A skilled gunsmith can customize any gun for improved performance but it takes first hand, higher-level shooting experience to fully appreciate what those customizations need to be. Here’s a champion shooter’s view on the craft.
by American Gunsmith Staff
Doug Koenig began shooting competitively in 1986 when he entered his first match at the age of 17. Since then, he has amassed more than 70 National and World shooting championships in a variety of action/practical disciplines. They include Steel Challenge, Sportsman’s Team Challenge, NRA World Shooting Championship, USPSA, and Precision Rifle Series. He is best known for his string of NRA Action Pistol wins at the Bianchi Cup as the first shooter to post a perfect 1920x, the highest score ever with an X count of 187, and the most overall tournament wins of 18 total.
Koenig, captain of Team Ruger, is also sponsored by Bass Pro Shops/Cabelas, Leupold, Safariland, Hornady, H&M Metal Processing, National Shooting Sports Foundation, Starline Brass, Chamber-View, Otis, and Carbon Express. He also hosts his own TV show, Doug Koenig’s Championship Season on Pursuit Channel.
Koenig has worked with several well-known and skilled gunsmiths through the years who maintain and modify all of his firearms. This ensures peace of mind that his guns are functioning at their peak performance level.
Koenig commented, “Initially, my guns were built by Behlert Precision and Evolution Gun Works when I first began competing. Then EGW began focusing on making parts, so I partnered with George Huening of World Class Pistols for more than 20 years. When I was sponsored by Smith & Wesson, I’d mostly shoot their Performance Center guns and now I shoot Ruger Custom Shop guns but currently George maintains all my Open class work, especially my Bianchi Cup guns.”
George Huening came from the IndyCar world, building for drivers such as Team Marlboro’s Emerson Fittipaldi. He later got into building custom guns and was introduced to Koenig by Rob Leatham. With design input from Koenig, Huening built the guns Koenig used to win the 1990 IPSC World Championship and 1992 Bianchi Cup.
“George Huening produced great work due to his meticulous detail and ability to work on a deadline learned as a machinist and mechanic on a high-level racing team,” said Koenig. “I regularly had a time limit because shooting is my job and George always came through.”
Koenig also uses Randy Hollowbush at Handgunner Gun Shop (610-682-6714) in Topton, PA for other general gunsmithing needs as he is known for his detail oriented work and all-around gun knowledge.
While the champ has used a number of gunsmiths over the years, Koenig does most of his on-going maintenance and work himself. Full builds are done by either a trusted gunsmith or the Ruger Custom Shop, largely for time management reasons. “I’ve been doing this for decades now and have learned from all my gunsmiths and by experimenting throughout my shooting career, step-by-step,” Koenig said. “Unlike auto racing or military-funded shooting teams, I’m on my own at a match and have to be able to make repairs or modifications as needed. I don’t currently own the machinery for machining but I know how to make parts fit for top performance. For me, it’s a time management thing, rather like a mechanic that doesn’t bother with doing his own oil changes. A practicing gunsmith can complete a given build in a few hours that would take me much longer as I’m not working as a full-time gunsmith.”
Custom Shop Work
Doug Koenig is big on encouraging all gunsmith students to undertake apprenticeship years by gaining additional experience and knowledge via shooting competitors in need of a reliable skilled craftsman/tradesman to care for their firearms. “I’ve been competing professionally for decades now and I’ve learned how guns need to function. I can translate that to the Ruger Custom Shop or a gunsmith with an overall experience level from general gun knowledge up through competition that more casual gun owners simply don’t have.”
A number of firearm companies are taking this to heart. Smith & Wesson’s Performance Center, Springfield Armory Custom, and now the Ruger Custom Shop have all enlisted the aid of top competition shooters for their input. Koenig regularly consults with the engineers and product managers at Ruger’s Custom Shop. To improve their guns Ruger has a product planning meeting that rotates through their Prescott, AZ, Mayodan, NC, Southport, CT, Newport, NH, and Earth City, MO facilities each month. Either with an on-site visit or by conference call, the company seeks an experienced shooter’s input on product design built at that facility. This adds valuable input from a skilled shooter on performance issues that an average shooter may not notice. Ruger is always striving to improve their guns and Doug was brought on to improve their entire line. A skilled gunsmith can build anything but may not be a great ‘race car driver’ compared to the active competitor with hundreds of thousands of rounds down range.
This shooting experience also helps create an evolution in design. Koenig found that George Huening’s work with race car drivers was hugely helpful in becoming a better mechanic by taking input from race results. A skilled gunsmith can build anything but needs feedback to know what to improve. Without that critical feedback, some gunsmiths remain fixated on what they already do instead of what they can expand upon. As an example, Doug drew out the initial design for the barrel shroud that George built on his winning Bianchi Cup guns.
The Ruger Custom Shop did the same thing with their Koenig Competition SR1911, which was their first pistol built. Slide-to-frame fit was of primary importance as Koenig’s emphasis is on accuracy, demanding all of his competition pistols be capable of shooting around a one-inch group at 50 yards. The pistol is a stainless steel slide and frame with a Blacknitride+ finish by H&M Metal Processing (Blacknitride.com) fitted with a 1:16 twist 9mm barrel. Koenig has found this ideal, because it is more versatile to shooters as it handles all common 9mm bullet weights and is especially accurate with lighter bullets compared to the original 1:10 twist intended for 150 grain ball ammo based on the original German specification.
A fiber optic front sight and fully adjustable rear sight is ideal for a variety of action shooting disciplines. Additional Koenig touches include the straight trigger he favors, a Techwell magwell/grip system, and Doug Koenig Shooting Sports 1911 Low Mass Hammer (Patent number Des. 362,709) and sear. This is a great set up for IDPA Custom Defensive Pistol, IPSC Classic, USPSA Single Stack, NRA Action Pistol Metallic Sight, Steel Challenge Limited/Single Stack, and Pro Am Shooting disciplines.
Professional shooting demands finely-tuned equipment but human skill, for the gunsmith and competitor, remains the most important factor. The skill and experience earned by a champion shooter leads to important trends in firearm design and refinement. As a gunsmith, this kind of feedback can be invaluable. First-hand experience is helpful and anyone interested in firearms, especially gunsmiths, should be involved in at least one competition discipline at some level. Beyond personal improvement and experience, this can also provide contacts with other knowledgeable shooters. Even without the full resources of a large firearm manufacture and world champion, all gunsmiths can improve and benefit their own work by taking Doug Koenig’s and Ruger’s example.
Read more in the May 2019 issue.