Short History, Big Growth at IWI

Begun just nine years ago as a spinoff of Israel Military Industries, IWI is seeing significant sales growth in the sporting industry.

Short History, Big Growth at IWI

Offhand shots with a bullpup may be more stable for some shooters than with an AR-15.

Israel began producing its own arms in 1933 under a British mandate, and by the 1950s the Isreali government-owned Israel Military Industries began to expand the development of other arms specifically to fit the needs of the Isreali military. That process lead to the development of many legendary firearms including the Uzi, Tavor, X95, Negev, Galil Ace and Jericho.

In 2005, IMI spun off IWI and privatized the company to allow expansion into other markets, including the U.S. in 2013, while also producing firearms for many other militaries and police forces globally. 

In just over nine years in the U.S., IWI has made a huge impact, earning a number of industry awards, customer accolades and boasting enormous sales growth for such a new brand. Discussions with a number of sporting-oriented retailers lead to an interview with Jeremy Gresham, director of sales for IWI, about the company’s surprising growth in the hunting and sporting markets.

Gresham was nice enough to spend some time talking to Shooting Sports Retailer on why some hunters and sportsmen are choosing IWI models over traditional hunting firearms. 

SSR - IWI has largely been a tactical manufacturer due to its design roots for the Israeli military. Can you talk about how IWI firearms are now becoming very popular in the predator, sporting and hunting markets?

IWI - Gresham -Our initials, IWI, are an abbreviation for Israeli Weapons Industries, we certainly started foremost as a small arms division of the state-owned IMI for the military’s arms production. Our focus has always been on military-based designs and ergonomics since the company was founded in 1933. With the popularity of various tactical rifles and other military calibers in the hunting, sporting and predator markets, many of the IWI models have been pulled into sporting use as well.

Part of the reason owners are reaching for Tavor and X95 rifles and Galili pistols is the proliferation of suppressors in the varmint and predator markets. The predator market, specifically the hog hunting market, has been our largest market in the sporting industry. In many cases the additional length of a suppressor delivers an unwieldy firearm. The much shorter formats of our bullpup rifles and braced pistol models, even with a suppressor added, allow for a firearm that is usually only just a few inches longer than a typical rifle. In most cases, the Tavor and X95 formats are similarly sized to SBR AR formats but maintain velocities of a full-length barrel. For predator hunting where hunters are often having to maneuver around ATVs, trucks and tight brush, our platforms offer a lot of advantages. Having a firearm chambered in powerful military 5.56, 300 BO and 7.62x51 combined with the variety of modern ammunition tuned for particular game allows hunters to humanely and easily take any North American game.

Popular electro optics such as heavier night and thermal optics for predator hunting can drastically impact weapon balance, but the bullpup Tavor and X95 formats help to balance out those weights much better in the field. The short length paired with the balance, ergonomics and incredible reliability have made our bullpup and braced pistols popular with predator hunters. 

A large point of feedback is ergonomics and reliability, which are our top core focus points in the design and development of our models. Some of our customers have said they have really beaten up some nice hunting firearms on more rough and tumble hunts — thrashing around in ATVs and trucks on dirt roads and briar thickets — so they are turning to less delicate and more durable IWI firearms that are designed for this stress and abuse. We have designed guns that point, operate and function naturally during very high stress situations — we believe a 400-pound hog charging a stand can be pretty high stress and that is no time to have a gun that does not naturally point, operate and reliably function. 

SSR - How have the 7.62x51 and .300 BLK models sold into the sporting markets?

IWI - Gresham -  Interestingly the Tavor and X95 5.56 models are still our hottest and most versatile sellers, but suppressed, the X95 and Tavor .300 BLK models are incredibly short and quiet platforms for predator hunters. The 7.62 models in the Tavor 7 and Galil have been extremely popular in the U.S. as a new-style scout rifle that’s light, powerful, reliable and accurate. We are also seeing a lot of hunters that specifically like the Galil models as an option with similar feel to AK formats but with the options for 5.56, 7.62x39 and 7.62x51 calibers. 

