Since before he went to college, Fred Choate knew he would always be in the family business.
Choate is president of Choate Machine and Tool in Bald Knob, the company his father, Garth Choate, started in 1972. In Fred’s office, the heads of African trophy game animals, killed by him and his dad in an overseas hunting expedition, adorn the walls above and around Fred’s desk. His office is just steps away from the warehouse where employees produce gun stocks, shot extensions and other firearm accessories.
Garth Choate was an instructor of vocational technology at Foothills Vocational Technical School in Searcy before he started a one-man gunsmithing operation, which eventually grew into Choate Machine and Tool.
“He went from gunsmithing and selling reloading components to manufacturing gun parts, and from there it just grew over the years,” Fred Choate said.
The business expanded as time went on, and as soon as the younger Choate was old enough to go to work with his father, he started working at Choate Machine and Tool.
“I grew up around it my whole life,” Choate said. “It’s always been firearms related.”
He worked for Choate Machine and Tool throughout high school, then went to Christian Brothers College in Memphis to study business management. When he returned to Bald Knob, he started working in the Choate Machine and Tool factory again until his father retired eight years ago, giving Fred Choate the president’s position in the company.
Choate Machine and Tool currently produces firearm accessories, including accessories sold through the company’s website or by other vendors, and gun parts sold to gun manufacturers such as Smith & Wesson, Remington and Winchester. Choate Machine and Tool employs 30 people, but Choate said that number changes as the seasons and industry change.
Before he became president of the company, Choate said, he operated the computer numerical control — or CNC — equipment. These machines utilize computer programming to drill precise holes and grooves in the various gun and accessory parts manufactured by the company.
Choate said the firearms business can be finicky, and the demand for Choate Machine and Tool products ebbs and flows with hunting seasons and with politics surrounding firearms. At times, he said, he can have up to 55 employees working overtime to get the product out in a timely manner, but at other times, business slows down, and the staff has to be cut because of lower demand.
“I hate the bounces,” Choate said. “You always pay for it. It is slow now. Last year, ammunition was impossible to get. Magazines were impossible to get and were going for $50 apiece. People really spent a lot of money in anticipation of some kind of firearms legislation. You pay for that down the road because you have to wait for the lag time to catch up.”
Looking into the future, Choate said, he just wants to see the business his father started survive and thrive through the years.
Outside of work, Choate stays involved with the firearms world in many ways. His calendar is filled with responsibilities and opportunities to pass on his love of shooting.
“I shoot a lot, and I teach a lot,” Choate said.
He spends a lot of time coaching a White County 4-H Shooting Sports team and the Bald Knob Arkansas Youth Shooting Sports trapshooting teams.
“We had two junior teams and a senior high team make it to the state shoot. We did pretty good for our first year of having a trap team,” Choate said. “I was pretty proud of them, plus my youngest daughter shoots on the trap team.”
Choate also serves on the board of directors for Operation Wounded Warrior Support, an Arkansas-based support program for veterans. While he has never served in the military, Choate said he has had family members serve and believes it is important to give back to veterans in any way possible.
“We do hunts and help with scholarships for wounded veterans,” he said. “It’s a really neat program. You get to meet a lot of really neat guys.”
Personally, Choate competes at 3-gun shooting events and International Defensive Pistol Association events, and he said he gets to hunt with the children he teaches.
When he has spare time — which is not very often — he said he enjoys staying at home with his wife and two daughters. His wife, Tyler, is a teacher at Searcy High School. Their oldest daughter, Lynley, will go to Ithaca College in New York this year on a gymnastics scholarship, and their youngest daughter, Macey, is a sophomore at Bald Knob High School.
Staff writer Angela Spencer can be reached at (501) 244-4307 or firstname.lastname@example.org.