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Ljutic Gun Maker Aims for a Comeback (article)

Discussion in 'Uncategorized Threads' started by Joe Potosky, Jun 18, 2008.

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  1. Joe Potosky

    Joe Potosky Well-Known Member

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    Gun Maker Aims for a Comeback

    By HARRIS MEYER - WSJ Digital Network

    June 18, 2008; Page D7

    Yakima, Wash.

    'Lean forward, hold your head upright, keep both eyes on the target," Jimmy Ljutic told me.

    I was standing at Al and Nadine Ljutic's trap field, behind their house, cradling their classic single-barrel shotgun. For many years, the Ljutic Mono Gun was the dominant high-end trap shooting gun in the U.S. The couple, along with their older son, Joe, became legends for their designs and championship shooting.

    But two years ago, Ljutic Industries, which Al and Nadine founded in 1959, nearly went out of business. A Yakima industrialist who knew the Ljutics bought the company and is trying to revive it as Ljutic LLC.

    Jimmy -- the couple's younger son -- brings customers from all over the country to the trap field. A custom fitting is a key part of selling a trophy gun that can cost anywhere from $8,000 to $30,000. "It's like buying your first Rolex," says Doug Gray, a shotgun dealer in Amarillo, Texas.

    With the Mono Gun's hickory stock pressed to my cheek, I stood 16 yards from the trap house and called "pull." Jimmy pressed a button and an orange clay disk, 4.3 inches in diameter, whirled away at a slight angle. I fired and missed. Fifty misses later, my shoulder a little sore from the kick, I handed the gun back to Jimmy.

    A few days later, at the Spokane Gun Club's Inland Empire Handicap, I see how it's supposed to be done. Several hundred men, all white and mostly middle-aged or older, line up to compete in the five-day tournament. There are a few women. Juniors will compete over the weekend.

    They are shooting for $51,000 in prize money. Ljutic LLC gave $2,000 to sponsor one event in memory of Joe Ljutic, who died of heart disease in December. They also are competing for thousands more in gambling pots.

    The competitors wield special trap shotguns made by Perazzi, Kreighoff, Kolar, Browning and others. While new, entry-level Brownings can cost about $1,200; some customized guns with precious metal inlays cost more than $20,000.

    The top shooter at a tournament can pocket about $5,000 -- more than enough to cover the hundreds of dollars in costs for shells, entry fees and pots, not to mention gas. Only a few shooters cover their expenses.

    Most competitors at the Spokane tournament break at least 90 out of 100 targets in singles, where they fire at one target at a time from 16 yards. The majority break at least 80 in doubles -- where they have to hit two targets thrown simultaneously -- and also in handicap, where they move back as far as 27 yards depending on their shooting record.

    But winning an event often takes a perfect 100, which is why the shooters are so quiet and focused. The high overall winner at the Spokane tournament, Doug Starkel, nailed a remarkable 971 out of 1,000 targets in all events.

    There are hundreds of competitive trap shoots around the country every year. The Grand American in Sparta, Ill., in August is the major, usually drawing about 6,000 shooters. The sport's semiprofessional stars, such as Dan Bonillas and Sean Hawley, are there.

    Shotgun target sports are growing faster than other shooting sports. Last year, 5.5 million Americans shot trap or skeet, a similar sport, according to the new American Sports Data sports participation study. That was up 46% from 1998. Still, over the past couple of years, participation in trap tournaments and sales of new, high-end trap guns are down. Club officials and dealers blame the economy, higher shell costs, and soaring gas prices.

    To boost interest in trap and promote their brands, shotgun makers scout for teenage hotshots and provide them with guns, hoping to groom future legends. One recent Ljutic find is 16-year-old Zack Nannini of San Jose, Calif., who already has beaten Mr. Hawley. Zack travels to shoots with his parents, earning more than $15,000 last year (his mother bets on him). "I love the Ljutic gun," he says.

    Despite such loyalty, Ljutic -- which produced 340 shotguns a year at its height in the early 1980s -- sharply lost market share in the 1990s to other high-end gunmakers. Last year, Ljutic shipped only 50 new shotguns.

    Company officials concede that they failed to keep up with rivals' new products. By 2006, dealers and customers were frustrated at having to wait many months for gun orders. The company owed nearly $1 million in payroll taxes to the IRS and was on the verge of being shut down. In September 2006, Jere Irwin, president of Irwin Research and Development in Yakima, which manufactures machines that make food containers for supermarkets, acquired Ljutic Industries -- settling its tax debt with the IRS for a negotiated sum of $250,000 and making a smaller payment to the Ljutics for the rights to the company's name.

