With 30 well-known brands (and counting) under its belt, Vista Outdoors (NYSE: VSTO) is the parent company that actually prefers to be known by its company names: Bushnell, Primos, Federal Premium, CamelBak, Savage Arms, Bolle, and Blackhawk!
It's almost as if the acquisition binge is based on solid products and brands rather than a more traditional rollup of companies that may be facing moribund sales, lagging product development or simply have outgrown its capital acquisition abilities.
Having spent a couple of days with the folks from Blackhawk! at their manufacturing HQ here in Montana, it's apparent that the brands, while being acquired, aren't being encouraged to be absorbed into an amorphous corporate identity, they're being encouraged to keep on doing what they do best -and to stick on message with their products.
What that means, at least in one instance, is that Blackhawk! won't be pushing out a ton of new hunting products -but another Vista company, Primos, may benefit from the down-in-the-dirt with the operators experience of the Blackhawk! brand. So, too, may other companies see some of their tertiary lines slide into categories where customers are better-suited due to that brand's existing identity.
For Blackhawk! that means new offerings for the benefit of "operators" -the core group from which the company originally began. And for those of us who enjoy the benefits of the rough work of others, it means we'll reap the benefits as well.
From products that use new fabric technologies to make a pocket holster that stays in the pocket but releases the gun when needed (above) to a new "cool" looking line of carryalls in their Diversion line, Blackhawk! is keeping their eye on developments for their core customers.
If you carry a pistol, you'll be seeing several new products that offer everything from deep concealment for pocket pistols to concealed carry for full-sized guns that can handle a variety of different firearms. I'm also impressed with some of the new mag pouches -and the fact that there's a variety of options available that should enable a shooter who wants to get into the fast-growing sport of 3-gun to put together a rig of belt, holster, and assorted mag pouches for about $250.
As I said, beginners to experienced shooters can benefit.
One line that looks as if it is going to be a winner with the younger generation- especially those returning from active duty and want to carry their "stuff" without looking like they've bumped off a surplus store, would be the variants to their Diversion line. Introduced a couple of years ago, Diversion carriers were exactly that- gun carriers that looked like gym or tennis racket bags in stead of gun carriers.
But the rap on them was that they were "boring" according to Tactical Products manager Chris Laack. "The guys coming back from active duty wanted something to carry their gear," he said, "including a gun in many instances, but they wanted something a bit more hip."
In response, Blackhawk! has introduced a line of wax canvas bags. Made from Martexin 10.10, these bags are
certainly metropolitan cool. They have Fidlock buckles (that will confound TSA and other security officials with their complicated simplicity) and inside areas designed to carry everything from tablets to pistols and multiple magazines.
The most intriguing new product we can finally talk about is the new Generation 3 recoil reducing stock system from Knox. It makes shotguns considerably easier to shoot more accurately-even for the recoil sensitive.
But one item I'd seen earlier this year but couldn't talk about is finally ready to rollout to customers-although that availability is likely 60-90 days out.
The Knox Generation 3 recoil reducing stock system is the product of Blackhawk's "all under one roof" development process. While Generations 1 and 2 performed well, the company engineers believed there was a better way to soften recoil. And for the sake of accuracy, we know you can't simply do away with recoil -there's a Newton's law about that.
But there's no rule in physics that says you can't soften - or spread the intensity of the traditional hammering of a shotgun using damping devices. The new Generation 3 system uses a newly developed system based on the spring and buffer system of Generations 1 and 2, modified so that there's a straight-back "slide" rather than a slanted directional move that is uncomfortable for some shooters because it essentially impacts their cheek. With cheek weld a serious component of accuracy, that was something they set out to eliminate.
In side-by-side testing, I can tell you they have. Shooting a variety of loads from buckshot to magnums, the Generation 3 system, incorporating their earlier sliding system and a new proprietary honeycomb butt pad (think "run flat tire technologies) softens recoil to the point that it was possible to mix loads without really noticing much difference.
There's more on that system ahead, but it will initially introduce for the Remington 870 line with a Mossberg 500 not far behind. And no, it won't work with semi-autos. Those systems are designed to use the recoil as part of the cycling process. Dampen one part and you've seriously inhibited the gun's ability to run smoothly.
As always, we'll keep you posted.
- Jim Shepherd