Brownells 75th Anniversary - A Shooting Heritage

Shooting the Breeze with Mitch Barrie

What prompted you to focus on creating parts to upgrade the shotgun instead of modern sporting rifles like everyone else?
Primarily the fact that everyone else was working on modern sporting rifles. As you know, the AR-15 accessory market is pretty crowded, with lots of players, most of whom have excellent reputations among their customers. I realized it would be very difficult for a newcomer to make an impact in that business, unless they had some pretty good connections to start with, and I had none. But the shotgun business appeared to be wide open, with only a handful of players.

Of course, I was arrogant and naïve; it took a number of very lean years before Mesa Tactical was widely accepted even in the tactical shotgun space.

After we developed our first product, the High-tube telescoping stock adapter, we decided on a simple product development philosophy that governed our actions until the present day: if we couldn't make something better than what was already available, we didn't want to make it at all. There was a lot of room for innovation in the tactical shotgun arena; and frankly we didn't know enough, until relatively recently, about the AR-15 to apply this philosophy to that platform.


What drove you to get into this business?
More than anything else, a strong desire to manufacture high quality products in the USA, specifically here in Costa Mesa. In the beginning, I almost didn't care whether it was firearms related, automotive, medical, whatever. I just wanted to make something “you can drop on your foot,” and make it well.

I spent most of my career in high technology, working on products which had life cycles of a couple years or so. There is literally no remnant today of many of the projects I worked on in the 1990s. It was fun, fulfilling work, but there is nothing at all to show for it. Today I like to believe there will be Mesa Tactical SureShell carriers installed on law enforcement shotguns long after I am gone. That's a great feeling.


What was the reason for starting Mesa Tactical and any plans on expanding into any other gun platforms?
We had an idea to apply the telescoping stock of the FN TPS to a far more popular platform, the Remington 870. It appeared to be easy enough to do, and no one else was doing it (in fact, we didn't realize there were about four or five other guys working on the same idea). I knew from my earlier experiences in high tech that if our first products were successful we wouldn't have to worry about what to do next; our customers would tell us. And that's more or less what happened.

The genesis of the SureShell line is kind of interesting. I thought about attaching a shell carrier to our High-tube adapter; all I needed to do was make a backplate that could accept the plastic TacStar SideSaddle yoke. I called TacStar and they wanted a very high price for the yokes, literally as much as I could machine something similar out of aluminum (since at that time I had no clue about injection molded plastic). So we started making these aluminum shell carriers instead of buying TacStar's yokes. The few people who bought them (they cost two or three times as much as a TacStar) raved about them. I thought we might be onto something and so started supporting different shotguns and other configurations with them. We've since shipped over 50,000 SureShell shotshell carriers.

To maintain our growth trajectory we will have to expand beyond shotguns. We are examining where we could add value with the AR-15 platform. We already have a few products for the AR- 15 prototyped. But boy do we still have our work cut out for us just working with shotguns. There are still lots of opportunities here.


Tell us about the first innovations you developed and the needs you saw which got you started with Mesa Tactical?
It might surprise you to learn the innovations I am most proud of were actually rather small. After all, we've never done anything radically new here; mostly we have been making improvements on ideas that have already proven to be successful and useful. With the shell carriers our biggest early challenge was how to reliably attach them to a Remington 870. We heard nothing but complaints about the traditional methods. We came up with the standoff and Chicago screw system and I'm really very proud of that. It's a small thing, but I think it made a big impact on the acceptability of our SureShell carriers, especially by law enforcement.

Another challenge we had that I think we dealt with rather cleverly was how to attach a shell carrier to a Benelli M4. We picked up one after a visit to USMC Camp Pendleton, and there was no way to replace the trigger pin as we were used to doing. So we developed a bracket that replaced the Picatinny rail and also supported a shell carrier slung on the side. Again, that was a small thing but it really made a difference. We use that technique with other platforms now, and it's been copied by at least one other manufacturer we respect, maybe more. It's both irritating and gratifying when you see someone copying your idea; you can't get too upset, it's sort of a compliment.

