Dowagiac invention goes nationalPublished 8:00am Tuesday, April 8, 2014
Whether he had a paintbrush or a fishing rod in hand, Rick O’Konski always kept his hands busy and his mind sharp.
An avid outdoorsman his entire life, O’Konski has devoted much of his creative efforts toward fishing and hunting. He painted a 128-foot long wall mural inside Lunker’s in Edwardsburg, and created the Millpond Improvement Association multi-species fishing tournament three years ago.
However, after being diagnosed with the muscular disorder Isaac’s Syndrome more than a decade ago, the Dowagiac native’s ability to combine his creativity with his love for the outdoors was stifled.
Last year, O’Konski was determined to put a stop to that in the only way he knew how: To build something new.
O’Konski started his own business, Tactical Hunting Solutions, operating from the basement of the Heddon Museum. His first series of products, rifle accessories called Restrict-A-Mag, have been available for sale at Michigan outdoor recreation stores since the summer, and have recently been stocked in stores in Oklahoma and Texas, O’Konski said.
“I love being back out in the workforce and paying taxes again,” O’Konski said.
The Restrict-A-Mag is a piece of molded plastic that can be inserted into ammunition magazines for the AR-15 rifle, which restricts the limit of bullets that can be carried inside it in order to comply with state laws that prohibit high-capacity magazines for hunting purposes. The device allows hunters to use their own magazines and storage pouches rather than purchasing specialized ones for hunting, which are often more expensive than unmodified ones, O’Konski said.
The local inventor created the first model four years ago from materials he had in his workshop in order to go hunting again with his son, he said.
“The whole reason I designed this was because of my disability,” O’Konski said. “My shoulder can’t take a hunting rifle’s punch anymore.”
Although O’Konski had his creation cleared for use by the state, the hunting trip ended up being canceled, and the piece of plastic was tucked away in a drawer for a few years before he decided to produce them for market.
“With the help of a few good friends and some money, I got started,” O’Konski said. “Starting a business is very difficult. I got high honors in high school but running a business still hurts my brain sometimes.”
Enlisting manufacturing help from the plastics company Ar Tee Enterprises in Bristol, Ind., O’Konski went to work selling his product to gun stores across the state, in many cases traveling to the stores himself to make the sales pitch.
In Michigan, his wares can be found in variety of gun stores and outdoor shops across the state, including in Bass Pro Shop and Gander Mountain, he said.
“From the last year and a half to now, I didn’t think I would get this far,” O’Konski said.
That’s not to say it’s been smooth sailing since he started production, though. Prices on hunting magazines have decreased dramatically over the last few months, prompting O’Konski to begin doubling the amount of restrictors inside each package. He’s also had to create two separate models for steel and polycarbonate magazines after it was discovered there was enough give in the previous, universal model to fit an additional bullet inside plastic ones.
Despite these setbacks, O’Konski is trying his hardest to make his product a mass-market success, in order to help send his grandchildren to college, he said.
“I’ve been called a dreamer all my life,” O’Konski said. “But if you want something bad enough, it will happen for you.”