April 27, 2012
Finnish ammunition company Lapua took a big step two days ago in enlarging its U.S. footprint with the unveiling of a new rimfire service center in Mesa, AZ. Located just half an hour west of Phoenix, the Lapua rimfire service center is designed to attract top-flight rimfire competitors in various disciplines who want to wring the very best accuracy they can out of their rifles by allowing them to test various types and lots of Lapua .22 ammo in a high-tech, controlled environment.
The service center, an effort that came about during discussions among company officials Bruce Webb, Adam Braverman and Markku Kortesoja, was conceived last summer, and the first spade of dirt on the project was turned just 90 days (and several hundred thousand dollars) ago.
It's modeled after a similar facility in Schnebeck, Germany, and consists of a 100-meter test tunnel that allows ammo to be tested at 50 meters and 100 meters simultaneously, courtesy of Metyon Elektronik computer targeting systems that allows both the customer and the tester to get instant feedback.
Those who want to use the facility have to pre-qualify; Lapua wants to know what discipline they shoot, what their level of involvement is with their chosen sport, what kind of rifle they have, and, not surprisingly, how much ammo they plan to buy once they identify a lot that works well for them. In short, if you're just looking to buy a brick of ammo to run through your favorite plinker, the Lapua rimfire service center isn't the place for you. I got the impression the threshold was cases, probably plural.
But such quantities are par for the course for serious smallbore competitors. And if you're a winning-is-everything competitor in international three-position, prone, silhouette, rimfire benchrest or other smallbore endeavor where accuracy means the difference between going home and going home a champion, it is the only place in the U.S. I know of where a member of the general public can get this kind of service.
It is, as you might imagine, by appointment only. And there is a range fee of $50 (insider tip: I think if you buy enough ammo, you'll get that $50 back, but I don't know what that quantity might be). For your $50, you get not only the use of the testing facility but also the benefit of a extremely knowledgeable tester in the form of Darrell Stettmeier, Lapua rimfire service center's manager who was formerly with the U.S. Army and now active with the National Guard. (He is also the point of contact for the service center: DStettmeier@nammoinc.com, 480-626-8648.)
I have some experience with rimfire ammo testing, and I can say that not only is this facility completely state of the art, Darrell and his team with feedback from Olympic hopeful and Lapua-sponsored shooter Kirsten Weiss, whose rifle was used in the demonstration I saw have thought of everything. Darrell answered every question on barrel temps, cleaning procedures, barrel tuners and much more with authoritative responses that showed they've really done their homework.
Lapua also took the smart route in terms of ammo purchases. While you will leave with the ammo you want, the company isn't cutting out the dealer or distributor from whom you usually buy your ammo. The sale will be processed through said business, even though you'll be taking your cases home with you.
And in a very smart move, the Lapua rimfire service center will also test shipped-in rifles. So if you don't want to incur the expense of flying to Phoenix, if you pre-qualify you can ship your rifle to the service center's FFL and have them test it and ship it back to you (shipping costs are your responsibility, of course). Darrell can email you pdfs of the results probably in real time, if you want — and you can make your determinations based on the very same results you'd get if you were on site.
Lapua says they'll have about 2 million rounds on hand at the service center, and they'll test pretty much anything you want although they will limit the testing to lots that meet your intended quantity needs. No sense in discovering a lot that shoots well and then finding they have only a case when you need three.
Okay, those who have stuck with me this far are either serious smallbore types or those who are wondering why I'm highlighting this new center. For the former, you realize this is newsworthy because unless you're on one of the military teams, you just don't have access to the ammo quantities, much less the facilities, to conduct such testing.
For the latter, Lapua is basically saying there's a new sheriff in town when it comes to serious rimfire ammo — a town that for a long time has belonged to Eley. I think it also plants a flag for Lapua in the United States.
Is this a springboard to moving into the big leagues in American ammo, with the Winchesters, Hornadys, Remingtons and Federals? Smallbore competition ammo is certainly more of a boutique product, and to be a player in this country you need plinking ammo in the rimfire market and a much broader selection of hunting ammo — plus low-cost .223 and .308 FMJ in the sporting market. What moves if any Lapua makes next might telegraph their intentions in the U.S. market.