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Duck hunters build ammo business from backyard

COLUMBUS, Miss. (AP) — Three friends with a passion for hunting gathered around a small table after a duck hunt in 2017 in an old 1920s style house surrounded by porcelain rabbits in Hackberry Flats, Oklahoma.

Over some cold Miller Lites and a hot DiGiorno pizza, Jared Lewis, Nick Charney, and Jason Lonsberry began Apex Ammunition.

“I can remember it to this day — we were sitting at a small circular table with a porcelain bunny to my left … and this idea came along,” Lewis told the Columbus Rotary Club on Tuesday at Lion Hills Center.

Lewis is the company’s chief operating officer, and he served in the Army National Guard as an artillery officer where he learned about ballistics. With his training in field artillery, he used his expertise in the business they were beginning to create.

Though the company began in Oklahoma, its headquarters and a majority of its operations are in New Hope. Even with offers from other states like Kentucky to expand operations there, the three owners have no intentions to uproot the headquarters from the Golden Triangle. In fact, they are looking to expand operations with an additional facility in Columbus and double their Mississippi staff from 25 to 50.

“We’re expanding,” Lewis said. “We’re still in my dad’s backyard. We expanded from the original shop about a year and a half ago, and we’ve already outgrown that. We’re trying to expand now in the Lowndes County region. I’m a big supporter of Mississippi and Mississippi products. We don’t want to leave Mississippi, and we definitely don’t want to leave the county. This is where we’re going to make our home. … We’re not leaving.”

Apex Ammunition was the first in the ammunition market to include tungsten super shot, which is a tungsten-alloy material that has a density that is more dense than lead. According to Lewis, there are only two metals in the world that have a higher density: gold and uranium. The uniqueness of Apex, however, is the shotgun shells are all hand-loaded.

Apex could not patent its design, but they have set the market for top-of-the-line TSS shells. To establish themselves as the premier TSS ammunition manufacturer, Apex honed in on branding with a customer-first approach.

“You can’t patent what we do, so we knew right out of the gate that branding was essential,” Lewis said. “We were first in the market, which is why we move so fast. Then branding had to come right behind it. When federal and everybody else started trying to do what we do, it helped because people were tired of the bad customer service. That’s what we focus on — the customer first. They’re all doing it, but they can’t do it like we do.”

Despite having a business centered around ammunition for hunting, the three businessmen have only hunted together twice — the initial meeting in 2017 when they started Apex and one time nearly 10 months ago. The three friends and business partners met because of their wives, who are all Air Force pilots.

“We wouldn’t be here without (our wives),” Lewis said. “Going back to Hackberry Flats, I had a great hunt there, so after I left (Mississippi) and moved to Kansas, I wanted to go back to hunt and hopefully have the same outcome as always. I called Nick and Jason and asked if they wanted to go, and obviously they were down. We all get there, and Nick is messing with these little waterfowl loads that he had concocted that we now know as TSS.”

Because of their wives’ positions in the military, and sometimes because of their own, the three men have seldom been in the same place. When Lewis was deployed to Syria, Lonsberry was in Germany, and Charney was in Turkey. Lewis’ father, John, took over the operations in Lowndes County.

With a product as unique as their hand-loaded TSS, Apex has landed a loyal customer base. Apex boasts customers such as Donald Trump Jr., Luke Combs and Richard Childress.

“I remember going to our first (National Wild Turkey Federation) convention in Nashville,” Lewis said. “We were sitting at our booth, and I looked up to see a (long) line waiting to buy our shells. We didn’t have a tax stamp at the time, so they wouldn’t let us sell until the show opened. We had a guy come up to us and offer $500 for five boxes, and I couldn’t do it because he was breaking line in front of other folks, and that’s just not the way we operate.”

At the current facility in Lowndes County, veterans make up a good portion of the staff. An American flag adorns the far wall and the staff completes the hand-loaded shells in a well-oiled assembly line where the atmosphere is light and welcome. Lewis said the company values integrity just as the military does.

“We are integrity first, and that’s what a lot of military people are taught,” Lewis said. “We’re not going to price gouge. We’re going to set the fair market value and go from there.”

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