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Zeroed In: Barry Dueck Interview

SureFire’s Barry Dueck on Passion, Commitment, and Making Your Own Luck

Anyone in the firearms industry knows that Barry Dueck is synonymous with SureFire’s successful line of suppressors, fielded widely in special operations since the early 2000s and selected by SOCOM in 2011. Those who shoot competitively or used to watch 3 Gun Nation on television know him as a world-class competitive shooter, having represented the U.S. in world shoots and with numerous championships under his belt. Fewer might know of his tight-knit nuclear family, with a loving wife who manages the family business (Dueck Defense, which makes firearm accessories), a suitably rambunctious son, and in-laws who live on his property, which includes a full machine shop. Some might say to him, “Wow, you’re a really lucky dude!” Dueck’s most certainly not one to boast, so he’d probably just nod and smile — and think to himself, “You can make your own luck too.”

Dueck was born in Paso Robles and grew up in idyllic Morro Bay, along the Californian coast about halfway between San Francisco and Los Angeles, where his father managed a lumber yard. His grandparents were ranchers, so his childhood was a classic American ranch life, filled with hard work and plenty of time outdoors, hunting and shooting. He always had a passion for guns, starting with a .22LR and moving on from there. He’d spend the week on the ranch with his grandfather; he was just 5 years old when he shot his first ground squirrel with a 22.

Serving in the military was a passion for Dueck, and he enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduating from high school. The recruiter did a masterful sales job and he ended up as an armorer. Dueck tried repeatedly to get into Force Recon selection but seemed to be doing such a good job as an armorer that he never got the opportunity. He finished as a Sergeant and moved into the reserves, still as an armorer, picking up Staff Sergeant and earning a slot in the Scout Sniper platoon at 2nd Battalion 23rd Marines. In the few years he was there, he went from holding a sniper billet, to platoon sergeant, to a temporary stint as platoon commander when the officer in the billet was reassigned, then back to platoon sergeant. Dueck emphasizes that he’s not a sniper as he never attended sniper school because slots for reserves were hard to get at the time.

Dueck shooting for Team U.S.A. at the 2019 IPSC Rifle World Shoot in Sweden.

Dueck credits the Marine Corps for eliminating the word “can’t” from his vocabulary, but it really just solidified his natural tendencies for going all-in. He leaned hard into his passion for guns and shooting, competing on the Marine Corps Reserve shooting teams, learning and teaching shooting and tactics, and doing custom gunsmithing. Given the choice between paying for an apartment or a machine shop, he opted for the latter and moved into his shop, sleeping on a cot. Dueck was also deeply interested in suppressors and spent a lot of time doing R&D and testing.

However, Dueck never forgot about missing out on his opportunity to serve at the pointy end of the spear. So he also began pursuing re-enlisting, targeting Army Special Forces. Even as he was doing military sales for SureFire, he trained for over a year to get in top shape, in hopes of landing a slot in Special Forces Assessment and Selection. His resolve steeled by the events of Sept. 11, at the tender age of 35, he finally got his chance and graduated SFAS. He was in the pipeline for the next round, the Q course, but at the same time he had begun standing up a new suppressor division at SureFire based on his designs. He finally came to a critical juncture, where he had to make the choice between pursuing his dreams of reenlisting as a warfighter or building suppressors with SureFire. Ultimately, he became convinced that he could make a greater overall positive impact for all American warfighters by getting better suppressors into their hands than by being a single one of them himself. The rest, as they say, is history.

Everyone we spoke to about Dueck cites his tenacity, commitment, passion, and humility. Indeed, it shows. In person, his voice is pretty loud — no doubt thanks in part to the countless rounds he’s sent downrange over his lifetime — but his commanding presence is underscored by his quiet confidence. And that makes perfect sense for a man who makes some of the best suppressors on the market.

At Camp LeJeune in 1990, Dueck met the legendary Carlos Hathcock at the Marine Corps matches at Stone Bay rifle range.