Finally, one of the efforts I am most proud of was the development of the Urbino tactical stock for the Benellis. As you may know, the primary “feature” of the Urbino stock is its 12½ inch length of pull, nearly two inches shorter than the factory stock. Our law enforcement customers were desperate for a shorter stock, but no one was helping them. The factory wouldn't do anything and for some reason the other big names in aftermarket stocks were ignoring the Benelli, even though it's the most common semi-auto shotgun in law enforcement armories. So we went way out on a limb, borrowed and spent big money, to develop the Urbino stock (you may or may not realize injection mold tooling (the mold itself) is very expensive to produce, especially if you make it in the US instead of Asia or Mexico). It turned out to be the best decision we ever made. I'm not really a big risk-taker, but this one paid off. And what's so special about the Urbino stock? It's shorter! That's innovation for you.


I love your products and am wondering what your favorite stock is for the Remington 870 tactical shotgun and if you'll be coming out with any new shotgun stocks or forends this year?
Well, we make three stocks for the Remington 870, the LEO telescoping stock, the Urbino stock and the High-tube telescoping stock, which I consider somewhat specialized. I love the LEO stock when coupled with the hydraulic recoil buffer, it's really incredible, you don't feel a thing. But I don't like fooling around with the stock adjustment after other people have been shooting it. The Urbino fixed stock is the right length, with no moving parts, and can include a Limbsaver butt pad, so I guess that's my favorite, but not by much. My “personal” Police 870 still has an LEO hydraulic recoil stock on it.

We will continue to support new platforms with the Urbino stock, and will probably introduce forends for certain semi-automatic platforms late this year.


A Magpul prototype shotgun used an AR-15 bored out picatinny rail gas block to mount the front sight directly on the barrel. Any chance your company will offer something similar? Thanks!
We are fooling around with some revisions to our magazine and barrel clamps, and something with a rail on the top might be one of the combinations we support. But no promises.


Do you think a shotgun is better for home defense than a handgun? I believe there is less chance of penetrating walls with a shotgun vs. a handgun. I prefer a 12 gauge loaded with #4 shot.
According to the Box O' Truth website, buckshot does indeed penetrate less than 9mm, but it still can go through four walls easily.

I think a better reason for favoring a shotgun (or any long gun) over a handgun for home defense is the longer sight radius of the shotgun or rifle. This makes it far more likely you will hit your target with a long gun than a handgun, especially in a high adrenaline moment. Handguns are very difficult to shoot accurately unless you have a lot of practice. But the question of penetration favors the shotgun over a rifle, so yes, I believe a shotgun is best for home defense.

But in the end it's down to personal preference as well as the scenarios you are anticipating. There are smarter and more experienced guys than me who prefer the handgun or rifle. Maybe I'm biased.


What in your opinion is the best tactical shotgun for the money?
That's a question that can get me into a lot of trouble, since we have a lot of friends among the shotgun makers. My personal favorite platforms are the Remington 870 and Benelli M4, for all kinds of reasons, some of them personal and maybe irrational (for example, both are relatively heavy, and I prefer a heavier shotgun). But the Benelli M4 is very expensive, and my preferred 870 is the costly Police model, so maybe these aren't such great values.

You can buy a new Mossberg 500 for not much more than $300. That's a good shotgun at a good price.


What would be a good first gun for a 55 years old granny? One that would show up her 6 kids who all have guns and the hubby with an AR-15?
I am reminded of how the first gun I ever bought was a Smith & Wesson Model 629 revolver, in . 44 Magnum. The only reason I bought it was because it was one of the few guns I could think of my father didn't already own.

The answer depends on what you have to spend. I think when it comes down to showing up your gun nut hubby and kids, you can't beat a used converted Saiga 12 (used so you can shoot it before buying to make sure you know it's reliable) with a hydraulic recoil buffer and some five round magazines (the eight and ten rounders might be too unwieldy for you). That'll impress your kids, as well as the ladies down at the PTA. But that will be an expensive shotgun, and Mesa Tactical doesn't make anything for the Saiga 12.

