Christensen Article 1

By Jason Vincent

My neighbor Dan had the perfect lawn—Augusta National nice. He was outside every Saturday taking laps on his massive zero-turn mower with a cigarette hanging out of his mouth while he meticulously cut patterns in a quarter acre of grass. Mower overkill? Some thought so, but Dan liked nice things and he was…particular.

Myself and a few other men in the neighborhood regularly shot rifles at a private range a few miles from our house. It was a sand quarry with target stands spaced out from 100 yards to 500 yards. Dan’s favorite rifle was his Remington LTR in .308. When Remington first released these, they were great. Fluted heavy 20” barrel, fiberglass HS Precision stock and a rough coating of flat black on everything. The models produced before Remington’s downturn in quality were awesome and Dan could prove it by shooting tiny little groups.

Like many of us, Dan was always up for buying the next great thing he came across at a local gun shop. Carbon fiber barrel? Carbon fiber stock? Great aesthetics? This was how a Christensen ended up in the back seat of his truck for the ride home one day.

And then he shot his Christensen with a bullet from his Remington.

Literally. He hit it right in the bolt body and cracked the action. The rifle was destroyed. A lot happened between his first day of Christensen ownership and his last day, but the end result spoke a lot about his frustrations with the brand.

This is an extreme example of what some of our readers may have gone through with Christensen over the last decade-and-a-half. Some of their rifles have been amazing, some of them have been duds. Being infuriated by horrible customer service and 6-8 month wait times to receive a repaired rifle were normal, shooting your own rifle with another rifle probably was not. I’ve personally shot great Christensens, and I’ve shot the rifles they likely made early on Mondays and late on Fridays. They were hit or miss, and if yours was a miss, you were in for a brutal ride.

My personal experience dealing with the company is a long story. Six years ago, I was asked to help a friend in Africa with a Christensen he’d won at an auction, but never received. I still have all the emails from this interaction. It was the worst experience I’ve ever had with a gun company…and I was dealing with two guys that were top brass. In the end, my friend got his rifle, but we were both disgusted with the company.

The thing about a bad brand experience in the world of hunting is they create cancer cells. These cells tell stories around campfires, and everyone scoots a few inches back—lest their own gear be contaminated. One good friend’s experience turns into a hunting camp full of guys with a bad impression.

This was Christensen for a lot of camps, and they earned it. I was one of these vocal cells myself.

The only cure for something like this is radical. It takes new leadership and time—the lack of the latter is one of the reasons companies don’t survive. Too much damage has been done when a new captain attempts to right the ship and there’s not enough cash in the company to buy more time.

Luckily, for Christensen, this is not the case.

Enter Vic Keller, a true business-builder from outside the firearms industry. He bought Christensen, inherited its problems, and could afford to fix them. This meant carefully analyzing the issues, creating a plan for correction and executing on new strategies to change the company.

None of this happened overnight.

At the ground floor a complete overhaul of customer service was the first order of business. Vic couldn’t go back in time to address issues already in the wild, but he could change the processes for dealing with them as they are reported. It took a while, but this step has been completed. Quality control improvements ran parallel to the new customer service initiatives, improving new rifles leaving the factory and the company’s shift began taking shape.

During this phase, Vic also hired a new head of manufacturing with serious accolades and a new VP of supply chain, both hires were from outside the firearms industry. This new leadership team is very hands-on. One of them even keeps a cot for sleeping in his office.

Our recent trip to the Christensen mothership was long in the making. A friend of Vic’s reached out to us more than two years ago after seeing the company appear in our Sunday Q&A on Instagram. This friend met up with us at our party in Vegas and in our tent at Dallas Safari Club before we invited him to hang out with us in Colorado. He was a great ambassador for the brand, but the two guys I’d dealt with 6 years ago were still in upper-level positions, so his talk of a course correction wasn’t taken very seriously. Months later those two guys were gone.

More than a year went by before Mike Schoby and Shane Meisel made their way to Hawaii under the guise of a FE work trip. I think the film we put out from that company-sponsored vacation was 4 minutes split in half between footage of Mark Healey hunting during the day and Shane and Schoby drinking at night. Fortunately, this is on-brand for us.

But something actually did happen in Hawaii. Schoby’s Sauer rifle case was opened by a TSA agent while in transit and his rifle was damaged by this unknown Philistine. It was mangled severely enough to be sidelined on the hunt. Alas, there was a Christensen “in camp” at the Four Seasons. Shane shot an axis deer with it; Schoby cheered and drank. We did make note of a Christensen saving the hunt via our social media. Fair is fair.

A few months later at the next annual Dallas Safari Club, Vic approached me outside the FE tent. We had an honest conversation that ended with an invite to see Christensen’s operational overhaul for ourselves. We accepted.

I could go into detail about everything Christensen’s new leadership has done to optimize their previous capabilities—including remapping the manufacturing floorspace, to reorganizing their shipping and receiving department as a way to eliminate errors, but that stuff is boring. What I will say is what I told Joe Ferronato when we left their headquarters: We never got to see Christensen when they were a mess, but what we just saw was a top-level rifle manufacturing operation. We’ve experienced plenty of these, so we know.

No rifle maker is perfect. We work with some of the best in the world, but mistakes happen. There are two ways to insulate a company like Christensen. First is a robust quality control process that heads off a rifle leaving the manufacturing floor with problems. Second is having a world-class customer service team dealing with the mistakes that see the light of day. Christensen now has both safety nets in place.

At Field Ethos, we owe it to our readers to be honest with our experiences, good or bad. We think Christensen earned almost* every first-hand gripe you’ve heard about their rifles in the past. We also think they’ve made the changes that will be a dividing line in the brand’s history, and you deserve to hear that from us too.

I’ll be buying a Christensen soon and will let you know how it goes, but I apologize for nothing.

* An accuracy guarantee on a rifle doesn’t mean a consumer can shoot it accurately.

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