The 7.62x39 is an extremely popular and versatile cartridge with ballistics matching to the .30-30 hunting round. The round has quite a cult following now as a modern and very effective deer and hog round and people like that the Galil format offers a more modern updated approach to the AK format with updated ergonomics, improved accuracy and features. With the standard folding stock or brace across all the Galil models, it provides a very compact stowable that can be deployed instantly.

We are also seeing a lot of customers purchase SBRs and SB-tactical braced pistols as an option for predator hunting as well where many of the shots are shorter range, especially in hog hunting and property management where accuracy and power are preferred in a compact and lighter ATV-carriable package. It would seem obvious that the 7.62x51 model would be a big seller in the hunting market, however we are seeing a sales trend similar to the tactical market.

SSR - Are you finding more hunting and sporting retailers stocking IWI models?

IWI - Gresham - There has been so much crossover from the tactical industry into the hunting industry and vise versa that it is becoming hard to tell the difference between a tactically focused retailer and one focused on hunting. In the market there are Real-Tree camo-wrapped tactical format guns for the hunting industry and legacy upland field Remington 870 and Mossberg 500 models that are now tactical-formatted firearms. With that noted we seem to be seeing more sporting and hunting retailers buy into our product lines and continue to see sell-through. The direct customer feedback is really what we look at to understand where our guns are being used. Hunting is a very short seasonal market outside of the predator and varmint markets, so we see customers who want a highly tactically capable firearm they can shoot and train with year-round and can pull dual purpose as an extremely capable hunting gun.

SSR - Most would consider military models as combat accurate, however the Galil specifically has developed a reputation for above average combat accuracy.

IWI - Gresham - It has, but that was part of the original design goal at IMI and ultimately IWI in an effort to modernize the reliable but aging AK format. The Ace Galil design was to improve accuracy, ergonomics, operations, reduce weight and reduce maintenance in battle conditions over the proven AK format all while maintaining AK magazine compatibility. Many people are extremely surprised to see the tight little downrange groups the Galil models are capable of with match grade ammo.

IMI and later IWI focused on ergonomics that would maximize the pointability, comfort and stability — and ultimately the accuracy — of the firearms. We have all shot a really super accurate bench gun that was highly accurate, but unwieldy off the bench. IWI believed that if ergonomics were more optimized and streamlined for the operator that hit ratios would improve. Part of that easy-to-shoot accuracy of the Galil line is thanks to all the design work, because if it was hard to shoot, everyone would not be talking about how well these models shoot.

You take these models, which are more than capable in the hunting field, and add in the durability and battle-field-proven reliability, and we have some very happy customers.

SSR - Where do you see the hunting market moving over the next few years?

IWI - Gresham - Standard legacy-style hunting firearms are still hot sellers, however what we are seeing industry-wide is a huge migration in the hunting industry from the traditionally styled legacy firearm designs to more tactical modern sporting rifle ergonomics. That goes far beyond just the camouflage patterns on tactical firearm platforms noted above to include a variety of non-military calibers and hunting specific tuning, such as upgraded barrels and triggers. With the huge proliferation in the firearms industry of the AR and MSR platforms, there is now a huge population of customers who want the feel and functional similarity across all of their firearms. With so many newer shooters entering the market unbound to the traditions of the legacy firearms designs so we continue to see the hunting market grow with firearms that were typically only seen in the tactical market just a few short decades ago. 

SSR - For retailers not already selling the IWI lineup, which models does IWI recommend most?

IWI - Gresham - For the strong main-line hunting retailer, we recommend trying the 7.62x51-chambered Tavor 7 and Galil and the Tavor and X95 300 BLK models. If the dealer is doing well with tactical firearms, then we recommend adding in our most popular seller, the 5.56 Tavor, along with X95 models and a Galil pistol with the SB tactical brace. We also have our new Masada 9mm polymer-framed 17-round pistol, which has been heavily praised as one of the highest quality polymer pistols on the market, if the dealer is doing well with pistol sales.


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