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A Conversation with Jay Menefee

A Conversation with...

Jay Menefee, President
Polywad, Inc.
P.O. Box 396
580 Industrial Park Rd
Roberta, GA 31078

It is difficult, for me at least, to have a conversation with Jay Menefee without first discussing his company, Polywad, Inc. As with many company founders, Jay is very closely associated with the company he founded.

Over the years Jay has shared his insights on many diverse subjects with me. He pulls no punches on any matter up for discussion. He is a well read, socially aware man with a keen insight and an analytical mind. 

Polywad, Inc. is truly one of those companies that sprang from the mind of an inventive man who was determined to see it through.

A bit about Polywad, Inc.

“Polywad incorporated in 1985.  The company was formed to develop and market products related to shotgun shells and shooting, centered on the "Spred-R™" device invented by Jay Menefee for upland bird hunting and clay target shooting.  In 1995, Polywad, Inc. began loading shotgun shells on fully automated, high quality Italian loading machinery.
Polywad, Inc. has designed and/or manufactured shells for Environ-Metal, Inc. (Hevi-Shot®), Hastings Ammunition (Hastings® Slugs), Dogs Afield (Field Trial Blanks), Polyshok, Inc. (Polyshok™ IRP), Precision Ammunition (Copper Matrix Slug), Accardi Importers (.410 Shells), Camo-Shell™ (Camouflage Shell), and Brenneke GMBH (Brenneke® Slugs).
Developing new technology for the shotshell industry is an ongoing top priority for Polywad, Inc. Polywad licensed the patented technology to Federal Cartridge Company for its TruBall® Rifled Slug. The TruBall® Slug received Field & Stream's "Best of the Best" Award 2005 (Ammunition), and the NRA's American Hunter 2006 Golden Bullseye Award for Ammunition Product of the Year.
For innovative ballistics, design excellence, quality manufacturing and outstanding product performance, Polywad, Inc. provides it all.”

I believe that we live in the golden age of shotgunning and of shotshell designs. In just the last 10 years, we’ve seen a revolution of sorts in the composition of shot used for waterfowl, turkeys, upland game and on the clays fields.

There may be no single person who is more responsible for the acceptance of non-toxic shot for many of those shooting sports than Jay Menefee. I would not however want to create the impression that non-toxic shot is Jay’s only claim to fame. He’s an inventor with several shooting patents to his credit and certainly has one of the most creative minds in the field of ammunition design today.

I considered it my good fortune to meet Jay about 10 years ago and we’ve kept in pretty regular contact for all of that time. Jay is a busy fellow but he’s never been too busy to take a few minutes to make me aware of some of his “latest projects“. It seems that Jay always has a new project that he’s working on or an idea for a new product.

Many of you will know Jay as the man who perfected and loaded the 12 gauge “Old White” Hevi-13 shotshells that set so many NWTF Still Target Shooting World Records and are still highly sought after some 5 years after production of them ceased. Jay also designed and loaded the first 20 gauge Hevi-13 shotshells that changed the way many of us think about  20 gauge shotgun performance.

Recently, I had an opportunity to have a conversation with Jay and to ask him a few questions that I thought you as readers of might like to ask if you could sit down with one of the most creative men of our time.

CB: First of all, thank you for taking some time out of your busy schedule to visit. We’ve known each other for a long time now and we’ve discussed a lot of different subjects over the years but I’d like to let my readers know just a bit about who Jay Menefee is, where he came from and how he happened to become involved in the shooting sports and ammunition production.

CB: Did you grow up shooting and or hunting?

JM: My dad didn’t care much for hunting but loved to shoot, plink and keep the rural Virginia  garden clear of crows and starlings.  I had a BB gun by age 5 or so and a .22 not long after. It was when I was in high school, after my family had moved to Arizona, that  some buddies invited me to hunt doves, desert quail and ducks, that I really got hooked!

