Building custom rifles was something Matt Spoon said he was meant to do.

“It’s kind of a thing that all fell into place,” said the 38-year-old who is the creator of Spoon Custom Guns and manager of the gun department and gun buyer for Mack’s Prairie Wings Inc. in Stuttgart.

After spending years repairing duck hunters’ shotguns at the waterfowl hunting retailer, Spoon decided to build his own custom rifles. Since 2011, he has created about 100 custom rifles under his brand name in a partnership with Mack’s Prairie Wings.

His goal was to put “a product out there that gave superior performance over factory rifles at long ranges,” said Mack’s Prairie Wings Vice President Chuck Lock. “Basically, he wanted these guns to perform at 1,000 yards, [and] for people to be able to actually hit what they were shooting at.”

The rifles have been a hit with customers.

“Once you start shooting a custom rifle, it’s hard to go back to a factory built gun,” said Chris Rich of Fordyce, who owns three Spoon rifles.

Rich said he’s hit steel plates at 1,500 yards.

“I’m very pleased,” said Rich, a foreman for Union Pacific Railroad.

But the Spoon Custom Guns might not have been.

In the 1990s, Spoon attended business school in Missouri before he began to feel burned out and came to Arkansas to hang out with a friend with whom he grew up hunting.

“And he said to me, ‘Mack’s is building a new store and needs a gunsmith,’ ” Spoon said.

He agreed to go to school to become a gunsmith to qualify for the job.

“I never messed with guns or anything before it,” Spoon said.

But he fell in love with the job and never looked back.

Getting up the Nerve

After receiving his associate of applied science degree in gunsmithing from Trinidad State Junior College in Colorado, Spoon was first assigned to repair duck hunters’ shotguns at Mack’s.

“I had to figure out how to work on all these duck hunters’ guns,” Spoon said. “I didn’t have anybody to talk to or help me.”

But as a child in Missouri, Spoon was known to tinker with machines.

“I was always taking my bicycle apart and putting it back together,” he said. “I always liked to take stuff apart to see how it worked.”

So it was no surprise that while at Mack’s he began dabbling in making his own gun.

“The first year I made one, I just made it for the store,” he said. And it sold.

Spoon utilitzed Mack’s engraving machine to put the quickly concocted logo “Spoon Custom” on the gun barrel.

He said he came up with the name because it “seemed easy and short and simple. So I kind of stuck with that over the years.”

About four years ago, Spoon said he finally got the nerve to ask Lock, Mack’s vice president, if he could custom build his own rifle.

“I’d been doing a bunch of research on it,” Spoon said. “I’ve been around Chuck long enough [to know] you just don’t want to walk in and say, ‘How about this?’ “

Spoon came prepared with the names of the companies that he would work with and how much it was going to cost to get started. The amount was about $30,000.

“I kind of put a plan together and, looking back on it, it makes me feel good that Chuck believed in me that much,” Spoon said.

For Lock, it was a no-brainer.

Spoon is “a very meticulous person, a perfectionist that was not going to put a product out the door that did not perform to perfection,” Lock said.

The Process

Spoon starts taking rifle orders in the fall.

His target audience is those who want more than what a mass produced gun can do.

His rifles sell for $3,000-$9,000, while a factory hunting rifle off the shelf retails for $900 to $2,000.But his customers say the money is well spent.

“You get what you pay for,” Rich said.

The orders pour in through word of mouth.

“Somebody sees it, and they get to shoot it and hold it,” Spoon said. “And their buddy tells them that you build a good rifle, that’s pretty much the way it’s done.”

After he gets the orders, Spoon buys the parts from various manufacturers around the country.

For example, one company just makes triggers, so Spoon sources them from that firm.

“I just find the best pieces and put them together,” Spoon said.

It might take four to six months to get the parts “because they are so specialized,” he said.

In April, he starts building the rifles. It usually takes a few days to create just one.

“I try to put a personal touch on all of them, just to make them special for the people I make them for,” Spoon said.

He typically builds about 30-40 rifles during his manufacturing season, which ends in August.

“Then I’ll start all over again,” Spoon said.

He said if Spoon Custom grew bigger and took on more orders, he would have to hire workers to manufacture the guns.

“It just wouldn’t be Spoon Custom Guns any more,” he said.

Besides, Spoon said he’s fine with the company staying the way it is.

“It’s in a good place right now,” he said.