Mikhail KalashnikovThere is a game that’s fun to play with your friends. It is simply to pick a historical figure that you would like to spend some time hanging out with. Most quickly pick Jesus, but he is eliminated for a bunch of reasons. First, he’s too obvious. Second, there is no mystery. He will simply do a couple of water tricks; you know, walking on it and turning it into merlot. Then he will raise a dead man back to life and unless you are a total fool you will become a true believer. You wind up at the airport handing out flyers and Jesus is back hanging with the apostles. Much too predictable, makes the game boring.

Hitler is another popular choice. Everybody wants to go back and kill him so they can save the world all that trouble. Again, not fair; in this game you can’t change history. The point is to find out who you want to hang with, not how you can change history or the course of your own life.

Personally, I can think of several people. Teddy Roosevelt might be fun. The man did a lot of remarkable things in his life. But as a writer, a hunter, and an adventurer with a thirst for life (and other things) I think Hemingway would be an interesting buddy. He wasn’t afraid to grab life by the shirt and shake what he wanted out of it, and he had the talent to put the results into words that got your attention.

But then, as a gun guy I have to look at the men who left their mark in the industry. Sam Colt and John Browning are two that come to mind. They were not only geniuses in the designs they came up with, but also in the timing of those designs. A couple of decades one way or the other and those guns that are so well known today might not have caught on with the market. I would love to meet these men and to learn about how they came up with their ideas and why. The closest I have come was to sit in the room where John Browning’s body was laid for viewing at the FN plant in Belgium. I felt the same eerie connection with history then that I felt when standing on Hitler’s reviewing platform in Nuremberg or at Custer’s death site at Little Big Horn. I wondered what the men who created the destiny of these places were like.

Except it’s only a game, we can’t travel back into time no matter how much we would like to. Until we get that one figured out we are stuck with our little game of sitting at the bar and discussing what men we want to meet and why it would be important to us, if not to them.

But what of those who will be on the list in the future? The men our children might pick when they inevitably play this same game sometime in the future? (Of course I suspect that with the way it’s going the “do-gooders” will have prevailed and they will be discussing the prospect over a tofu, wheat-grass blended nature drink rather than good bourbon. Somehow I doubt it will be the same.) What men will they be discussing and if those men are alive today, would it be interesting for us to meet them now?

Well, from a gun guy’s perspective there is at least one living legend who had the ability and insight to create a rifle design that not only was genius in its simplicity, but one that has unquestionably left an impact on the world. With all politics aside it would be an honor to meet that man and discuss the merits of gun design.

2Well, I did that.

It was my pleasure to have spent an afternoon some years ago with General Mikhail Kalashnikov, the creator of the AK 47 rifle.

3“I owe it all to the Germans,” he told me through our interpreter. We were in the kitchen of his dacha located on a lake outside of Izhevsk, Russia. Other than for the language difference, I could have been sitting in any kitchen anywhere in the world. His wife and daughter were serving us tea and cake while he slipped out a bottle of cognac because he didn’t think the women had the drink part quite right. His young granddaughter skipped around the room between bites of cake and the General continued his story like he had never been asked to tell it before. That display of family and humility is universal with good people throughout the world.

“I had grown up on a remote farm and I was a tank commander in WW II when I got wounded. As soon as I was able to walk they transferred me to another hospital deeper into Russia and away from the front. During my long recovery I heard again and again from the other wounded Russian soldiers how the Germans were kicking our butts because they had automatic rifles and we did not. I had an idea for a gun that could change all that and while I was recovering from my injuries I started making drawings. Later, I created my first machine pistol, which has since been lost. The second pistol, though, is now in a museum in St. Petersburg. From that, the AK 47 rifle evolved. Because I was a simple tank driver, the military committee didn’t want to even consider the design, but with persistence and help from some powerful friends they finally relented and decided to take a look. The design spoke for itself from then on and they couldn’t ignore it and it was adopted as the new Russian military rifle.”

I have several military friends, guys from multiple generations and multiple wars who have said the same thing about the rifle.

“The AK 47 has a very distinctive sound that I hate because I usually heard it when somebody was shooting at me. However, as a solider and a shooter I have to admire the design of the rifle and the man who created it.”

That kind of respect is usually well earned.

I asked the question that I am sure he was sick of answering, “do you have any regrets.”

“I designed this gun to help my country. It’s a tool, that’s all. I designed the gun, the politicians start the wars. I designed it to help protect and save my country and I do not have any regrets.”

4After we finished our drink he sent his granddaughter to get a book he had written, which he signed and gave to me. Then we went outside and took some photos. At five feet, eight inches it’s rare when you see me towering over any man in a photograph. Mikhail Kalashnikov might have been small in stature, but when he passed away on December 23, 2013 he left a huge footprint behind.