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Montana firearm manufacturer expanding production in Helena

Olympus Arms
Gianforte Shooting
Vulcan Rifle
Olympus Arms Production Facility
Olympus Arms Ribbon-Cutting
Michael Merino
Posted at 6:32 PM, Jan 12, 2024

HELENA — A firearms manufacturer based in Helena is getting ready to make a big push on what they believe will be a breakthrough product.

So far, Olympus Arms has been in a long development process on their new Vulcan high-caliber recoilless rifle – designed with a barrel that reciprocates inside the body of the rifle, to significantly reduce the recoil after a shot is fired. Company leaders say that allows for more accuracy on each following shot.

Michael Merino, president of Olympus Arms and its sister companies Mars, Inc. and Blue Sky Inventors, says they’re now ready to scale up production at their Helena facility.

“Instead of making rifles one at a time, which we had done for most of our research and development process, now we're making batches of 100 at a time,” he said.

Merino says they’ve invested $5 million into the Vulcan rifle so far. Later this month, they will present at the SHOT Show, a large trade show in Las Vegas for the shooting, hunting and outdoor industries – where they will make their hard release, telling everyone they’re ready to take their orders.

Vulcan Rifle
A Vulcan rifle, designed by the Helena-based company Olympus Arms and intended to reduce recoil, at Range 406 in Helena, Jan. 12, 2024.

On Friday, Gov. Greg Gianforte got an up-close look at Olympus Arms’ production facility and what they’re making. Merino gave him a chance to try out three Vulcan rifles at Range 406, an indoor shooting range in Helena.

“We’ve actually trademarked the phrase, ‘Shooting Is Believing,’ because when we show people this rifle, they don’t understand, and when they shoot it, it blows their minds,” Merino said.

Gianforte Shooting
Gov. Greg Gianforte firing a Vulcan recoilless rifle from the Helena-based company Olympus Arms, at Range 406 in Helena, Jan. 12, 2024.

Gianforte said he was impressed.

“A lot of guns that caliber kick like a mule,” he said. “This one, you didn't even have to take it off target.”

Afterwards, Gianforte joined Olympus Arms employees for a ribbon-cutting in front of a new piece of machinery that Merino said cost $1 million.

“The main parts of the rifle, like the receiver, the upper receiver, the middle receiver, they can all be made on this machine,” Merino said. “It can change parts out 24 hours a day without a person opening or closing this door. So this machine will continue to run, the operator will load parts here at the access door and keep feeding the machine, and the machine will just continue to make parts all day long.”

Olympus Arms Ribbon-Cutting
Gov. Greg Gianforte joined Olympus Arms staff for a ribbon-cutting in front of a new piece of machinery at their production facility in Helena, Jan. 12, 2024.

Currently, Merino says he has about 12 employees, but he’s hoping to scale up, slowly and steadily.

“When we're full at this location, I have no doubt that we could make 150 rifles or more a month – and then even expand into a full manufacturing facility, hopefully here in Helena, when we have the orders to support it,” he said.

He’s talking about eventually providing up to 60 jobs over the coming years, and investing up to $50 million to expand.

Olympus Arms Production Facility
The Helena-based company Olympus Arms is ramping up production of its Vulcan rifle, designed to reduce recoil.

Gianforte says Montana is already home to 150 firearms and ammunition manufacturers, and leaders hope to keep building on that momentum.

“What we're promoting is quality of life, a favorable business climate and a work ethic of Montanans that won't quit,” he said. “That's a competitive advantage a lot of businesses want.”

Merino, a veteran and National Guardsman, says he hopes the military will eventually adopt the Vulcan rifle.

“I designed it for the military,” he said. “We're better than what the military has right now; we're better than what the military is looking at getting at next. I designed this for soldiers, I designed this for war fighters, and I want them to be able to have it. So, sooner or later, I feel like we can convince the army to make this a battle rifle – and in the meantime, we're just going to keep improving it. We're going to make it better, lighter, more efficient, less recoil.”

Michael Merino
Michael Merino, president of Olympic Arms, stands in front of a new million-dollar machine at their production facility in Helena, Jan. 12, 2024.

Merino says he wants to keep doing that work right here.

“This is home for me,” he said. “This is where my family is, my kids go to school here, I'm retiring out of the military here. This is my home. I grew up in Montana, and this is where I want to stay. And I want to provide what I call ‘career-worthy jobs,’ high-paying good jobs that people don't have to leave – they can grow here with me, they can stay with me, I keep the talent, and we all do something that we can be proud of and something that we're happy with.”