Mobile Rifles Gain National Attention with Hunters and Marksmen Alike - Read More Here
Posted Aug 7, 2017
Every time that Parish Davis steps into his workshop to build a custom rifle, he's somewhere within a process that takes up to nine months from beginning to end. Much of what he does is rooted in his skill as a machinist. But when his inner artist takes over, he's as fulfilled as any entrepreneur can be.
Davis, 43, a native of Hurley, Mississippi, graduated from technical school nearly 20 years ago. And he's been in business for himself basically ever since, operating Great Southern Gun Works in west Mobile.
"I like tools almost as much as I like guns, so it went hand in hand," he said. He toils for hours in the workshop behind his home, where the lathes, grinders and mills separate him from the "parts exchangers" that he barely considers competition.
Great Southern Gun Works specializes in building, restoring, refinishing and assembling custom rifles, and according to Davis, the sweet spot is in separating the craft from the art form.
"Making a gun that's really accurate is a little different than other machine work because most machine work is numbers," he said. "If you really want to get down to building a rifle that can compete in a one-thousand-yard competition, it's how the parts feel when they go together.
"Ninety-five percent of it is numbers, but the other 5 percent is the trial and error of knowing exactly how it should feel."
Davis said his customers are primarily blue-collar workers who place orders from across the nation for the purposes of hunting, long-range shooting competitions or both.
Hybrid rifles that can be calibrated for both targets and wild game comprise a large portion of his orders. His interaction with each customer to home in on specific features and detail is a big reason that almost all of his new business comes via word-of-mouth. His customers usually end up ordering two or three rifles over the years.
Davis tells of a customer who was hunting in Africa with one of Davis' bolt-action rifles. Another hunter admired it and asked about its origins. Soon, that other hunter was a customer, too.
"First you write your Christmas list of features that you want, and then you bring that list to me," Davis said. Next, through his experience as a shooter and craftsman, he offers recommendations and advice that evolve into the orders he spends the better part of a year to fulfill.
"They more or less know what they want to use the gun for, and they get a rifle that's going to do that job," he said. "It's literally tailor-made."
The average order that Davis works on is around $3,000, and he's usually in some stage of building three to 10 rifles at any given point, he said.
Every few years, he gets a custom order that involves expensive handcrafting of the rifle's stock. Typically, however, he starts with an unfinished stock, which he then finishes himself to match the style of the overall rifle.
Many orders at Great Southern Gun Works are sentimental in nature, as customers bring in rifles with elements that they want to keep and enhance. The features that Davis builds into a rifle can range from simple to complex, depending on the customer's desires.
The gunsmith industry is very segmented, according to Davis. His specialty is long-range hunting and competition, thus he generally deals with modern rifle components. But other shops may only emphasize antiques. And there are regional influences. Out West, he said, "cowboy-action shooting" is popular and the gunsmiths build in kind.
"For what I do there is no competition, at least not out here," Davis said.
As the sole craftsman, he can achieve the standard of quality and "feel" that his rifles are known for.
"I'm a small shop, and there's only three people that work here: me, myself and I," Davis said.
Great Southern Gun Works exists in an industry that's been essentially recession-proof, he said, referring to the national economic crisis that began in 2007. In fact, according to Davis, the years of the Obama presidency -- from 2009 to 2017 -- saw an increase in business of up to 500 percent.
"Obama did more for arming the American public than any other president in history," he said. "We always wondered if the next day he was going to ban something."
Since Donald Trump took office, however, "guns in general have really dropped across the board," Davis said. "People aren't really worried about their right to bear arms."