Passion for hunting spawns business for Frohna duo

Tuesday, April 7, 2009
A choke tube is placed on a shotgun at Indian Creek Shooting Systems.

FROHNA, Mo. -- Seven years ago, Mike Ponder and Stuart Ruehling were frustrated with choke tubes they used on their frequent hunts and decided they needed to create a better one.

Through testing countless choke tubes -- devices that are attached to the muzzle end of the gun's barrel to control fired pellets -- Ponder and Ruehling developed a choke tube in 2005 that helped win awards and was the catalyst for the creation of their business, Indian Creek Shooting Systems.

An offshoot of their tool-and-die company River Hills Tool and Die, Indian Creek Shooting Systems supplies choke tubes to Bass Pro Shops and other retailers throughout the U.S. Since January, roughly 3,000 have been shipped out of the 7,000-square-foot facility at 5950 Main St. in Frohna. The company produced 3,000 total in 2008 and expects to produce 5,000 this year. The choke tubes sell for between $71 and $79.

Ponder called the business' short-term success a bit overwhelming.

"We knew we had a good product but it's been more than we could have imagined," Ponder said. "We knew that once people tried it they'd be happy with the choke tubes. It's still hard to imagine how far we've come in just a short amount of time."

Curt Barber operates a computerized lathe used to manufacture choke tubes at Indian Creek Shooting Systems in Frohna, Mo. (FRED LYNCH ~

Ruehling said it took three years to perfect the company's first choke tube, which has 30 .04-inch thick slits wrapped around the end of each tube. Depending on the size of the barrel's muzzle, tubes can range between three-and-a-half to five inches long. The company produces six brands for 12- and 20-gauge caliber shotguns.

Ruehling said he thinks Indian Creek Shooting Systems' choke tubes are special because while some tubes may enable a hunter to shoot a target with a range of 30 to 40 inches in diameter, his company's tubes condense that distance to 20 inches because of the slits.

"And that can make a huge difference when a hunter is trying to narrow his target in the field," Ruehling said. "It tightens up the pattern and allows him to have that much more of an advantage."

Ponder and Ruehling first began developing the tubes in 2002, four years before Indian Creek Shooting Systems was formed in February 2006.

Ruehling said he and other developers would test the choke tubes in the field and then discard them. After each test developers would adjust the internal geometry and parallel ports of the tube.

Stuart Ruehling shows a choke tube made by his company, Indian Creek Shooting Systems, in Frohna, Mo. When attached to a gun's muzzle, a choke tube controls the spread of fired pellets. (FRED LYNCH ~

"We did a tremendous amount of trial and error," Ruehling said. "We'd make a choke tube and shoot it to see how it performed. Then we'd throw it away and start again."

Ruehling said his company was finally successful in perfecting its choke tubes in 2005. He said the choke tube has resulted in his company's hunters winning 11 National Wild Turkey Federation championships and setting five world records, three of which are still standing.

The company produces about 60 choke tubes a day. The 25-minute process begins when the metal tube is fed into a computerized lathe, where the steel is cut to the appropriate length. The tube is then placed in a vertical machining center where the parallel ports are cut into the tube.

A computer will place a model and make number on the choke tube for identification purposes. The tube is then placed in an oxide fluid, where its is turned black. The tubes are then packaged together for shipping.

Ponder said the experience of developing a product that has been instrumental in winning world championships has been priceless.

"It's fun working in an industry you enjoy," he said. "I've heard it said that if you can work at something you don't consider a job you can count yourself lucky. And I believe we've done just that."

River Hills Tool and Die employs eight people. One person mans the choke tube operation.


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