The ladies in my life seem to prefer the Benelli M4, although it's kind of heavy. Unless you have the arms of an orangutan, you will want to get a Mesa Tactical Urbino tactical stock for that.


Do you plan to make tactical high quality railed (perhaps aluminum rails) forends for shotguns, specifically Mossberg 500 and Remington 870's?
I don't see railed forends in our future for pump shotguns; there are already a number of good examples available in the market and I'm not sure what we could do better.

We do have some plans for modular forends for semi-auto shotguns. We might start rolling these out at the end of this year.


I believe we emailed each other about two years ago on putting a 20 Gauge receiver side saddle on my Mossberg 500. I wound up getting a Remington 20 Ga shell holder and a 12 Ga Mossberg saddle and switching parts, how close is the mount supposed to be against the receiver? Should I see any daylight. It is fairly tight, but I can see some.
As long as it's tight you should be okay. You normally can see some daylight at the back where the Chicago screws are, though of course the gasket is blocking off the light further forward.


Have ya'll thought about making Chicago screws for a 20 Ga option since a 12 Ga Mossberg back with a Remington 20 Ga saddle works great?
It probably isn't hard to do but I have to be honest, it's also going to be well down on our priority list of projects. The problem is that while I like a 20 gauge and so does our sales director Lucy, they just aren't popular tactical platforms, at least not yet. We sell very few 20 gauge SureShell carriers for the Remington 870.

Maybe after we staff up a bit so we can get more products out more quickly.


What is your opinion on pistol grip shoulder stocks on shotguns?
I love them. I prefer them to straight stocks, I feel I have a lot better control, especially during a tactical reload. Again, personal preference; I know people who can't stand them.

One thing I would like to address, however: I have heard a pistol grip stock shotgun is not suitable for hunting or clay shooting. No one can explain why, but this seems to be some kind of gospel that is handed down on message boards and the like. But one of our employees, Ryan, uses a pistol grip stock shotgun to blast clays all day long. It doesn't seem to be holding him back. I don't know why a pistol grip stock shotgun would be any less suitable for hunting, unless it frightened the ducks.


Wondering why no one makes any accessories for the FN SLP line of shotguns? I can't find any other than the rail that FN offers. No sling mounts sidesaddle carriers, sights etc… Any chance Mesa might be considering making some? They are somewhat popular on the 3- gun circuit and for home defense so there seems like there would be a market for items. I know I would like some for my Mk 1 SLP.
We make a line of SureShell shell carriers for the FN SLP. No immediate plans for more support for this platform, but a lot of these planning decisions depend on opportunity cost.

We bought an FN SLP and developed the shell carriers for it as soon as it came out. We thought this was going to be a new standard in tactical semi-autos. But it just hasn't taken off. I don't think FN has been emphasizing it effectively with US law enforcement agencies.

You must realize all suppliers have to make some pretty important choices regarding what platforms they will support and with which products. A platform has to have a reasonable market share for a company like ours to be able to invest a lot in product development. The FN SLP has not so far gained the necessary momentum. It's the same issue with have with 20 gauge.


I am in the process of upgrading my Remington 870 Express Super Magnum. I am looking at both the low tube and or the LEO telescoping stock adapter. Mesa Tactical website shows the Endine shot buffer, but Brownells does not seem to carry it. What forestock does Mesa make to put my shotgun over the top?
We discontinued the Low-tube adapter a couple years ago, so you will want the LEO stock. We offer a complete LEO Telescoping Hydraulic Recoil Stock Kit, our part number 92230, which Brownells does indeed carry.

We do not make forends for the Remington 870.


When will the Urbino stock be available for Mossberg shotguns?
We hope to support the Mossberg 930 this summer. We have no immediate plans for Mossberg 500 support.


Any plans to make a pistol 12 ga gun with the mesa tactical and itt recoil system with the limbsaver?
Are you asking whether we will develop a new shotgun? Funnily enough, we have been toying with a new design since 2008, but it's unlikely we'll ever really do anything with it. It would be a very expensive and high risk proposition, getting from deign to final, reliable production shotgun.


