Uncertainty spurs big ammo sales by Utah firm

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CLEARFIELD -- The ammunition business is going great guns, and Clearfield, Utah has emerged as the capital of the industry. That's because a company you may have heard of jumped into the bullet business, and its timing was very good.

ATK is known primarily as a rocket-maker. It produces the solid-rocket boosters for the space shuttle and for the Ares rocket, which is currently in development.

But last year the company also sold 12 billion bullets. It's now No. 1 in ammunition sales to the military, to police and to sportsmen. In fact, the company now derives nearly half its revenue from bullets and related products.

ATK is the nation's largest supplier of small-caliber ammunition. About 75% of the ammunition produced annually is used for combat and training.

It's part of a company move toward diversification, according to Mark DeYoung, president of the Clearfield-based ATK Armament Systems Group.

Rockets and bullets have many things in common. DeYoung says, "Ammunition has a lot of science in it, which is common to rocket science."

ATK bought out bullet-maker Blount International, Inc. in 2001. It was just after the 9/11 terror attacks changed the world and the ammunition business.

"We've seen a pretty steady incline in demand in law enforcement and military, post 9/11," says DeYoung .

Although all of the company's bullet-manufacturing sites are in other states, the ATK armaments segment moved its headquarters from Minnesota to Utah a couple of years ago. It was just about then the demand for bullets shot even higher. In the last year, demand for bullets jumped an incredible 30 percent.

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DeYoung says it's partly because of uncertainty. "People see what's going on in the world, it's an uncertain place, and people are concerned about having enough ammunition," DeYoung says, "whether it's for personal defense or sporting use, just making sure they have the product." He downplays but doesn't deny a political force is also driving the market. Some gun owners are hoarding ammo in the belief the Obama administration will change gun laws. He says, "Concern about Second Amendment rights and the ability to continue to hunt and shoot and target-shoot, I think has contributed, so I think there are several factors."

Another factor is the growing economy in China. The Chinese demand for lead and copper has pushed up the cost of metals that are key to the manufacture of ammunition. The upward pressure on prices has caused some gun owners to buy extra ammunition because they worry prices will go even higher in the future.

Finally, there's a factor ATK would like to brag about. The company has been nationally recognized for creating such a variety of new products and packaging schemes they've helped push up demand. It's also helped the company vault into first place among ammunition-makers.

E-mail: hollenhorst@ksl.com

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