Interview with Vince Buckles From Mesa Kinetics Research, LLC

By Christopher R. Bartocci

There are many new names in the industry these days. Perhaps it is time like in any other industry when the new younger innovators start to fill in the ranks with the aging and ready to retire older generation. There are many ways of achieving this recognition. Some through the great financial backing of a large company, others by putting forth their own wealth to publicize themselves and then there are those who have the talent and had the luck of being in the right place at the right time. This is how Vince Buckles achieved his fame and reputation in the industry when he received a call from Will Hayden from the Discovery television show Sons of Guns. Vince was a machinist who went to gunsmithing school in Pennsylvania for two years and then settled down for a change in lifestyle to the Cajun country of Louisiana. There he honed his skills working on high priced shotguns as an engraver and wood worker but his true passion was tactical rifles. People are not what they seem on television and Vince is absolutely no exception to this rule. Vince is in fact on many occasions victim to the producers of the show and the need for “Drama.” But prior to going to work at RJF (Red Jacket Firearms), Vince wanted to go on his own and open up his own shop and that is what he eventually did. Vince has achieved popularity in this industry enough so his shelves are packed with builds for people all over the country and he is doing what he wants and happy even with all the time it takes away from his family.

Small Arms Review was granted an exclusive interview with Vince Buckles at his shop in Louisiana. This will give our readers a chance to meet the man and not what they think they see on television. Vince is an incredibly talented gunsmith and armorer. He never would have made it into RJF if he was not. Although intimidating with the hat, beard and tattoos, Vince is a down to earth weapons professional who loves firearms and the industry in which he works.

SAR: Tell us where you’re from?

Vince: I’m originally from Detroit, Michigan. I’ve lived in Louisiana for more than a decade now and have made my home here.

SAR: What was your first exposure to firearms? What was the first time you fired a gun and what was it?

Vince: I believe the first time I ever fired a real gun was in Cub Scout Pack 1024 when I was about 8 years old. I shot a .22 rim fire. My family was not a firearms owning family when I was growing up – my parents didn’t own firearms. And just the more I got into them, the more my dad got into them, and now I’d say that he probably has more guns than I do.

SAR: Do you have a favorite type of firearm that you’ve enjoyed your whole life?

Vince: That I’ve enjoyed my whole life? The first handgun I’ve ever shot in the late 80s was a Glock 19, and so I’ve always kind of been partial to Glocks as carry guns because I’ve always had good luck with them – you know they’ve always worked real well. But I'm probably one of the few people that can say they’ve shot a Glock as their first handgun. That’s probably one unique thing about me is they’ve never felt weird to me because I shot them in the late 80s when they were first being commissioned by police departments in the U.S. If you want to go to my lifetime favorite gun it has been any kind of .22 rifle or pistol, because at least up until recently you could sit there with a box of ammo all day and just shoot, shoot and shoot and it wouldn’t cost you more than the price of lunch.

SAR: When did you start getting involved with gunsmithing?

Vince: I was 22 years old when I went to a Pennsylvania gunsmithing school. Immediately before gunsmith school I had been working for a machine shop in Southern Michigan, and it was a great bunch of guys but it seemed like all we ever did in our free time was talk about guns. I started looking into it on the internet when I got home, and basically from the time that I looked at it online until the time I showed up from my first day of school was less than a month. It was a pretty quick transition. I picked up everything I owned in Michigan and moved to Pittsburgh for a year and a half of full-time, 45 hour a week training and then moved to Louisiana straight after that.

SAR: What was the first place that you worked as a full-time gunsmith?

Vince: I worked at a place, Reynerson’s Gunsmith Service in North Baton, out by the airport. I got the job there straight out of school. I had flown down and interviewed and then I graduated from school and moved down three days after graduating. I was working there full-time and I worked there for about two and a half years, and then just eventually moved on from that company. SAR: Do you see yourself as a specialist in any particular systems?

Vince: Well, to be honest, I had dreams of being a specialist in many more of the tactical systems. When I left school, I was not presented with that opportunity immediately. Ryerson’s found in me a resource that they really didn’t have on staff, and that was somebody that was extraordinarily good in refinishing stocks and doing fancy woodwork on rifles, such as Merkels, Purdeys, Parrazis, high dollar shotguns; stuff that costs as much as a car or more. I did a majority of their wood work there, and then when I moved on to my next job, I was the only gunsmith for a large retail business in Louisiana. I brought a lot of my stock customers there, and I got well known for woodwork done to high dollar shotguns. It wasn’t a specialty that I particularly enjoyed doing. I’m not a big woodwork guy but I just happen to be really good at it. You do what you’re good at and what the demand is for, and then eventually through Sons of Guns some more of my passions like working with more tactical firearms actually got exploited at the national and international level, and that’s predominantly what I do nowadays.

