Sons of Guns: Red Jacket's Reality

Discovery Channel’s hit show “Sons of Guns” took cable television by storm with big personalities and even bigger guns.


Every June, Will Hayden has a birthday party. But the party celebrates more than the day of his birth. Hayden, 46, is the owner of Red Jacket Firearms, and at his annual “birthday bash” he celebrates everyone and everything he loves. When the warm weather hits, the Louisiana-born gunsmith, history buff and collector welcomes fellow shooters from around the country to “show up, bring ammo and have fun” shooting the custom firearms Red Jacket creates, along with a few from Hayden’s personal collection.

He runs his booming business out of Baton Rouge, La., every other day of the year, but on this day, he said, there is only celebration. The atmosphere at the birthday bash rings true to what Hayden is all about: his family and friends, his crew of employees, his customers, and the firearms spawned from his hard work.

Anyone who has watched the Discovery Channel has likely caught a glimpse into Hayden’s world. “You know, he’s been doing this stuff you’re seeing on TV now for about 10 years,” said his daughter, Stephanie Hayden. “Y’all are just catching up.”

In January, “Sons of Guns” made its debut on Discovery, and it is a show that gives viewers a one-of-a-kind look into the custom gun manufacturer and the lives of its employees. In its first season, fans flocked to the channel to see what unusual firearm concepts the shop could cook up next.

Hayden’s introduction to guns came at a young age in the wilds of Louisiana with his grandfather. He followed him on trips, “hunting squirrels for the pot” around the family’s farm near Baton Rouge.

“These were country people, farmers,” he said. “[My grandfather] raised a few cattle and planted a garden for the same reasons that he went hunting: because a couple times a day he enjoyed eating. You’ve got a 12-gauge 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.”

“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 semi-automatic 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-inch-barreled 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 based in Knoxville, Tenn. The group was looking for a gun shop to take part in a television series for a “major cable network.”

"We had to fill out a form and send in a video describing what went on around here," Hayden said. "We used range videos like the ones we posted on the Internet and some stuff from the birthday bash.”

The short clips sparked the producers’ interest and, as the next step in the audition process, Will was asked to put together a two-minute video further describing the shop and the people who made up his crew.

The video featured 28-year-old Kris Ford, who was brought on as an apprentice after he met Stephanie at a party. Ford swept floors and, under Will’s tutelage, was contributing to gun builds. Next was Michigan native and gunsmith Vince Buckles. The 2004 graduate of the Pennsylvania Gunsmith School added another pair of skilled hands to the Red Jacket team. “When I came on it was just like a family,” Ford said. “I was just excited to have a job and be with these great people.”

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41 Responses to Sons of Guns: Red Jacket's Reality

Dave Holmes wrote:
April 05, 2014

The Show is for Idiots. Most of the stuff they supposedly build for 'Customers', the Customers cannot Legally own, as it is Post 86'.

Jared wrote:
May 24, 2013

For the gentleman that said that the military doesn't use tracers is full of crap. Have you ever been deployed or been on a night fire range? . I'm not sure of what so-called unit you're in or if your really serving our great military, but you need to check your facts before you try to be 'Mr. I'm Right about Everything'. Again as someone stated prevously, it's just freaking TV!! I agree with focusing more on how to properly handle weapons and all the safety tips that go along with it. check your facts. 'Reality' shows are for entertainment, not to give you the impression that life operates perfectly that way. I'm sure a lot of important stuff is edited out for TV. Put your big boy pants on and be an adult for once.

Just wrote:
April 27, 2013

It's tv ppl

Stacie wrote:
February 08, 2013

I love the guns. But Will Chris and Stephanie are awful. Vincent and the two other guys run the shop while Will Chris and Stephen play and act stupid. I hate how Will treats his employees too.

Michael wrote:
June 18, 2012

if they are nt against us....they are for us....let these guys make a living and keep your comments civil.

Michael wrote:
May 29, 2012

great bunch of folks......bringing you a combat vet from Mississippi to your birthday bash mr will.

