Tim: Welcome to this week’s edition of The Gun Doctor. We’re here today at Smokin Gun Worx with the actual gun doctor. Dr. Ruter.
Doc: Thank you, Tim.
Tim: It’s good to see you. Well, the gun doctor has been around for going on almost three years now.
Tim: The first question that we got when we did the first Gun Doctor, somebody commented and said, who’s the gun doctor?
Doc: Who’s the gun doctor?
Tim: Yes, who’s the gun doctor. The first question I got for you, where did you grow up? Right here at 8785 North Baileyville Road, Forreston, Illinois?
Tim: Smokin Gun Worx? Where did you grow up?
Doc: I literally grew up in Forreston.
Tim: In Forreston?
Doc: Yes. Grade school, high school in Forreston. Went off to college. Went on to start my dental career at Loyola University. Graduated in 1985.
Tim: For everybody watching, you are an actual doctor?
Doc: Yes. Yeah, legit. I have the certificate, plaque to hang on the wall. Yeah, I started dentistry, like I said, in ’85. I literally came back to Forreston as a part-time job. Opportunity arose in Forreston. Thought, well, give it a try before the practice that was going to start in Fox Valley area. As I tell everybody, it’s one of the longest part-time jobs ever. A great place to live, raise our family, our two children, and then Smokin Gun Worx started.
Tim: Smokin Gun Worx started. Well, let’s go back even farther. When was your first interest in guns? A lot of us as kids, we have interest in guns and just kind of blossomed for there, but for you?
Doc: It’s been a lifelong thing. Of course the plastic, the toy guns growing up. My father, my grandparents, all were hunters. Had a gun in my hand at a very early age.
Tim: I can remember taking a gun to school. If you can believe this or not, I took a gun to school for display that we had. It was a .22 rifle, had to take the bullet out and put it in a display. Carried it to school, walked to school, and today if you did that, you would have a SWAT team.
Doc: It’s changed a lot. I too brought them to school for show and tell. I actually had him in my vehicle to go hunting after school type thing. Guns have always been high interest on my radar.
Tim: Then you made a shift from dentistry or dentistry and the gun shop [inaudible 00:02:37].
Doc: It was a transition. I was in dentistry and running the gun shop at the same time for a few years. When COVID hit, having a little lung problem, history of pneumonia, they didn’t want me practicing anymore. I decided to end my dental career and be here in Smokin Gun Worx full time.
Tim: You started out in a building downtown.
Doc: Yes. It was a retail.
Tim: A lot smaller than the current building.
Doc: Yeah, quite a bit smaller.
Tim: Describe that. Tell us what that was like.
Doc: It was actually a 40 by 60 building. It was retail only, but the way the gun industry was growing at the time and still is, and the fact that there were no indoor ranges of really any kind at the time in this area, I got the bright idea of, Hey, why don’t I build an indoor range? The property became available. Everything started falling together and we opened this in, 2017 I guess was our first year.
Tim: What was this building before it was Smokin Gun Worx?
Doc: Actually it was a bar and restaurant, part of it.
Tim: Okay, so it was a restaurant and has not been a restaurant for a number of years?
Doc: Yes. It had been dormant for many years. Actually, I looked at the building to move my dental practice out here years ago. Somebody came forward and wanted to reopen the restaurant so I missed that opportunity. When the building had been vacant for three or four years I believe it had been nonfunctional and I put a bid on it and got it out of an estate sale and the rest is history. A big addition on to it of course.
Tim: Yeah. We’ve talked about this, we talked about it all the time gun doctor. This is a five star nationally rated range.
Tim: How did that happen? What do you have to do to become a five star national rated range?