RECOIL: Why did you enlist and how did the Marine Corps shape you?

Barry Dueck: I was always into military stuff since being a kid. Plus, wanting to get out of a small town and see the world. I considered college but wanted to join. I needed to grow up more, and the Marine Corps was a great place to grow up; it teaches you to do things right, work hard, get up early, show up 15 minutes early or you’re late. Growing up in a ranching family, you get up early in the morning and work until it’s done. My values became sharpened, more hard core; the Marine Corps left a lasting impression in a positive way.

I wanted infantry, but the recruiter sold me on the infantry weapons repair job. He told me, “You do everything infantry does, but you also work with guns!” Turns out you don’t get to do what the infantryman does, but you do work with guns a whole lot more. At the Amphibian Vehicle Test Branch, we had one of everything in the Marine Corps. But it closed a few career paths for me.

Dueck at home with his wife, Michelle, and son, Ryder.

When did you try to re-enlist after getting out of the Marine Corps Reserve?

BD: Before Sept. 11, I was out teaching a class for 5th Group. We were working low-light and CQB, and I realized there were staff NCOs. I was like, you still get to operate? They said, yeah, you operate all the way through E-9! In the Marine Corps, once you get into management you don’t get to do much fun stuff. So I started looking into the SF side. Then Sept. 11 happened, and I said screw it, I need to get back in.

I was doing military sales for SureFire at that time and finally tracked down a recruiter for 20th Special Forces Group in Mississippi. He gave a song and dance about no openings. So I called him every day, five days a week, asking if there was a slot, always being upbeat. There was no X-Ray program then, so I was trying to go reserves in order to go active. I was paying two trainers to thrash me every day, doing ruck marches during lunch. Eventually, the recruiter had me come out to Mississippi for a reserve weekend. We did terrain models, fitness tests, land nav, ruck marches. I’d been prepping for over a year by then, and I finally got a slot for Special Forces Assessment and Selection a few months later. 

Dueck at work holding his other children.

I’d trained hard; I wondered how hard it’d be. Well, it was my worst-case scenario. Never once did I think I was gonna quit; never once did I think I was guaranteed to make it. There were 19-year-old Army Ranger kids, and I was 35 years old. I think we started with 434 and graduated with 134. I thought I didn’t make it and thought, damn, I gotta do this all again. The thought of not coming back or moving forward never occurred to me. I just thought damn, I gotta repeat this, that sucks. But I made it, got through SFAS — the best weight loss plan ever. I had near zero body fat. Then, I was in the pipeline for the Q course next, but slots were backed up.

How did you start up SureFire’s suppressor division? 

BD: Doing so much CQB training, MP5s were going out, 5.56 carbines were coming in. Wow, short-barrel rifles in CQB were really loud, so I started researching suppressors. I found a guy who seemed to know more about them than others and started working for him. Did R&D and testing and sales demos for about seven years — as it turned out for free. I was fascinated by it; never got paid. It wasn’t money motivated; it was follow your passions, and I was off to SFAS anyway. He was going to sell the business to SureFire, but when I got back from SFAS it had fallen apart.

I didn’t want to get in and have to carry an inferior suppressor. I started thinking about it and told John Matthews [the founder and owner of SureFire, see RECOIL Issue 35] that I could come up with my own new suppressor design for the SOCOM contract. Working 20-hour days, we designed it and built 10 samples in 90 days. Shipped them off to Crane, and two weeks later we were notified they were five minutes late. The box came back unopened. We decided not to protest so it wouldn’t keep the operator from getting a better suppressor.

My Q course slot came up, and I postponed it another six months. I was setting up production at SureFire, and it would have failed if I left. I kept extending my slot, but I thought about it … I could go in and be one operator, or I can make better suppressors for all the people who need it. It was one of those pivotal moments where I don’t think I’d have regretted it either way. And I had a staff and wanted to continue what I started at SureFire. It took another nine or 10 years, but we finally won the SOCOM contract. And before that we won Det 1, the Marine Corps sniper rifle contract, and other contracts.

