Red Oktober is an AK shooting competition surrounded by a cultural festival. It is Burning Man with guns. Remarkably apolitical, Red Oktober welcomes all who cherish freedom and history. Since 2016, attendees from around the world celebrate civil rights, Russian engineering, and AK culture. There are vendors, sponsors, cosplayers, machineguns, tanks, giveaways, food trucks, AKs, and loads of open-minded new friends.
By noon Saturday, I went to a costume party, ate a burrito, bought a parts kit, sat in a tank, fired seven machineguns, shot in a rifle match, and saw what’s new with the US AK manufacturers. It was a great weekend at the happiest place on Earth. If you like the AK or anything related to it, you are going to love Red Oktober.
The primary sponsor, Rifle Dynamics, pulled out all the stops. They organized the range, recruited sponsors for giveaways, imported tanks, and wrangled food trucks. Red Oktober 2021 was held at Pro Gun Vegas in Boulder City, Nevada, (a 20-minute drive from the Las Vegas Strip making it ideal for a mini-vacation). Planning for next year is ongoing, make your reservations early. You have time to get a gun and train up for Oktober 2022!
Like a Rorschach test, your reaction to an AK style rifle reveals a lot about your personality. Some people see a murder weapon. Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov was a tractor mechanic who designed a simple tool for farm boys to protect their families and villages from invading Nazis. The AK was designed to kill monsters, not arm them.
The name is deceptive, Red Oktober is a playful allusion to the October Revolution of 1917 which overthrew Czar and brought the blessings of communism to Russia. The theme is AK centered but open to all things related to the defense of Rodina (Russian: родина: the Motherland) and communist block weapons technology.
Starting as a rifle match in 2016 in Saint George, Utah, Red Okober appeals on a number of levels. Some people want to shoot historical weapons and dress in period uniforms. Others want to dress in apocalyptic cosplay or fantastic anime themes. Many attend as spectators to see the carnival.
As a Green Beret, I understand the AK as a symbol of anti-imperialism. I have seen the AK and related communist block weapons on the battlefield. As a student of technology, I am amazed by the clever use of design to optimize simplicity and ruggedness. As a trainer, I see the AK as a part of a system to rapidly field conscripts to protect the Motherland. As a student of history, I see the impact of 75 million AK-47 rifles built in over 40 countries.
Red Oktober: The Match
In the center ring of this circus is a rifle match like no other. Brian Nelson was the first match director and continues to serve as Red Oktober Commandant to his day. The event attracts collectors, shooters, and builders from around the world.
The match has rules, but the open architecture allows shooters to compete in their own categories with AK rifles, bolt action rifles, stripper clip feed rifles, pistol caliber carbines, and submachine guns. Safety is paramount and all legal communist block derived weapons are welcomed.
Match stages are IPSC style challenges requiring marksmanship, athletic prowess and a skilled weapons handling. In 2021 there were eight stages requiring movement, 100 yard steel targets, head shots, barricade shooting, target discrimination, grenade launchers and reloads. Machineguns and suppressors are welcome. Safety is constantly enforced by stage Range Safety Officers. While Red Oktober is all about fun, there is no sense of humor about safety violations.
Arms Control experts claim that there are about 500 million firearms worldwide. 75 million of these guns are AK-47s. This cements the AK-47’s position as the most popular weapon since the sharp stick. Rooted in WW2, it blossomed during the insurgencies of the cold war and spread to conflicts in every corner of the world.
Among gun people, AK fans are known for their commitment. As homemade guns have become popular, many builders are attracted to semi-automatic AK designs. While simple in concept, the sheet metal and rivet technology requires artful construction. This forbidding path attracts a special kind of enthusiast. AK people are passionate about reliability and fiercely loyal to their gun.
Sponsors and Vendors
Red Oktober is an amazing collection of unique individuals and organizations coming together to celebrate freedom and fun. I have been to three Red Oktober’s and I will be back in 2022 with better gear. If you shoot, collect uniforms, like tanks, or just enjoy hearing machineguns, make plans to come out to Vegas next Oktober.
Photos courtesy of Mark Miller.