Roger Phillips: MGM on target from weekend warriors to the Army

rphillips@idahostatesman.comApril 17, 2014 

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Mike Gibson, owner of MGM Targets in Caldwell shows a self-setting target for shooters. His targets are available directly to customers at mgmtargets.com, and also at Cabela's.

ROGER PHILLIPS — rphillips@idahostatesman.com

You may not know Mike Gibson or his company, MGM Targets, but if you've been at a local gun range and heard boom! clang! you are probably familiar with his products.

Gibson's company does something seemingly simple: It builds steel targets that people shoot. As technology goes, it seems pretty rudimentary, but don't be fooled.

Not only does Gibson build a better target, people from top competitive shooters to elite military units and government agencies seek his advice and expertise.

How he got to this point all started with a combination of a stormy, off-and-on relationship with an early employer, the former Morrison Knudsen Company, where he worked as a steel fabricator, and a brother who is a competitive shooter.

As Gibson explains it, "I got 12 years seniority (working at Morrison Knudsen), but it took me 20 years to get it."

His brother, David, introduced him to "run and gun" pistol competitions. They're commonly known as "practical" pistol shooting, but the competitions resemble grown ups playing cops and robbers with real guns and steel targets sitting in for robbers.

David suggested Mike use his steel fabricating equipment and expertise to build a few targets.

Not only would they have better targets, but Mike could sell some and write off his guns and ammo as a business expense, David told him.

"That's how we got into the target business," Mike said.

Mike also wasn't impressed with the targets available, most of which were designed by shooters, not fabricators who understood the working qualities of steel.

He wanted targets that were lighter and more portable, but also durable and reliable.

"I didn't want to screw with the equipment, and my customers shouldn't have to either," he said.

His goal was as simple as a steel plate: Make the best. He's even gone so far as to make a bet with his customers and competitors.

He offers $100 to any shooter who can find a better target, and challenged his competitors to put their target up against his and see which fails first. The results would be posted on each company's website for a year.

"I haven't any takers," he said.

Because building a better target is where the simple gets complicated. A target must sustain hits from thousands of bullets creating tons of energy per impact.

For example, a standard military .308 round hits a target at 100 yards with 2,300 foot pounds of energy.

A .50 caliber machine gun round hits with four times that force.

Gibson created targets that repeatedly absorb that kind of punishment, but don't ricochet bullets back at the shooter or people standing nearby.

Add moving parts to the target, while maintaining its durability, and it's easier to understand why one of Gibson's .22 targets starts at about $85 and targets designed for larger guns can run several hundred dollars.

Gibson's said he's not trying to be the cheapest, he's trying to maintain the highest quality.

"We enjoy an exceptional reputation, and we take a lot of pride in that," he said.

That's why top-tier, elite Army, Navy and Marine Corps units seek him out, and a momento on his office wall is a decomissioned Army rifle given to him by a sniper team as a token of their appreciation.

Working with the military is "a real honor," Gibson said, and helping them is a "small consolation" that he didn't serve, which is something he said he regrets.

He's built targets and million-dollar shooting facilities at several military bases and for government agencies, such as the D.E.A. and Homeland Security. He works with all levels of law enforcement agencies.

But government and military account for less than half his sales. The majority are clubs and recreational shooters.

One company, Universal Shooting Academy in Florida, boasts on its website the academy's students and instructors have shot an MGM target 500,000 times - and counting.

Gibson also helped turn a 60,000-square-foot former furniture store in Virginia into one of the largest indoor shooting ranges in the U.S.

His targets are sold directly to customers through mgmtargets.com, and they were recently added in Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops, two of the largest sporting goods chains in the world.

Gibson said MGM Targets offers the same quality to the weekend plinker as it does to the dare-not-speak-their-names military units.

"When you buy this target, I want your grandchildren to fight over it when you die," he said.

And speaking of grandchildren, on any given weekend in the spring, Gibson and his family can be found competing at a local shooting range and making his handiwork go clang!

His son, Travis, is vice president and chief operating officer for the company, as well as a nationally ranked "3-gun" shooter, which is a competition that includes rifle, pistol and shotgun shooting, all on the fly.

Travis' 16-year-old son, Wyatt, also competes locally and nationally in 3-gun, and there are more grandkids moving into the competitive shooting ranks.

"I thoroughly enjoy shooting with my family," Mike said. "We're really proud of them."

And that family goes beyond blood lines to the larger family of shooters because "I honestly believe in my heart of hearts that shooters have a higher level of integrity than most people," he said.

Mike and his wife, Rhonda, will host the seventh annual MGM Junior Camp at the Parma Gun Club in July that will include about 60 young shooters from throughout the U.S.

Mike recruits some of the country's top shooters and instructors to help them, most of whom do so as volunteers. Rhonda serves as den mom and makes sure the youngsters are taken care of off the range.

The family will also be at the "Shoot For A Cure" May 3 at the Nampa gun range. The match started five years ago as a way to help raise money for St. Luke's Mountain States Tumor Institute/Breast Cancer Center.

It's both a fundraiser and a chance for new people to try shooting sports. For details go to sfac.us.

Gibson now rubs elbows with everyone from weekend shooters to the country's top competitors to military guys whom Hollywood makes movies about. His business has grown from just him to about 40 employees.

Did he anticipate any of this when he built and sold a few steel targets to shave a few bucks off his income taxes?

"Never in my wildest imagination," Gibson said.

Roger Phillips: 377-6215, Twitter: @rogeroutdoors

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