Headquartered in Anoka, Minnesota, Vista Outdoor is a large, publicly traded manufacturer of ammunition and outdoor sporting goods. The company owns more than 40 brands in two distinct business segments: “Sporting Products,” which includes several different ammo brands, and “Outdoor Products,” which includes things like Bell helmets, CamelBak water bottles and packs, camping equipment, fishing gear, optics, and other firearm-related products. In 2022, Vista announced that it planned to spin off the segments into two separate publicly traded companies by the end of 2023.
Vista is currently the world’s largest manufacturer of ammunition, with over $1.8 billion in annual ammo sales. The company owns several ammo brands, including Federal Premium Ammunition, Cascade Cartridge Inc. (CCI), Remington Ammunition, Speer, Hevi-Shot and Estate Cartridge, not to mention Alliant Powder, which offers gunpowder, and RCBS, which sells tools to help people produce their own ammo at home. Together, these brands make up the lion’s share of the civilian ammo market in the U.S. — an industry segment that faces far fewer restrictions than firearms.
For example, while Vista Outdoor sells ammo through gun shops and sporting goods stores, it also offers ammo directly online, enabling even those who are underage or legally prohibited from owning firearms to stockpile ammo. According to federal law, you must be 18 or 21 years old to purchase long gun or handgun ammo, respectively, but there is no requirement that an ammo seller verify the customer’s age, run a background check, or keep sales records, as required for firearms. In many states, ammo can be shipped directly to individuals, too, removing any need to visit a brick-and-mortar store.
When purchasing ammo through the Federal Premium Ammunition website, for example, the “guest checkout” option asks for a buyer’s address, contact information, and payment. The buyer must also input which state they live in because “[s]ome states have legal restrictions for the purchase of certain items” and check a box saying they are old enough to buy ammo — an easy obstacle to overcome. There are no further requirements for a customer to prove they are of age or legally able to purchase ammunition.
There are also no limits to how much ammunition customers can purchase at once or in subsequent transactions and have shipped to their doors across Vista’s brands.
It is unclear what measures Vista Outdoor takes to secure its supply chain to prevent the ammunition it produces from entering the illegal market. For example, information is not publicly available on whether Vista Outdoor requires its dealers and distributors to secure their inventories, flag questionable customers, or report the results of ATF compliance inspections and crime gun trace requests.
Considering the lack of legislative or regulatory action in this regard, firearm and ammunition manufacturers should, at a minimum, adopt stronger public codes of conduct to hold their distributors and dealers accountable in securing supply chains.
Vista Outdoor sells military-grade ammunition to civilians, including .50-caliber rounds. The .50 BMG was originally adopted by the U.S. military for use in machine guns and, later, sniper rifles to disable enemy vehicles, including aircraft, and other material targets at great distances. The caliber’s raw power and range has also made it an attractive choice for criminals and extremists, but firearms experts concede that it is overkill for self-defense and hunting.
Similarly, Vista’s Federal brand offers civilian AR-15 owners versions of the M855 “green tip” ammunition adopted by the U.S. military to give soldiers a better chance of penetrating an enemy combatant’s steel helmet at a distance with their M16 rifles. Despite their barrier-penetrating capabilities — one reason why the Buffalo shooter sought M855 ammunition1 This is a footnote test in general, according 2Footnote Test #2 https://www.google.com to his manifesto and Discord “diary” entries — these rounds are legal for civilians to own in most states, and don’t meet the federal definition of “armor-piercing ammunition,” because their bullets have cores made from a mixture of lead and steel.
While the company produces lead-free alternatives, a review of the ammunition available on Vista’s websites shows that the majority is lead-based. Lead is incredibly toxic to humans, but hunters “who frequently consume game shot with lead ammunition are at risk from high dietary lead exposure,” and gunshot victims can suffer the ill effects of lead poisoning years after they were attacked if bullet fragments remain in their bodies.
Lead ammunition can also have a devastating impact on wildlife — especially those animals, like California condors, that consume the remains of game hunted with lead ammunition.
Vista Outdoor has also helped popularize concealed carry. Along with offering a wide range of personal-defense ammunition and sponsoring content from the U.S. Concealed Carry Association (USCCA), Vista Outdoor recently unveiled a new concealed-carry handgun caliber, the .30 Super Carry, that it designed to be slightly smaller than the 9mm while allowing for increased ammunition capacity. As the company claims, the .30 Super Carry “allows more magazine capacity than [the] 9mm Luger, yet delivers equal muzzle energy and performance,” giving shooters “more confidence” and the “best ballistic performance attainable.”
Vista Outdoor previously owned rifle maker Savage Arms, which began producing AR-15s in 2017. In the aftermath of the 2018 Parkland High School shooting, REI and a large Canadian chain, Mountain Equipment Co-Op, announced that they would stop selling Vista’s outdoor brands, such as CamelBak and Giro. When Vista subsequently announced that it would sell off the Savage Arms brand, REI stated that it would “resume orders” with Vista’s subsidiaries. REI noted that it “does not sell guns or ammunition, and does not oppose hunting or the Second Amendment, but we believe companies that profit directly from the sale of guns have a civic responsibility to engage in the national discussion about gun safety, as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and others have done.”
For its part, Savage Arms quietly exited the AR-15 market in 2022.
Vista Outdoor is a major NRA supporter. Not only has the company sponsored NRA events and been a consistent exhibitor at NRA conventions, but in 2019, Vista’s then-CEO Chris Metz stated, “If we’re not the largest industry supporter of the NRA we’re certainly one of the top and that will continue to remain the case. We own more than a dozen leading brands, all dedicated to Second Amendment supporters. It’s the crux of who we are and what we represent. You’ll see that support continue, even more so.”
That same year, Federal Premium Ammunition joined the NRA’s “Golden Ring of Freedom” for donating over $1 million to the organization.