If you look up “cobalt” on the periodic chart of the elements, you’ll ﬁnd it listed at number 27, right between iron and nickel.
But if you did a word search for “cobalt” shortly after the 3GN Nationals concluded earlier this year, your results ﬁeld would have been full of number ones.
When the dust at the nationals had settled – or more accurately, after Hurricane Matthew’s torrential rains had ﬁnally subsided – Team Cobalt members wore national championship crowns in three diﬀerent divisions; unlimited, practical and factory.
Those results are a challenge for anyone, but they are highly unusual for a competitive team running a gun made by a company that didn’t even manufacture them a couple of years ago.
But at Cobalt Kinetics, being unusual has been a badge of honor from the very beginning.
“We went to SHOT Show before we started the company,” said Skylar Stewart, vice president of the St. George, Utah-based business (cobaltkinetics.com), “and we got so sick of seeing black riﬂes. There were lots of exciting things in bolt guns and shotguns and pistols, but the AR15 got stuck in this pseudo-military styling, and no one was really pushing it. I personally have plenty of black guns, and it would take something exciting for me to buy another AR-15. At that point, we decided to be that new, exciting AR-15.”
The ﬁrst step was to assemble a team to design that exciting new gun. Again, Cobalt took a diﬀerent path.
“We brought in people from a lot of diﬀerent disciplines,” said Stewart. “We’ve got ﬂuid dynamic engineers and engineers from diﬀerent areas, guys from the racing industry, your classic gunsmith guys, we’ve got police, military – people from a lot of walks of life. We wanted to start fresh. It helped us to not be stuck in the ‘black gun rut.’”
It’s not that there haven’t been improvements made for the modular AR-15 platform. There is a big aftermarket where you can ﬁnd multiple replacements for every part of a standard gun. But Cobalt Kinetics had something else in mind.
“We set out to make a riﬂe,” Stewart continued, “but we didn’t just want to make it look cool and function exactly like all of the other ones did. We wanted to really have something worth creating a whole brand of riﬂes for. Not just a diﬀerent look, with diﬀerent colors. We wanted it to function better.”
And do it they did. At their ﬁrst SHOT Show as a manufacturer in 2015, the company debuted their B.A.M.F. (Billet Aluminum Modern Firearm) riﬂe, and it created quite a buzz.
“We got in trouble at the SHOT Show and range day for having too big a crowd in the aisle,” said Stewart, “but that’s a good problem to have.”
Within a few months, Cobalt debuted a second ﬁrearm, the Edge model. Both featured the innovative Dual Drop system, which turned the lowly forward assist into an ambidextrous bolt release.
“The Dual Drop on our riﬂes has sped up the reload times by a half a second,” said Stewart. “Both sides of the forward assist will drop the bolt, so no matter if you’re left-handed or right-handed, you can just reach your thumb up to drop the bolt. That was one of the ﬁrst things we designed.”
SHOOTING COMPETITIONS WERE EXPANDING rapidly across the country, and none were growing faster than 3-gun events featuring pistol, shotgun and riﬂe. The reload time savings created by the Dual Drop system got the Cobalt brain trust pondering what it would take to create a gun designed speciﬁcally for the riﬂe portion of those competitions.
To help them achieve that goal, they called on a man whose name was already quite familiar to fans of multigun events, Keith Garcia.
Garcia is a career law enforcement oﬃcer who initially sought out shooting competitions to enhance his personal SWAT team training, where oﬃcers need to shoot quickly and accurately on the move and under stress. His ﬁrst 3-gun match came in 2004, and although he admits that he was terrible, he was hooked. By 2008, he ﬁnished second in the nationals, and solidiﬁed his reputation as a knowledgeable competitor.
In the summer of 2015, Cobalt brought in Dave Lake, an experienced gunsmith with a lot of good ideas. One of Lake’s best musings was to have the young company bring Garcia in as a design consultant.
“We reached a level where we knew we needed some input from people who competed professionally,” said Stewart.
“We met, and they told me what their vision was,” Garcia said. “They wanted to do new and innovative stuﬀ, and that got me excited. They said, ‘You design a gun that will be the best thing for riﬂe, 2-gun or 3-gun competition, cost is no object, and it’s a blank sheet of paper.’”
“That’s a big thing with our team, adds Stewart. “We try not to focus on why we couldn’t do something. Instead, we want to focus on ‘How could we?’ We try to ask ‘Why not?’ rather than ‘Why can’t it be done?’ Our (only) challenge has been manufacturing the stuﬀ that we come up with.”
“We started down this path,” explained Garcia, “and they surprised me with how much stuﬀ they wanted to make in-house. We would go to the range, and I’d take their gun apart and put in other parts. I’d show them the diﬀerence between how it felt and how it shot, and what made something a Ferrari as opposed to a Toyota … Both can look good, but one’s going to outperform the other one.”
Garcia would invite engineers out to the range to either shoot the gun or watch him shoot it so he could tell them what the gun was doing in real time, and show them the results on the target. It made it easier to see what he was talking about, and they would ask questions – lots of questions.
“That’s where we really got the ball rolling,” said Garcia. “They would ask good questions about stuﬀ I’d assumed they’d already know or that was industry standard. But because they weren’t industry guys, they wouldn’t know, and they would look at it from a diﬀerent vantage point.”
ANOTHER RECENT INNOVATION, C.A.R.S., for Cobalt Advantage Reloading System, came about through a series of these conversations.
