For Dan Hanus, the decision to leave active duty in late 2012 was a rough one.
He was told that a promotion to E-9 was highly probable and that it would be followed by a quick permanent change-of-station move to 2nd Marine Division and a prolonged deployment to Afghanistan.
The world of corporate job bargaining was foreign to him. When BPI Outdoors offered Hanus a job, a recently-retired buddy counseled him to counter with a proposal that included everything he believed he and his family needed to make a switch.
"I had some decisions to make. Talking it over with my wife Penny, we said, 'Everything happens for a reason, so we'll see what BPI comes back with on the offer and see if it meets our needs.' "
The offer came a couple days later.
"It was everything I asked for," Hanus said with a laugh. "I wasn't expecting that."
He accepted and filed his retirement paperwork.
The heat was on to produce some prototypes, and Hanus was in on all the early production planning meetings.
"We knew we wanted to make a full line of rifles, everything from a lightweight sport hunting model to a tactical rifle," he said. "We decided what stocks we would use, the barrel contours, triggers, actions, scope mounts, rails, everything, then ordered the parts and I started production."
He had barely 60 days of boots on the ground at BPI before all working prototype models had to be built in time to take to his first SHOT Show in Las Vegas.
Hanus also wasted no time in building a team, and he knew he wanted guys with similar experiences. He recruited Sterling Knight, a noncommissioned officer who had worked for Hanus at Quantico. Another early employee was Brian Farrell, a former government contractor who repaired firearms for the Army in Kuwait.
"We follow the 'one gun, one builder' concept where it's a true custom rifle put together by one person," Hanus said.
Dan Hanus works the action on a custom rifle. A retired Marine, Hanus now runs the operations at Bergara Custom Rifles.
Photo Credit: Ken Perrotte
"I primarily use Timney triggers. I like them because of their consistent trigger pull weights and ease of installation. We special order triggers that have a wide trigger shoe. I like them because they distribute the weight across the pad of your trigger finger and give you the illusion of a lighter trigger pull. The wide trigger shoe also forces you into a correct trigger pull. You cannot wrap your finger around the trigger and pull it to the rear and sideways, like with traditional triggers," Hanus explained.
He likes McMillan stocks and said the A3 Sporter is the custom shop's most popular selling stock.
"They're lightweight and fast shouldering like a traditional hunting stock, and also combine bench-rest features. The wide, flat fore end lays true on a bench bag or in a fixture. It has two front sling studs that allow the shooter to fix a bipod and a sling to their rifle. It also has a larger pistol grip/palm swell that many long-range shooters prefer," Hanus said.
He said customers are asked a series of questions that help determine the best model for them. For example, will they be primarily hunting or bench-rest shooting? If hunting, what style of hunting — shooting from a ground blind or hiking mountains and stalking game across diverse terrain?
Tactical rifles come equipped with a chassis stock, while hunting rifles are bedded into a fiberglass stock with a Marine-Tex bedding compound. Other than that, each gun gets the same treatment, he said. Barrels are hand-lapped and trued to the bore before they are machined, threaded and chambered. Rifles are accuracy tested before finishing touches are applied and they are shipped to the customer.
While Hanus has his own preferences for some core rifle components, customers who want a wood stock or different trigger or feature can request it. Finer customization touches, such as engraving a service logo or other decoration into the rifle, are also possible.
"My goal is to get this rifle brand to become a household name among hunters and bench-rest shooters, a rifle known for its accuracy," Hanus said.
Bergara's custom rifle work doubled from 2013 to 2014, and forecasts are for similar growth. Consequently, Hanus is currently scouting for another gunsmith, and he's got his eye on military members.
"I guess I miss the Corps and the camaraderie, and this is one way I can still have my troops with me," he said.