Dakota Tactical is one of the most highly regarded names in the Heckler & Koch (HK) firearms enthusiast community here in the United States. The premium manufacturer of roller delayed blowback (often called “roller lock”) guns is a favorite of many HK fans. Search around and you’ll find nothing but gleaming praise of Dakota Tactical products in print publications and online forums.
But where did Dakota Tactical come from? How could a notoriously critical, niche firearm community so quickly come to laud a company that has only been active for a relatively short period of time? Perplexed, I endeavored to find out more about it, and discovered it was located in Canton, Michigan, just a stone’s throw away from my childhood home of Plymouth. I got in contact with Joe Stoppiello, the founder of Dakota Tactical, a few weeks ago to try to learn more. He graciously invited me to a shooting event Dakota Tactical was a sponsor of, and to visit his shop. I gladly accepted the invitation to shoot and learn more about some of the rarest, most expensive, and most well-made guns available in the United States.
In the course of blowing through Stoppiello’s ammo stockpile and getting a tour of his workshop, I learned that Dakota Tactical is a company founded upon a deep appreciation of truly excellent firearms—and it’s poised to get them into the hands of those who will appreciate them.
Dakota Tactical’s story started with an HK G36 rifle—specifically, a conversion of a neutered SL8 sporting rifle done by a custom shop. Stoppiello got the rifle as a gift from his wife in late 2007. As a longtime admirer of HK’s guns, Stoppiello was beside himself with joy. As he took apart the rifle, however, he quickly realized that there were a few things just not quite right with the conversion.
For starters, it couldn’t accept “real” G36 magazines—it was single-stack only. For a man with an eye toward authenticity, that was a big show-stopper. In addition, the method used to attach the conversion’s rear receiver and folding stock was clunky. It just didn’t live up to his standards.
Stoppiello started researching other ways to convert SL8s. A particularly difficult part of the conversion process was properly installing the rear receiver stub and folding stock—all of the existing methods and prefabricated solutions he came across somehow came up short, or resulted in a final product that seemed poorly made.
“I got a hold of an acquaintance at a well-known HK parts retailer,” Stoppiello told me during my visit to his Canton shop. “I asked him, ‘Hey, do you have any demilled rear sections from real G36s?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’ve got a whole box of them.’” Stoppiello told his friend that he needed one to complete one of the most difficult parts of the conversion himself.
“He said ‘You’re nuts; you’re crazy!’” Stoppiello laughed. But his contact sold him one, and Stoppiello got to work. Soon enough, he fashioned himself his ideal G36. He became the first in the American HK world to successfully mate a real demilled G36 receiver stub to an SL8 without damaging the area where the host rifle’s serial number was located, which had previously been considered nigh-impossible.
Stoppiello had documented his entire conversion process, and photos of his work were shared on HKPro, an online HK enthusiast community. But, as any gun owner can attest, his pet project became a budget-buster, and he soon found himself over-budget on his project and in need of cash. He sold his personally-converted rifle to another dedicated collector.
“The guy who bought it posted a lot of reviews about it,” Stoppiello said. The buyer sang the conversion’s praises, and soon began fielding questions from other HK enthusiasts about the gun.
It didn’t take long after that for people to start calling Stoppiello to ask whether he might be able to convert their guns into similar G36-style rifles.
Stoppiello looked into what he’d need to do to be able to work on peoples’ guns, and soon acquired a Federal Firearms License and paid his Special Occupational Tax (why not jump in the deep end if you’re going to get your feet wet?). Thus, in 2009, Dakota Tactical was born.
Within the first 30 days of founding Dakota Tactical, Stoppiello had a little over 60 G36 conversions on his docket. He set to work, quickly acquiring over 60 satisfied G36 customers.
Let’s roll[er lock]
Thanks to the good word spread by those satisfied customers, shooters began asking Stoppiello whether he’d ever make roller-delayed blowback firearms. It was a good question to ask. Perhaps even more so than the G36, he was enamored with the MP5 submachine gun—and all other HK firearms using its signature roller-lock action.
Stoppiello considered that proposition a more daunting task than “just” converting SL8s—making a new, premium gun out of demilled parts kits is quite the endeavor. After more than a year of research into the MP5 and criticisms of other custom shops’ guns and “a little bit of coaxing,” he finally agreed to build a “test” MP5-style gun for his friend at the HK parts retailer.
“Hands-down, this is the nicest US-made MP5-style gun I’ve ever seen,” was the feedback Stoppiello received on the final product.
Word about Stoppiello’s build spread, and soon enough he was getting queries about making more. He began making his own MP5-style pistols using only the highest-quality German-made parts kits and premium American-made components. These became his signature product, the D54P.
Since the successful introduction of the G36 conversions and D54P line, Dakota Tactical has become a mainstay of the premium HK-style firearms market. Stoppiello’s attention to detail and commitment to quality are unmatched (of course, these attributes mean that Dakota Tactical guns cost a pretty penny). In addition to custom building, conversion, and gunsmithing services, his company now offers a near-complete catalog of arms, most of which are made as pistols (up until recently Michigan residents could not legally own short-barreled rifles). Stoppiello speculated that most of his customers are owners of federally registered HK select-fire sears, who are seeking high-quality “hosts” for their $20,000-plus sears.
One Dakota Tactical gun that has proven to be very popular online is the D300P, Stoppiello’s version of an HK53 chambered in 300 BLK. To many it’s the perfect gun—it pairs the roller lock action with one of the most fascinating new cartridges available commercially. After shooting a select-fire D300P outfitted with an AR stock adapter made by Swedish firm Spuhr (another product Stoppiello may soon be introducing to the United States) and SilencerCo Saker 762 suppressor, I can confirm that it certainly feels like a “perfect gun.”
What’s next for Dakota Tactical? A whole lot more guns—and things that attach to them.
There will be more D300Ps, more D54Ps in 9x19mm, and perhaps more D54Ps in .40 S&W and 10mm (known as the D54P/40 and D54P/10, respectively). In addition, Stoppiello plans on introducing D54-pattern guns with full-length upper receiver rails. As Joe and his team tool up for more guns in 300 BLK, they’ll also be offering more guns in .223, thanks to parts compatibility between guns chambered for the two cartridges. Stoppiello says he’s considering introducing a line of “boutique” gas-piston AR-15s, giving buyers a complete package of high-quality parts.
He’s also working on accessories for HK-pattern firearms, including his own line of handguards—one of which will be an MP5 model that extends beyond the front sight post, allowing a shooter to use a more extended and stable grip and keep part of an attached suppressor enclosed by the furniture. HK and non-HK firearms enthusiasts would do well to keep an eye on Dakota Tactical in the months and years to come.
Stoppiello doesn’t regret leaving his full-time commitments to the IT world behind to start Dakota Tactical and do something that he loves. If that’s not one of the best ways to make a positive impact on the firearm industry, I don’t know what is.