When starting a business in the gun industry, what are some of the barriers you faced and how did you overcome them?
There were two main problems.

The first was the usual one, sales. We sold a lot less than my planning spreadsheets said we would. We were just too new in the industry, with too expensive a product, too narrow of a niche. What almost happened to us is the same thing that kills most new companies, even some with great products: running out of money before you are self-sustaining.

I overcame that simply by putting more money into the business than was probably prudent, most of my savings. And I worked without pay until last year. So I was fortunate that I could afford to stick it out during the lean times (also, if you want to do something like this you can't be afraid of work; for years I, personally, did all the assembly, packaging, shipping, as well as marketing and administrative stuff. It was years before we could bring on warehouse staff). Anyone who wants to do something like this should carefully work out, with conservative estimates, what kind of money will be required. If you don't have at least twice what you think you'll need, don't start.

Another advantage I had was the active assistance of a few key industry players who were gracious enough to give us a chance and help us along however they could. Hans Vang of Vang Comp Systems was chief among these. If I was to do it all over I would make much more of an effort to introduce myself to influential people like Hans Vang and try to enlist their support.

The second problem was finding good reliable vendors and suppliers; foundries, machinists and the like. This was especially frustrating. Many potential suppliers simply refused to give us the time of day, they were making so much money (I guess) with their current business they didn't need to deal seriously with upstarts and unknowns. At one level, I could kind of see their point, the chances are any new business customer will be out of business within a couple years, so why waste time with them? But it also smacked of complacency, the sort of complacency and unimaginative thinking which, I believe, has gutted American manufacturing. Every few months I get a call from someone trying to develop a new rifle stock or something like that; I try to give them as much help as I can.

Anyway, we overcame that challenge by pure determination, sending quotes out to (literally) hundreds of suppliers, interviewing any that would let us in, just keeping at it, until we put together a stable of first rate vendors.

Also, you need to treat your vendors like your employees, indeed your friends. Never lie to them, never ask them to arbitrarily reduce their prices, never stiff them. Never be the guy whose call they don't want to take. Respect them. Treat them like partners.

We have great suppliers, today.


The Urbino Tactical stock will fit on the Benelli m3?
Yes, the models for the Benelli M1/M2.


Mr. Barrie, by how much is the recoil reduced on the 870? I have Myeloma, bone type cancer, and my bone structure is compromise. That hasn't stop me I still practice with my Sig 2340 on .40 cal, but a bit worry about the recoil of my son's shotgun.
Enidine claims recoil is reduced by 70%, whatever that means. I am here to tell you it really works, it's magic.


With the fairly long history of traditional firearms, and the advent of things like additive manufacturing, at some point in the future a "firearm" is going to be seen as an antiquated weapon, with some new type of weapon for either/or/both hunting and ground combat coming in to replace it. If you were to guess, even something sci-fi, what would you see as the "next big thing" that would replace firearms as personal defense weapons?
I'm not one for predictions; making predictions is always fraught, and if I was any good at it I would probably be playing in the stock market instead of making shotgun accessories.

There may well be something new to come along to replace firearms, something like the taser or the phased plasma rifle in a 40 watt range. I don't know what that might be and I don't want to know. Just as I don't really want to live long enough to see the single-cam V8 engine disappear from the highways.

I love firearms, I love the metallic cartridge system, I am fascinated by how the technology has progressed incrementally since the 19th century. It's not even about personal defense for me. One of my favorite rifles from my personal collection is an M1903 Springfield manufactured in 1918. How many other products from 1918 are people still using every weekend? Just this month my father handed down to me a rifle and pistol from WWII.

Whatever replaces firearms for personal defense will be as disposable as an iPod or a coffee maker, and have as much charm. They will not be handed down through the generations. They will be simple tools, gadgets, without the history or tradition of firearms. Probably they will be safer, maybe with airbags or something, and perhaps even more effective, but they won't be objects of pride or passion.