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Sons of Guns: Interview with Will Hayden

Sounds like a banging good time
by Gelo Gonzales | Jul 7, 2011
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Some boys obsess over videogames. Some toy around with their cars.[firstpara] Some spend most of their time admiring their collection of rare, mint collection of action figures. Will Hayden is not any of these. Will Hayden, the host of Discovery Channel’s Sons of Guns obsesses, toys around, and customizes guns. Real ones, not the airsoft type.

In Sons of Guns, which premieres every Tuesday beginning July 12, you’ll see just how his love for things-that-go-bang go beyond simply pulling the trigger. Will is the genius behind Red Jacket, which is described as “the nation’s most unique weapons business.” Its order of business: to sell, trade, buy, build, and customize weapons of any kind.

From rebuilding vintage, turn-of-the century muskets, to making awesome modern rifles even more awesome, Will’s shop and his team look at every weapon—not just guns, but also bows, swords, knives and the sort—as an opportunity to fortify their position as being the best at what they do. In each episode, we’ll see customers including those who come in with unorthodox requests, or entire SWAT teams who need specialized weaponry. Here’s the fun part: we also get to see Will and his team do some field work to test out their fine-tuned creations. So if you’ve ever loved weapons, this show is something you really should set your sights on.

We got to chat with Will Hayden as well, and the first question we asked was the deepest question one could ever ask: Where did the name “Red Jacket” come from?

Will Hayden: It’s my name.  Yes, on my mother’s side of the family, we’re Choctaw; it’s an Indian tribe from down here.  In the Choctaw language, it’s Osguma.  But that doesn’t spell out very well on a sign.  It’s translates to Red Jacket. 

How did Red Jacket start?
WH: It really grew out of a hobby.  I’ve been doing my own work, small custom work for a couple of decades, and it just got bigger, honestly, bigger and bigger.  We built a few weapons really just for our own use.  I had a little shooting range.  And I suppose they were seen, the word gets out, build a better mousetrap and all of that.  And business just grew from there.  

One very large commercial distributor heard of us, maybe had seen a sample and just called me one day and made me an offer to supply him with rifles.  That was Manotick Firearms.  And from that first commercial order, it wasn’t huge.  It was maybe 20 rifles, but we did them.  

And we did them and he was okay with them, gave me a few pointers.  And over the next couple of years, it just continued to grow really within about three years of that initial order.  I’d say any time the question of who was one of the better AK builders in the country came up, if we weren’t in the top two, we were damn well in the top three.  

Your bio says that you started tinkering with guns at a young age, so what were your first custom built weapons like? 
WH: My very first one was extremely crude.  Man, I was about probably 12 years old.  What did I build?  I built a 22 rifle, a little bolt action, just out of garage stuff.  I had read the biography of Samuel Colt and it just inspired me.  He came up with it.  I had to try it myself.  

And this was when you were 12 years old when most kids were still into coloring books and toys.

WH: Yes, I guess I have a little bit of mechanical aptitude.  Where I come from, man, you tune your own cars.  You dig your own ditches.  You fix your own problems.  I wanted to build one, so I did.  I’m not saying it was all that great of a rifle, but it did go bang and it never blew up on me, so I guess it worked.  

Were you just learning on your own?  Where did you gain the skills to modify these weapons? 
WH: I really just on my own.  A lot of the stuff that the company does and that I started doing grew out of impatience with other gun builders or gunsmith when I was a kid coming up.  I wanted it done.  I would want some work done.  I would lose patience waiting on somebody else to do it.  And then when I would get it half the time, it wasn’t the way I actually wanted it.  It was their version of what I wanted, which I didn’t care for.  We got that old saying if you want something done right, do it yourself.  Well, okay, I took myself up with that offer.  I just started doing it myself.  

I’ve been asked this question a lot.  I got to tell you, man, anybody with the willingness to destroy probably $15,000 or $20,000 worth of perfectly fine guns on their own can learn how to fix them.  I’ve left a lot of metal shavings behind.  When you’re going at a set route, everything is an education.  The price of education is sometimes it doesn’t work.  You just keep plugging at it and we end up with a pretty darn good track record.   

What exactly can we expect from an episode of Sons of Guns? 
Will    More.  One, it’s going to an hour long format, so they’re able to show a whole lot more of what goes into our week.  That will be real good for everybody.  Let’s see.  We’ve expanded our licensing, so that we could work with bigger weapons.  We’ve expanded our internal machinery, so that we can do more in depth work.  I guess bigger and better would be the catch phrase for it.  We’re out the gate. We hit the gate running, man, and didn’t just pour gasoline on it, okay?  

Some people where their hobby becomes their job, those things suddenly become less enticing.  But have you been able to maintain the same kind of passion for guns? 
WH: Everyday, it’s something new around there.  It’s a different challenge every time you open the door and go in the shop.  Everyday we have the phone ringing, people ordering.  We have for us, a fairly large workforce; we have a ton of custom work.  We have at any given time, probably four or five pretty in depth research and development projects going on.  There’s always something to keep you interested and rolling. 

Finally, what’s your least favorite firearm?  What do you think is the worst?  

WH: Cheap, crappy ones that misalign, break, blow up and hurt the people that using them.  I’m not really a Chevy or a Dodge kind of guy.  I take things as they come and I judge by quality.  A beautifully made, very accurate single shot 22 rifle will get me as excited as a bell-fed machine gun.  To me it’s all in the craftsmanship.

Sons of Guns premieres every Tuesday 9:00 PM with encores on Wednesdays 12 MN, 8 AM and 2 PM. Only on the Discovery Channel.

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