With 30-plus years of success in government, consumer markets, ‘customers know they can count on our ammunition.’
PHOTOS BY BLACK HILLS AMMUNITION
Boy meets girl. Boy and girl share a love of shooting, hunting and all things gun. Boy and girl take this enthusiasm and run with it, helping to launch – and eventually run – a successful ammunition company. Not your typical love story, that’s for sure. But that’s what makes Jeff and Kristi Hoffman’s story so great. We’ll let Jeff Hoffman take it from here …
I GREW UP hunting, shooting and reloading. My father and grandfather taught me to shoot and I fell in love with it. I had my first rifle at around age 7, and my first pistol at 12. I spent my youth toting a Winchester Model 74 .22 rifle all over the area around Fort Pierre, South Dakota, as I grew up. My grandfather had a carton of .22 shells on his gun cabinet. His rule was I could have as much as I wanted, but I needed to leave 75 cents for every 50-round box of CCI Mini-Mags I took, so that he could buy a new box when that one ran dry. The system worked well.
In high school I met Kristi. Now my expenses were ammo, plus gas for my pickup truck to pick her up at her dad’s farm. I didn’t have much money, so a common date was to show up with a full carton of .22s so we could shoot prairie dogs on her family farm. We later went to the same college. She studied accounting and I studied criminal justice. After college I was hired by the Rapid City Police Department. We moved here and in 1980 we were married.
Despite making the princely sum of $4.67 per hour, plus working a second job, in addition to wages from Kristi’s full-time job, things were pretty tight financially. I was on the department’s pistol team and was buying a case of ammo every paycheck from the department rangemaster, who reloaded ammunition as a way for him to help make ends meet. I was his best customer, buying reloads for $60 to $70 per case of 1,000 rounds. One day he asked if I thought he could make a living making ammunition full-
time. I said no. He didn’t listen and started Black Hills Shooter’s Supply. He hired me immediately to help load ammunition. That was my third job, in addition to being a cop and working hotel security, all at the same time. As I loaded ammunition on a Dillon 1000, one of the three loaders the company owned, I realized I had been wrong. There was a considerable market for ammunition. I would ship the ammunition each night and no matter how much we loaded, it always went out just as fast. Kristi would come down in the evenings after working at her full-time job and load the primer tubes to start the next day’s production at Black Hills Shooter’s Supply, while I prepared ammunition to ship. She also saw the potential.
THE COMPANY WAS growing and as is common with new companies, it needed additional cash. Tom, the owner, offered to let us buy a share of the company. I dismissed the thought, as I loved being a cop, and really didn’t have the confidence to jump into business. Kristi nudged a little, saying, “I wish you’d consider Tom’s offer.” I explained I knew nothing about business. She said, “You know a lot about guns, reloading and ammunition, and I know business. We need to do something because what we are doing now is not working.” She was right. Our weekly budget for food was $20. We ate a lot of macaroni and peanut butter. We ate beef only because her dad and mom had a farm and would bring us beef when they would butcher. I agreed to think about the business offer.
After much contemplation, we decided to give it a try. We went to every bank in town, trying to get a loan. We needed $12,000 to buy in. We were so green that we did not really grasp the concept of collateral. We just knew it was a good idea and that we were good for it and the bank should loan us the money. We were politely shown the door with each attempt. Nobody would loan the money. I then asked my dad if he would loan us the money. He said no. He wouldn’t loan us the money, but he would co-sign for us. That was an even better deal because then we would have a bank loan to establish credit.
My dad at that time was a trucker. For collateral, he put up his truck. He mortgaged his truck so we could follow a crazy idea that we “knew” would work. The banker thought it was nuts, I could read it on him, but he had good collateral, the title to my dad’s truck. That was a great motivator for us. I had read that the Vikings would sometimes burn their ships when invading a country so that all their men knew there was no turning back. That was that moment for us, when we burned our ships. We could not fail. Failure would mean the banker got the truck. There were many times in the years after that that we should have failed but didn’t because we were too committed, too stubborn, and probably mostly because God looked down and saw that despite our weaknesses and mistakes, we were really trying, and gave us a hand at the moments when we really needed it.
Kristi and I left Black Hills Shooter’s Supply in 1988 and started Black Hills Ammunition Inc. In 1996, we won our first military contract, making ammunition for the Army Marksmanship Unit. Other military contracts followed and by 1999, we had marksmanship unit contracts for the Navy and Marines. In 1999, the Navy asked us to do development for operational ammunition. That became the very successful MK262. After that we developed quite a few other specialty rounds for the military. Development and production of military ammunition has grown to be our primary market, and we are proud to support our country’s warriors in defending our country and way of life.
WE SPECIALIZE IN accuracy, quality and good service. We realized early on that trying to sell the cheapest ammunition was a tough way to make a living. There is always someone cheaper because they have a manufacturing advantage, or because they are on their way out of business and maybe don’t know it yet. Our market is folks who want or need the best, at a fair price. That is probably why we have been so successful with the military. They might buy on bid, but they have high standards. Lives depend on their choices. They are looking for the best value, which generally is not the same thing as the lowest price. Our 5.56 77-grain is the commercial version of the MK262 we produce for the government. Same performance, in a commercial box. It has been very popular. We sell probably more types of .223 and 5.56mm ammunition than anyone else. Similarly, our .308 match ammunition is very popular and 6.5 Creedmoor is really selling well. Our HoneyBadger line of fluted solid copper projectile ammunition is very popular. It provides performance equal or superior to the best hollow points but with better uniformity of performance and better barrier capability.
Our customers know they can count on our ammunition. We take great pain to make our ammo the best it can be. We are an “assembly” plant; that is, we do not make any of our own component parts. That means we are free to buy the best components from all sources and combine them into great ammunition. The best powders, cases, primers and projectiles. We have many industry friends who supply us great components. Despite some of them being “competitors” because they may also make ammunition, they are proud to be a part of our success. We take the best components, develop great loads with them, assemble them with care, and hand-inspect every round we produce. We ship dealer-direct; minimum order is one case. We pay all freight to 48 states and we guarantee customer satisfaction. At Black Hills Ammunition, we are big enough to make some of the best ammunition available anywhere, yet small enough to care about every customer. NS
Editor’s note: For more information, visit black-hills.com. Also look out for about Black Hills Ammunition in our e-newsletter and on nwsportsmanmag.com. You can sign up for our e-newsletter on our website.