If you are involved in the hunting scene, especially in South Dakota, then you have heard of TS Customs Precision Firearms. Owner Travis Stevens knew that his passion laid in bolt action rifles and the art of making them. Located in Miller, Stevens took his love for hunting and knowledge of firearms to build one of the most respected rifle companies in the country. 605 was able to chat with Stevens about rifles, growing up in South Dakota, and his corgi, Thumper.
You make some of the best accurate precision rifles in the business. Tell me what that feels like, being in your 20s and from a small town in South Dakota.
Travis Stevens: I take a lot of pride in my work, as do the guys that work for me, and we’re likely more particular than most in the industry. I figured out pretty young what I wanted to do and how I wanted to proceed with that. Because of the grasp the internet has on everyone today, I’ve never felt at a disadvantage being in a small town in rural South Dakota. UPS, FedEx, and USPS pretty well reach all corners of the nation, and it seems we’ve had rifles land in most of them.
Who taught you how to build rifles?
TS: Most of my rifle building technique has been self-taught with bits and pieces gleaned from peers and mentors. I also did one year of gunsmithing school, and two years of machining school after high school.
Has hunting always been a part of your life?
TS: Hunting has always been a big part of my life, and is likely the main reason I got into accurate rifles. Coyote hunting with my dad is one of my first passions, and taking coyotes at further and further distances required more precise rifles.
I know your rifles have been critically acclaimed for their precision. How accurate are they?
TS: It is just not very common that a properly configured rifle out of our shop doesn’t perform in the ¼ – ⅓ MOA (minute of angle) range. Our process and machinery for doing barrel work is rivaled by very, very few. I believe the heart of an accurate rifle is the barrel, barrel work, and configuration of the chamber. We’ve spent a ton of time and money, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, on machinery and tolling to be able to consistently cut chambers in barrels that are concentric to and centered in the bore of the barrel within millionths of an inch. That’s five places past the decimal, .00001.
Do you guarantee a specific MOA?
TS: Every rifle that leaves our shop is built for a purpose, and our guarantee is that each rifle will fulfill its own role. Not every rifle is built to weight 12-20 pounds and shoot 1,000 yards. Sometimes a six pound rifle is put together with a low power scope for a sheep hunter to carry on his back for 10 days in the mountains. Anyone is going to have a difficult time driving that rifle to ¼ MOA accuracy group after group. A rifle built as well as possible is going to instill confidence in the owner, whatever its purpose.
Have you built any rifles for big competitions, big hunts, or qualifiers?
TS: We’ve put together a pretty solid team of competitive rifle shooters; television, social media, and internet hunting personalities; and professional instructors. We are also well represented by TV shows such as Run2Gun, featured on the Outdoor Channel, and active social media personalities, like Muley Freak and Cheyenne River Predator Hunters. Primal Rights has also been instrumental in not only our successes, but the success of our customers through their rifle training courses and guidance on equipment selection.
What do people usually use your rifles for?
TS: We have built rifles for most of the sports that involve a bolt action, centerfire rifle. Hunting is the most popular use, followed closely by tactical rifle competitions, and just general long range plinking and target shooting as a hobby.
What do your customers generally hunt for?
TS: I don’t know if there is a big or small game animal in North America that hasn’t been on the receiving end of a TS Customs rifle. In our part of the world, deer, elk, and coyotes will be the most popular quarry.
Where is the farthest one of your rifles have traveled?
TS: Alaska and Hawaii are the farthest I can think of shipping a rifle to a customer, but I know of customers traveling well across the ocean into places such as Africa, Europe, and Asia.
In your experience, what is the best part of growing up in South Dakota?
TS: I think opportunity abounds in South Dakota, [and] it’s a matter of seizing it for yourself. Taxes and laws are pretty generous here compared to many other states, making it a little easier to give a good go at your own business.
If someone were to come to you without any parts, and ask for a custom build, what would that usually run them for price and you for time?
TS: Most rifles with us providing all the parts will land at $3,500-$5,000. Lead times can vary mostly on the availability of parts. Due to the custom nature of the rifles and how the individual parts can be ordered, lead times can vary from two to nine months, on average.
What if someone brought you parts, and asked for you to build from those. Does that change the price/time frame?
TS: When a customer brings in all their own parts, there is, of course, no wait time for parts, and our typical time frame for a complete rifle assembly runs around two months. Price is dictated solely by requested services and will usually be $1,000-$2,500.
What role does Thumper play in the shop?
TS: Thumper spends most of his day taking naps, barking at strange noises, eating bugs, and joyfully greeting visitors.
For more information, visit tscustom.com.
EIGHT OUT OF 135
At the 2017 Precision Rifles Series Finale, TS Customs tied one other rifle builder for having the most shooters using their rifles at the final match. Eight out of approximately 135 shooters were shooting with TS Customs.
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