“They came to me and said ‘Hey, we’ve got this idea for a system that will drop the magazine and drop the bolt,’ and I was like, ‘That’s bullsh*t. It hasn’t been done in 50 years, it can’t be done.’ And then they made it work.”
CARS (the folks at Cobalt really love acronyms) is set to debut this coming summer on Cobalt’s new Evolve gun, and you’ll be hearing much more about it very soon.
But for Garcia, the development and testing of a top-of-the-line competition gun was always the priority. To help further that end, he suggested to Cobalt’s management that instead of just having one sponsored shooter – namely Keith Garcia – they should sponsor a whole team of competitors.
Again, Cobalt signed oﬀ on the deal, and Garcia quickly recruited three of the other top multigunners in the business: Kalani Laker, Nick Atkinson and Rick Birdsall. Each man already amassed plenty of individual wins, but this past season as Team Cobalt they dominated the competition. To broaden their opportunities and Cobalt Kinetic’s exposure, they adopted a “divide and conquer” strategy, with each team member focusing on a speciﬁc division while using their sponsor’s new Team Gun in the riﬂe stages.
At the recent nationals, the concept worked like a charm, producing a trifecta of epic proportions. Laker won the Unlimited division, Birdsall took the Factory division title, and Garcia was crowned as national champion in the Practical division.
It was a huge exclamation point to an amazing season, and Garcia is quick to credit the riﬂe for playing a big role in the team’s success. “It’s a high-end gun,” said Garcia, “and we really showed it this year, because between the four guys we had 19 wins and three national championships.”
Cobalt may currently have the most decorated R&D team in existence. And when the four aren’t shooting in a competition, odds are they are back on the range testing new products.
“As soon as we develop a product,” said Stewart, “we ship it to them, and they tell us how to tweak it to make it work better for them. And since we have four diﬀerent shooters, and each one of them has a little bit diﬀerent style, we can pull from each of them and come up with something that works well for everybody.”
“They can really put things through its paces fast,” he adds, “It really speeds up our development, and we don’t have to make any assumptions. We just put it in their hands; they run it and we see how it goes.”
That’s especially true with a project as important as the Team Replica riﬂe.
“We see ourselves as the pit crew on that gun,” Stewart said, “and they’re the driver.”
THE TEAM REPLICA RIFLE currently available from Cobalt Kinetics is nearly identical to the ones used by Team Cobalt in competition, with one exception. Cobalt has switched out the PROOF Research barrel for a very high-quality match-grade barrel to help keep the cost of the riﬂe under $4,000 (MSRP is $3,800). And, for current and future multigun competitors who want to gain an edge by shooting the exact same riﬂe used by Team Cobalt, a version with the PROOF Research barrel and an adjustable stock – known simply as the Team Gun – will also be on the market soon, but at a cost commensurate with those two additions.
“When you see a riﬂe that’s pushing $4,000,” said Stewart, “people say ‘Wow, how can it possibly be that much money?’ but once you shoot it, you know right away.”
“The gun is pricy,” agreed Garcia, “but it’s because they put all the best products in it, and they designed a bunch of stuﬀ in-house. I don’t believe you’re going to ﬁnd anybody who makes that many of the components inhouse out of aircraft-grade aluminum.”
“It’s a great shooting gun. It shoots extremely ﬂat. It’s extremely accurate. The lock-up we have between the barrel nut, the upper receiver and the forend is just rock solid. It hasn’t shifted at all. The groups I was shooting when I got the gun in January were the same groups I shot last week” he said in early November.
For competitors of all levels looking to improve their best scores, both versions of the Team Riﬂe warrant a serious look.
“At the USPSA Nationals last April,” said Garcia, “I won the long-range stage with only two makeup shots, and I’ve never won the long-range stage at the nationals ever. When that happened, it made me realize that we’ve got a really accurate gun. That’s something that can make or break a match.”
“Winning matches is not easy in this sport,” he added. “There’s a lot of competition, a lot of new people coming on board that are doing really well. But if I put the dot where it’s supposed to be and pull the trigger straight to the rear, it’s going to hit, because there’s going to be nothing mechanical that messes with it. When I miss, I know I’ve done something.”
“Back when I ﬁrst started with this stuﬀ,” Garcia said, “I got associated with Ron Avery, who’s an instructor with the Practical Shooting Academy, and he gave me some advice when I started getting better and people were approaching me. He said, ‘Never take a product or a sponsorship that isn’t going to help you win.’ And that’s the great thing about this situation. (Cobalt) came to me and said, ‘Let’s make something that will help you win.’”
IN PHYSICS AND ENGINEERING, the science of kinetics represents the study of motion and its causes. In two short years, the team at Cobalt Kinetics has proven to be dynamically proactive in both design and execution, and there are no plans to slow things down. The company currently has 40 employees, but that number will soon rise.
“We’re growing quickly,” said Stewart. “We’re running 24 hours a day, and can’t keep up. Now that this election’s over, we’ll probably expand more.”
“We want to be pushing things forward,” he adds, “have things moving, to not be stagnant. We know that we can push the envelope, and the market’s responded so far, so we’re just going to keep pushing.”
For Garcia, it all goes back to the riﬂe.
“If you want to win,” he said, “and you don’t want to have excuses for losing because your gear was bad, invest in a Cobalt riﬂe, and all the excuses will go out the window.”
“We really want to see ﬁrearms evolve,” Stewart concludes. “The AR-15 is still pretty much how it was in the ’60s. There’s a lot of room for improvement, and we’re going to push for that every year. So we’ve got some stuﬀ that’s been out there, but no one’s really pulled it oﬀ, and I think we can.” ASJ