August 23rd, 2017

Seventy Years of Sierra Bullets — The Company History

Sierra Bullets Carroll Pilant MatchKing Bullet SMK Bullet-making Jacket
Here is the original Sierra manufacturing facility in Whittier, CA.

On August 22, 2017 it was announced that Sierra Bullets has been sold to Clarus Corporation (NASDAQ: CLAR), a Utah-based holding company that also owns Black Diamond Equipment Ltd., makers of ski and mountain gear/apparel. Given the importance of this acquisition, we thought our readers might want to learn more about Sierra’s history, and how it makes its bullets…

Sierra Bullets — How It Got Started

Report Based on Story by Carroll Pilant, Sierra Bullets Media Relations Manager
What became Sierra Bullets started in the late 1940s in a Quonset hut in California. In 1947, three aircraft machinists, Frank Snow, Jim Spivey, and Loren Harbor, rented machine space to produce rivets for the aircraft industry along with fishing rod guides and rifle front sight ramps. In the post-WWII years, sport shooting was becoming hugely popular, but quality ammunition was in short supply. For shooting enthusiasts, reloading was the solution to the ammo supply shortage. Snow, Spivey, and Harbor recognized this, creating Sierra Bullets to help fill the void. Before long, they were selling a 53-grain match bullet to the Hollywood Gun Shop. These bullets are still in production today as the Sierra #1400 53-grain MatchKing.

A few years later, an accomplished competitive shooter named Martin Hull joined Sierra. Hull helped develop new bullet types and served as manager of Sierra’s ballistics laboratory for nearly 20 years. With Hull’s help, Sierra’s output grew rapidly. The California company outgrew several locations before it moved to a large facility in Santa Fe Springs, CA, in 1963.

New Owners and New President in the Late Sixties
In 1968, the Leisure Group bought Sierra Bullets. Other Leisure Group companies included Lyman Reloading, High Standard Manufacturing Company, Yard Man, Thompson Sprinkler Systems, Flexible Flyer Sleds, and Dodge Trophies (Which made the Oscar and Rose Bowl Game trophies).

Soon after purchasing Sierra, the Leisure Group hired Robert Hayden as President and General Manager. Hayden was a mechanical engineer who had worked for Remington Arms. Hayden remained the president of Sierra for 42 years, retiring in 2012 when Pat Daly became president.

Sierra Moves to Missouri
In 1990, Sierra relocated to Sedalia, Missouri, where the company remains today. Sierra Bullets now employs over 100 people including five full-time ballistic technicians who answer daily reloading and firearms questions by both phone and e-mail.

Sierra Bullets Carroll Pilant MatchKing Bullet SMK Bullet-making Jacket

The Making of MatchKings — How Sierra Produces SMKs

All Sierra bullets begin life as a strip of gilding metal, an alloy consisting of 95% copper and 5% zinc. To meet Sierra’s strict quality requirements, the gilding metal requires three times more dimensional and quality control standards than is considered standard in the copper manufacturing industry.

Sierra Bullets Carroll Pilant MatchKing Bullet SMK Bullet-making Jacket

A blanking press stamps out a uniform disc and forms the cup that will be drawn into the MatchKing jacket. The cup is then polished and sent to a draw press to be drawn into a jacket that is longer than needed for the future MatchKing, thus allowing for the trim process. Press operators constantly check concentricity to make sure we have only quality jackets. The jackets then go to a trimmer where they are visually inspected again.

Sierra Bullets Carroll Pilant MatchKing Bullet SMK Bullet-making Jacket

After being polished a second time, the jacket travels to the bullet press. In the meantime, 80-pound lead billets are being extruded into lead wire for the cores where great care is taken so that the core wire is not stretched. The core wire is lightly oiled before continuing to the bullet press to be swaged.

The lead core wire and trimmed jacket meet at the bullet press where the first stage forms a boattail on the jacket. The lead core is then formed on top of the bullet press and fed down into the jacket. In one stroke of the press, the MatchKing is formed.

Sierra Bullets Carroll Pilant MatchKing Bullet SMK Bullet-making Jacket

Quality control technicians pull samples from each lot of MatchKings to make sure they meet Sierra’s stringent standards. Samples are then sent to Sierra’s 300-meter underground test range (shown below) to be shot for accuracy on mechanical mounts referred to as “unrestricted return to battery rests” that Sierra designed and built in-house.

Sierra Underground Tunnel test facility Sedalia, Missouri

Sierra bullet sale Clarus Corporation

After inspection, the bullets are placed in the familiar green box along with reloading labels. They are then shrink-wrapped and shipped all over the world.