AJ (police officer, former range instructor) wrote:
January 15, 2012

Eric and Mark are on the money. Firearms improperly handled are very dangerous. Strict safety standards are taught so there are no tragedies on the range or in the field. First and foremost any firearm should be treated as loaded until it is properly cleared and checked. Second, unless a firearm is being used as a weapon on duty or as a defensive weapon, if it is in your hand it should be open and secured as empty. The most important thing is never have your finger on the trigger unless you are ready to fire your weapon. The show's first priority should be showing proper safety and handling. It is a reality show and should not be lacking in safe handling of firearms.

Chris wrote:
January 11, 2012

Rachel, you embarrass the rest of us in the military. We do not use tracers and we do not bring the fire department to the range. Your grammar is hideous. Back to the show, I do not like the fake explosions and the rehearsed reactions.

lifemember wrote:
January 05, 2012

the nra doesnt endorse this does it ?

Rachel NC wrote:
December 14, 2011

Eric (police department), i thought your comment of "how dumb do you have to be to let tracers be used where they could start fires?" was actually down right out stupid. 1st, im active duty military and have been for 8 yrs. along with my husband... and the military fire those rounds in the same setting. Thats why we have a standby fire department because things do get lit on fire! actually all the time! So if you think that they are dumb...you must think our military is as well. hmmm....

Cheryl wrote:
December 12, 2011

Re:David M.'s comment. I grew up in Indiana and my dad put peanuts in his pepsi. We also continue to enjoy peanuts and redhots together. I continue to enjoy the RJF show.

F.L.F. wrote:
November 21, 2011

Glad to see some one else not Impressed by these guys. They haven't done anything new if you are going to build abetter mouse trap make it new.

bluzmeister wrote:
November 14, 2011

Man I hate to say it but for an ex-marine who's only 46, he doesn't look like he has too many more birthdays ahead of him especially if he doesn't change his high- strung short fused overweight self-destructive self. I look like I'm in my late 30's (as I'm constantly told by people I don't even know), and I've got 8 years on him! Wonder what his Marine drill instructor would say about how Will lumbers around practically dragging his feet as he walks. Man, quit the fun & games and get into a gym and work on getting in shape before you have no birthdays left to celebrate. You look like a heart attack waiting to happen "dude". P.S. If you can't take this comment then you're not much of a Marine.

Gary Rittenhouse wrote:
November 11, 2011

Ialso love the show, but I think they have already canceled it? If anybody Knows diff let me know!!

Mark, Customs [(] amost ret[)]. wrote:
October 18, 2011

Eric of Houston Police (ret) makes several spot on points. Take it as constructive critisizm and tighten up on the demonstrated safety eg the knife blade projectile test hand held. Cut down on the big headedness. It's unessasary from a good hearted well meaning inovative gunsmith like Will. Become more humble, polished and precise with your explosive fun. Cautious gun enthusiasts always win out over careless handlers, with such a high profile in the public eye. Try not to let the fame from the show go to your heads guys. Otherwise it's an entertaining glimps into the very legitimate and honorable world of American gun craftsmanship and a willingness to try an innovative new design. P.S. We all wanted your client to take out the model planes with all four ex-enemy gunnery, all four blazing away!

viking wrote:
September 16, 2011

To be onest, this is the best show from Discovery in 2011. Why? Because you have down-to-earth people who do their job without drama and acting. Explosions are much better on a shooting range than in a office or in some staged confrontation/drama. Like that horrible made-up show "Goldrush Alaska" or "Motor City Motors". Sometimes I think Discovery forget that its a reason that men hates "Gossip girl", "Desperate Housewife" and so on. Give us technology, challenges and cool solutions and we are happy.

