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The Late Bob Hayley

Bob Hayley brought a scientist's training and curiosity along with the skills of an accomplished machinist to his ammunition making.

The Late Bob Hayley

The late Bob Hayley (shown here in his workshop in 2008) was a one-of-a-kind master of the shooting arts. 

To whom it may concern: In October 2020, Bob Hayley died of cancer, and his business died with him. He requested there be no funeral, no graveside service, no mourners, and no obituaries. In accordance with those wishes, this is a simple announcement that Hayley’s Custom Ammunition is no longer in business.

Bob’s death is a serious blow to anyone who likes to shoot old guns because for years Hayley’s Custom Ammunition was the only source of ammunition, brass, bullets, and the general wherewithal to keep old guns, of all descriptions, shooting rather than merely hanging on the wall.

When I first met Bob in 2008, he described his products as “the weird, the wacky, the wonderful,” and that was no exaggeration. He prided himself on being able to get any gun shooting again, no matter how old, no matter how arcane. This included pinfire cartridges for everything from French gallery pistols to side-by-side shotguns; rimfire cartridges to fit American guns from the 1860s; paper cartridges for rifles from the Civil War. From his collection of more than 500 molds, Bob could cast bullets to fit all kinds of obsolete firearms, from belted balls to Brunswick rifles to soft lead .44 Special “man-stoppers.”

As for brass, well, there was almost no cartridge case he could not fashion from an existing one, by trimming, rotary swaging, and sizing. Some cartridges were vastly more complicated, others not so much. One particularly odd example is the front-insert cartridge required by the Colt Thuer conversion. He made .44 Thuer brass by rotary swaging .45 Auto brass, trimming the base to .38 Super dimensions, forcing it upside down into a .303 British die, then trimming to length. He then cast heel-type bullets to fit.

No one else in this country, which probably means no one else in world, did what Bob did. He was unique. A couple of people professed to custom-load obsolete ammunition, but when they were questioned, they confessed that they acquired the brass and bullets from Bob.

Hayley’s Custom Ammunition was in business for about 40 years, during which time Bob acquired a vast library of technical information, including such valuable sources as the original Kynoch drawings and specifications for the range of English blackpowder cartridges from the 1880s onwards. There were shelves of reference books, old and new, some of which I’d never heard of.

Bob had no website, no email account, no internet access, and no cell phone. Communication was landline or mail, but he was diligent about answering both. When I called him with a question about a rifle or cartridge, he either had the answer on the tip of his tongue or got back to me with it, in an hour or so, after consulting his library. Never once did I draw a blank.

Bob Hayley was a well-educated and widely read man, with a degree in geology; he was also an ordained Presbyterian minister who presided over various churches in West Texas, almost to the last. As a result, he brought a scientist’s training and curiosity to his ammunition making. He was also a skilled machinist who could make almost any tool he didn’t have or couldn’t find.

All of these factors combined made it almost impossible for someone else to take over the business intact. There was simply no way it could survive.

At various times since Bob’s death, I have heard the glib words, “Oh, don’t worry, someone will come along. They always do.” But that’s pretty unlikely. Assuming the contents of Bob’s shop has been, as I fear, divided into boxed lots of “junk” with a number hung on each, then auctioned off the back of a pickup (my confidence in the executor is minimal, to say the least) much of the material in the shop that will now go for scrap consists of valuable historical artifacts. As with many of the original bullet molds, that aren’t made any more. One could not simply start reassembling the necessary equipment to take up where Bob left off.

On the bright side, it is now easier to get a wide variety of brass than ever before, and Bob Hayley provided the bridge between the have-not days and the modern world of CNC miracles. Shooters being what we are, we will always figure some way to go shooting. I can almost hear Bob’s voice saying, “Surely you know enough by this time….”

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