CB: What was the first “shooting related” product that you produced or designed?
JM: It was the “Spred-R”, that was developed originally to make my 10 gauge AYA double barrel full and full choke, useful for things like shooting wood ducks in flooded timber after I moved to Georgia.  I spent 5 years working for  a peach and pecan grower here in central GA, and got to work on the Spred-R concept a lot while killing crows that would raid one of our larger pecan groves in the Fall.  I was a paid hunter!

CB: What brought you to Georgia?

JM: I took a job, managing hydroponic greenhouses.  I had done this kind of work while in college in Arizona and also after I graduated.  I was also building and racing sports cars then, and being in central Georgia put me within one day’s drive of a lot of race tracks in the Southeast. That was a big attraction for to me to move to Georgia.  I thought I would be here 6 months.  But then I met my wife to be,  Beth,  at the hydroponic outfit, and that was that.  We were married in 1975 and this is home.

CB: What made you decide to take the big step of going into business for yourself?

JM: Beth encouraged me.  She knew how frustrated I was with some of the jobs I’d held. Polywad would never have started, or made it through the years, without her full support and her handling  a huge load of the work of managing the company.

I spent two years, part time, designing and building a special plastic molding machine to manufacture the Spred-Rs, that we sold to hand loaders, beginning in 1985.  Polywad, Inc. got real “injection molding production molding dies” built in 1990, and began loading factory Spred-R shotshells  in 1995.

CB: Would you tell us a little about how you first learned about “Hevi-Shot”, some of your early experiences with it and how you came to be one of the folks who loaded the early shells for Environ-Metal?

JM:  I met first Dr Darryl Amick, the inventor of Hevi-Shot,  at the 1999 SHOT Show in Atlanta.  I was intrigued with his not-quite-round shot and also really liked him from the start.  He’s a great fellow! 

I knew that if the stuff was really heavier than lead it would not matter much if it wasn’t perfectly round.  It was unfortunate for him, but fortunate for me and little Polywad, that at that time, the movers and shakers in the world of shotshells were telling him to, “Call me back when you get the pellets to be  truly spherical!” 

Several months after our initial meeting, Darryl put some investors together to form a production company for his shot.  Just after that they all met with me and a few days later we were starting to load and test Hevi-Shot.  It happened that quickly.

CB: Can you speak to your role in the design of the Hevi-13 line of products, in particular to the “Old White” 12 gauge shotshell and the first 20 gauge Hevi-13 shotshells?

JM: That was great fun and it was very important to us at the time.  The Hevi-Shot pellets in 2000 were not yet approved by Fish and Wildlife for waterfowl hunting.   Environ-Metal wanted to have some product that they could legally promote and sell using their new heavy and ugly pellets. 

At that time the National Wild Turkey Federation held their annual “World Championship Still Target Shoot at a gun club about 5 miles from our shop in Forsyth, Georgia. 

We knew that the dominant shells in that contest were the Winchester lead loads, so we began to test those shells to see what it would take to beat them. After a little testing,  I knew we could build a load that could win. Since the NWTF was getting such great coverage in magazines like Field & Stream, I thought that the promotional value would pay off for Environ-Metal and us. 

So, I urged Environ-Metal to let Ken Bennett, my long time associate here at Polywad, and me have a go at taking on the Winchester shells.  Initially it took 2 oz. loads to equal the winning patterns of the Winchester shells. We quickly worked that down and added polystyrene buffer to replace  the tungsten based shot load we were reducing. We finally settled on 1.625 oz. load for the 12 gauge shells. We found out that for testing pattern density that you want to pattern test on something like a 10 inch circle at 40 yards, and  not worry yourself over the little 3 inch circle, used by the NWTF in their competition. 

Once we were able to consistently get about 25% more pellets in the 10 inch circle than the Winchester loads, we knew we had a winner. We also kept the speed down, just letting the heavier pellets retain their energy.  This made the cartridges so much more “user friendly” that even kids and ladies could shoot them well, at NWTF targets or at real turkeys.  By the way, the first year or so the cartridges were the 12 gr/cc density,  the original Hevi Shot and not Hevi-13. That came later.

