February 09, 2022
By Joe Kurtenbach
Following several turbulent years, the future of Remington’s firearm lines and subsidiary brands remain in question, but Big Green has never stopped churning out ammo. Now, under the stewardship of Vista Outdoor and with siblings named Federal, Speer and CCI, Remington’s ammunition operation is poised to feed a hungry market.
As reported in G&A Editor Eric Poole’s May 2021 column, “Remington’s Fate,” Big Green filed for its second bankruptcy in less than three years in July 2020. The company had been on increasingly difficult footing for a decade despite being America’s oldest gunmaker and possessing one of the most recognizable brands in outdoor recreation. On the firearms side, Remington’s catalog included iconic sporting designs such as the Model 700 bolt-action rifle, the Model 870 pump-action shotgun and the Model 1100 semiautomatic scattergun. For ammunition, Remington offered an array of rifle, pistol and shotgun loads that catered to hunting and defensive uses, and also produced .17- and .22-caliber rimfire ammunition.
In the end, however, lawsuits, labor agreements and poor management proved too much for Remington to endure. Not even shedding hundreds of millions of dollars in debt during its 2018 Chapter 11 bankruptcy could arrest the company’s decline. Regarding the outcome of Remington’s most recent proceedings, Big Green’s business components were carved up and sold off to eager bidders. Poole’s editorial provided a full account:
- Vista Outdoor, the company that owns ammunition makers Federal, Speer and CCI, purchased Remington’s ammunition business based in Lonoke, Arkansas, as well as certain intellectual properties. It agreed to pay $81.4 million. As a result, jobs were retained, and Remington continues to produce ammunition.
- Sierra Bullets purchased Barnes Bullets for $30.5 million. Barnes is based in Mona, Utah, and continues its operations.
- JJE Capital Holdings purchased DPMS, H&R, StormLake and Parker for $2.15 million. This company also owns Palmetto State Armory and Lead Star Arms.
- Franklin Armory purchased Bushmaster and other related assets.
- Sportsman’s Warehouse purchased Tapco.
- Sturm, Ruger, & Co. purchased Marlin for $30 million. (I’ve been told that Marlin products will make their return to market by late 2021.)
- Remington Arms, including the factory and museum in Ilion, New York, and the handgun barrel factory in Lenoir City, Tennessee, was purchased by the Roundhill Group for $13 million.
While many of us anxiously await new-production Model 700s and look forward to seeing what a Ruger-built Marlin can do (a Rug-lin?), there is less of a question mark regarding the future of the Remington’s Lonoke, Arkansas, ammunition operation. In fact, it never shutdown.
To get a better sense of the state of Remington ammunition, I reached out to Marketing Director Joel Hodgdon. (Yes, those Hodgdons, the well-known purveyors of powder and propellants.) One of the first topics we discussed was the ammunition plant. Rightly, Remington is thought of as being largely a northeastern concern. It was founded in 1816 and was headquartered in Ilion for much of its existence. As well, various mergers saw other northeastern operations, including the Union Metallic Cartridge Company (UMC) of Bridgeport, Connecticut, brought under the Remington Arms umbrella. It might surprise you to know that the company’s southern expansions date back to 1970 — before it was hip to head south — and the establishment of its Lonoke, Arkansas, ammunition plant, just east of Little Rock. Once the facility was built, the Remington and UMC ammunition lines — rifle, pistol, shotshell and rimfire — were gradually moved out of Bridgeport and down to Lonoke, where ammunition has been made for more than 50 years.
I pressed Hodgdon for details about the plant’s transition from a Remington-owned operation to one under the Vista Outdoor tent of brands. He was quick to remind me that Vista Outdoor purchased not only the facility, but the Remington brand. Lonoke was and remains the home of Remington ammunition. Now, though, there’s the added advantage of being owned by a company that also knows ammo.
Vista Outdoor has no intention of changing Remington’s DNA. In fact, there is a lot of fond sentiment for Remington among its new managers. Hodgdon, given his family background, is keen to do his part and give the well-known American ammunition brand a bright future. Remington Ammunition President Jason Vanderbrink, too, has history with Remington; he was a sales representative for Big Green earlier in his career.
