July 13, 2015
It's easy to think of big companies as impersonal conglomerates, but in the really good ones the personalities of key team members shine through in their products, service, and corporate culture. These firms are successful for a reason and it doesn't come about by accident. The contributions of their leaders establish a synergy that melds man and machine.
A classic example is good friend Dave Miller, Shotgun Product Manager of CZ-USA. Kind, gracious, and humble, he truly talks the talk and walks the walk. I caught up with Dave at a local sporting range and he filled me in on his background, how he came to be at CZ, and how he strives to inject practical features to products that add value — not cost.
Dave grew up in Grain Valley, just east of Kansas City, Missouri. It's a town so small that, as Dan Seals sang, "If you look both ways you can see it all." Born in 1973, he graduated from Grain Valley High in 1992 and still lives in his hometown. He has 40 acres to hunt turkeys, and is strictly an upland bird hunter; chukars are his favorite tablefare.
Shooting has always been a big part of Dave's life, and he started shooting at age 14. His father is also an avid shooter and for many years they shot trap together. But when sporting clays came along, Dave and his dad immediately gave up trap. They first started shooting sporting clays at Pine Oak in Chillicothe, Missouri, and they still shoot every chance they get.
Dave explained that sporting targets are made harder so they can be thrown faster and come in three sizes: mini (60 mm) midi (90 mm) and regular (108 mm). Dave has tried just about every combination of choke tube and shot size and has just about settled on improved cylinder and modified, and he shoots 7½ shot exclusively.
He knocked around various jobs before settling in at CZ. He worked for a large electronics repair company for 14 years, and by the time he left the company he was managing a staff of 280.
In 2001 he moved to nearby Polo and ran a bird hunting preserve for six years. During this time he offered shooting instruction and became acquainted with a student named Alice Poluchova. Dave tutored Alice for over a year before he learned she was the president and CEO of CZ-USA.
Alice was impressed with Dave's ability and work ethic, and in 2008 drafted him as part of the CZ pro staff. In 2009, she offered him the job of Shotgun Product Manager.
Dave takes a real hands-on approach to shotgun design. A gun has to fit and "feel right," and most importantly, offer a quality product with real value to the customer. CZ doesn't make minor changes to a gun and call it a "new model." Features are conceived, then achieved, in fine wood and strong steel.
Such development takes time, and Dave puts in the hours on the drawing board, on the range and in the hunting fields. He gives shooting presentations at various venues, and is passionate about shooting, and CZ.
Dave also gives back to the shooting community in numerous ways. He goes to various youth shoots and helps kids get involved in shooting.
One of his favorite activities is the annual Heart of America Boy Scout Council charity shoot. He takes a week of vacation each year (his own time) to design and set up the shooting events that are used to bring in money for the Boy Scout Council.
CZ-USA and many other sponsors supply the targets and ammo for this shoot, which is held at Camp Naish in Bonner Springs, Missouri.
Dave has been doing this for five years, working with Chris Hodgdon of Hodgdon Powder Co. Also, a dinner auction raises funds to help kids go to the Boy Scout camp. It is a rousing success, and last year over 5,000 kids went through the camp.
CZ also is a co-sponsor of the Scholastic Clay Target Program, the Amateur Trapshooting Association's "AIM" program, and the Youth Hunter Education Challenge (YHEC) in conjunction with the NRA.
Dave is a dedicated dog guy, and his favorite breed is the springer spaniel. He currently has two. Clay is six and an active and energetic hunter. Chester is 13, needs reading glasses and is a bit decrepit, but still actively hunts within his physical limitations. During the first year Dave had Chester, he retrieved 1,680 birds on the hunting preserve, so he's earned his semi-retirement.
He has been to Argentina to shoot upland gamebirds twice. On the second trip he went with fellow CZ reps Tom Knapp and Tom Mack, and collectively they harvested€¦well, a heckuva lot of birds.
Dave no longer reloads, but he loves Federal paper shotgun shells (don't we all?), and as a hobby he collects old shotgun shell boxes.
Dave has been a top-ranked sporting competitor for 12 years and a master class shooter for seven. But like most of us, he started humbly. His first shotgun was an H&R single shot, but his second was a Winchester 101 field grade. Dave estimates that he has fired over 200,000 rounds at targets (the vast majority of which were 12-gauge).
He stresses that it is important for shooters to have the right mind set for the job at hand, and Dave partitions that into three types. One is for trick shooting for fun, another for leisure training, but the last mental preparation is steeled for serious, registered competition.
Dave shoots a custom made CZ O/U 12-gauge with 32-inch barrels for clays and has fired over 90,000 rounds through it since 2008. It is noteworthy that it's only breakdown was a firing pin at about 50,000 rounds. But he does not slight the 28-gauge, and says that ¾-ounce of shot in a 28 is "ballistically perfect." We couldn't agree more.
All things change, and as CZ and its products evolve, so do its leaders. With Dave Miller continually dreaming up and field-testing innovative features that add value to the product, shooters everywhere can rest assured that CZ scatterguns are here to stay and under Dave's tutelage are destined play a major role in the shotgun world for years to come.