Travis Haley Interview (Part 1): Why Was His First Gun a Chinese AK?

Vladimir Onokoy
by Vladimir Onokoy

Previously, we published an interview ( Part 1 and Part 2) with Jim Fuller, a gunsmith who had an immense influence on the AK community in the USA. Today we will publish the first part of my interview with Travis Haley, the person largely responsible for the creation of the modern manual of arms for the AK platform.

If you don't know Travis Haley - he is one of the most renowned firearms instructors in the world. Travis served in Special Operations as a Force Reconnaissance Marine with multiple combat tours in the Middle East, Africa, and Central Asia. After leaving active duty, he served as a Private Military Contractor for the US Navy Center for Anti-Terrorism and then various government agencies operating primarily in Iraq and Afghanistan. Overall, he has 29 years of experience with service activity in over 45 countries.

Travis Haley AK collection

In 2009, Travis Haley became the CEO of Magpul Dynamics, which made him internationally famous after the release of Magpul training videos. In 2011, he founded his own company, Haley Strategic Partners, which designs and manufactures innovative equipment and provides training to Law Enforcement and civilians.

I met with Travis Haley in 2018 to discuss his thoughts on the AK platform.

Vlad: So how were you introduced to the AK for the first time?

Travis: So it's a funny story. Well, to me anyways. When I was young, growing up I think it was like 1985, 1986. Of course, you know, everybody in America knows who an AK is. Even as a little kid back then. Because of course back in the Cold War when I grew up, that's that was the enemy's weapon, right?

Vlad: Wolverines!

Screensot from the movie Red Dawn (1984)

Travis: Exactly. So, and I remember as I grew up, when I was probably 9 years old, I knew I wanted to serve, in the military. My dad served, my grandfather served. I come from, I am the, that I know of, the 8th generation of gunfighter in my family. So my 8th great great great great grandfather was in the American Revolutionary War.

That's his son. And then his two sons below that are my 6th, 5th grandfather of Civil War, World War 1, 2, Korea, Vietnam. And now my brother and I. My brother is still a lieutenant colonel in the Marine Corps. Special operations guy, you know, just like me. And then now my sons wanna join.

So, you know, I knew from I guess we call it a destiny or whatever I wanted to serve. And so back in those days, we wanted to know the enemy's weapon, at least I did.

And, of course, I would beg my dad as a young kid. I was probably 12 or 13 years old. I said, Dad, I wanna buy an AK 47, and I wanna know the enemy's weapon. Right? And he's like, no, you're gonna get a hunting rifle like every other kid your age.

It's gotta be in the mid-eighties. Yeah, I'd say about 'eighty-five, I think. And then 'eighty-six is when the movie Heartbreak Ridge came out with Clint Eastwood. Remember the quote where he goes, it's

Vlad: I just watched it yesterday.

Travis: So there you go. So I was watching that part and when Clint Eastwood said, when he came out and shot it.

Vlad (doing a bad Clint Eastwood impression): This is the AK 47 assault rifle, the preferred weapon of your enemy. It makes a distinctive sound when it is fired at you. So remember it.

Travis: Right? So I'm like, I gotta remember that. So I said: “Dad, Clint Eastwood said I need a freaking AK 47”. So the dad is all pissed off. He's like, look: you earn the money and I'll take you down and we'll find one”.

So I worked as an electrician in the summer times, at a very early age because my dad was an electrician after he got out of the Air Force as a fighter pilot. He was in Korea.

So anyway, I threw it down, $500. It was expensive back then. Norinko Mac 91. Good choice, right? I didn't know anything about AKs at the time, but it was at a pawnshop.

Typical ad for a Chinese AK in US gun magazines

And I was like, that's it. That's it. I wanna get that. So he still doesn't he can't fathom why: "Why do you want this commie gun?" Right? Because that's, you know, the old Vietnam days, the Korean guys were like the communist, the communist.

And, he's like, I'm not letting this thing in my house. I'm like, well, you're gonna because I wanna be a marine one day. So I learned this thing inside out.

I mean, I knew it, it's just like you watch the kids in some countries tearing down the guns and stuff and we see that here and we're like: "goddamn that's pretty cool".

I was like that, a kid with this gun. I knew it just religiously. So that's kind of how I was introduced because I forced it on my dad and of course, I owe him a lot because, you know, that weapon is more near and dear to me than any AR platform or M4 platform in my life.

AK rifle in the Travis Haley office

There's a reason why that's hanging on the wall in my office. There's a story behind it, and that knowledge helped me throughout my entire life.

And, with the knowledge that I sought out as a child and what my dad allowed me to have, saved my life. Many times. So, that's why it means so much to me - that platform. So the first gun I ever owned was an AK 47.

Vladimir Onokoy
Vladimir Onokoy

Vladimir Onokoy is a small arms subject matter expert and firearms instructor. Over the years he worked in 20 different countries as a security contractor, armorer, firearms industry sales representative, product manager, and consultant. His articles were published in the Recoil magazine, Small Arms Review, Small Arms Defence Journal, and Silah Report. He also contributed chapters to books from the "Vickers Guide: Kalashnikov" series. Email: machaksilver at gmail dot com. Facebook: Instagram: YouTube:

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