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Misadventures at Red Oktober 2021, Part 2: Baklava and Brendan

At Red Oktober, the AK shooting match and celebration of all things AK, Handguns Editor James Tarr busts out his Hawaiian shirt and AK Sporter from Pioneer Arms with matching floral pattern by Blackout Customs of Florida.

Misadventures at Red Oktober 2021, Part 2: Baklava and Brendan

James Tarr competed at the 2021 Red Oktober Championship using a Pioneer Arms AK Sporter he learned from a Spetsnaz veteran was painted reminiscent of a traditional Russian folk art style, khokhloma (hok-lo-ma), so Tarr immediately dubbed the rifle “Baklava”.

This is Part 2 in a series about James Tarr’s misadventures at Red Oktober. You can read Part 1 here.

Everything you are about to read is true and actually happened.

This year’s Red Oktober match was held at the Pro Gun Club in Boulder City, about twenty miles outside Las Vegas. The match was eight stages and roughly 300 rounds. However, one stage had a spinner at 50+ yards you had to rotate fully (requiring multiple hits) and another stage had multiple plates at 100 yards shot from an awkward position, so assume people used at least 10% more than the required number of minimum rounds.

My gear was relatively simple—AK Sporter from Pioneer Arms in 7.63x39mm, with a Trijicon SRO mounted on a rail, and half a dozen polymer magazines. A chest rig from UW Gear. And, of course, a festive Hawaiian shirt. I was equipped to look good and have fun, not necessarily for speed.

Blackout Customs in Florida did a very nice floral pattern on my rifle to match my Hawaiian shirts. Upon arrival at the match I discovered Mark Vorobiev was there as well, with his adult son Brendan. Mark has written for Firearms News in the past, in addition to authoring two books on AKs, and I’ve known him for about fifteen years. Back in the 1980s he spent a year fighting in Afghanistan as a Soviet Spetsnaz (Special Forces) trooper. Now he is an American citizen and an ardent capitalist, living in Ann Arbor surrounded by rabid American communists.

Misadventures at Red Oktober 2021, Part 2: Baklava and Brendan
On stage 1 shooters used an authentic M79 grenade launcher, firing 12-gauge buckshot through an adapter. The pellet spread was so hugely wide, hitting a mini-Popper at 10 yards was difficult.

Mark took one look at my rifle and said, “How do you know about khokhloma?”

I said, “I love baklava.” 

Mark: “No, khokhloma, khokhloma.” (Pronounced hock-lo-ma). “It’s a traditional Russian style of wood painting, flowers and leaves, that uses those same colors. Green and orange and red, on a black background.” And he showed me photos. It looked just like my rifle.

Once I learned that, how could I not name my rifle Baklava?

The Red Oktober match required solid shooting skills, but also a level of physical effort.

Stage One required shooters to first fire a 12 gauge buckshot round through an authentic M79 40mm grenade launcher (using an adapter) and then crawl through a series of low wood tunnels, shooting targets to either side while in the tunnels, and popping up between the tunnels like a gopher to engage a plate at the end of the range. I sliced the heck out of my trigger finger while crawling (I suspect on the mouth of a steel case) and spent the rest of the match with it bandaged. Mark Vorobiev said to me, “My sergeant always told us if you’re not bleeding from your hands you’re not fighting.”

Misadventures at Red Oktober 2021, Part 2: Baklava and Brendan
Here a female shooter goes prone on stage 2, her muzzle brake throwing up sand as she tries to hit steel—fast and repeatedly—at 50 yards.

Stage Two required shooters to engage several steel targets through various ports in a barricade. One of the ports required you to go prone, but that wasn’t the tough part. The tough part was the two ports high on either side which were only two inches tall, and they required you turn your AK nearly sideways to see/use your sights. FYI this changes your point of impact, especially if you’re using a red dot that’s higher off your bore. If you tilt your rifle to the left, aim at 4 o’clock just off the target.


Stage Three required a speed reload as you shot a very close target, then quickly running between widely spaced banks of targets. 

Stage Four was a simulated house-clearing, and you had nearly two dozen targets wearing simulated body armor—you could either hit the body armor four times each, or go for a single headshot (which is what most people did). And a lot of people forgot about bore offset—at CQB distances, especially if you’re using a red dot, you need to aim at the top of the head, or your bullet will end up in the body armor.

Stage Five featured a lot of targets very close up, but they threw in something to challenge people. Competitors had to shoot the stage carrying an “egg” in their weak hand—in this case the egg was a mini clay pigeon with the center punched out of it. Most shooters stuck their pinkies through the hole. If you busted it while doing a reload or shooting, it added thirty seconds to your time.

Misadventures at Red Oktober 2021, Part 2: Baklava and Brendan
After you started stage 1 by firing an M79, shooters had to low crawl through several tunnels, engaging targets to either side and popping up between tunnels to engage steel at the end of the range. If you didn’t finish dusty and bleeding, you weren’t trying.

Stage Six had competitors start by climbing onto a swinging bridge, from which they had to repeatedly engage several distant steel silhouettes. From there you charged into a CQB situation, shooting various targets around corners and through windows.

Stage Seven required you to start on a platform at the back of the range, engage a steel target, then run forward into a simulated house and shoot a number of headshots, some at distance, avoiding hostage targets. At the end you dumped out your magazine, fired the round in your chamber at a distant clay pigeon (to ensure your gun was unloaded). Then you grabbed a steel silhouette nicknamed Lieutenant Dan (cuz he ain’t got no legs!) and carry him back to the platform, dump him, and then re-engage the same distant steel target.

Misadventures at Red Oktober 2021, Part 2: Baklava and Brendan
This competitor is running a Cerakoted AK, topped with a vintage Aimpoint, as he makes headshots on body armor-equipped targets.

Lieutenant Dan was somewhere north of sixty pounds, and I nearly blew my knee out trying to run with him in one hand, Baklava in the other. But it was at the end of this stage when I realized that the zero had shifted on my Trijicon SRO. We didn’t start on stage one, we started on four, and it wasn’t until this stage when my zero shift became obvious, and resulted in multiple misses.

I sighted the rifle/SRO in at 50 yards at my club in Michigan the week before I left, but whether it was the 2000+ bouncy miles in the back of my truck to Vegas, the elevation changes going through the Rockies (up to 11,158 feet at the Eisenhower Tunnel and back down a few thousand feet, then back up to 10,666 at Vail Pass before going down to 2,500 feet in Vegas), or both, I discovered my SRO was hitting four inches low at 25 yards. I dialed in the estimated adjustment, and the rifle stayed zeroed the rest of the match.

Stage Eight had shooters engaging multiple paper targets at close range, emptying their rifle, then running over to the next bay, loading, and engaging three steel plates at 100 yards from an awkward shooting position. I could really feel the 3000-foot elevation of the range when running.

Rule #1: cardio.

Brendan Vorobiev decided he wanted to compete, and I loaned him Baklava to shoot the match the next day. The Trijicon SRO, after my adjustment, stayed zeroed through more than half my match and all of his, which makes me think it was solely the elevation change that messed with it.

Misadventures at Red Oktober 2021, Part 2: Baklava and Brendan
The best way to shoot from the swinging bridge on stage 6 was to brace yourself against the railing as demonstrated here by Dave Kiwaka of Barnaul Ammunition.

Several times throughout the day you could hear chants of “Let’s go Brendan!” erupt. I might have started some of them.

Read Part 3: Kalashnikrazy

If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at

About the Author:

James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.

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