Precision is the name of the game at Defiance Machine in Columbia Falls.
Since 2009, the manufacturer of high-end precision rifle actions has been making a name for itself across the country and beyond with its products that are renowned for their accuracy and reliability.
“Making rifle actions is all about accuracy first. People don’t buy our stuff because it is pretty. It’s all about accuracy and consistency,” founder and owner Glen Harrison said.
A former bench rest shooter, Harrison made a name for himself as a competitor before deciding to try his hand at rifle manufacturing. Harrison wanted a more accurate rifle action, but believed it could make one better than what most manufacturers were producing at the time. Becoming a pioneer in using computer aided design to build his rifle actions, Harrison bought the needed machines, taught himself to use them and set out to prove he could make a better rifle. More than 26 years later, he and his company are industry leaders in the design and production of precision rifle actions, producing actions for their own label as well as for more than 150 other companies across the country.
“I thought there was a better way to make a rifle action so I could make a more accurate rifle. So, I designed one and made a few of them and it snowballed,” Harrison said. “It started as a hobby and grew from there.”
For the past four years, Defiance’s actions have dominated the Precision Rifle Series (PRS), an organization that tracks how more than 2,000 competitors place in major rifle matches across the country. PRS matches are tactical/practical long-range rifle matches shot using in-the-field conditions. Typical ranges for steel targets are from 300 to 1,200 yards, which are engaged from prone and improvised positions, often under extreme time pressure.
In 2017, a full 30 percent of the top competitors in the series were using rifles built on actions manufactured by Defiance Machine.
So, what is it that makes Defiance actions so great? It is a combination of factors.
“There is not a simple answer to that, it a combination of a lot of things like design, how we machine things and how we process and handle the materials,” Harrison said. “It’s a lot of things and an attention to the details. It all plays in to how accurate the rifle is.”
Harrison’s first dive into precision action manufacturing was his business Nesika Bay Precision in western Washington. After selling the company to Dakota Arms in 2003, Harrison moved to the Flathead Valley to pursue another opportunity before starting Defiance Machine in 2009. Originally housed in a 1,200 square foot building near the Kalispell International Airport, Defiance made the move to its current home just west of Columbia Falls in 2011. What was a 12,000 square foot facility has been expanded to 20,000 with further growth expected in the future. With 22 employees producing 5,000 actions in 2017, Defiance is still growing.
“We are growing and expanding and we are profitable. We have a bunch of new equipment out there are we are looking for people to operate it,” Harrison said. “We have had an aggressive but steady growth.”
While Harrison admits that Montana’s tough property tax laws are not exactly friendly to his, or any other, manufacturing operation, he is encouraged to see a growing manufacturing industry in the Flathead Valley and beyond.
“The community doesn’t realize the scope of high end manufacturing going on in this area, in western Montana, at all. There is some really neat stuff going on around our area, not just what we do. There’s some really high tech, cutting edge, world-class stuff going on,” he said. “I don’t see a lot of training in the schools around here for that kind of stuff and I think that is a huge missed opportunity. Manufacturing creates a lot of jobs in the community. If you add jobs in manufacturing, you are adding value to the whole community.”
As for the future, Harrison says business is good, and he expects it to stay that way.
“The bolt action market is always going to be there. I’ve been doing this for 26 years and each year there has been an average of a 17 percent increase in the bolt action market each year,” he said. “The AR market goes up and down depending on who is in the Oval Office, but bolt action sales never seem to suffer.”