Remington Takes Stock

Changes over the years at the country’s oldest gunmaker have shocked its faithful. Is it time for them to lean on tradition?

Remington Rifle
Is it time tradition took charge?Wayne Van Zwoll

Hurling a 168-grain Barnes bullet with H1000 powder is easy. But to shiver saucepan-size plates at 800 yards, you need an accurate barrel, with a stock, trigger, and sight to match. Expert coaching, too.

All this came my way in the Texas hills last fall. The 7mm Magnum load struck with laser consistency from a fresh Remington 700-X rifle. Bedded with MarineTex in a McMillan stock, its action featured a Badger-knobbed bolt with an M16-style extractor and twin ejectors over an icicle-crisp trigger. The 5½-contour Shilen barrel rifled 1:8 wore an AAC suppressor to reduce kick and noise. On top: a Swarovski Z8 3½–28x50 scope with a second-plane reticle.

FTW Ranch is a shooter’s mecca, with more than 30 rifle ranges on which you can choose from moving-target rails that pull life-size buffalo silhouettes into your lap to steel winking in and out of mirage at over a mile. Doug Prichard and the other coaches, ace marksmen themselves, help you hit.

I’d been here before, pounding Texas dirt in frustration after missing targets or fumbling a reload as an elephant’s shadow suddenly blackened my path.

“Shoot! Again! Reload! There’s another! Kill it! Top off! Four, three, two….” The clock made me out a novice. Still, I had returned for more punishment. “Humility is a virtue,” observed FTW’s chief, Tim Fallon. “You’ll likely improve.” No promises.

Promises, Promises

Indeed. Promises can become traps. Remington’s, for example. Every CEO and high-level manager over the last decade has said, in so many words, “Remington is back!” And still, the revival is yet to come.

Since its purchase by Cerberus Capital Management in June 2007, Remington has endured much grumbling from the proletariat. Some customer criticism is unwarranted. I’ve found post-Cerberus Remington bolt-action rifles as accurate and reliable as their forebears. Still, attention to cosmetic detail in some firearms has clearly diminished. Production glitches in pistols and shotguns have led to embarrassing delays. The relatively static state of Remington’s rifle ammunition line contrasts with the tsunamis of new loads from competitors.

Remington’s current CEO, Ken D’Arcy, is the sixth since Tommy Millner left in 2009. His task is daunting. The $370 million Cerberus paid included $252 million in assumed debt. Subsequent purchases—including Dakota Arms in 2007, Marlin in 2008, and Barnes in 2009—added shooting industry brands to what Cerberus labeled the Freedom Group. A name change to Remington Outdoor Company followed in 2015. The hemorrhaging continued. When it filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in March 2018, Remington owed more than $950 million.

The company is now owned by Franklin-Templeton and J.P. Morgan. “Remington is still making guns, as it did through the Cerberus era,” says Christian Hogg, director of marketing services. He works from the Madison, North Carolina, headquarters, home also to the IT, LE/Defense, and Customer Service departments—and now D’Arcy. Firearms manufacturing happens in a new plant in Huntsville, Alabama, and also at Ilion, New York, in a factory erected on land Eliphalet Remington II bought for $28 an acre.

“Roughly 750 hourly employees labor at Ilion,” says Hogg. “They build Model 700s and 7600s, Model Sevens, and Marlin centerfires.”

Hunter with Remingtion titanium Ti
Over the years, the Model 700 has appeared in many guises. Here, the author use a lightweight titanium “Ti” in .30/06.Wayne Van Zwoll

Ilion has manufactured rifle barrels since horse-drawn boats riding on a new Erie Canal received them in bundles dropped from bridges. “Huntsville turns out .22s and handguns, and the Model 783 bolt rifle. About 160 of the 400 on that payroll work in R&D. Whatever their jobs, Remington employees include gun enthusiasts with a personal investment in making the best firearms they can,” Hogg says.

As aware of Remington’s history as he is excited about its prospects, D’Arcy, a former Crosman CEO recently recruited from the ski industry, says, “Skiing is a fiercely competitive world dependent on snowfall. European ski manufacturers never let their people go for lack of business [in dry winters], so demand never approaches supply.”

Flat sales of hunting arms will test his ability to wring profit from the guns for which Remington is known: accurate, reliable, good-looking, fast-pointing repeating rifles and shotguns priced for customers of ordinary means. “We’re going to build what shooters want,” he tells me. “Right now, that’s not AR-15s. We’ll focus on more traditional firearms, on the Marlin and Remington brands, and on quality control.”

In sum: D’Arcy’s aim is not just to boost sales, but to ensure his workforce and his customers are proud of the firearms built on his watch. He’ll also be tested to keep that ski-staffing model.

Many shooters have grown up with Remingtons. While nostalgia is a powerful sales tool, brand allegiance has limits.

“Customers who cherish guns passed down through the family can accept changes in design,” says Billy Hogue, vice president of firearms operations at Huntsville. “And higher prices. But if a new model malfunctions—even if it has a rough action or poor fit and finish—there’s a disconnect.”

Remington Safari grade 7mm Remingtion mag
The Model 700 was a big hit in 1962, largely because of its new 7mm Remington Magnum cartridge, now considered to be one of the best hunting loads ever created.Wayne Van Zwoll

Winchester witnessed this breakdown in customer loyalty after its 1963 overhaul of the Model 70 rifle. Many of the disgusted faithful turned to the then-new Remington Model 700. Notably, many of the changes in Winchester 70s since have edged it toward pre-’64 form. This history isn’t lost on D’Arcy and his staff.

