Early this year the SKB factory in Japan closed its doors after 155 years in the gun business. The owners cited the declining American shotgun market, the need to modernize equipment and an aging workforce. The average SKB worker is 70 and there are no young workers in the town of Tomobe coming along to replace them.
The factory closing is sad news for shotgunners. Imported by Ithaca, Weatherby and under its own name, SKB have always been solid, well-crafted mid-priced guns. I’ve owned three, and still have a Model 100 side by side, an excellent featherlight grouse gun. Unfortunately I don’t own the gun I’m shooting in the picture: the new GC7 target gun. It has a host of competition-ready features, an adjustable comb, and sells for under $2000. Like all SKB O/Us, it locks very solidly by means of a Greener style top cross bolt.
A great deal of skilled hand labor went into SKBs. Japanese workers may not be able to own guns, but they sure can make them. I mentioned to SKB’s U.S. Importer Rob Johansen how impressed I had been when I saw the speed and skill of the workers who joined barrels and filed actions at the Miroku plant where Browning guns are made. He said: “That’s a very modern facility to compared to SKB. I wish you could have seen how much hand labor went into each one. People won’t realize what good guns they were until they’re gone.
Fortunately, they won’t be gone any time soon. Johansen’s company, Guns Unlimited in Omaha, has imported SKBs since 1987 and they have an inventory of around 1100 guns. They have bought enough spare parts to service SKB guns for at least 20-30 years. Johansen tells me he has no plans to dump the guns cheaply. He wants to preserve the value of the brand as he looks for someone who can resume the manufacture of SKB guns.
He has traveled to Japan and to Europe’s IWA Show (the Continental SHOT Show) looking for someone to make the guns. “I’ve had several manufacturers offer to let me brand their guns,” he says. “That’s not what I want. I want a manufacturer that will make our guns.” He told he wants to work with a European maker. When I asked if Turkey counted as a European country, he gave me a qualified “yes.” My guess, though, is SKB will find a new home in Italy or Spain before the guns are made in Turkey.