Doc: The National Shooting Sports Foundation actually has a criteria that you have to meet. Most of it’s safety and EPA regulations so how you handle your shooters as they come in. How you have range safety officers on staff. How everyone is protected when they’re in the range. How clean the range is. The OSHA standards are quite lengthy. They really are very meticulous on how you handle the air quality, the lead dust that’s admitted, copper and lead projectiles that disintegrate at the end of the range, that type of thing. Being in medicine and having to abide by a bunch of EPA and OSHA regulations, it really wasn’t that new to me, the concept. Just a matter of finding out what they wanted and being able to comply with those regulations.
Tim: You took the unusual step of actually inviting OSHA inspectors to your-
Doc: Yes, I did.
Tim: I have never heard of anybody inviting OSHA. It’s usually we’re running away from them in industry.
Doc: Well, and that’s always been my issue. Even in, like I said, in dentistry, we would invite them in to make sure that we were compliant in every way, shape, or form. We actually even augmented a lot of the OSHA regulations to improve their standards. Here was another example of that. We had them come in and we’re looking at all the safety features that we provided Smokin Gun Worx. All the safety issues that we try to take care of before an incident might happen. We actually set the bar a little higher. I’m sure there are other people that aren’t really appreciative of that, but nonetheless, I wanted to do it right. I always did want to be the example that you can be reassured it’s a very safe, healthy environment that you’re in.
Tim: The amazing thing to me, when I walk in that range and the air is so clean that my sinuses actually clear up.
Tim: I’m just astonished by that.
Doc: Air quality is the big thing in a range. That’s the first and foremost thing that they’re always worried about. We have what’s called a ventilation system, it’s called a purge system. The air is actually pumped in from the outside. It generates wave of air that goes down range at usually 74 to 78 cubic feet per minute. It literally cleans all the smoke, dust, everything that’s generated upon letting go around a firearm. It all goes down range. It’s vacuumed up. There’s a pump side that actually pressurizes the air in the range. Then there’s a vacuum side that takes the air out.
Doc: Well, it doesn’t just take it out. It filtrates it. It goes through 20 paper filters. They’re a two foot by two foot square, two inch thick, it’s called a Merv 13 rating air filter. It’s a paper particulate matter filter that filters the air out. Then all that air goes through a HEPA filters and system. Those filters again are two foot by two foot. They’re 11 and a half inches deep to take out all the minor particulate matter out of the air. The air that goes out of this system is much more clean and purified than what came in.
Tim: You have leagues?
Tim: Shooting leagues.
Tim: You have men and women shooting leagues.
Doc: Yes. We have all kinds of functions from specific leagues to days like Wheel Gun Wednesday. That type of thing. Seem to get a lot of foot traffic out of it as well.
Tim: In addition to new and used guns and knives and arrow and ammo. How is the ammo situation?
Doc: It’s improving. It really is. The manufacturers are really scrambling. The price of the raw product has gone up markedly. The copper, the brass, the lead. Right now we’re in a big issue of getting primers. Primers are very difficult to get ahold of worldwide actually. A lot of them now are being imported from Turkey or Bosnia, that type of thing. Yeah, ammo prices, they’ve settled a bit. I don’t think, well I’m confident that they will never go back to the price they used to be.
Tim: Okay. Unlike gas.
Doc: Unlike gasoline, yes.
Tim: That is a good thing. Now this is something I found out. I was a little surprised. You do a lot of different things here. It’s not just guns and ammo and shooting, but you also do training.
Tim: What kind of training do you do?
Doc: Starting with basic firearm training. Handgun or rifle, whatever it may be. A lot of people are very interested in that now. Seems the interest in firearms in our nation has gone out markedly. The state of Illinois is a great example of that. Nationwide from March 2020, we’ve been the number one firearm selling state in our nation.
Tim: Oh, wow.
Doc: Yeah, and not by a short margin either. We have a lot of law abiding citizens that have never really considered firearms, so they are now. Our basic handgun education is there. Of course our concealed carry training and renewal courses are always very well attended. Every five years, the concealed carry needs to be renewed. It’s actually a very good class. I know there was a lot of input on how Illinois was finally going to have a concealed carry law. The first day is a basic handgun class. Rhey used the NRA basic handgun class as an outline for the class that you must attend to get your concealed carry. Once you have those permits, then the second day you get in more of the legal aspects of it and then you have to show proficiency at five, seven and ten yards.