Despite these sympathies, though, things were a little touch-and-go in Lonoke when Vista Outdoor stepped in. In October 2020, the factory was operating hand-to-mouth, buying what raw material it could and producing whatever ammunition could be made of it. There was no scheduling or forecasting production. A survey of on-hand components determined which machines would run on any given day.
As mentioned, production never ceased during the bankruptcy proceedings, but the workforce had been whittled down significantly. What was left, Hodgdon told me, was a passionate group of Remington employees who were prepared to “go down with the ship” rather than leave their posts. It was around this nucleus of fiercely loyal hunters and shooters that hundreds of new employees have been brought onboard, trained, and are now gainfully employed to produce millions of rounds each day. That’s right, millions per day. In fact, Vista Outdoor’s logistical support is one of the key benefits for the Lonoke facility. The company does not have to learn a new set of products, processes and materials. Instead, I imagine it was more like adding a new station to an already established supply network that included CCI, Federal and Speer. The result has been steady production and the ability to look beyond day-to-day survival.
In discussing the future, I asked Hodgdon what the new Remington catalog might look like, and I was surprised when he said it would “look a lot like the old catalog.” For context, our conversation took place in the summer of 2021 and the COVID-related ammunition constraints were still in effect. My assumption had been that Remington would want to take the edge off of some of the most pressing demands by focusing on common cartridges such as 9mm and .223 Remington. And it did, but the new Remington team is also aware of the company’s heritage as a purveyor of less-popular loadings.
Remington has continued its commitment to sportsmen. Just take a peek at the rifle cartridges offered on the company’s website at Remington.com. Here’s a few highlights from their less-common products: .220 Swift, .221 Fireball, .250 Savage, .25-’06 Remington, .30 Carbine, .303 British, .308 Marlin Express, and 7x64mm Brenneke. At this writing, there are nearly 60 chamberings listed under rifle cartridges alone, with current load information for each. I admire the heck out of the team’s decision to build for the future without abandoning the past or Remington’s base of lifelong customers, especially when they could have chosen to simply cater to present market demands.
One change customers can expect is new box art, and soon. Hodgdon, a young professional, likes to quip that most of Remington’s packaging is as old as he is. On this count, though, I don’t expect a drastic makeover. Rather, I predict that boxes will benefit from a familiar and tasteful redesign. As Hodgdon said, “We still have a responsibility to be Remington.”
Many headlines recently have espoused, “Big Green is back!” For some of the employees in Lonoke, Big Green was never really gone. They’ve been loading ammunition for American sportsmen and armed citizens this entire time. Still, with Vista Outdoor’s horsepower supporting the brand, this marks a new chapter in Remington’s history. I can report that all hands are on deck working to get your favorite loads back on shelves as soon as possible.
Sweat, Smoke and Spent Brass
Testing New-Production Remington Ammo: As the old saying goes, talk is cheap. In Remington’s case, especially, I think it’s safe to say the past decade’s bill has come due; the time for talk has passed. During my tenure in the outdoor media, a little more than 10 years, Remington has never been a healthy company, so I’ve learned to take any news coming out of Ilion, New York, with a grain of salt. Remember when Remington bought Para Ordnance? I was on the frontlines of that relaunch, only to see the effort fizzle out mere months after my article went to press. Believe me when I say things are different this time — at least as far as Remington ammunition is concerned.
Within weeks of Vista Outdoor’s acquisition of Remington’s Lonoke, Arkansas, ammunition plant, representatives for the company were reaching out to inquire how they could support our efforts and get new-production Remington ammo evaluated in front of Guns & Ammo’s readership. This is COVID times, baby! If someone says they want to send test ammo, you let them say their piece.
