The Men Behind Bergara Rifles: Dan Hanus
Dan Hanus went into the military with little interest in guns or hunting. He came out an expert in the former and has grown to love the latter. Dan is now leading the Bergara Rifle builders as they continue to exemplify perfection in craftsmanship and accuracy that the world is beginning to notice. We sat down with Dan to talk about his background and how he eventually came to work for BPI Outdoors and Bergara Rifles, and where he sees the company going from this day forward.
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Fort Dodge, Iowa.
What initially got you interested in guns and hunting?
I didn’t really have much interest in hunting or guns growing up. I was given the job of Small Arms Repairman by the Marine Corps and I guess my interest blossomed throughout my career. My father-in-law was the one that got me interested in hunting. My passion grew over the years to what it is today.
Can you walk us through your military career from the day the notion first struck that you wanted to serve until your retirement?
I always knew I was going to join the military. However, I was not sure which branch I was going to join. I did the sit down with all the recruiters, but I was still unsure. A friend of mine joined the Marines out of high school (I procrastinated) and we met up after he returned home from bootcamp. He talked me into it and I shipped out on 24 April 1990, a few months after enlisting.
I got my Military Occupational Specialty (MOS) assigned while attending Marine Combat training in August 1990. I joined under a mechanical option so I could have been anything from a helicopter to a generator mechanic. I thought it was cool I got small arms. I attended MOS school in Aberdeen Proving Grounds, Maryland and graduated in December 1990.
My first duty station was Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. I was stationed there during the Gulf War, but I never shipped out. After three years in North Carolina, I received orders to Okinawa, Japan. I did one year there and reenlisted for four more years.
During my second enlistment I found out about a specialty MOS in the Marine Corps, 2112, Rifle Team Equipment (RTE) or Precision Weapons Section (PWS), as it’s known today. These were the guys that built all the cool stuff – the sniper rifles, completion rifles, Combat 45 Pistols. Anything that was not standard issue they made and maintained.
This was a small field and you had to be hand selected. It wasn’t what you knew but who you knew and if you didn’t have a hookup you it was tough to get in. I applied two times (once every six months was as often as you could apply), but wasn’t accepted. I didn’t let that discourage me and applied one more time.
On the third application attempt my unit, 1st ANGLICO, disbanded and all the Marines got sent to special duties, which consisted of recruiting, drill instructor or security forces. As it turned out, I got recruiting duty, so I spent the next 3 years in Fort Walton Beach, Florida.
After three years of persuading young men and women to join the Marine Corps it was time for me to rejoin the active Marine Forces. I never lost my focus or desire to become a 2112 and continued to work towards it. One of the benefits of a special duty is upon a successful completion you get to pick duty station or assignment. I chose 2112 school.
In October 2000 I was stationed at PWS, Weapons Training Battalion, Quantico, Virginia. For the next year I was a student learning the basics of machining and the craft of making precision weapons. After that year, I graduated from 2112 school and continued to build weapons for the Marine Corps. I enjoyed it, but to stay competitive for promotion I needed to deploy. A position opened up at 1st Recon BN, Camp Pendleton, California, and they were slated to deploy to Fallujah, Iraq, in the next six months so I jumped at the opportunity. I deployed a couple times over the next three years and because of that I was promoted to E-8, Master Sergeant.
Unfortunately, I was no longer able to stay with my unit so I was sent to Aberdeen Proving Grounds again where I had gone small arms school as a new Marine 17 years prior. I held the position of Senior Marine Instructor and served there for two years. A friend of mine that was currently running PWS, 2112 school informed me of a vacancy and asked if I wanted it. Of course I did. It was an opportunity to return to PWS and run it as the Chief Instructor and Production Chief where I would run the school that I worked so hard to get into.
I made some changes that I felt would make it better and streamlined the application process to make it easier for qualified applicants to get in. About two years into my assignment at PWS I was notified the Marine Corps was downsizing and several of my 2112 Marines were going to be forced out of the Corps.
Coincidentally, I was going to be attending a career fair/seminar in Des Moines, Iowa, hosted by Brownells. My boss at the time asked if I was taking a resume. I told him I was not planning on it though I could. I took a few copies to hand out. To my surprise, my skill sets and experience was highly sought after. Upon agreeing to terms with BPI Outdoors, I decided it was best for me, and my family, to retire and enter the civilian sector.
When did you first hear about Bergara?
I didn’t hear about Bergara until the career fair when I meet BPI Outdoors VP of Technical Development Mark Hendricks.
Did you have to deal with any major obstacles transitioning from building/repairing guns as a Marine to building them as a civilian?
The transition was a little tough at first. Bergara Custom Rifles did not exist. I was working with components that were not standard in the military so it was a learning experience.
Talk about Bergara’s growth – from first only selling barrels to the expansion into custom rifles and now the production series.
Bergara started selling barrels about 11 years ago. It was a slow process getting our name out there and it wasn’t happening as fast as we would have liked it to. The decision was made four years ago to build a custom series of rifles that could demonstrate the accuracy of our barrels. That is why they hired me. Based on that line of custom rifles, a production series was introduced last year called the Premier series. It was a line of rifles that shot like a custom rifle at a production rifle price. Today we are building rifles as fast as we can with current capacity and there are plans to expand to keep up with demand.
What are some of the things Bergara does to benefit the shooting/hunting community other than make really accurate rifles? Sponsorships? Workshops?
Bergara sponsors the Precision Rifle Series (PRS) and has several shooters that compete with Bergara rifles and barrels. One of our shooters finished third overall last year. Bergara also sponsors shooting and rifle maintainers courses with local police and SWAT teams. We have donated barrels and rifle components to local gunsmithing schools as well.
What’s your favorite part about showing up to work everyday?
My favorite part is seeing the accuracy that our rifles can hold. When I started, we had a 1 MOA accuracy guarantee on our Custom rifles. About a year into it we moved the guarantee to ½ MOA. Many of our rifle calibers will hold 1/10 MOA. Someday I would like to see our production class of rifles hold those groups.
What’s your favorite animal to hunt? Why?
Brown/Grizzly Bear. The brown bear is such a massive, tough animal. Its sense of smell is so good. I once saw a bear heading right for me, it was over three-quarters of a mile away. I was getting ready to make my move to get into position from up on a hill top. The wind swirled and seconds later the bear turned and ran in the other direction. It is something I dreamed about for years. What could be better than hunting a brown bear in Alaska. Who wouldn’t want to go on a hunt like that?
Can you share any details about your recent bear hunt in Alaska with Steve West?
I got one!
Any non-hunting/gun related activities you enjoy in your personal time?
I enjoy riding my 2008 Harley Davidson motorcycle, which I bought it while I was still in the Marine Corps. I live about two hours from Great Smoky Mountain National Park and I’ll get up early on the weekends and go for a ride. Sometimes the wife will go with me too.
Where do you see Bergara as a brand in 10 years?
I see Bergara rifles as a major competitor. Everybody knows Remington or Winchester. I would like us to be just as well known, a household name if you will. We’re the best rifle you’ve never heard of. I hope to change that someday.