Boon wrote:
September 10, 2011

K. Thomas you sound really angry at these people. Imbeciles,, boorish, asinine? Please, you sound jealous. Most gun owners I know are trigger happy. We love to get out there and shoot. Uppity gun owners, like yourself are worse than the trigger happy rednecks.

sons of guns wrote:
September 08, 2011

This show proves that the American mainstream family will watch absolute junk and turn it into a success. Consider it the Paris Hilton of gun shows. The Jr vs Sr thing has been done to exhaustion already Discovery..........make some real TV and bury this embarrassment to anyone with actual gun knowledge who has better things to do than watch some illiterate yell at his incompetent employees.

K. Thomas wrote:
August 29, 2011

Strangely enough, it would seem that I am the only one in disagreement with the rest of the comments. Red Jacket and their Discovery Channel "reality" show are doing no service for the firearms community. Their behavior is boorish and asinine. Their handling of firearms sets a dangerously poor example. Their builds are poor quality gimmicks at best and show poor knowledge, skills and workmanship. There are also many falsehoods shown on the show, such as the way in which they frequently "invent" things that have already been invented and done with more thought and precision than what these imbeciles could ever hope to muster. As NRA members, our hopes should be to educate the public on what firearms and their owners are and are not; to counter the myths and uninformed fears that so many have outside the firearms community. This show will do quite the opposite. It gives an impression that it is quite easy for anyone to own an NFA firearm. They never mention what the requirements are. They make firearms owners look like a bunch of trigger-happy "rednecks" with little regard for safety or good firearms etiquette. What they are really doing is feeding the fears and stereotypes. While I may be the lone voice of dissent amongst the comments here, I have spoken to a great many other people in the firearms community who share my feelings on the matter.

LeAnn Green wrote:
August 17, 2011

This show is really cool! I have always been scared of guns but this show has given me the desire to start learning how to operate and shoot a gun. The one question I have has yet to be answered. I want to know if Will is still married? He is such a loving father that I can only imagine he would be the same to his spouse. What an incredible man. He definitely is someone other men should watch and learn from. He is so intelligent on many levels. I can't wait to see next season. Maybe someday I will get to see them all in person and shoot guns with the big boys.

Eric, Houston Police (Retired) wrote:
August 12, 2011

This show gives the impression that firearms enthusiasts are low browed, unstable "Deliverance" refugees obsessed with setting things on fire with their 'pimped' out clusterwreck. It is also depressing that the business owner, whose past work included some remarkably innovative designs demonstrating fine craftsmanship, would now rather mangle a quality weapon into an impractical, unreliable piece of junk (yes, I know that the answer, in part, is to make a tv show, but this end result is the very definition of a sell-out compared to his previous standards). I am also shocked to find such uncritical support of the trash that is Sons of Guns in an article by this respected magazine and on this forum. Their marksmanship is below poor, the observed gun handling is frequently unsafe, and their range safety is either horrible or they consented to give that impression(how dumb do you have to be to let tracers be used where they could start fires?). There is no great success or heartwarming cooperation to beat the odds; the "customers" are scripted, the projects predetermined, the deadlines fake (educate yourself on the tight schedules and deadlines of filming a tv show), and the "employees" are in most respects a non-gun crowd "cast" hired to crank up the personality/drama portion of the show (they were not there three years ago). The impression of ease in the manufacture of class III weapons, in this time of hysteria over "gunrunning" to Mexico and out of control "militias" throws gasoline on these media manufactured dangers and will be used as evidence/support for the next round of restrictive gun control or banning legislation proposals. This "harmless" entertainment is anything but and you can bank on this show being cited as proof we need more restrictions on our rights.

David McGirt wrote:
August 11, 2011

I watch your show everyweek and really love the show and on the episode aired on August 10, 2011, I saw that you had a soda with peanuts in it. I am orignially from Pembroke NC, but I live in Maryland and they think I'm crazy when I put peanuts in my soda. It just feels good to see a good 'ol southern boy. Love your show, hope one day I get to meet you.