SAR: The tactical end of it?

Vince: Pretty much. We do a lot of long range tactical stuff that can obviously be transferred over into the hunting world or the bench rest world. When I say “long range tactical” these are rifles that are suitable for use by military or police snipers or marksmen, however, probably a majority of the work they see is F Class or FPR shooting competition.

SAR: When and how did you get hired by Red Jacket?

Vince: I worked for another company here in Baton Rouge after Ryerson’s for about five years, and I left there in like February of 2010 – it was the day after the Saints won the Super Bowl, I left. It was kind of like the Saints just won the Super Bowl and they beat the Colts, and it was an omen that I needed a change. I was engaged at the time to my wife now, and she was pregnant with our daughter, and it was just like, “Dude, I need a change. I need to do something different.” And so I applied for my own FFL, I was building my own shop, and then one day on a local shooting forum, Will Hayden messaged me and said, “Hey, call me.” Well, I knew who Will was and Will knew who I was. We’d never actually formally met, but he called me up and his exact words were, “Hey, you want to come in this weekend and put together a couple of rifles for me?” And I was like, “Sure, what are they?” He said, “AKs.” Well it turned out there were like twenty Saiga 12 shotguns that had been worked on and gone through their finishing process that they use there and I basically just had to reassemble about twenty Saiga shotguns. I’m not really a fan of the Saiga shotgun and I really didn’t want to have anything to do with them if that was what I was going to have to be doing at Red Jacket. I had my own dreams and goals, but Will kind of sat down and talked to me and said, “We have this TV show in the works, I need someone who is versatile that has a background in versatile gunsmithing that can come in.” I ended up as a partner in the business. I bought into the business and became a partner. I was a managing partner of the business, something that the TV show doesn’t show.

It was one of those “Hey, want to come help me out for the weekend?” and it turned out to be less than three months later we’re shooting a TV show full-time. We were still broke as hell until it actually came out six months later. I was there for the very humble Red Jacket that was before TV. Every day that I look at my shop now I think this isn’t as nice as what you see on TV with Red Jacket but it’s nicer than what we had at Red Jacket before we had TV. I’m very grateful for that.

I did my time at Red Jacket to help them with what they needed out of me for those first two or three seasons, and did my part to help them get in the direction they needed to go, but at a certain point in time it was just my time to move on and do my own thing and kind of restart where I had been in 2010 and I don’t think it was really a surprise to Will when it happened.

I talked to him about it after the fact and he knew that I was trying to start my own thing when he called me. Basically, the Red Jacket thing was just kind of a distraction for a couple of years. And one of the motivating factors that he had to offer me and that I went for is it gave me TV exposure to get my name out there, not just regionally like it was, but nationally and internationally. So that was pretty much the big factors in putting my dream aside to help somebody else’s was the fact that in the end it would benefit me and my family as well.

SAR: When did you actually open up a shop here?

Vince: Mesa Kinetic Research, Jake Guidry and I founded it in November, 2011. We moved in January of 2012 to our old shop up over on Greenwell Springs Road. It was about an 1,800 square foot warehouse that came with a compressor, lathe and mill. We were only paying about $500 a month. To get that we had to pay cash up front, so it was like $6,000 cash and you never have to worry about me paying rent for a year. It wasn’t a storefront, but an office area and a machine shop and warehouse that we did work in.

It was more of just a starter place to get our FFL, a place to do our firearms business out of. I did a lot of traveling that year working on research and development with other companies. We did a lot of stuff with Greg Carlson. He was actually our first customer. We did stuff with Mag Tactical Systems with their suppressor systems and their Mag Alloy billet lowers. We did a lot of traveling, had a lot of meetings, and had a lot of range time with other companies that came into town.

We turned out a few custom rifles that year but when we formed the company it was more of we wanted to get out of the production rifle thing and we basically wanted to use Jake’s engineering background and my gunsmithing background and both of our networking skills in order to help other companies with their projects.

SAR: More consulting role?

Vince: Consulting role, if you will – hands on consulting role. I think of consulting as just talking, but a trouble shooting and consulting role. We did a lot of business consulting. Maybe it wasn’t even that the business consulting wasn’t something we even got paid for, but we had a lot of people come to us and just say, “Hey, we’re trying to break out, how do we break out?”

And it’s not something that I want credit for, but it’s more of free advice. I’ve seen a lot of these companies go from nobody to the talk of SHOT Show. I have no problem being the behind the scenes unsung hero. I got paid for it, and I’ve had my moment in the sun on Sons of Guns, and I continue to have it via the internet and reviews that people write about some of my custom stuff. So I fully enjoy just being the behind the scenes consultant for some of these other companies.

SAR: Does the name of your company have any particular meaning?