As it happens, I was already in a bit of a pickle. Months earlier, I had signed up for a summertime, three-day Handgun Combative’s (HandgunCombatives.com) course with instructor Dave Spaulding. It would be held in central Virginia, and the curriculum called for 1,000 rounds to be shot during the event. That’s not an insignificant expense in the best of times, and it was a king’s ransom during the pandemic. So, I told Remington that if they could send me a few boxes of ammo, I’d be able to conduct Guns & Ammo’s test protocol for accuracy and velocity, and report on the ammo’s reliability in a training environment. I knew the now-Vista Outdoor-owned company was serious when a pallet of ammunition showed up.
Alright, I believe I can hear readers rending their clothes and gnashing their teeth, so I’ll admit I used the word “pallet” mostly for dramatic effect. There was a pallet, sure, and it was laden with about 1,600 rounds of 9mm. But seeing two, shoe-box-size packages shrink wrapped to a wooded base was more comical than awe-inspiring. Still, this was a bigger commitment than I had asked for (or expected), and I set out to shooting it all and report on my results.
For those unfamiliar with Handgun Combatives, I’ll simply mention that Dave Spaulding is a true professional and a member of the old guard of firearms trainers. These stalwarts rely on firsthand experience and hard-won knowledge to develop their curriculum — not flashy Instagram reels. Indeed, some have made mountains out of molehills regarding some of Spaulding’s techniques — inboard slide manipulations come to mind — but he can articulate and demonstrate why he prefers the methods he’s developed. His resume includes a 36-year law enforcement career with a wide variety of duty assignments, and he has been a top-flight firearms instructor for decades.
Despite a career in uniform, Spaulding will admit that he always wanted to be a teacher and a coach. His educational background was in athletics and kinesiology, or “how the body works.” These tools of knowledge and experience have informed the evolution of the Handgun Combatives curriculum. Like all the best instructors, you can’t stump Spaulding with questions about why he does something, and he practices what he preaches. His request of students is simply to try his techniques during the class and keep what they like. (“When in Rome,” right?) His mission is to help students prevail in a deadly armed encounter. Not just survive, but prevail! That requires both a combative mindset, i.e., a willingness to fight, and the skill required to win.
I’d taken several two-day Handgun Combatives courses in the past, and I was excited about the opportunity for an extended three-day lesson. The host for the event was a range complex called the Crucible (team-crucible.com) near Fredericksburg, Virginia. Established in 1993, the Crucible has long been a go-to destination for the Department of Defense and other government agencies to receive specialized instruction in high-risk activities such as hand-to-hand combat, firearms training and high-speed driving. The complex has only recently started hosting open-enrollment classes, but I’m already looking forward to going back. They have a great cadre on staff, several of who even shot alongside me in Spaulding’s class.
The best way to sum up training would be sweat, smoke and spent brass. Temperatures were in the high 90s with equally high humidity — and we shot a lot. I was running the new Rock Island Armory STK100 (armscor.com, $600), so be sure to see its review in the November 2021 issue of Guns & Ammo. I trained from the appendix carry (AIWB) position using a Tier 1 Concealed MSP Pro Series holster and magazine pouch (tier1concealed.com, $160) for realism. The course content focused on firearm handling skills such as working from the holster, conducting reloads and clearing malfunctions. We also worked on shooting and moving, and stress was introduced thanks to a shot timer and Spaulding’s personal attention. Emphasis was placed on accuracy and repeatability: Are my sights on the target? Did the shot hit where I aimed? Did my sights return to target? Did I reset the trigger during recoil? Again and again.
We even conducted demonstrations meant to test our skills, including conducting those practiced manipulations with our hands and guns covered in baby oil to simulate the slippery effects of mud or blood. I’ll admit though, after three days in the heat with the gun carried AIWB, I’m not sure that I could tell the oil from the sweat. That long weekend was a real test for shooters and their gear alike.
As intended, I shot all of Remington’s ammunition during the class and the subsequent evaluation of the STK100. Accuracy results are tabulated below, and I’m happy to report that the ammunition ran with excellent reliability. There was only a single stoppage, which was apparently caused by a bad primer in one of the UMC 115-gr. FMJ cartridges. One out of 1,600 rounds is not a bad performance. Remington, you’ve made a believer out of me.
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