In the January 2011 issue of Shooting Sports USA, former Field Editor Maureen Hammerquist penned this profile of South Dakota’s Black Hills Ammunition. The story of this company is one that is still relevant today. To subscribe to the digital magazine and Insider email newsletter, click here.
The mid-sized South Dakota town of Rapid City, most famous for the four presidents carved in stone at Mt. Rushmore, harbors a success story that’s been more than 30 years in the making. Some people measure success by what they get. But working hard to create products that shooters depend upon and taking pride in every endeavor—that’s a measure of success that Jeff and Kristi Hoffman and Black Hills Ammunition experience every day.
With proven performance and extreme accuracy, it’s no wonder that this premium hunting ammunition found success with long-range competitive shooters.
Jeff’s passion for shooting began at an early age, learning to hunt, shoot and reload from his grandfather. While a police officer, Jeff was active on the police force shooting league and competed in PPC whenever he could. It was Jeff’s participation on the league that led to the couple’s start in the ammunition industry. In 1981, a fellow officer left the force to start his own ammunition business and hired Jeff to help make ammo. Six months later, the Hoffman’s had the opportunity to buy into this business. It was a risky venture at the time, with Jeff working three jobs and the couple’s need for a $12,000 business loan. With Jeff’s father as a cosigner of the loan and offering the title to his truck as collateral, the Hoffman’s mantra was forged: “Failure is not an option.” In 1988, Jeff and Kristi bought out and separated from their business partners, creating Black Hills Ammunition (BHA).
Black Hills’ earliest customers were dealers and law enforcement, important clientele to this day. As their company became recognized for quality products, the Hoffmans branched out to reach a wider customer base, instead of simply focusing on ammunition made by their competitors.
Gun manufacturers began to rely on BHA for dependable ammunition during their testing and development processes. The consistent ammunition that Black Hills provides helps gun manufacturers eliminate variables when they are trying to determine whether a problem is with the firearm or ammunition. Some of the leading names that work with BHA include Beretta, Browning, Freedom Arms, Heckler and Koch, Les Baer Custom, Smith & Wesson, and Ruger—to name a few.
The company’s relationship with the military began in 1996 when BHA contracted with the U.S. Army Marksmanship Unit. Once world-class competitors began using the Black Hills brand, other branches followed suit.
In the 30 years since Kristi first convinced Jeff the business was a risk worth taking, BHA has become a household name across the shooting community. It hasn’t been an easy ride, however. At times, challenges seemed insurmountable but the Hoffman’s determination not to fail and their passion for quality helped them survive. “You have to be passionate about what you’re doing and not really realize how badly you can fail. We didn’t accept the possibility of failing,” said Jeff. A strong belief system has also helped the Hoffmans. “You can’t ignore some things. There are times when we should have failed and we didn’t. If you ask for help, sometimes it’s answered.” Along with growth came a need to expand and in 2008, BHA moved to a 60,000-square foot facility on the north side of Rapid City. A nine-month renovation turned the former milk dairy processing plant into a secure, spacious and clean facility under one roof.
The company takes an active part in the local community, sponsoring a variety of local youth programs and events. Jeff also teaches the ammunition portion of the local handgun safety course. “The city is completely behind us with what we do. This area is wonderful for this business and the city and state are gun friendly,” said Jeff.
Black Hills Ammunition moved into this 60,000 square foot facility in 2008.
Seventy-five people are part of the Black Hills extended family. “We all do this together, every person, every area. We can’t do this alone,” said Kristi. A lot of time is spent in contact with the military and other clients, analyzing test data, testing and developing new products. Finding their own niches over the years has enabled BHA to set high standards in specific areas. It’s not the cheapest, but from bullet design to performance level and accuracy, they’ve proved they can provide something better on the ammunition market. “People will buy a thousand-dollar firearm and then ask, ‘What ammunition do you have that’s cheap.’ This is not like cars and gasoline. People should be saying ‘Give me something good.’”
BHA works with other reputable businesses for the components they don’t manufacture on site. Often, products are built specifically to Black Hills’ needs. High standards means ammunition that is reliable, accurate and functioning as expected. Every round of ammunition that leaves the factory is hand-inspected and every lot is double-tested for pressure and velocity.
Today, Black Hills offers ammunition in the most popular calibers for modern firearms as well as for Cowboy Action in more calibers than anywhere else. The Black Hills Gold Ammunition premium line has proven an outstanding choice for long-range competition and its bullet performance and accuracy make it a favorite among police snipers around the country.
While Black Hills’ ammunition is responsible for many shooting records, hunting trophies and is used on the front lines defending troops in battle, Jeff and Kristi get their biggest rewards from what others’ say about their products. “The highest compliment we ever received was from the U.S. Navy,” remembers Jeff. “Nothing compares to the knowledge that by doing our job right, American servicemen are alive today.”
In Jeff’s words: “Whether you’re selling shoes, cars or ammo; what you’re really selling is that you will do what you say you will.” There’s no question that the folks at Black Hills Ammunition are doing just that.