oranges at him.

    This is all too hard on the nervous system for me. I can’t rid myself of the idea that someone using a strategy on me is trying to screw me. I’m more in spirit with the Russian immigrant profiled in a film about Soviet emigres to America in the 80s who were trying to understand capitalism. Some guy set up a store, and then an American set up a competing store right next to him to take his business. The Russian said, “Well, then, I’ll just have to kill him”…. Of course I wouldn’t do that, but I’ll leave the bargaining to people who are more adept.

    CowBoyStar Dad, I admire your boys for practicing the roll and shoot. I’ve thought of doing that myself but have not gotten around to it. But they had better watch the muzzle and make sure that they don’t shoot themselves. I particularly admire the Russian commandos for their creative ways of moving and shooting which includes a lot of rolling.

    Mike, you’re undercutting my theory about the shortcomings of the AR-15. 🙂 You say your rifle from 1975 is still working fine! What about the information I hear that the direct gas impingement system overheats the action and causes premature parts breakage and wear–not to mention that the bolt gets hot enough to fry steak on? (But I know that the AR-15 performs well on the shooting range.)

    Only a few days until release of the Battleship movie! I can’t wait. I have a feeling this will be a good one. We’re always trying to reduce weapons in the world, but against aliens is a completely different story. In the film Independence, I loved it when the slipped a nuclear bomb into the mothership.


    • Mike, you’re undercutting my theory about the shortcomings of the AR-15. 🙂 You say your rifle from 1975 is still working fine! What about the information I hear that the direct gas impingement system overheats the action and causes premature parts breakage and wear–not to mention that the bolt gets hot enough to fry steak on? (But I know that the AR-15 performs well on the shooting range.)

      Must be nice to be able to burn through magazines of ammo at the fastest rate possible…

      The ranges I’ve been to considered rapid-fire to be 10-20 rounds a minute (and rapid fire is not permitted <G> )

      Burst mode in combat situations, OTOH…

      {Reminds me — been a few years since I ensured the short stroke piston of my .30 M-1 carbine is free}

    • Matt61,

      Re: “The tarantula dance” aka negotiating

      I’m going to try and change your perspective and eliminate your artificially created prejudice regarding negotiating.

      You must realize that even in America our lives our filled with daily minor “negotiations” and frequently major negotiations. Dating/marriage is a daily negotiation. Non verbal exchanges are a type of negotiation. Most dialogue with teachers, secretaries, supervisors, etc. are minor negotiations. Litigation, mediation, divorce, re-zoning, code violations, traffic violations, leasing an apartment, buying a house, etc. are daily occurances in the lives of many Americans and I’d rate these as major negotiations.

      Embrace the fact that you negotiate and learn to greet all these events as opportunities to hone your abilities in negotiating. Learn about body language. Perfect the art of dialogue by first realizing it’s not what you say but how you say it.

      In your example of the interpretor in Hong Kong trying to aid your fellow tourist and watch buyer, the interpretor must share the blame since he did not put the offer in the proper context. Part of an interpretors job. Not what you say but how you say it. If the interpretor began his introduction of the offer by saying something like, “This gentleman does not wish to offend you with his offer, is not keenly aware of our customs and traditions but is very taken by your watch and humbly wonders if an offer of $1.00 would allow you to make a reasonable profit?”

      You’re an educated man that obviously enjoys learning since you absorb information from so many sources. Rather than look at negotiating as an event that is undoubtedly going to be “hard on your nervous system” and rather than assume that “someone is going to use a strategy to screw you” look at all negotiations, big and small, as an opportunity to practice negotiating and perfecting your skillset.

      Although negotiating is a common part of our lives in America negotiating is not embraced or is revered as a talent like it is in most other cultures. Most cultures outside of America place great importance and heap deep respect upon those with great negotiation skills. Cultures that are older than America.

      Can’t help but make a martial arts analogy. When you first walk into a dojo, you also have the choice of worrying whether it’s going to be hard on your nervous system and someone will use a technique to physically screw you OR you can view it as a learning experience and embrace the experience. No one walks into a dojo for the first time as a black belt. They stay, learn, advance and grow into a black belt because of their mental commitment.


    • My 1975 Colt AR-15 has had a fairly easy life. It’s never had more than 75 rounds through it at one time. Also, very little rapid fire. I have gone through 20 rounds fairly fast in a couple three gun matches that I used it in. I also keep it clean so carbon build up isn’t a problem. They will run and run IF you keep them clean. If you want accuracy, the direct gas guns tend to be a little more accurate than piston ones. But, that will varie from gun to gun.


    • Matt,

      Kevin gave the best answer to your concerns, but I would like to add something. Negotiating is an expression of social Darwinism, pure and simple. I want what you have and you want what I have — or one of us convinces the other that they want what we have so we can get what they have. It is life, undistilled.

      My description of the tarantula dance was meant to be humorous, but it also touched a nerve in some folks, because it got too close to where they live. But as Kevin points out, all of life involves negotiation of some kind.

      The lesson to take from this is not to try to avoid all negotiation, but to acknowledge that it exists everywhere and, by knowing that, to learn how you can navigate through life to your own best advantage.

      Even personal relationships are a form of negotiation. Nothing is ever one-sided in life. And when a person realizes this simple yet vital truth, it can change the way they live their lives.


    • Matt,

      I’d have to see that movie again, but I thought they downloaded a virus to the mother ship then nuked it from afar. Loved the scene with Will Smith dragging the alien across the desert, knocking it out and continuing on!

  13. BB, I still have that M-1 Carbine. It’s an Inland and a good shooter. Back in 2010, I used it in a Three Gun match and beat all the tricked out AR’s with it. Ranges were only out to 50 yards so the iron sights worked fine. Being a Cowboy Action shooter helped since Three Gun is a lot like Cowboy Action only using modern guns. Sometimes you have a good day!


    • Mike,

      I used to own an Inland that was also a great shooter. I know how great a gun like that can make you feel!

      If you handload for your gun, you might try my load of 14.5 grains of H-110 behind a 110-grain jacketed Carbine bullet. My S’G’ Carbine drops the empties either on the shooting bench or two feet in front and groups better than any other Carbine I’ve ever shot, when using this load. I weigh every load and I don’t have to clean the carbine for hundreds of rounds when using this load.


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