American Rifleman - July 2011 - 50

red jacket firearms

Best known for its Saiga-based AKs and the special
projects made for "Sons Of Guns," Red Jacket has introduced its own AR-15. This mid-prototype Red Jacket
AR-held by Will Hayden as his daughter, Stephanie,
looks on-can be seen at www.americanrifleman.org.

Photo by author

went hunting: because a couple times a day he enjoyed
eating.You've got a 12-ga. shotgun for the same reason
you've got a plow, and for the same reason you've got a
wrench and a hammer in your tool box."


Hayden's curiosity about guns soon morphed into
a love of military history and firearms. He read and
researched as much as he could and found himself
working on guns in his spare time.
"When I was a teenager I just wanted all the cool stuff I couldn't afford,"
Hayden said. "So I worked with what I had and learned
how to create things myself. It was a great way to keep
my mind on positive outlets back then." Ask him today
where he learned his gunsmithing skills, and he'll
undoubtedly reply: "completely self-taught."
Hayden joined the Marine Corps at 17 and, at the
end of his enlistment, returned home to start a construction and commercial refrigeration company. But
he never strayed far from his roots, and his hiatus from
firearms didn't last long. In 1999, he decided to remodel
the front of his building and start an army surplus store
and shooting range. Before long it was his full-time
occupation, and Red Jacket was officially born.
Soon after Hayden opened the shop he ran into his
most heart-wrenching stumbling block. "Within two
months of opening the place it was robbed, basically
gutted. With no theft insurance, it was a hard hit," he said.
"The lease holder bought me out and we had to start
over again. It was hard to deal with, but we got it done."


With his family supporting him, Hayden persevered
with a plan to start over and grow. The doting father
was determined to use his business as "a mechanism
to keep my kids close to me."


"[Stephanie] was helping me out a tad in there to
be secure while she was wrapping up high school," he
said. "She got out and wasn't sure she wanted really
anything to do with it. I told her, 'If you can come on
hand we'll restructure the place so that there's a reason to have you in here full-time.' So we did."

48 J

uly

2011

www.americanrifleman.org

"We are making our lives with each other and not
just getting pulled away," Stephanie said. "Most families spend so much time at work and so much time
doing their own thing that they don't get to spend a lot
of time with each other. And we kind of fixed that."


Red Jacket Firearm's first big order was for 20 semiautomatic AK-47s from a small Western distributor. In
exchange for a break in the price of the build, Hayden
requested that his guns be accompanied with the
phrase "Proudly Manufactured by Red Jacket" wherever sold or advertised. The guns and their tag line
drew the attention of Atlantic Firearms, a dealer and
distributor known for offering tactical arms. Hayden
put together some generic AK build kits for the group,
and business began to pick up.

"In the early going we just wanted to make quality
guns," Hayden said. "We needed to make a name for
ourselves, and the AK-47 platform was a great way
to start. That's what people wanted. I was sleeping in
the back of the shop back then, too. It was just about
working hard." Hayden had always hated the shoddy
ergonomics of the AK and the lack of quality control
from the bulk of the original Russian manufacturers. "We got away from [kits] as quickly as we could
because we were searching for a better AK," he said.
"So we went to the Saigas produced at Izhmash Arsenal, which is the world-standard for the military AK." 


Red Jacket was acquiring a solid reputation, but it
still wasn't enough. Hayden went to gun forums and
community websites to help sell products and gain
momentum for the shop. With the help of Charles Watson, who often hung around the shop in the early days,
Will started posting product reviews, pictures and YouTube videos. The amateur clips offered big guns, fast
shooting and down-home charm.
"One of the first videos was me in bunny slippers
unloading a 10-round magazine out of an eight-inchbarreled shotgun at 8 a.m.," Hayden recalled. "We had
to show people who we were, okay. "


Hayden also set out to dispel rumors about suppressors-which he had begun building so he could
shoot in his range at night-and the AK platform.
He responded to questions from his core demographic because, he says, he just wanted to help
fellow shooters. Through time the inhabitants of the
gun talk message boards began to associate Hayden's
name with the answers they needed. He had become
a popular figure among gun enthusiasts, and as Red
Jacket's profile grew, so did its bottom line.
In late 2007, Hayden received an intriguing e-mail
from Jupiter Entertainment, a production company


http://www.americanrifleman.org http://www.americanrifleman.org

American Rifleman - July 2011

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of American Rifleman - July 2011

American Rifleman - July 2011 - 1
American Rifleman - July 2011 - 2
American Rifleman - July 2011 - 3
American Rifleman - July 2011 - 4
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