Growing up in a family of veterans and hunters, Matthew Fulk began making ammunition as a young boy in Indiana. After moving to the Flathead Valley almost eight years ago, he found an opportunity to sell his hand-loaded ammo, both online and to local stores like Snappy Sport Senter and Sportsman and Ski Haus.
Using a machine press at their home in Kila, Fulk and his family piece together bullets through a multi-stage process, from priming the case, measuring in gunpowder, to the final step of crimping the cartridges, or removing the leftover flare from the belling operation.
The Fulks build an array of calibers, including custom types for old guns. It’s truly a family operation, with Fulk’s two sons and daughter helping out and at least two family members inspecting each cartridge after completion.
This artisan pride attracted a barrage of business in recent years and spurred Fulk to expand into his own storefront. The family’s new ammunition and firearms business, Big Bear Firepower, opened in downtown Kalispell on the Fourth of July. The Fulks sell American-made guns and hand-loaded bullets built solely with Montana and U.S. components.
The shine of brand-new gold bullets spreads throughout the rustic storefront at 115 Main Street. Old wooden cases fill the 1,600-square-foot space. There’s a barrel of peanuts and Coke served out of a classic cooler for customers. It feels like an old general store, exactly what Fulk wanted when he moved in. In essence, it exemplifies Fulk’s American dream, a family-owned small business supporting other local businesses and U.S. products.
“Our main concentration is American-made products. That’s the biggest emphasis,” he said. “We try to use as much local components as we can, but definitely everything in here is made with U.S. components.”
The bullets are made using Montana Gold Bullets, an ammunition components manufacturer in Kalispell, or Rim Rock Bullets, a Ronan business that makes cast lead bullets.
Fulk points to a case of knives on display; even those are all produced in the U.S., including the blade, a rarity these days. The only two exceptions sit on a wall with other long-term food items: canned cheese from Australia and canned butter from New Zealand.
By selling American products, Fulk said he and his family are doing their part to try and help the economy rebound. But also they’re trying to reinvigorate an older generation mentality, one that emphasized quality over quantity.
“My grandfather used to tell me, ‘Spend a little more, buy quality and you’ll only buy something once,'” Fulk said. “That’s what will help the economy, getting away from looking for the cheapest, disposable items. Buy something once that’s high quality and it will last forever.”
Supporting veterans is another emphasis at Big Bear Firepower. Fulk is a Navy veteran. His son, Spencer, recently began boot camp for the Army, making six generations of Fulks that have served in the military.
“Any place that’s putting veterans to work is a concentration for us,” Fulk said.
Before being certified as a licensed ammunition manufacturer and firearms dealer, Fulk went through a two-year application process with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. It included a background check and series of interviews with federal officials and the sheriff’s office.
In a small brick room near the back of the store, he’s established an armory with an assortment of firearms, from assault rifles to Henry repeating rifles, mounted on the wall. One is from SI Defense, a Kalispell firearms company.
With the new store, Fulk hopes to reach clientele who are looking for specialized products that are not commonly found locally. The Internet has created an entirely new marketplace for shopping, and this is where Fulk purchased most of his firearms and ammunition. Why not try and divert some of that shopping locally?
“We’re basically carrying stuff that we would buy ourselves. All American-made items, not the lower-end stuff,” Fulk said. “We’re looking for the stuff you can’t get at other stores.”
For more information about Big Bear Firepower, visit www.BigBearAmmo.com, or call 257-3308.
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