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Smith & Wesson takes shot at hunting market, buys long-gun maker Thompson/Center Arms

12/18/2006

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — Long associated with the likes of Dirty Harry and real-life police officers, Smith & Wesson is now taking aim at a new market: hunters.

In a $100 million deal announced Monday, the Springfield gun maker said it is buying Thompson/Center Arms, a privately held Rochester, N.H.-based company that specializes in muzzleloaders and rimfire rifles.

The move lets Smith & Wesson Holding Corp. target the $1.1 billion long gun market, which is about 80 percent larger than the country's handgun market, Chief Executive Mike Golden said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Golden said Smith & Wesson firearms already account for about 47 percent of national revolver sales and moving the company into the production of long guns was natural.

The purchase increases Smith & Wesson's net sale expectations for the 2008 fiscal year by $70 million, to about $320 million.

The company's shares rose 12 cents, or 1.2 percent, to $10.39 in afternoon trading on the Nasdaq, where they have traded in a range of $3.50 to $14.85 over the last 52 weeks.

Hollywood helped make Smith & Wesson famous by putting its .44 Magnum in the hands of Inspector Harry Callahan in a series of "Dirty Harry" movies.

But Golden said he doesn't expect a tough marketing transition now that the company is trying to sell guns to hunters.

Golden said surveys conducted by the company show that many people think Smith & Wesson makes rifles, even though they just began manufacturing them in March.

"People already think we're in the market," Golden said. "Our products have such a wide appeal, and we believe we can have a similar success with long guns that we've had with handguns."

Under the deal, which is expected to close early next month, Smith & Wesson will purchase Thompson/Center's New Hampshire facility and will continue producing rifles under its own name.

Gregg Ritz, Thompson/Center's president and CEO who will become president of Smith & Wesson's hunting line, said the purchase will help the rifle maker expand its product line.

He said Thompson/Center's line "fits nicely into the Smith & Wesson portfolio of pistols, revolvers, shotguns and future hunting rifles."

"There is absolutely no overlap in our product lines," he said.

Smith & Wesson used to make parts for Remington rifles during its 154-year history but has been out of the long gun business for about 30 years, Golden said.

The company introduced a line of tactical rifles in March but marketed them to law enforcement agencies and competitive target shooters.