By Greg McCune
ST. LOUIS (Reuters) - One of Patrick Flanagan's favorite movies as a kid was "Night of the Living Dead," a 1968 horror film about a family trapped in a rural Pennsylvania house and attacked by zombies.
"I really dug zombie stuff since then," said Flanagan, 23, an unemployed concrete worker from Alton, in southern Illinois.
So Flanagan combined his interest in zombies with another hobby - guns.
He was one of many gun owners crowded around a display of lifelike zombie paper shooting targets at the National Rifle Association's Guns and Gear exhibition on Saturday during the NRA annual conference in St. Louis.
The Hollywood-inspired zombie craze - featuring blood-soaked ghouls rising from the dead to attack the living - has extended to gun enthusiasts. At the huge NRA exhibition, vendors displayed zombie targets, zombie bullets, zombie paint coating for guns and zombie patches for a shooting jacket.
Firing ranges across the country are offering zombie-themed shooting events, some held as daylight fades for atmosphere, said Brad Ross, a division manager for Law Enforcement Targets, Inc, a maker of zombie targets.
Flanagan, who said he owns 19 guns, likes to drive out into rural areas to practice shooting. He is bored with shooting cans or simple bullseye targets and the zombie targets will be more fun, he said, clutching his roll of 40 poster-sized images.
Sales of zombie targets are booming and are expected to grow about 30 percent to a million targets this year, Ross said.
"It is absolutely dumbfounding," said Addison Sovine, a salesman hustling on Saturday to keep up with the demand for the shooting accessory at the Law Enforcement Targets booth.
For the truly zombie-obsessed, Sovine demonstrated small packets of blood-colored liquid that can be purchased to attach to the back of the zombie target so that it bleeds when shot. If an explosion is desired, a grainy mixture is for sale that will blast like a firecracker when hit.
TAKING AIM ON "ZOMBILADIN" TARGET
Among the most popular of the 18 zombie target designs offered in its catalog are "Becky," an image of a wounded, pale and dark-eyed female, and "ZombiLadin" a bearded and bloody likeness of the late al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, company officials said.
Ammunition maker Hornady introduced a zombie bullet last fall with a green painted tip and it was one of their most successful product launches ever, according to marketing communications manager Everett Deger. The bullets come in a bright green box saying "20 rounds certified Zombie ammunition" with a warning that it is not a toy.
Zombie-themed paint coatings for guns are among the 10 most popular camouflage designs offered by DuraCoat Firearm Finishes, which paints guns, said Operations Manager Amy Lauer-Potaczek.
Much of the interest in zombies has been fed by popular culture, such as the movie "Zombieland," starring Woody Harrelson, and the "Walking Dead" television series about a group of people trying to survive in a world overrun by zombies. But Sovine said the obsession has gained momentum from "preppers" - people who are preparing for doomsday - and the belief by some that, according to the Mayan calendar, the world as we know it will end in December.
"As soon as we pass December if we are not all dead, we live on, and it is really not the end of the world ... I think you will see it (zombie target sales) start to come back down the other side," Sovine said.
(Editing by Bill Trott)