Environ-Metal designed a special shot grading machine, had it built and shipped to our shop. They would ship barrels of shot to us and we’d use that machine to sort the shot. Even with that sorting machine, it would take  5 days to grade enough #6 shot to load turkey loads for 1 day. 

This is a problem for any cast shot manufacturing outfit.  Casting is relatively inexpensive but a lot of undesirable sizes are always produced. In that process all shot sizes are produced at the same time in each batch.  You only get a percentage of the useable shot of any one size. Even using the machine, there might be just as much #2,  #4,  BBs or little fine stuff  like #7, #8 or #9  as you have of the  #6 sorted out and that is why it took so long at the time.   Unfortunately, that process also produces lots of junk as well that is only good for re-melting, so we would send that back to them.   

CB: You have so many other exciting products that I’ve used over the years.  What was your inspiration for these products and how do you come up with your designs?

JM:  That’s a good question. I’ll try to give you a good answer. It  boils down to a couple of things.  One is that a small manufacturer like Polywad just cannot begin to compete in the market in what are commonly called “commodity” loads.  Dove and clay target loads are where all of the terrific volume is but there is just no profit in them, if that is all you have to offer.

So we always search out niches that are being under-served or not served at all.  When we find a need that is not being met or not being met well, we being to experiment and look for ways to fill the need. Those experiments may give us the answers that we’re looking for but even if they don’t, we have accumulated more information than we had before we started. The more we experiment the more we accumulate and put in our “attic. It may be a few years later when we go back to that “attic” to bring something down  to use in a current project. That something could be  parts, components, powders, or buffers etc. that we originally obtained or created for some other project . It might not have worked at that time but is exactly what we need for the current project.

Maybe I can explain what I mean a little better by giving an example. We may be trying to solve some particular problem, like improving the accuracy of a slug, tightening  or opening up a  pattern of a shot swarm, keeping a shot string short, keeping the recoil down or keeping the pressure low for old guns, etc..  As we’re working on one of those, we often find out there are some other things that get attended to that we weren’t thinking about at first. It’s really a matter of working on lots of different projects and using the experience that we have and the knowledge accumulated over the years. I don’t know of any substitute for that.

Because we are nimble and that’s known in the industry, folks will come to us with an idea or request or they may just need small runs made for a particular cartridge.  We can manufacture to their specifications or we can design and then manufacture loads under their label.  We have the idea that there are more ways than one to skin a cat. 

For most manufacturers, including Polywad, it can be very  difficult and expensive to make complicated shotshells in small batches.  Many manufacturers either can’t do that, won’t do that or price themselves out of the market. We have a history of developing new loads and finding efficient ways to manufacture them. We are also blessed that Kenny and our team here are masters at quickly changing the tools and apparatus for our various loading machines.  We now have 8 automatic loaders at our plant and they know all of them inside and out. There’s just no substitute for that kind of experience and dedication.

CB: I’ve been especially interested in the GreenLite shells. They just seem to make a lot of sense. How have they been received?

JM: Well, they started off great but I have to tell you that “the recession” really seemed to have an impact.  A lot of shooting resorts and  hunting preserves have been hard hit in the last two seasons. Even big name outfits have gone out of business and some others have been taken over by other organizations.  In that kind of atmosphere,  they don’t spend any extra money on loads.  GreenLite has had a lot of individuals who are buyers however and we’ve had a lot of requests for a 12 gauge version, which we may bring out next year.

CB: Both the process of shotshell design and what makes one shell work better than another is to me and I believe to my readers a fascinating subject. I know that many folks who’ll read this have dissected countless shotshells to try to determine what makes them work well or perhaps even to try to see why they don’t work so well. Could you tell us what in your experience makes one shotshell better than another?

JM:  That’s a tough question Clark.  Perhaps it would be best to just point out that no one cartridge or shotshell can do it all. If you approach it from that perspective and concentrate on one or two areas that you want to excel in, then you can often come up with good designs. 