Tim: Demographically, men, women, where have you seen the biggest increase in those who want to conceal and carry permit? That want to purchase that a gun? What are you seeing?
Doc: By far, female shooters are coming on strong. They truly are. That’s a nationwide thing, not just Illinois. Illinois, we notice quite a bit, but a lot of ladies have a very, very necessary concern on their own safety. That’s usually what’s driving them to learning how to use a firearm, how to get their concealed carry permits, how to carry properly. Honestly, new lady shooters are typically very good shots as well.
Tim: Well, that might explain, there’s a lot of other things going on here and that might explain the Mary Kay meeting I saw the other day in the meeting room going on. Also, I was fascinated to learn a couple years ago that you had wedding receptions.
Doc: Oh, definitely. Yes, we have, it’s a little smaller venue now, but we have a room we rent out to the Mary Kay ladies. They utilize that space for their meetings. We’ve had farm meetings. We’ve had church groups attend here. Yes, we had a wedding. I was honored that they chose our facility for that.
Tim: A thing called date night? Is that what it’s called?
Doc: Yes, that is exactly right. It’s something I must credit my dear wife on the idea of a date night. When she came up with the idea, I thought, yes, it’s a very good idea. I don’t know how long this will last. I thought we’ll probably run a couple of them around holidays. The interest during Valentine’s season is pretty heavy, it really is. She came up with the idea on how to cater it, how to roll with it, how many people we can have. It’s an ongoing thing that we have at Smokin Gun Worx.
Tim: Growing up, did you ever think that you would come back and do everything we’ve talked about. All this, was that ever a thought in your mind?
Doc: The dentistry part was, coming back, but never the gun business. I never dreamt I’d be in the firearm industry. Years ago, I experienced a very unpleasant situation and forced in… My phrase is I was given a bushel of lemons and I thought I’d make lemonade. I must credit my crew that I have as well. They’re a great group of, I now employ 15 people at Smokin Gun Worx.
Tim: When you started, how many did you have?
Tim: We’ve talked a lot about all the various things go on here. Just about two months ago, I did the IROCC, the Illinois Retired Officers Concealed Carry, training here. It was, got my card over the weekend. Friday and Monday morning had my card so it was very well done.
Doc: Well, the IROCC, since you bring that up, that’s a neat program that I never knew about until I actually had a range. I don’t know if the folks know, but for retired law enforcement, you have to come in and proficiency and show your proficiency every year.
Tim: Every year and pay for it.
Doc: Yes, exactly. I did not know that was even a thing once you served our communities as you have, and thank you for that.
Tim: You’re welcome, thank you.
Doc: I always assumed incorrectly that it was something that you would have lifelong ability to carry a firearm when it’s really not at all. You guys have practice, you had to proficiency every year. You have to proficiency every year past your retirement. It’s really been an honor to see all the retired law enforcement from all over the state come to Smokin Gun Worx and take their course here.
Tim: Yeah, and in the range, there’s no other range like this. That is such a beauty just to shoot on this range and such a joy.
Doc: Thank you.
Tim: We need to do that. Now, we’ve talked a lot about all things going on here. There’s another thing that you are involved in, the youth sport shooting.
Doc: Oh, the youth shooting programs.
Tim: Youth shooting program. Tell us about that.
Doc: That was something, when I first started in the firearms retail, NRA approached me about having a banquet. Friends of NRA specifically. I said, all right, I’ll be more than happy to work with you on that. Where the funding going? Well, it goes into general fund and like, no, no, no. Let’s rethink this. We didn’t have a real active, trap shooting type function at any of the schools at the time. So how about we fund these local schools. My first target was forced in Eastland schools. How about we help them out getting this program off the ground.
