Meet Steve Hornady
August 09, 2016
Steve Hornady dismisses the notion he has been a pioneer in the ammunition-manufacturing industry, even though decades of innovations indicate otherwise.
"I don't feel I'm something special," Hornady said. "I think I have done things that are the right things to do, and if that ends up being a benefit to shooters and hunters, great."
Hornady points to his father, company founder Joyce Hornady, and other post-World War II ammunition manufacturers as the true pioneers in ammunition reloading and manufacturing.
Asked if his father was a pioneer, Hornady said, "At the time, I would have told you no, but today I would tell you yes. He had this vision and if you had put [that vision] in front of the Harvard Business School and asked, 'Here's an idea for a business, what do you think of it? I'm going to start a business building bullets for people who want to handload ammunition because they are coming home from the war, and they are going to want to shoot.' I don't think anyone would have thought that business would go over, but it was the right thing at the right time."
In addition to his father, Hornady mentions Bruce Hodgdon, RCBS founder Fred Huntington, Vernon Speer, John Nosler, and Sierra Bullets' founders (Frank Snow, Jim Spivey, Loren Harbor and Martin Hull) as true pioneers of the ammunition reloading and manufacturing industry.
"They changed the whole basis for target and recreational shooting from what it had been, essentially using available hunting ammo, to all that is going on in shooting today," Hornady said.
Today, 98-99 percent of the ammunition the company manufactures is fired at targets.
"Which is a good thing, because if it got shot at game, there wouldn't be a single living game animal in America," Hornady said, laughing.
There is a "staggering amount" of ammunition consumed each year, Hornady said. According to him, several billion rounds of centerfire ammunition, rifle and handgun, "are going downrange." If you add rimfire ammunition fired recreationally or competitively, the billions keep climbing.
Many shooters and hunters, pointing at Hornady innovations that continued after Steve stepped in to run the company after his father's 1981 death in a plane crash, believe Steve is indeed a pioneer — or at least kept his father's pioneering spirit at the forefront.
Steve, with characteristic humility, credits Hornady employees with the long line of Hornady successes. He will admit, under pressure, to one decision that moved the company into a faster lane to success: Making cartridge cases for the company's factory-loaded ammunition.
"We had a very small niche in the ammunition business but were totally dependent on our outside vendors, which were also our competitors," he said. "So, if anything, my contribution to the company was to make the decision to make our own cartridge cases, which helped us to define our own destiny, our own future."
That decision has had a lasting effect on the success of the company, allowing research and development to move beyond previous limitations and enabling Hornady Manufacturing to, in Hornady's words, "be innovative and create things because we thought they'd be fun."
The desire to create things that are fun to shoot is where much of the drive and creativity comes from at Hornady Manufacturing.
"We have an avid group of people here who are hunters and shooters, who sit down and talk about stuff without letting me know what they're talking about. Then they walk in and say, 'Hey, look at this,'" Hornady said. "And, you know, they usually aren't far off and we'll all say, 'That's cool, we'd all like to shoot that.' Everybody realizes we're pulling on the same team and trying to do things that will make it better for all shooters."
"We try to introduce products we believe people will enjoy shooting because that is what drives us. This is stuff we like to do," he said.
Hornady listed some of those things that have made it better for shooters, including the .17 HMR, .204 Ruger, .300 and .338 Ruger Compact Magnums (RCM), .375 Ruger and the 6.5 Creedmoor, which he called, "a screaming success."
Hunters and shooters have their own additions to the Hornady list of accomplishments, including bullets like Hornady's InterLock, XTP, A-MAX, V-MAX and Z-MAX; and ammunition innovations, like LEVERevolution, TAP, Critical DUTY, Critical DEFENSE and the recent additions of ELD-X and ELD-Match ammo, which employ innovative heat-resistant tips that won't melt or deform at high speeds — a cause of lost accuracy and performance.
Like all pioneers, even reluctant, humble pioneers, Hornady thinks ahead. He is "fairly optimistic" about the future of shooting and hunting but believes "our industry is going to be under significant stress over the next few years." That is why it is important for hunters, shooters, manufacturers and everyone with a stake in the hunting and shooting industry to stand together, Hornady said.
To that end, Hornady commits money, time and effort into supporting industry and wildlife conservation organizations. Steve's father was a founding member of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, and Steve has been on the organization's board of directors for about 20 years. He's also on the National Rifle Association board. He said he has "a significant passion" for both those organizations.
He's also served on the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturer's Institute (SAAMI) board; was a founding member of the Hunting and Shooting Sports Foundation, which battled lawsuits against the industry, and has been a member of other industry organizations over the years.
Looking ahead, Hornady is also concerned about the perception in the media that trophy hunting is somehow evil; that meat hunting is OK, but trophy hunting is an evil activity, a perception fed by anti-hunting organizations.
"I couldn't disagree with that more," he said. "To me, trophy hunting is no different than trying to excel at any other activity, whether it be tennis or golf or basketball. We revere some of those people, yet we don't understand or appreciate the effort that some hunters put in to climbing to the top of the mountain to try to find the biggest, oldest ram up there, only to come home empty-handed.
"I've come down from those damn mountains with nothing, and I understand what it takes to go up there and be willing to not just kill the first animal that shows up but to look only for the oldest and most mature. What we do as trophy hunters is take those animals out of the gene pool that are usually near the end of their lives and are not contributing to the next generation."
"I'm anti-animal cruelty," Hornady continued. "And virtually nobody I know who is a hunter is cruel to animals. They all go out of their way to help and preserve wildlife. But I'm concerned we are most at risk philosophically on this one."
He supports wildlife organizations adding, "it's no secret I am more interested in sheep and goat hunting than anything, so I'm a member of those organizations." Characteristically, Hornady downplays his support of such organizations, "other than to make sure my company has been a supporter of and contributor to this industry."
At the end of our interview, Hornady recalled a famous quote from Theodore Roosevelt saying, "Every man owes a portion of his time and income to the business or industry from which he makes his living."
"There are many in our industry who do not contribute, and I don't understand that philosophy," Hornady said. "But I do understand there are a lot who are more interested in and focused on their own benefit than they are for the benefit for all. I am more of the opinion that a rising tide lifts all boats. I guess that's the way I was raised."