Former dentist Ira Kay is close to fulfilling a U.S. Army contract for shotguns. Photo by Adam Goings.
Ira Kay emphatically believes in his product.
Nothing, in his view, comes close to it. Nothing.
"This is the most reliable, lightest, versatile shotgun on the planet Earth," said Kay, the president and founder of the Warrenton-based C-More Competition, which recently won a $5.5 million contract to furnish 2,500 of the so-called "M26" to the Army. "That's it. Period."
His tone and a confident nod at the weapon on his office desk almost dare you to challenge the sweeping claim.
As it turns out, the Army shares his enthusiasm for the firearm.
"This is probably one of the most reliable shotguns in the world, certainly the most reliable one we have in the Army," said Lt. Col. Chris Lehner, the Army's project manager for the weapon.
The 12-gauge shotgun weighs just 3.7 pounds (about half as much as the Army-issued one) and can be attached under the barrel of an M4 rifle. Or, it can be used as a stand-alone weapon by
snapping a hydraulic butt stock or pistol grip, depending on circumstances.
For faster reloading, it also uses a five-round, clip-on magazine.
"It's an ingenious idea," Lehner said of the weapon.
Working in close cooperation with the Army, it took Kay a decade of design modifications to create the shotgun now in production.
Kay and the Army subjected the weapon to rigorous testing.
And not once did the shotgun fail to perform, said Kay, whose formal introduction to weapons began in 1971, when he joined the Army and served as a dentist until 1973.
For three days or so per month, a couple of his employees tested a small lot of shotguns at a friend's 160-acre farm near Goldvein. In some months, they'd fire up to 3,200 rounds and never
experience a "stoppage," Kay said.
The government also exposed the weapon to extreme conditions, including 50 degrees below and 160 degrees above zero in ice, blowing sand, mud and salt water, he said.
"No stoppages," Kay said.
His family owns C-More Competition, which produces the M26 shotgun, and C-More Systems in Manassas, which designs and manufactures gun sights for the military, law enforcement, hunters and
The Warrenton shotgun operation occupies the former United Rentals building, which fronts West Shirley Avenue. It employs 16 people.
No manufacturing takes place at the 10,500-square-foot shotgun plant. C-More contracts companies from around the country to make the weapon's approximately 125 parts, which the Warrenton
staff assembles and prepares for shipment to the Army.
In June, Kay said C-More Competition, which beat two other companies for the contract, will deliver to the Army the last of the 2,500 shotguns.
Ultimately, the Army wants 19,600 of C-More's shotguns.
Future contracts to deliver that many weapons will be worth more than $35 million to the company, said Kay, who expects to add eight more people to the Warrenton staff.
The Army contract may prove be just the beginning of the government's interest in the M26.
Some federal agencies "and other branches of the service might want to buy these, as well," said Lehner, the Army project manager. "So it could be a lot more than 19,000."
Kay and his family moved from Prince William County to Warrenton in 1984.
In 1990, an acquaintance who knew of Kay's interest in guns encouraged him to take up competitive shooting.
That, in turn, led to Kay's design and manufacture of a gun sight that would become wildly popular among pistol enthusiasts.
After hours at his Manassas practice, Kay used dental materials to build the sight.
He hired a machine shop in Georgia to fabricate the sight's parts.
Some of the assembly "my kids did in Warrenton, on the back porch, actually," Kay said with a laugh. "We did it kind of as a hobby."
(He and his 62-year-old wife, Gayle, an officer with the gun sights company, have four grown children.)
Based on the sight's almost instant popularity among competitive shooters, Kay soon recognized the family "hobby" as a business opportunity.
In late 1995, he sold his dental practice and made the transition to designing and manufacturing gun sights.
Today, C-More Systems makes seven basic sights, costing $239 to $489 apiece. In 2010, the company did $3.5 million in business, Kay said.
"Nobody has won a major match since '93 without shooting with our sights," he said. "Worldwide, we have 87 percent of that market space. That's a shocking statistic, isn't it?"
Kay established the sights company in 1993 and the gun company in 1999.
He knew the shotgun contract would require more space than the company occupied in Manassas.
Kay also wanted a place within 25 miles of Warrenton.
His search for larger quarters began in 2009. Early on, Fauquier's economic development department showed Kay a building at Vint Hill near New Baltimore.
After considering about a dozen locations in the region, he decided on the Warrenton building.
"They're a solid business here in the county," economic development Director Talmage Reeves said. "The fact they have a major contract can only be beneficial to the county and the town."