Doc: Well, okay. You know, it’s one of those deals, yeah, if you can do something, we’ll listen. I came up with the idea of the banquets that I have would fund those school districts directly. I put the FFA director in charge of the funds because the FFA had already a trap shooting outline ready to go. Well, I didn’t want it just to go to the school district and have the funds misappropriated. I’m not accusing anybody, but typically that’s how the funds get washed clean.
Doc: The NRA agreed to keep those funds what the director in charge of the funds. Because of what I was doing, the NRA agreed to match every dollar I put in. Now we open it up so the FFA director can call. I need firearms, I need clay pigeons, I need 12 gauge shot shells or 20 gauge, reimbursement for entry fees or travel fees, whatever the case may be. They have oversight on those funds.
Doc: Locally, right now, I believe we have 14 schools in the program. Branching out into 4H, some Boy Scouts and Girl Scout troops are also in line for some of that funding. The neat thing is NRA took that program and went nationwide with it. It’s a great thing.
Tim: It started here.
Doc: It started here in Forreston, yes. It was a neat thing to be part of and to actually figure out how that when the banquets occur, that the money goes directly to those local school districts and will be used appropriately.
Tim: There’s a real temptation. Any funds for any agency to use those when money comes in. That’s a very worthwhile program. Now you mentioned the NRA banquet. That’s something you held up here in the parking lot and in the store.
Doc: Oh, many different versions of it, yes.
Tim: Many different versions and a lot of people attend. Do you ever get a number of the amount of people that attend this?
Doc: I’ve tried. I’ve got some rough estimate.
Tim: They come and go so much. Anytime I’ve been out here, there’s been hundreds of people.
Doc: Oh, cars parked down the road. It’s always been very well attended and I’m honored that people will stop by and attend those banquets with us.
Tim: Now that kind of shut down because of the COVID?
Doc: Oh, definitely.
Tim: Hasn’t happened. Is that coming back?
Doc: It’s starting to come back. We have a couple events scheduled this year. A customer appreciation day. Friends of NRA will be here for that as well. Also going to be having our first car and motorcycle show. Car, truck, and motorcycles show here at Smokin Gun Worx on June 11th. Again, Friends of NRA will be here as well. I have some vendors. I’m not sure who’s all on the docket right now, but farm vendors that will be here as well.
Tim: Are these classic cars? Are these-
Doc: Any show car.
Tim: You can bring your show car?
Doc: Oh, definitely. It’s something that we’ve kicked around for a little while. Finally, all the planning has come together. Like I said, I’ve got a great team that helps me with my wild ideas. They love it at times when I come in, Hey, I’ve got this great idea, let’s do this. Well, we’ve been thinking about that too. As the phrase goes between us, we plant the seeds and watch it grow.
Tim: We talked about staff and anytime I’ve ever walked in the door or anybody else I’ve noticed, someone’s right there to greet you and very friendly and welcome and how can I help you?
Doc: Thank you. It’s always been very important to me, not just in dentistry, but in retail as well. We don’t always get that in retail. I’ve noticed that when I go into a store for example.
Tim: They’re very knowledgeable also, I mean in whatever you want to look at and there’s a lot to look at here. There’s handguns and shotguns. New, used and you got it all right here at Smokin Gun.
Doc: We really do. Our inventory has come back very nicely. Right now we have about 1,300 firearms on display between handguns and long guns. The wall of ammo seems to be doing quite well. We get shipments in on a pretty regular basis anymore. It’s not like it used to be with availability, but it’s coming on pretty good.
Tim: New products. You get new products frequently.
Doc: On a very regular basis, yes.
Tim: You can shoot, shop, or train. Buy, sell, or trade. You can do it all. Smokin Gun Worx. 8785 North Baileyville Road, Forreston, Illinois. For the Gun Doctor. I’m Tim Bivins. And you are?
Doc: I am the gun doctor.
Tim: The gun doctor.
Doc: Thank you, Tim.
Tim: Thank you.