    "My financial people told me I was crazy, and they were totally right," says Mr. Irwin, age 72. "But I liked the Ljutics and what they did, and I wanted to keep it going." Nadine Ljutic, 78, remains in charge of customer relations, relying on her file cards on every customer over the past 49 years. Al, vigorous but forgetful at 91, keeps his wife company in the office.

    To become competitive again, the company needed to quickly produce a good adjustable sighting rib on top of the barrel. That allows shooters to change the sighting plane depending on whether they want the BBs to go higher or lower.

    Mr. Irwin, who has never shot a trap gun, designed a rib that could be adjusted easily without tools -- something no other gunmaker offered. It hit the market early last year. Dealer Doug Gray says Ljutic's adjustable rib is catching on, and that the new owner is doing a good job of rebuilding consumer confidence.

    Now Ljutic, which has only 12 employees, is working hard to produce a competitively priced combination gun with detachable barrels for singles and doubles shooting. "People are expecting something great and we hope we don't let them down," says Mr. Irwin, who admits sinking "a couple million" dollars in the gun company so far.

    John Ross, former chief operating officer of Deutsche Bank Group, bought a rare, custom-made Ljutic combo gun for $22,000 after visiting the Yakima facility in 2003. Now he says he won't shoot anything else. "I hope the Ljutic name lives on forever," Mr. Ross says.

    Mr. Meyer is a journalist based in Yakima, Wash.
     
  2. ljutic73

    ljutic73 Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for posting this, Joe. I wish the company well.

    Ron Burr

    Lethbridge, Alberta
     
  3. Mono3811

    Mono3811 Member

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    Thanks for the post, Joe. I just purchased a new mono gun from Craig Richardson, at Ljutic,LLC. Since I had problems with a gun purchased
    new in 2006, I wasn"t sure what would happen.
    Craig put a lot of effort in getting me the gun I wanted. He did every-
    thing that was promised and the gun was delivered a week earlier than
    promised. There are also improvements on their current guns that fix
    problems that Ljutic shooters have talked about for years.
    This Ljutic may not be the prettiest I've ever owned, but for sure it's
    the best Ljutic I've ever owned.

    Dick Richards
     
  4. 100straight

    100straight Member

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    I didn't know until reading this article that Ljutics have "hickory" stocks. Very unique.

    Shoot well and often,

    Mark.
     
  5. ec90t

    ec90t Guest

    I really liked that the author stated "white middle aged men" was the core group. I can't believe that he had nothing to say about our physical shape.

    ec90t
     
  6. eric

    eric TS Supporters TS Supporters

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    The author, Harris Meyer, spent nearly an entire day at the Inland Empire Handicap last month to get the feel of a registered shoot. His article was cut almost in half as published and he was also going to run a picture of the Ljutics but that was also cut. Overall, a pretty good article!

    Eric
     
  7. Gary Waalkes

    Gary Waalkes Well-Known Member

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    According to shotgunsports, they are reintroducing the Mono Black Diamond gun (w/adjustable rib, stainless reciever, better trigger, etc). No price was stated
     
  8. cls

    cls Member

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    Sorry Joe, I hadn't seen this when I posted the same article. My mistake. cls
     
  9. Gary Waalkes

    Gary Waalkes Well-Known Member

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    to Dixie - I was only putting in a take-away from shotgun sports - I do not have a dog in the fight and did not critisize the existing Ljutic trigger. This is about the Black Diamond and is out of shotgun sports "...as well as a trigger pull with more of an inline-thrust hammer for improved and consistent lock time and improved spring material to increase reiability and consistency."
     
  10. Chango2

    Chango2 Active Member

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    Great article, neat gun.
     
  11. ljutic231

    ljutic231 TS Member

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    Most of what you hear about lock time is pure BS. I feel that most of the shooters that complain are also wearing gloves and couldn't feel the trigger any way. I shot #65 Ljutic from 1976 ( I bought it used) until 1994 never had anything break. Just greased it when I put it together and shot it. Being old and Dumb I sold it in 94 and now have # 231S Mono and it has been good to me.
    Bob Roberts
     
  12. wbill

    wbill Member

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    Just bought a new Ljutic adjustable rib Black Diamond about a month ago. So far it has been one of the quickest guns I have had to get get used to shooting. The new higher rib and the feel of the gun is not like any other Ljutic I have had. It is the first gun that I do not notice the recoil. If your looking for a very good gun to buy that does not break and will last forever,try one I think you will like it.
    P.S. It's American made.
    Bill
     
  13. Big Heap

    Big Heap TS Member

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    Al told me many years ago that when he's gone all his guns will become collector's pieces. Al, like his guns, is going to outlast all of us.
     
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