Technology feeds Flathead gun industry

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Squeeze the trigger no more than a hair and the rifle fires. The kick-back isn't enough to bother a fly, and even the most inexperienced shooter can hit a small target at 500 yards. As the bolt-action is pulled and the bullet casing is kicked out, the smoke still hangs in the air, surrounding the sleek weapon and the shooter with an aura of "I'm tough, yet sophisticated."

"That's a hot gun," said K.K. Jense, CEO of Proof Research Inc., the company that makes the rifles.

With a starting price of $4,500, one would think it should be hot, tough and sophisticated. Proof Research Inc. hedges their bets on the latest and greatest technology, both in designing their rifles and in building a new 25,000 square foot facility at U.S. 2 and Hodgson Road to manufacture the high-tech rifles.

The facility is scheduled to be completed by the end of the year at the latest, but Proof Research is already building their guns in two temporary facilities. All the major components of each gun will be made in the Flathead Valley.

"The time was now to bring a combination of technology into one spot," Jense said.

Jense spearheaded the effort to combine his company, Jense Precision, with the technology of Advanced Barrel Systems' carbon-fiber wrapped barrel, developed by Mike Degerness, and bolt-actions from Defiance Machine and lightweight rifle stocks from Lone Wolf Riflestocks, both Columbia Falls-based companies.

Stock division manager Greg Hamilton said that just like the other gun components, the stocks are handmade for each rifle application from the latest composites, such as Kevlar and carbon fiber.

"We build a recipe for it," he said. "There's no cookie cutter."

Hamilton said he started off as a customer of Jense's about five years ago when Jense asked him to demonstrate what a Proof Research-built rifle could do.

"Within the first 14 rounds of the first rifle, I had already hit targets at over 1,000 feet," Hamilton said.

The company currently employs 13 with plans of adding at least 10 more once the facility is completed, Jense said. The building site has room for another facility should they outgrow the first one.

The company is also developing rifles for military applications, and former Navy SEAL commander Ryan Zinke, of Whitefish, is providing consulting services for Proof Research.

As a member of the Montana Firearms Institute, a newly formed Flathead alliance of gun owners and gun makers, Jense says the Flathead Valley is a great place to build a company like Proof Research.

"It's the right atmosphere, it's the right community, it's the right facility, it's that simple," Jense said.

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