Vince: I’ll only tell you this story because you’re Small Arms Review. I knew I wanted to have something with Kinetic Research, kinetic obviously being the energy transferred by a bullet or projectile or explosive, and I wanted the kinetic research. I couldn’t think of what I wanted in front of Kinetic. I’ve been playing guitar since I was eight years old, so 26-27 years, and about 10 years ago I was playing guitar in a band that we went on tour every summer because that was the slow time for gunsmithing.

We would tour all the way up to New York and Massachusetts and everything. I played a lot of different kinds of amplifiers but I settled on a Mesa Boogie Single Rectifier because I really liked it. It comes with this really long booklet about the entire history of the company, and the dude who started Mesa Boogie and how he got the name. Carlos Santana was the guy that gave him the term “boogie” by saying, “Man, this thing really boogies.”

Well when he was buying vacuum tubes out in California in the late 60s, early 70s, he went to an industrial supply warehouse and needed to buy bulk amounts of vacuum tubes. And when they were filling out his work order to pull it out from the warehouse they said, “What’s the name of your company?” But he didn’t have a company name and he was afraid that they wouldn’t sell to him if he didn’t have a company, so he said “Mesa Engineering” – that just came off the top of his head.

So I was actually sitting in my truck outside of Red Jacket waiting to film some interviews for Sons of Guns and trying to come up with the LLC paperwork, and I remembered that moment and I was like Mesa Kinetic Research sounds cool. And it’s kind of an homage to another guy who came up with it on the spur of the moment and it became an iconic name.

Months later when I was printing up some business cards that I was taking to SHOT Show, I put Mission Expedience Small Arms underneath, and then I realized that Mission Expedience Small Arms spells Mesa. So yeah, a convenient story. My mom had a cool take on it that Mesa meaning “table” in Spanish, but a tabletop mountain out west is like an ideal fortress standpoint; it’s got walls that are hard to scale yet it sits on a level platform and sits about everything else. So that was my mom’s interpretation and not mine.

Honestly, now when I hear the word “Mesa,” now it just automatically relates to our company and it just kind of became something that now attaches to us. So I would definitely like to thank the gentleman who started Mesa Boogie Amplification, not just for making a superior guitar amplifier but also for letting me use the same off-the-cuff company naming as he did back in the 70s.

SAR: In your new company now, what would you say is your primary business?

Vince: Basically what happened is when this last season of Sons of Guns came out back in April, we went from doing a lot more consulting work to a lot more custom rifle builds. I posted a few of the AK kit builds that I had done for myself online, pictures of this is the way an AK should look, and we just had an overwhelming response of AK builds.

I probably do ten full AK builds myself a week. I mean you can see that in the next few days I’ve got – polish AKM kit, polish AKMS kit, M92 and that’s just what I have to get done in the next couple days. So that will probably be going through Cerakote Monday and then reassembled Tuesday. We do a ton of that. I do a fair amount myself but I’m doing TV again now, so that does take up some time. I’ve been working with some different training companies on augmenting some of their methods.

I still do a fair amount of consulting work, but it just generally doesn’t get done during business hours; it either gets done on the road, or from the telephone, or computer afterhours. If you ask my wife, I pretty much work from about 8:30 every morning until 10:30/11:00 at night in one facet or another. I’m only here about 8-10 hours a day, but I’m on the computer and making phone calls in-between playing with my kids the rest of the evening. And Sunday afternoon is pretty much the only time that anyone can say “Hey, I need you for a minute”.

SAR: Where do you stand on the direct gas versus piston versions of the AR’s? What is your thought of what the best systems are?

Vince: Piston AR is an answer to a question that nobody within their right mind ever asked. Now, I’m all for piston driven firearms and there’s contenders out there for replacement of the U.S. service rifle like the FN scar. And then I also liked the Magpul Masada, but I know one of the engineers that designed the Masada and I know where the corners got cut, and the corners got cut by the company that produced it, not by the engineers. So once it became the ACR, I think it’s an inferior rifle than the Masada was but those are cool platforms.

The Swiss 550, SIG 556 that was cool, but the geometry of the M16, AR-15 is completely wrong for any kind of piston. It is set up space wise to take a direct impingement gas tube. And I have yet to see what the disadvantage is of direct gas if you use proper components and you maintain your weapon to some extent. In that bag right there I’ve got a Smith & Wesson M&P that I did into a post-sample machine gun, chambered in 5.45x39 that I shoot with a suppressor on it, and it’s full-auto. I shoot it with corrosive Bulgarian ammo, and I use Rand CLP as my lubricant and for cleaning it. And after about 800 rounds it gets pretty filthy but it still runs, man, and that’s with the suppressor on a 12 inch barrel blowing everything back with corrosive ammo. Those are factors that your average AR-15 user never has to worry about. I think the piston system is a marketing thing, and that’s all it is. It’s another bolt-on inferior gun accessory.

