Customers have been loading up on ammunition, driving a 400% increase in Vista Outdoor's third-quarter profits.

In the last year, there have been more than 8 million new gun owners as people have flocked to shooting sports and hunting as a relief from COVID-19 restrictions and as a result of social and political unrest, according to the Firearm Industry Trade Association.

The new owners — plus existing ones — created a surge in demand for all types of ammunition.

Anoka-based Vista owns several ammunition brands including Federal, Speer and CCI. It closed on the Remington ammunition business in October and this week announced a new tuck-in acquisition — Hevi-Shot Ammunition.

"Continued strength in outdoor recreation markets, combined with our ongoing focus on execution excellence, resulted in strong top and bottom-line growth across the entire company," said Vista Chief Executive Chris Metz in a release. "Strong outdoor participation trends that began in the early days of COVID lockdowns have continued into calendar 2021 and do not appear to be slowing down."

In the quarter ending Dec. 27, Vista saw net income increase more than 438% to $78.9 million, and earnings per share up 425% to $1.31 per share. Revenue for the quarter was $574.7 million, up 35% from the third quarter a year ago.

Results far exceeded analyst expectations. The consensus revenue estimate for the quarter was $528.6 million and Vista doubled the EPS expectations of 65 cents per share.

Vista officials said the integration of the Remington Outdoor brand and ramp-up in production has been stronger than expected and has begun to add to Vista's overall results for the quarter.

Vista is increasing production at Remington's facilities as quickly as possible to meet the surge in demand for ammunition. It has had to train new employees, retrain employees who had been furloughed under the old ownership and work through supply shortages.

Vista had spent several years paying down long-term debt and it now has more cash on hand and is looking closely at additional acquisitions and partnerships.

The company also sells a wide range of other outdoor products from bike helmets to water bottles.

During the third quarter, revenue for the Shooting Sports segment, which includes its ammunition brands and hunting and shooting accessories, rose 41% to $402 million with a gross profit increase of 120% to $114 million.

In the Outdoor Products segment, Metz said on an earnings call with analysts that its CamelBak brand had signed a partnership with fitness company Peloton to create a co-branded cycling bottle.

The segment, which also includes Bell and Giro bicycle helmets and Camp Chef outdoor cooking products, saw a 24% increase in revenue to $173 million and a 35% increase in gross profit to $50 million.

All the new gun owners and existing owners stocking up on ammunition has created shortages. The shortages have led to a number of internet rumors and conspiracy theories spread on social media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

Vista Outdoor's Jason Vanderbrink, president of the Federal, CCI, Speer and Remington brands, offered an explanation of the shortages in a YouTube video released in December that had more than 2 million views and generated more than 13,000 comments.

A subsequent video released Jan. 21 has been viewed more than 500,000 times.

The ammunition teams at Vista Outdoor have been working nonstop, and Vanderbrink said in his second video that they made more hunting ammunition in 2020 than in the 99-year history of Federal Ammunition.

Building new factories, he said, is not a short-term solution.

Before the pandemic there was excess capacity in the industry and utilizing that capacity is the quickest fix to the shortage. That was one reason for the Remington acquisition, but even getting those facilities back up and running at full capacity takes time, he said in the video.

Vanderbrink said on the earnings call the integration of Remington is going faster than scheduled.

"Our goal is to recruit, educate and retain as many of these more than 8 million new users as possible," he said. "We are excited to see such strong participation and demand for a whole new demographic."

Shares of Vista Outdoor closed Thursday at $31.46, up 5 cents.

Patrick Kennedy • 612-673-7926