Greg F wrote:
July 22, 2011

I Like Will , I purchased a few of his guns before he was so popular ... He built nice guns but have since seen what he is selling and not so impressed for the price . There are way better builders out there like Krebs that produce firearms that are flawless . I'm glad for Will he did put his time in but building stupid guns like I seen a preview for a motorcycle gun with OCC choppers ... Come on , not thats pretty stupid for both the parties ... LOL

Mike Adams wrote:
July 18, 2011

great show never miss one

A.J Godigkeit wrote:
July 12, 2011

love the show, but I can dream one that they haven't tried to build. that is a magnet operated pistol safety.

Dale Mathewson wrote:
July 06, 2011

This show is a tribute to our 2ND amendment, and the American dream!. A Marine and his family working together using there knowledge to bring us a great product! I love to watch the show, and wish them great success. Maybe someday I can visit the shop and buy a great gun!

Viper wrote:
July 02, 2011

Its so much better to have a firearm and NOT need it, than to NEED one and die because you dont have one.

Stanley taylor, MMCS (ret) wrote:
July 02, 2011

I love the show, I am proud to have people with true beliefs. If you have not fought for the USA and understand what a quality Gun, is and if it is dependable or if it works. Yes Mr. H, needs to keep up his great disposition.

July 02, 2011


GunGirl wrote:
July 02, 2011

Great show... my only complaint is the 'staged' feel to it. (when the cameras just happen to be waiting outside in the parking lot when a customer pulls up, the awkward exchanges when a customer comes in to tell Will what they want, and also some of the other dialogue seems a little forced at times) But, I'll definitely give season 2 a shot ;)

Ken wrote:
July 02, 2011

I love the show. Never understood why a former Marine would choose the AK platform for his speciality but after thinking about it, they are a large part of the firearms market and a good all around gun (This includes the Saiga shotguns). Personally, I prefer his versions of the AR platform. But hey, I'm a former US Army infantryman with several tours of duty in combat and peacekeeping operations, they are what I'm ued to.

Jay Melton, GySgt USMC (ret.) wrote:
June 30, 2011

I love the show and the reality you put into it. Definitely not the BS 'reality' of most Reality shows, you are authentic! I'm very impatiently waiting for season 2 to start! If it were possible, I would love to come to your birthday bash some year.

Bill Johnson wrote:
June 29, 2011

It's a great show, I recorded every show to watch again and again.

B Maersch wrote:
June 28, 2011

While I really like the show because of the interesting guns Will comes up with. It seems as if he is always expecting his employee's to suck up to him and he seems to only tolerate, former military and law enforcement as anyone worth spending his time on. I will keep watching the show but I am really getting tired of Will's rude attitude!

Dewey E. Du Bose, SGM, USA, Retired wrote:
June 28, 2011

Your show is a show that I can believe in. No fluff, just honest hard working people doing what they love to do. My favorite show that I record and watch over and over. Believe it or not, I actually learn something new from each show. Best of Luck with Season II.

sonny de silva wrote:
June 28, 2011

I've watched the series of "sons of guns" here in Doha, Qatar thru my cable tv. . .very interesting and educational in terms of gun handling & safety. thanks to you guys :The Red Jacket"

Cdr p.w. Prawl, sr, usn ret wrote:
June 28, 2011

Great article and great company!

Frdmftr wrote:
June 28, 2011

You're darned right we need it. It's great for gun owners; it gives non-gun owners on the fence an incentive to become gun owners, and it ticks the heck out of the hoplophobes and political hacks trying to turn America into another third-world dictator satrapy. What's not to like?

Wally wrote:
June 28, 2011

I respectfully disagree, we as firearms owners may not "need" it, but shows like this and Top Shot show the general public what we are all about and create a positive image.

otto wrote:
June 27, 2011

Think about it, do firearms owners need a Reality Show? I say No! The NRA should distance themselves from this silly concept. Preserve The Second Amendment!!!

Shannon Marie wrote:
June 26, 2011

When a show like yours works, it always has to come from the vision of one. Maintaining the integrety and belief in that vision is vital to it's success. Therefore you must begin and end with the individual whose passion was first recognized for the quality and longevity of the show. Thanks for reading. Shannon Marie.