In the final moments of a big game hunt with a ton of angry water buffalo bearing down on your position at 30 miles per hour, you’ll want to be holding a reliable rifle with formidable stopping power. During the rest of the year, you might appreciate the gun’s stylish design and smooth feel, but in the heat of the moment, you just want it to work.
Envisioning, designing and building such a rifle requires a unique blend of abilities. Idaho gunmaker Ryan Breeding has the skills and the passion for bringing such a piece to life. He uses his artistic, mechanical and design skills to build stylish rifles that get the job done. His rifles look as good taking down a water buffalo as they do sitting at home on a display stand.
Breeding’s pedigree in the gun building business resulted in his being selected to build the fourth rifle in the five-rifle World Heritage Series. He is building a one-of-a-kind gun that will be sold at auction during the Safari Club International Convention from January 31 - February 3, 2018, in Las Vegas. In honor of Oceania, (Australia, New Zealand and Tropical Pacific Ocean Islands) Breeding is building a .375 H&H bolt-action rifle that can take down Oceania’s largest animal, the water buffalo, as well as elk and other big game.
Breeding’s passion for guns developed as a young man working in a gun shop he operated with his father. His love of art and mechanical things fit nicely into the gun design business. Breeding spent much of his adult life designing and producing guns and gun parts, including sights, grips, tangs and trigger guards. He stands behind his work by dating and signing all of his guns.
Over the years, Breeding became renowned for his work in big bores. He has built guns for clients who bagged world record game. Crafting big caliber guns involves meticulous individual planning and design to accommodate powerful forces and recoils. Breeding points out that some guns in this class look great but may not function with the requisite reliability and safety.
“At gun shows, I encourage attendees to cycle blank shells through my weapons so they can see how nicely my guns actually work,” says Breeding.
In addition to his mechanical and artistic skills, Breeding has developed a taste for technology. In 2007, he began to forge a relationship with the TechHelp New Product Development (NPD) Team at Boise State University. The NPD Team introduced him to advanced design software such as SolidWorks and 3D printing tools that elevated his gun making process to the next level.
“Ryan brings us projects and challenges that can’t be found in a textbook,” says NPD Lab Manager Blake Pachner. “Working with Ryan gives our student engineers opportunities to work with an actual client who has real timelines and expectations,” said Pachner, who is a Boise State Mechanical Engineering graduate and a former NPD Lab student engineer.
Before connecting with the NPD Lab, Breeding took his ideas directly from sketch to metal part. If he didn’t like the result, he’d start over. This was a time-intensive, laborious and expensive process. Breeding’s gun parts are incredibly complex with curved surfaces and high tolerances that make them challenging and expensive to machine. Machinists capable of doing the work are hard to find and expensive with long lead times.
Computer modeling and 3D printing give Breeding the ability to iterate on a part digitally and in plastic before progressing to metal machining. During the computer modeling process, Breeding works with NPD team members to digitize his sketch and then manipulate it on the computer screen into a more finished state. He then uses the computer model to quickly create an inexpensive 3D printed part that gives him an idea of feel, fit and function before committing to a metal part.
Breeding lives the NPD Lab motto of “you guide, we’ll drive” as he sits side-by-side with lab staff and guides them in making changes to SolidWorks drawings of his gun parts. Members of the Lab Team, including full-time mechanical engineers and engineering students, encourage clients to sit with them and guide the design process. Instead of just handing off his sketches, Breeding loves working directly with the TechHelp NPD team and providing immediate feedback. Breeding also knows when to back off and give the designer some alone time to work out issues.
Breeding says that working with the NPD Team can be therapeutic in that he can quickly get ideas out of his head and capture them in a computer drawing to see how they look virtually. “There is tremendous satisfaction when you see an idea take life and realize it’s going to work,” says Breeding.
Story of the Oceania Rifle
The Oceania Rifle will be a one-of-a-kind work of art. Breeding reworked and redesigned every component exclusively for this single gun. One challenging goal Breeding set for the Oceania was to give the gun a smooth look by hiding all of the gun’s screw heads. That decision led to a bevy of design challenges that Ryan solved through ingenuity and the NPD design process. Ryan also created curved surfaces that give the gun an elegant appearance. With all of the modern tools of design and machining at his disposal, Breeding sometimes arrives at the NPD Lab with hands stiff and stained from working a finely machined part into a finished work of art.