Royal Stukey lines up a shot on the portable, ultra-stable bench he designed and now manufactures and sells out of his shop near Powell.
A series featuring up-and-coming innovations born or growing up in Wyoming
Members of the Wyoming Business Council staff hear it all the time as we travel the state: We have so many great ideas and companies flying under the radar right here in Wyoming. I wish more people knew what was going on.
The Great Ideas series is our effort to tell those stories that make Wyoming proud.
If you know of an original, innovative business picking up steam in your neck of the woods, get in touch with Baylie Evans at firstname.lastname@example.org.
As many inventions do, Stukey’s Sturdy Shooting Benches came about because Royal Stukey needed a product that didn’t yet exist.
The son of a gun dealer, Stukey grew up exposed to a lot of shooting; it would become a life-long hobby and, ultimately, his livelihood.
Stukey worked for nine years as a production mechanic for a factory that made things like crayons, paints and silly putty. Despite the playful products, he was responsible for a lot, he said; and after suffering migraines and ulcers, his doctor told him he’d have to give something up. At the time, he was breaking horses at night, in addition to his day job.
“I decided I didn’t like the factory life, so I chose the cowboy life,” he said.
He went to work for the Padlock Ranch in Wyoming where he shot “an enormous amount,” he said.
“When you’re all alone with no electricity or running water, you have to find something to do,” he added with a laugh.
That’s where he really learned his skills at long-range shooting.
After he got married, he went to work as the ranch manager for world-renowned Montana bronze artist and hunter, TD Kelsey.
When Kelsey discovered Stukey’s talents for shooting and gunsmithing, Stukey became his gun expert, as well. Kelsey and his friends would shoot at the ranch before hunting trips all over the world, Stukey said.
“He told me to buy a portable shooting bench for their practice sessions,” Stukey said. “All I could find was kids’ stuff, ironing boards, etc. I had to tell him ‘I couldn’t find anything I’d spend your money on.’”
So, armed with his experience in building machinery and his knowledge of a shooter’s needs, Stukey started building benches in Kelsey’s studio.
“The problem was, whatever made it portable also made it wobbly and unstable,” he explained. “And many shooting benches have an attached seat, so anytime your fanny moves, the whole bench moves.”
Still, to his surprise, Kelsey’s friends started buying his benches, even though they continued to be too unstable for his own taste.
Eventually, he stumbled on a way to connect the legs to the top that made the bench feel as if the legs were welded on, and yet could still be easily unscrewed and moved. In addition, Stukey – a lefty himself – made his benches usable by right- and left-handed shooters.
“We started making them all the time,” he said.
The company has seen steady growth every year. Eventually, building benches became Stukey’s full-time job, and his wife left her job as a school counselor and came on board with the company, as well. They currently make and sell 200 benches per year to customers all over the world.
“Little by little, we’ve risen through the ranks to become one of the premier shooting benches in the world,” he said.
Although he’s now outsourced some of the parts, he still assembles each bench himself in batches of 50 at his shop near Powell. As the business has grown, he’s had more demand than he can keep up with, he said, and he’s just beginning to look at what his next step might be.
“I want to become international and go on to bigger, better things,” he said. “I just don’t know yet what that growth will look like yet.”
Right now, he and his wife are the only employees of the company.
“There are some challenges to doing business in Wyoming, like finding and keeping young, creative employees who will stay on long-term," he said. "But darn it, we want to live in Wyoming. Our main goal is to continue running the company out of this state right here.”
Check out Stukey’s Shooting Benches online and order yours.