Nobody runs vertical grips or big fat quad rails anymore, and the piston was the next trend after that, and now everybody is running DI’s with Troy or Midwest slim line modular forehands with an actual arm out thumb forward shooting stance. And the industry adapts and there are those that sell gimmicks and those that use what really works, and we like to be one of the companies that – even if we make less money because we don’t sell a gimmick, I’d rather promote somebody else’s product that works over a marketing gimmick that’s not gonna work.

SAR: Where do you see the future of Mesa Kinetic?

Vince: Hopefully in the next few years I’d like to see us in a bigger shop. I do love that we have a small retail shop at this location. It’s particularly cool because there’s not a whole lot of that right in this area here. Also, we’re the only full tactical based shop in the greater Baton Rouge area. We’re not a police supply store. We’re not a standard gun store. You don’t come here to buy a turkey call. But if you need mag pouches – if you need anything actually quality and tactical, we either have it or we’ll get it for you. Khyber Pass Tactical is our retail store in the front of the building.

And while I look forward moving to a larger more modern facility, I want to keep the retail store on site because I think it’s a really neat dynamic to have that. It would be nice to have a place that has more office space and is more modern. The problem is that we sit on the major highway, directly on the major highway that runs from New Orleans to Baton Rouge. I’ve got probably the best road frontage that I could possibly ask for the retail end of things; and also a very easy place to find for customers that need to come by and find it for any of our other services.

So I don’t want to be stuck back in an industrial neighborhood, I don’t want to be stuck back in an office complex, so right now it’s growing the business through networking and travel and producing a quality product. I don’t want to get too big too quickly. I have goals to move to a bigger facility where we can do more, but right now I think the best thing is to dig in and adapt to the facility that we have, the area that we’re in.

And I just feel really blessed that in this economy that we’re in a state that’s very pro second amendment, that is very pro-gun and that we are welcome by the government and by the state to be here. We do have our dreams for the future, but you can’t just dream about the future, you’ve got to enjoy today. Today is a gift. That’s why it’s called the “present.”

SAR: One thing I noticed from the show is you’re definitely a family man. I was wondering if you could tell us about your family? How many kids do you have?

Vince: My wife Brittany and I have four kids; two of them are step kids of mine – her biological children. Their father had passed away. Then we have two children together. Charlotte is almost three and Amelia is about a year and a half. Brittany’s a full-time mom. And people say, “Oh, your wife doesn’t have a job?” I’ve done my wife’s job a couple times and I don’t know – and at the same time she doesn’t know how I do what I do and keep on track. You know like I have to make sure that I have retail inventory; that I’ve got gun shows that we travel and do; I’ve got freaking appointments out of state that I’ve got to be at; I’ve got customers’ guns to finish here; and then I make time for folks like you that come by; and then I’ve got a TV show to shoot on top of it. So I think both of us are pretty confused by it. But we’ve got the roles worked out really well. I’ve had people be like, “Don’t you want to help your wife get the diaper bag together?” And I look at them and say, “Dude, that is not my department.” My department is making stuff going bang and making it work right, and running a business. I can change a diaper, but I don’t know what she wants in the diaper bag, just as she’s not going to pack my range bag, or my briefcase to roll out to SHOT Show. She’ll make sure my clothes are clean, and say, “Honey, make sure you bring extra business cards,” but that’s about as far as – you know we’ve got a really good dynamic. I don’t know if you’d call us a normal family...

SAR: I don’t know if there’s a definition of a normal family.

Vince: I mean old school family. I guess we’re covered in tattoos so people don’t really think that. We’re just a normal redneck family. We like riding four wheelers and shooting guns, and watching things go fast, and watching things go bang.

SAR: Is there anything else you want people to know about you?

Vince: I know the article is not about a TV show but it’s kind of hard to write an article about any of us without mentioning a TV show. As you mentioned when you were over at Red Jacket, Red Jacket had nice things to say about me, and I’ve got plenty of nice things to say about Red Jacket. There’s a reason those things don’t get said on TV, and it’s because nobody wants to watch Vince and Will talk nice about each other on TV.

There’s a TV format that sells and I think Will and I are very good at playing into what will keep people watching the show. But I mean in real life, we run into each other at functions, run into them at SHOT Show, run into them at NRA banquets. And I think there’s definitely a lot of competition still between Red Jacket and myself of who can do this first or who can do that first. But in the end, we both got our companies to run and we realize that there’s plenty of money out there for everybody. Don’t let TV fool you. We’re all in the same industry.

What I don’t think gets said enough is that it doesn’t matter what Will Hayden or myself said about each other on TV, what matters is we both stand for the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms in this country, and are completely against any government infringement of the law abiding citizens right to bear arms.

SAR: Awesome. Thank you for taking the time to speak with us. We appreciate the opportunity.

This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on November 22, 2013


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