I had the opportunity recently to sit down with Blackdog Machine LLC owner Kevin Rich and discuss the history of his little company, as well as get a sneak peek at some exciting products coming out soon. If the name Blackdog doesn’t sound familiar to you, it should. Blackdog is well known as the industry standard for magazines for .22 conversion AR rifles.
Kevin Rich has more than 20 years of experience working with machine shops, plastics, and molding. Combine this with a lifetime spent around firearms, and you’ve got a man who truly understands the needs of the industry. Kevin is originally from Idaho, and he was living in Coeur D’alene when Michaels of Oregon moved into a new building in Meridian, Idaho. Kevin began working with them in 2002 on product research and development.
In 2005, Bushnell purchased Michaels of Oregon and in 2006 decided to eliminate 200 employees and move operations overseas to China. Kevin had long seen the need for a manufacturer of .22 conversion kits for a variety of firearms. In fact, he’d been working on his own designs for .22 magazines for some time. So when the axe fell at Michaels of Oregon, Kevin was ready.
When asked why he felt .22 magazines were the way to go, Kevin said, “It was a combination of things. I could see some possible political changes coming. The ban had just lifted for hi-cap magazines, and with the political changes that were coming, it was easy to see the ammunition shortage coming. I would say I was about two years ahead of things.”
Those two years gave Kevin Rich just enough time to get Blackdog Machine off the ground. Kevin knew his product was viable, but nobody else had the foresight that Kevin did. He searched for investors and tried to get loans, but nobody else felt that his business platform for Blackdog Machine would work. So, Kevin liquidated what he could, used come credit cards, and borrowed some money from his family to get his dream off the ground floor.
The timing couldn’t have been any better. At the time, Ciener conversions were the only .22 AR-15 converstions that were widely available on the market. Kevin commented on the beginning of the .22 revolution:
Ciener, he had some of it goin’, but it didn’t get popular. I think it was the demand. He wasn’t able to keep up production. We released the Generation 1 magazine right around Christmas in 2005, and then that spurred on everybody else. It got them thinking, “Hey these guys have these magazines, lets build these uppers to go with the guns.” So I built relationships with Model 1 Sales and Spikes Tactical.
Soon, sales began to skyrocket, both for the .22 conversion kits, as well as for Blackdog’s extremely reliable magazines. But wherever there is success, imitators soon follow. I asked Kevin about the cheaper imports that are available from China and Korea. He had this to say:
Our customer service is bullet proof. Our next day shipping, it’s well known. We’ve got a reputation for quality, shipping, and customer service that’s bullet proof.
There’s definitely a difference in quality as well. People know I started this, and I run the company. I mean, I get down there and I can run all of the machines. I design all of our own products, from drawing it in CAD to designing the tooling and injection molds. I personally check every product before it heads out the door, and if there’s a problem, I pull it. Plus, we’re innovative. People know we’re on the cutting edge. That’s how we stay ahead of all the copycats.
Blackdog Machine is definitely innovative. I asked Kevin about what we can expect from Blackdog in the future. He remained tight-lipped, saying, “I don’t like to talk about products until people can get their hands on it.” Nevertheless, I did get some juicy details about what we can expect to see from Blackdog at the 2010 SHOT show.
One of Blackdog’s newest magazines is their .22 caliber drum magazine for the AR-15 .22 conversion platform. This magazine is already available on the market. Kevin designed the magazine from the ground up using a team of talented engineers.
I asked him about some of the obstacles he had to overcome when designing a 100% reliable .22 drum magazine:
Feeding issues are a big deal. What we did is we developed a new way of feeding the rounds up the tower. The trick is to feed all of your rounds up the tower, feeding the rounds through the drum is easy. The key is in what I call the ‘dummy stack’, or the follower. We’ve got a new way in which we do our follower so that it reliably and consistently feeds every round. I also designed it so that the drum can be easily taken apart with the spring self-contained so that it doesn’t come flying out when you disassemble it. The drum spring itself can be wound tighter or wound less and still function reliably. I wanted it right, and we went the extra mile to make it right. I actually go out there and check every single drum to make sure that they function, I want to make sure that drum is perfect.
Kevin’s AR-15 .22 drum magazine is just the beginning. He mentioned that he has a new drum magazine for the 10/22 Ruger that will be unveiled at the SHOT show. While I can’t reveal all of the details on his newest product, he did mention that this new drum magazine has a number of patented features, including patents on the gear teeth and the angle of the tower. Keep a close eye out for that redesigned drum tower. According to Kevin Rich, it revolutionizes magazine interchangeability!
Blackdog Machine isn’t limiting their new products to just magazines however. They will be unveiling more than just their new drum magazine at the 2010 SHOT show. In our conversation, Kevin asked me if I was familiar with the WASR-22 .22 caliber AK rifle. Blackdog already manufactures magazines for a wide range of rifles. But according to Kevin, much more than just magazines will soon be available. He didn’t go into all of the details, but Blackdog does have a SOT class 2 permit, so I feel safe in speculating that we may see an all Blackdog-designed rimfire AK coming out in the near future.
AKs aren’t the only .22 firearm that Blackdog has in the works. Kevin hinted that Glock wasn’t the only company working on a .22 version of their pistol. He told me to stop by his table at the 2010 SHOT show to see Blackdog’s answer to the rimfire Glock question. Kevin insisted on keeping mum on the details, but insisted that the kit will be ready for production soon after the SHOT show. If true, that will be a huge coup for Blackdog, as the rumoured Glock .22 caliber pistol isn’t supposed to be available for another year or so.
There is one more product in development at the Blackdog skunkworks. When he was with Michaels of Oregon, Kevin worked with some of the designers of Uncle Mike’s holsters. He has now taken that expertise and developed a retention holster for the Ruger .22 pistol line. He commented on the new holster, saying:
My focus is rimfire, so I wanted to come out with our own line of molded holsters. I’ve got a molded kydex .22 Ruger holster that we’ll be revealing at the 201 SHOT show – it’s not a pipe dream, this product is DONE. The molds are done. This is going to be the big-shot premier. This thing is gonna be a hit. This fits the Ruger Mark I, II, and III, and it fits every barrel configuration from slabs to bull barrels, including aftermarket uppers and silencers. It will also fit any optic, red dots, scopes, etc. This holster’s ambidextrous. We used four screws that hold an adapter plate and a belt loop by simply removing those screws, you can switch the plate to the other side. It’s also adjustable for retention, so 3-gun competitors and other competitive shooters who have to use a holster with some retention can practice with their .22.
Blackdog Machine is a new and obviously up and coming company with an excellent lineup of products, and with even more exciting products coming in the next year. But Blackdog Machine LLC is a small company. Blackdog only employs 10 people, 5 of which came from Micahels of Oregon when Bushnell shut down them down. Kevin says he likes his small company. They’re nimble, innovative, and can easily adapt to what the market demands, yet they’re big enough to have excellent quality and top-notch customer service. Keep an eye on this company. I’ve a strong feeling that they’ve got many more impressive products yet to come.