There are lots of “heritage” stories in the firearms business, and Aaron Hayes—of Hayes Custom Guns and the Team Benelli 3-Gun squad—has a particularly good one. Getting it out of him, however, takes a little effort: “I just never liked the idea of trying to trade on Granddad’s reputation.” Hard not to like that in this age of (shameless) self-promotion. Why it would matter, on the other hand, is because that grandfather is 1911 bulls-eye icon Jim Clark Sr.
“It was really terrific to work with him, and of course I learned a tremendous amount,” Hayes said. “Ben (Aaron’s brother) worked at Clark’s for 10 years, and I for about six. I was away from shooting for awhile, but when I got back to it, Ben and I decided we wanted to take those skills in a different direction.”
That direction, of course, turned out to be 3-Gun competition, where Hayes is a perennial top-finisher in the fast-growing pistol/rifle/shotgun discipline. Between matches, he and Ben turn out dozens of beautifully tuned speed demons a year, most of which go to top competitive shooters.
“We don’t have that much of what you’d call ‘automation,’ as our customers usually have very specific functional characteristics they’re after,” he said. “All of our work is done by hand to achieve the truly match-grade performance they expect.”
Hayes’ Benelli team members—no surprise—use Hayes Custom pistols in competition, “but that’s sort of a chicken-or-egg story. We were interested in sponsoring a top team, and they were looking for a pistol sponsor. A happy coincidence, though (team captain) Dianna Muller’s vetting process was fairly rigorous. I (luckily!) acquired decent ‘essay question’ skills in college: It worked out well in the end.”
Our gallery chronicles the creation of some Hayes Custom pistols, including the company’s Team Benelli guns. We know it’s cruel to show them. But if you think you want one desperately, imagine how we feel.
This pistol, built to Team Benelli shooter Jacob Betsworth’s exacting specifications and unique ergonomic requirements, is now complete and ready for test-firing and final quality checks. The entire pistol will then receive a matte black nitride finish.
Smaller Team Benelli shooter Heather Miller presents a completely different set of ergonomic challenges than “Big Diesel” Betsworth. The beauty of a hand-built, match-grade firearm is the amount of tailoring and custom-fitting that can be done to ensure maximum performance from both pistol and shooter.
The Hayes shop floor is a hotbed of innovation, and new ideas often result in a one-off pistol where those ideas are tested. This gun, which features a stainless steel grip and a full-length frame, weighs in at nearly 4 pounds (with a full 23-round mag). It will serve as an experimentation platform to see how varying spring rates and ammo specs affect felt recoil and overall balance.