Episode 33: Jason McDevitt and Kirk Havens from GreenOps Ammo
On today’s episode of Brandstorm, we welcome Jason McDevitt and Kirk Havens from GreenOps Ammo. Jason and Kirk discuss the journey of bringing their biodegradable shotgun wads to market, and how both hunters and environmentalists are in favor of their mission.
Jason McDevitt is the CEO of GreenOps Ammo, a Virginia-based start-up intent on moderating or eliminating the environmental footprint left behind by plastic shotgun refuse through their patented, biodegradable wads. Kirk Havens is a co-founder of GreenOps Ammo, and is also director of the Coastal Watershed Program at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science. Kirk explains that he and Jason have been working to decrease marine pollution, particularly involving plastics, for about 10 years.
What Is a Shotgun Wad?
Historically, the job of a shotgun wad has been to separate the shot from the powder of a shotgun shell. Once fired, wads exit the gun along with the shot, and travel downfield approximately 20-50 yards. Though these wads were once biodegradable and made from cardboard, cork and felt, the 1960s saw the advent of plastic shells and wads. These plastic versions had enhanced functionality, such as barrel protection and converting the energy created with the barrel into shot velocity. By the 1980s, plastic shells and wads were universal. As Jason explains, nothing to date matches their performance, but GreenOps Ammo is working to change that.
Pollution Issues from Plastic Wads
With most hunters shooting over water or into dense brush, plastic wads are impossible or impractical to find and retrieve. In addition to polluting our planet, these wads create a separate set of issues in water, where plastic floats and tends to pick up other organic pollutants. Marine animals can be subject to injury or death by ingesting even small fragments of plastic.
Kirk says GreenOps was approached by hunters and sportsmen with growing concerns over the effect plastic wads have on wildlife. There have also been concerns from property owners who hunters lease land from, cranberry bog farmers who fear crop contamination and cattle farmers, whose herd could potentially ingest plastic wads.
How GreenOps Ammo is Different
Jason and Kirk see “bioplastics” (or biodegradable plastics) as a solution for this problem. GreenOps shotgun wads break apart after leaving the barrel, providing a cleaner release of the shot. Because the biodegradable wad breaks into smaller fragments, it becomes harder to find, creating less visual pollution and less chance for wildlife to devour it. GreenOps wads, unlike their plastic counterparts, will not exist on land or in water for decades or centuries, and will sink in a pond or lake versus floating or washing up to the surface. Instead, they break down to small organic compounds that are then assimilated into nature’s carbon cycle.
Barriers, Competition and Funding
Jason explains that while nearly everyone in the hunting ammunition industry has tried and failed to create a biodegradable wad that performs as well as its conventional plastic models, it isn’t for lack of trying. The need is great as single-use plastics are likely to see regulation or an outright ban from legislators in the coming years.
GreenOps Ammo has yet to approach national retailers, but as instead talked to smaller independent distributors and is planning to attend hunting trade shows, talk to hunting clubs and outfitters, and look for potential brand ambassadors. Though Jason and Kirk are currently seeking investors, non-dilutive grant funding (funds received without giving away any ownership of the company) has made it possible for GreenOps to develop its biodegradable shotgun wads. They are currently concluding a round of funding and are focused on raising additional capital.
As federal ammunition regulations are daunting for a company of any size, Jason and Kirk are hoping their start-up can make a deal with a strategic partner overseas. They are confident in the great response they’ve received from beta testers of their wads. GreenOps Ammo is distributing a limited supply of biodegradable shotgun wads this year and are shooting for wider distribution in 2019.