A slip in quality of Marlin’s lever rifles followed the closure of its North Haven, Connecticut, plant, as Remington took Marlin production to Ilion. Left behind was most of the gunsmithing acumen responsible for the firm’s deer guns popular since 1893. Critics pounced. Ilion-assembled Marlins didn’t match originals.

When I mentioned to Hogue that recent Marlins lacked the detailing that was once their hallmark, he offered a sympathetic smile but spared me the speech: Cosmetic detailing, like action tuning, requires the time of skilled workers. Time is money. Costs eat into profits. Only custom shops can now indulge—and charge for—personal attention to fit and finish.

Carlos Martinez, senior manager of Remington’s Custom Shop, has grown the department substantially since its move to Sturgis, South Dakota. “After Dakota Arms sold to Cerberus in ’07, it made sense to put our most demanding projects in the hands of people producing top-end rifles and shotguns,” he says.

Ward Dobler oversees operations. His critical eye and talented crew have made the elegant Dakota 76 the gold standard for classic, custom-shop bolt rifles. “We’re bringing Dakota craftsmanship to Remington Custom Shop rifles,” he assured me. “And our Marlin lever-actions are by any measure the best ever.”

dead kudu and hunter
This kudu fell to a Model 700 chambered for the .280 Remington.Wayne Van Zwoll

No idle boast. Special-order Marlins of a century ago were works of art. But modern steels trump those used before World War I, and CNC machines hold new Marlins to tolerances only dreamed of then. Figured walnut and case-­colored receivers now envelop mechanisms smooth as corn silk.

Yes, they’re expensive. But, Martinez points out, “factory” guns borrow from Custom Shop innovation. “The action of the 700-X you used at FTW is blue-printed—machined and fitted so the receiver, bolt, and barrel are coaxial,” he says. “Bolt face and lugs are trued up. Scope base holes accept stout 8-40 screws. While the 700-X is a Custom Shop project, all Model 700s will soon get similar treatment, as well as the 700-X’s claw extractor and dual ejectors.” He adds that demand and manufacturing efficiencies can hurry Custom Shop upgrades to production lines. “The 700 DGR you fired at FTW on its dangerous-game course may land on Ilion’s roster.”

I hope it does. That lively Custom Shop .375 has fine balance, a McMillan stock, and an action and trigger as slick as those on the 700-X.

Will D’Arcy’s stated focus on Remington and Marlin guns leave some Remington Outdoor Company brands temporarily in shadow? DPMS and Bushmaster have peddled a lot of ARs, but that market has softened. And these rifles, all of which post-date the Remington 700, aren’t as brand-distinctive as traditional firearms.

“There’s no plan to change the make-up of the Remington Outdoor Company,” Hogg says.

Tradition Versus Innovation

To many shooters, tradition matters. A firearm isn’t a crescent wrench. Beyond its utility, it has value for what it evokes. With their replicas of Colts and Winchesters, Italian gunmakers have profitably tapped into our fascination with the early American West. Remington needn’t reach that far back. Guns new just a few decades ago remind us of times we like to remember.

A typhoon of new Remington rifles and shotguns all but swept away their forebears on the heels of WWII. The 721/722 centerfire bolt rifle arrived in 1948, with a receiver of economical tube stock and a twin-lug bolt with clip extractor and plunger ejector. “Three rings of steel” cradled the case head. Hailed for the strength of its action, the rifle handled and cycled smoothly. It had a good trigger. Designers Merle “Mike” Walker and Homer Young held it to high accuracy standards. It sold for about $90. Upgrades 14 years later would yield the Model 700.

Remington also replaced the Model 141 pump and Model 81 self-loader. The 141 gave its Gamemaster moniker to the 760 at its 1952 debut. A box magazine and rotating, multiple-lug bolt with recessed face suited the 760 pump and, in 1955, the 740 Woodsmaster auto, to powerful .30/06-class rounds. The 740 was supplanted in 1960 by the 742. Its sleek profile had already graced Remington shotguns, the Model 48 auto upstaging the Browning-designed, humpback Model 11 in 1949, the 870 pump replacing the Model 31 a year later. Remington would bring that shape to its rim- fire line too, with the 572 pump in 1955.

Will D’Arcy’s stated focus on Remington and Marlin guns leave some Remington Outdoor Company brands in temporary shadow? DPMS and Bushmaster (Cerberus’ first purchases, in 2006) have peddled a lot of ARs. But that market has softened. And these rifles, all of which post-date the Remington 700, aren’t as brand-distinctive as traditional firearms.

“There’s no plan to change the makeup of the Remington Outdoor Company,” Hogg says, reminding me that some names are inactive or practically so. “We don’t build L.C. Smith shotguns. Our Custom Shop Parkers come from Tony Galazan’s skilled craftsmen in Connecticut.”

Remington is “adding efficiencies” to speed manufacture and improve the quality of production-line firearms. Hogg explains how new CNC units in the Huntsville plant dramatically reduce machining time. “Ilion has yet to catch up. As it does, we’ll hold or tighten tolerances, and ensure uniformity, at lower cost.”

The vision is there, and, it seems to me, the enthusiasm and commitment to spark a Remington renewal. Can this company tap nostalgia, sell new designs, take advantage of production economies, and serve the market’s evolving tastes at the same time?

“A daunting task,” concedes D’Arcy. But he’s genuinely optimistic. So, too, are others I spoke with from Madison, Ilion, Huntsville, and Sturgis.

The 700-X and 700 DGR, with Marlins from the Custom Shop, show what’s possible. There’s no question Remington’s people are keen to restore the image of this grand American institution.

Booth #14229 (remington.com)

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