Times are getting tough. Budgets are short, paychecks are smaller and law enforcement work loads are bigger. If you’re like me, you invest your own money and time into your training and equipment. Most years I put myself through at least one school on my own dime. If my agency does not have the money to issue me what I feel I need in order to do my job or do it better, I buy it myself. In these tough times it’s getting harder and harder to afford these things or to travel for the training I need.
This past summer I needed a barrel made for one of my rifles. I could have bought it from one of several reputable manufacturers, but I was on a tighter budget than usual. I contacted Mike Badella, who is an owner of B&M Gunworks out of Madera, Calif. I asked Mike if he could make the barrel I needed. At the time I didn’t know it, but B&M Gunworks already had been making AR-15/M4 barrels for several large companies, and has been doing custom and mass production barrels for several years. Mike said they could make me just about anything I wanted, chrome lined or Melonite finished. The shop has come a long way from when he first started to do work for me more than 10 years ago. The best part is that B&M could build a custom barrel to my specifications at a lower price than ordering a comparable product off the shelf.
That first conversation with Mike sparked an idea: What else is in my backyard? I started by contacting some guys in the business and asked them who else is in our area. The list began to grow and was diverse in both products and services. I ended up having to limit it to only companies in Madera County. If I expanded the list to include neighboring counties, the list would have become too big and the point of this article would have been lost.
I stopped by B&M Gunworks to work out the details of my barrel. While there, I was given a full tour of the shop. They had just finished applying a Cerakote camouflage finish on a customer’s Barrett M99 and matching M98B long range rifles. Both guns looked beautiful with matching finishes. B&M left areas of the controls for the scopes black so that they were easily seen to make adjustments. The detail of the camouflage finish was impressive. The bolt, bipod, scope covers and muzzle brakes were painted in a pattern that blended with each component.
When I was asked to pick out a barrel, a large industrial drawer was opened to show stacks of barrel blanks to chose from, both standard and stainless steel. Once I chose my barrel and Mike had all the details of what I wanted, he took my barrel over to the lathe and started working. In no time he had my barrel profiled exactly the way I wanted.
He then installed the undrilled front sight base and ensured that everything was square and correct. Once the work on the barrel was completed, it was packaged up with several other barrels and sent off to have a Melonite finish applied inside and out.
The next place I visited after B&M was Houlding Precision Firearms (HPF). Houlding Precision was once known as Houlding & Kaufman Ironworks. Todd Houlding and his wife are now the sole owners and are producing some outstanding CNC machined billet AR-15 type rifles. Talking with Todd I learned they are now offering even more versions of their fine line of rifles, including barrel twist rates they had never offered before, and new versions of their upper and lower receivers. HPF has continued to upgrade its products and manufacturing abilities. By combining the capabilities of B&M Gunworks and HPF, I can have an AR-15 type rifle in just about any configuration I want, and in nearly any color or camouflage I may need, by simply driving 20 minutes from my home.
Continuing on my search I found Rohme Desbien. Rohme is the owner of Desbiens Gun Leather (DGL). I made an appointment and stopped by Rohme’s one-man-shop for a tour.
Rohme has been in the leather business for decades and had the privilege of being mentored and befriended by some of the great American leather holster makers. Rohme’s designs come to him organically, mostly by working cops and concealed weapon permit holders who get an idea of what they need, and bring it to Rohme to work his magic.
The Badger Reload is a design local cops have been requesting for many years, as it combines a holster and spare magazine pouch into one solid continuous piece of kit. He created a weak side draw, pancake-style holster for back-up guns with an integrated pouch in front for the primary handgun’s spare magazine. This design compresses the space needed on the weak side of the body, but allows you to comfortably carry both your spare magazine and back-up handgun.
Rohme makes his holsters out of a multitude of exotic leathers. The only limit is your imagination, wallet and what is available on the market. As a working stiff, I chose my leather based on durability, not looks...but even his standard models are beautifully crafted and esthetically appealing. For the last six months I have been using a pancake-style holster and two magazine pouches Rohme made for my SIG P226R. They barely look broken-in and have served me well. The holster is easily the most comfortable concealment holster I have ever used for a full-size handgun.
What I really like on the DGL design is the small section of leather that rides between the top portion of the slide of the handgun and your body. This keeps the handgun protected from contact with your body and your body from being in contact with the handgun—a good thing for both, as sweat does not play well with the finish on your gun and your body does not like having rough steal pressed into it.
One of the magazine pouches he provided was his Covert Reverse Cant pouch. This pouch is designed to be placed between the belt buckle and the front pants pocket on the weak side. It has a very aggressive rearward cant that, when placed up front as described, allows for a very fast reload. When seated in a vehicle or fighting from the ground on your back, this pouch comes into its own and is another example of DGL’s creative ability steeped in experience.
I continued on through my county looking for something else I might need, that I could also save a lot of money on, by getting locally. A fellow range master and friend of mine suggested I train with Rudy Waldinger at Defensive Firearms Training in Coarsegold, Calif. Rudy has earned a solid reputation with law enforcement firearms instructors in the area of providing top of the line training. Rudy was asked to be the lead instructor for a gathering of law enforcement range masters from all over the area who wanted a chance to train together. Rudy led an event that was challenging and rewarding for this highly trained and knowledgeable group of students.
I contacted Rudy and asked if I could attend his next handgun class. He agreed, and a short time later I found myself with other students on the range receiving a detailed safety briefing. I learned a bit more about Rudy’s background. Rudy had served in the military in his native country, as a paid soldier in Africa, and with the U.S. State Department. Over the years he was involved in a number of shootings.
Rudy’s assistant instructor was a Vietnam veteran who had also been in many firefights. Both men have years of experience as competitive shooters. They draw on their combined combat and competition experience to develop a firearms curriculum that starts with the basics of safe gun handling, and moves the student to more advanced and dynamic defensive use of the firearm.
The class was composed of everything from brand new shooters to those with years of training. Each student was pushed to improve according to our level of competency with the task assigned, regardless of past experience. During the class I learned a lot and improved as a shooter. I have trained with some of the best, but to have an instructor of the caliber of Rudy Waldinger in my backyard allows me to fit more training into my busy schedule and tight budget.
My little California county, with a population of less than 200,000, yielded a custom gunsmith who can make just about anything I want, a high-end AR-15 manufacturer, one of the best holster makers I have ever seen, not to mention a Tier One firearms instructor who can meet the needs of the beginner to the advanced shooter.
When I started this journey I did not expect to find all of this. I thought I would have to expand to providers within a three-hour drive to make my point. Little did I know...
If this is what I found in my backyard, imagine what you may find in yours.
Dennis Haworth is a police officer with a California state law enforcement agency. He has been a law enforcement range master and armorer for more than a decade, and carries a Bachelor or Science in Criminology and specialization in human resources management. Much of his free time is spent as an advisor to the Shooting Sports Club at his local University of California campus.