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Hunting Illustrated Fall 2002: Corporate Interview

Home > Magazine > Fall 2002 Issue > Corporate Interview
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Corporate Interview: Christensen Arms
by Jim Spainhower
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This is one company that takes "rocket science" to make it work

Hunting Illustrated went to the little town of Fayette, Utah to see what makes high tech custom gun maker Christensen Arms tick. We met with their general manager John Mogle to find out how it all started and what makes them special.

The Christensen Arms story is a classic example of a small town boy making good. Roland Christensen is the owner, founder and design/engineer. His roots go back to his Mormon pioneer ancestors pulling handcarts across the plains in 1856 to eventually settle this central Utah area. Roland enjoyed his youth like any other small town boy, but as he grew his interests and desire for knowledge moved him a step ahead. This desire for knowledge earned him a Doctorate of Science degree in mechanical engineering. Roland's education opened doors for him in the aerospace industry. He worked in the design and fabrication of fiber-wound products. His efforts helped produce items such as Trident rocket motor cases, jet fuel tanks, and pressurized water tanks for aircraft. In 1985 Roland started Applied Composite Technology as a part-time effort. In 1986 he left his full-time position at Fibertek, an aerospace engineering firm, and within a few years made the company a full-time effort. Applied Composite Technology designs and manufactures prosthetic feet, knee parts and assemblies and is a major player in that industry. Most paralympic competitors and about 80 percent of medalists are wearing one of ATC's feet. These projects and the associated design and analysis by Doctor Christensen provided ample preparation for significant advancements a few years later with the 22-250 caliber "Carbon One" rifle and associated graphite/epoxy barrel casing. And thus, Christensen Arms and the carbon barreled rifle were formed.

Q. What kind of staff does it take to produce a firearm of this quality?

A. We have a relatively small staff here, and many of us wear multiple hats. As well as being general manager, I handle sales, marketing and our television show. We also have four very busy gunsmiths and a good office and sales staff. Our owner Roland Christensen still handles all the engineering efforts for the company.

Q. Is your business growing or shrinking in this economy?

A. We have heard from a lot of others in the industry that their sales were down, but our numbers just keep going up. We thought that the poor economic conditions could adversely affect our business, but we have more orders than ever and are having a good year.

Q. How do you make a carbon barrel?

A. In our fully custom guns, we take a match grade Shilen barrel and chamber it, thread it to minimum tolerances, and turn it down on a lathe creating a very thin steel liner. We then wrap the liner with the carbon fiber. The reason we do this is that carbon is five times lighter than steel, five times stiffer than steel and four times stronger. Basically, you get a rifle with weight similar to a mountain rifle, but has the stiffness and accuracy of a heavy bull barrel rifle. An extremely stiff, accurate, yet lightweight rifle is the result. It dissipates heat quicker, thus decreasing wear and increasing the life of the barrel. Our carbon barrel gives us a dramatic advantage over every other custom gunmaker worldwide.

Q. What actions do you use in your custom guns?

A. The action we put in our guns is the customer's choice. Our gunsmiths go through and accurize each action. They square everything up, put in a custom jewel trigger and set it to whatever poundage the customer wants. We then put on a stock of their choice.

Q. What new items can we expect from Christensen Arms?

A. We are currently developing our own stock. It is going be completely carbon fiber with a solid carbon fiber bedding block. Currently, many of the bench shooters use stocks with solid aluminum bedding blocks. The aluminum provides a solid and accurate platform but is heavier than carbon. The integrity and fit of the bedding block is one of the most important elements in increasing or maintaining the accuracy of a rifle. Our stock will provide a very stable bedding block platform, but will weigh about a pound less. This stock will provide the best of both worlds, with the stiffness and stability of the carbon without the additional weight. The stock will be offered in variety of options, styles, and color and camo options. We are also developing a new recoil pad that is in the preliminary development stages. It is designed to absorb a lot of the felt recoil within the pad itself. The combination of our muzzle break and the new pad should dramatically reduce the felt recoil on our guns. The recoil pad will come standard on our new stock.

Q. With the lightweight of your guns, do you use muzzle breaks?

A. Yes, we make our own titanium muzzle break that reduces the recoil by about 50 percent. It is a very effective break.

Q. Do you have more than one grade of custom gun?

A. Yes, we have a rifle called the "Carbon One Hunter". Instead of having a retail of $3,000, it is about $1,500. In this case we take a factory gun, turn the barrel down very thin and carbon wrap it to get all the benefits of the carbon. You just don't get the inherent benefits of the Shilen Match grade barrel. We then tune the trigger to a crisp three pounds, open up the factory stock to fit the new barrel and free float it. The end result is a very lightweight rifle that provides the benefits that only a carbon barrel rifle can.

Q. How accurate are your fully custom rifles?

A. We say that our guns are capable of one-half-inch groups at 100 yards with factory ammo or handloads.

Q. Who is buying your guns?

A. We have a focussed target market. It takes a serious shooter to make the investment in a fully custom rifle. This individual understands the value of a firearm that performs when it needs to. They understand that it can make the difference between bagging a big buck or bull and a near miss. A lot of guys understand this, but unfortunately cannot afford the fully custom version. That is why we do custom barrels for people. Individuals send in their actions or complete rifles to have us put on our barrels and do their stock work.

Q. How do you market your guns?

A. We sell both direct and through sporting goods stores. Our largest portion is direct to the customer. We are actively increasing our dealer base and would like to have our products in every high-end sporting goods store.

Q. What is the single greatest development in the firearms industry in the last 10 years?

A. Obviously, since we developed it, I would say the carbon fiber barrel. From the time the barrel came out, industry experts have been excited over it. The bottom line is that it works. It isn't a gimmick. It dramatically increases the performance of the rifle and that has to make it one of the greatest developments.

Q. How do you feel about the short magnums?

A. The short magnums have their place, but by far our most popular caliber is the .300 Ultra Mag. The ultra mag produces the velocities that most of our customers are looking for. I personally built a .300 Utra Mag to take to Africa this past spring and it performed perfectly. I shot seven animals from 100 to 450 yards and the performance was great. I am personally impressed with the 270 short mag. The velocities are great on this caliber. The 300 and 7mm short velocities aren't up there. So, if you are a velocity freak they won't give you what you want. If I were to buy a short mag, it would be a .270 Winchester short mag.

Q. Are you affiliated with any conservation or Lobbying groups?

A. I am on the board for the Sportsmen for Fish and Wildlife, a group that tackles Utah's issues at hand. We support other groups, but only those that step up and walk the walk so to speak. I have seen instances where groups talk a good story but don't step up when it is needed.

Q. What is Christensen Arms' goal or mission statement?

A. We want to continue to put out cutting edge quality products. We want our products to be different, out of the ordinary and better than any other products on the market. We have a lot of repeat customers and that is a statement of the quality of our product. We want to continue to bring products to market to justify the loyalty of our clientele.

Q. What new project is occupying your time now?

A. Our new television show, "Christensen Arms Outdoors" on the Outdoor Channel is my current project and I am very excited about it. We feel that it is going to give us a great avenue to promote and educate the hunting public on the quality and performance of our guns. We have also developed a new website and invite your readers to visit it. You can actually design your new custom gun right on the website. You can see what it is going to look like and add the features that you want online.

Our thanks goes out to Christensen Arms for letting us take a look at their operation. This company and the rifles they build really are assets.

Christensen Arms - 1-888-517-8855

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