For example, if you make a fine low pressure, low recoil load for old, short chambered double guns, you probably just have to give up the idea that the same load is also going to operate in everybody’s autoloaders.  A terrific Grouse load is not going to be good for trap shooting. All purpose loads tend to be mediocre. 

It’s attention to detail that can make a big difference. Do the wads fit the case well and have petals that open correctly?   Does the pressure curve match the intended use?  How is the cold weather ignition? Do you have a complete and uniform burn? For most conventional lead loads, it  may just come down to the powder used and the hardness of lead pellets that sets those shotshells apart. Little things can make a big difference in shooter satisfaction.

Every so often, I’ll have an inquiry asking if a particular shotshell could be loaded commercially. The answer may be yes but there are a lot of things that can be done by a handloader that just can’t be economically done in a factory situation.  Any extra part in a shotshell other than powder, wad and shot or any extra procedure needed can add a huge amount of cost to production

Going through the process of developing a new load and then getting it to market is a real challenge. I have been told by experienced engineers at two major ammo companies that only about 3 of 100 ammo designs evaluated by them actually makes it to production.

CB: Nothing seems to simple these days. We’ve seen the mandate for non-toxic shot for waterfowl of course and now in several places around the U.S. an outright ban on lead shot or lead bullets for any hunting or shooting purpose. What can you tell us about what we’re liable to see in the next few years regarding the use of lead shot or bullets?

JM: Lead is still with us currently but even without governmental or environmental concerns and pressure, it will essentially disappear as an affordable metal if and when non-lead vehicle batteries are ever perfected.  It simply will not  be economically feasible  to mine, refine and reclaim lead without the lead-acid battery industry needs.  

CB: Tungsten-based shot has, it seems, captured a large portion of the non-toxic shot market. Would you however discuss some other products that are also viable and what you see as the future for them?

JM: There is a lot of work going on with different shot metals, composites and alloys.   Different pellet shapes are being tried and worked on now to do better things with less expensive steel shot as well.  There is also  the Federal  Flight Control Wad approach to improving performance. It’s not all about the shot, it can be about the components of the shell. There are other approaches by other companies to do the same  thing with wad control.   I know that Remington has a new super wad concept out but I haven’t seen it yet.

CB: I’ve learned more by listening to you in what I’d call “free association” conversations about the ammo industry, than from anyone else I know. What’s going on now and what’s exciting Jay Menefee’s mind in “the business” today?

JM:  Thanks Clark.  We continue to work on cartridges that use our “wadless”  approach, avoiding the need and use of “pre-formed” gas seals.   We have had one government agency, the D.O.D. interested in developing some fascinating products, not necessarily “ammo” in the normal sense of the word and this is exciting to us.  We just received notice of a patent being granted to us for “Wadless Technology“.  Launching non-lethal things, or non-ammo things can be accomplished with this approach, with efficiency at high or low pressures, different payload speeds and temperature extremes.  Stay tuned!

We have a pretty full line of  Polywad  brand products but some of our customers are surprised to find out  that a majority of our  annual  income and work comes from  technology licensing and private label  manufacturing. We may help design products and then manufacture them for other companies that sell them under their own brand names.  Right now we have two European companies that have us manufacturing certain products here for their USA sales.

We’re all about finding and filling needs. There are people out there who have good ideas. It’s not all about us thinking of everything. You just never know when that next great product will come along and we want people to know that we’re willing to listen and work with them if it makes sense economically.

I’d also like to thank you for this opportunity to share a little with your readers.  I really appreciate your approach to testing and discovering what really is going on in shooting stuff!  I know that attitude has paid off  for you in your success at the NWTF Still Target Championships and that knowledge has also been of benefit to your readers.

CB:  Thank you for the kind words and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate your taking the time to share some of your knowledge and experience with us today.

I’d encourage anyone who wants to know more about Polywad, Inc to visit your site and to e-mail or give you a call to learn more. Thanks Jay!

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