Later this morning, Ruger will announce it’s first-ever professional shooting team.
Ruger’s never had a professional team, but today’s product mix gives them guns capable of competing in everything from cowboy action and rimfire challenge matches to practical disciplines like IDPA and USPSA, Steel Challenge, Bianchi Cup, even long range precision rifle matches.
What will raise eyebrows even higher across the industry is the identity of their new team captain: Doug Koenig.
After fourteen very successful years as a Smith & Wesson shooter, Koenig will now be shooting Rugers. And not just in the practical disciplines. Koenig tells me he’ll be expanding his schedule to include precision rifle competitions.
I spoke with Koenig from the floor of the Archery Trade Association’s show in Indianapolis yesterday afternoon. And it was apparent he’s excited at this new opportunity.
“I’ve been with Smith & Wesson for a very long time,” he said, “and I want to be really clear about this - they’ve always been good to me.”
But, Koenig said, he sensed that over the past few years the culture at Smith & Wesson had shifted.
“We were going in different directions,” he explained, “and I’d already told them I wasn’t re-signing this year. And when I was approached by Ruger, they were interested in my thoughts on guns.”
“And, he said, “their products cover any type of competition, so I’ll be shooting their 1911, their polymer pistols and the Ruger precision rifle.”
Don’t know if that means Ruger’s going full-tilt into the “race gun” business, but I’m betting there will be at least some new “tweaks” ahead for their 1911s.
After all, professional shooting teams seem designed to accomplish two things: represent your company and its products as competition capable- and take the things you learn from your professional shooters to incorporate new innovations and ideas into your new -and existing products to make them even better.
Koenig told me that those goals were a deciding factor in his decision to switch.
“When I talked with Ruger engineers,” he told me, “they asked me what I thought -instead of telling me what they were going to do.”
“So, I told them what I would like to see in a Ruger competition pistol,” he said, “and it seemed like they were really listening.
Confirmation of their attentiveness didn’t take long, he said.
“A few days after Christmas I got a pair of Ruger pistols with the exact changes I’d talked about already done to them.”
“That,” he told me, “is exciting.”
Koenig’s will to be learning a new company and corporate culture, but not every face he’ll see there will be a stranger.
Former Smith & Wesson Marketing Director Paul Pluff is now at Ruger. And he’s the executive organizing and supervising Ruger’s first-ever foray into the competition shooting world.
With Pluff, Ruger’s new shooting team gets the experience of a seasoned firearms professional who has for years been a quiet driving force behind shooting sports.
“We’ve got some exciting things planned,” Pluff told me while hustling through the airport to make a Scholastic Shooting Sports Foundation board meeting, “and it’s not all just about the professionals today. We’re going to use our professionals to help recruit, encourage and help with training the next generation of competition shooters.”
Does this mean there we’ll soon see the shooting equivalent of minor-league sports?
Early to say, but there’s already an industry coalition looking to make the most gun-friendly nation in the world more competitive in international shooting competitions. And another gun company forming a professional shooting team can only help.
He wouldn’t give too-many specifics, but Pluff made it plain that Ruger doesn’t plan to ease into the shooting sports, or be satisfied with the status quo.
With SHOT now days, not weeks, away, it’s safe to say this big announcement will feed plenty of conversations in Las Vegas.
As always, we’ll keep you posted.
Editor’s Note: On Sunday, Ruger’s Paul Pluff will be a guest on Tom Gresham’s Gun Talk radio to talk more about Ruger’s new shooting team. Find out more at www.guntalk.com.