Dueck installing a SureFire SOCOM adapter in one of SureFire’s R&D vaults.

What’s your philosophy for suppressor design?

BD: There was a quality void in the market. John [Matthews] hadn’t thought about entering the suppressor market, but he gambled on me. The only direction he ever gave me was, “Build the best.” It’s not so straightforward to build the best. If it’s too hard to make, it’ll be too expensive for anyone to buy. If it’s too hard to make, you can’t make them quick enough. So you’ll never end up helping the operator. To manufacture them for guys going in harm’s way, it needs to be high quality but reasonably priced. We test-fire every single suppressor, and our fail point is 1-MOA accuracy and 1-MOA impact shift. A repeatable zero was kind of a new concept back then; we coined it. I used to test-fire all the suppressors myself; that helped me in the three-gun game. Size, weight, flash, sound are all important based on customer requirements. And we go overkill for durability.

For example, Det 1 said make it as light as possible and we don’t shoot full-auto. But I still designed it around six 30-round bursts as the design parameter. When I delivered the cans to Det 1 and was down at Pendleton, Pat Rogers was doing training, and they were doing 30-round mag dumps. I asked one of the guys, “I thought you guys don’t do full-auto.” He said, “Oh we don’t, we’re just checking body position.” Good thing I overbuilt them; that was a good learning point.

Dueck working on prototypes in his machine shop at home.

In the past, modeling software and computers haven’t worked well for suppressor design, but we’re getting there. Our models are finally matching up with the empirical data, and we’re able to see different flows and cause and effect. It’s easy to get low sound and low flash. It’s extremely difficult to also get low back pressure with low sound and low flash. It gets hot and you get secondary ignition. It’s no longer a suppressor, it’s a flash and sound enhancer. We’re working on our solution for this. My goal is always to obsolete everything I make.

What do you love about competitive shooting? How can it help shooters of all kinds out there?

BD: I shot IPSC back in the late ’80s, but was never good at it. After doing tactical training, I went back in. When I get focused on something, I go deep and conquer it. I try to be the best I can be. I have a strong desire to win, but it’s not in order to beat everybody else, and I don’t want to win because others did poorly. I shot matches every weekend and worked on problems during the week for practice, while I tested suppressors at the same time. Mike Voigt was a huge influence on me.

On the factory floor at SureFire.

I like IPSC/USPSA because you can shoot it however you want. If you know you can pull your pistol or rifle out and where you can put accurate rounds on target in a certain capability level, you know where your zones are. You won’t be as scared or overreact; you can better assess the situation because you know your personal skill set. People get amped up shooting a match, so it gives more stressful training. But if there’s a timer, it’s a game. Matches are a sport; it’s not tactical. Good shooting technique lets you hit targets fast and accurate. There are so many people from the last 20 years who’ve been in hundreds of engagements to learn tactics from — proven, non-theoretical. I’m a big proponent of force-on-force training because people react differently when there’s a human being to interact with.

You’re an avid hunter. What do you enjoy about hunting?

BD: It’s important to know where food comes from. I learned a lot about anatomy from my dad and the gut pile. It’s really healthy to hunt and obtain your own food. There’s something primal about it that’s very satisfying — successfully feeding yourself and your family. It’s the cycle of life; a feed lot seems a lot worse.

Dueck in his office at SureFire, where he serves as Vice President, Suppressors and Weapons.

What were some of your memorable guns from your youth? 

BD: I shot my first deer with a pre-’64 Winchester Model 94 30-30. That was my dad’s rifle. He also had a Husqvarna 270 Winchester, a Mauser-actioned Swedish-made rifle. That was his pride and joy gun, out of all the guns he had. He didn’t have a lot of them, just for hunting. I watched him once take a deer with it at about 550 yards. He claimed it was luck, but he held for elevation and wind and dropped it with one shot. 

Your own business, Dueck Defense, makes several sighting systems. What else are you working on? 

BD: I’m building some things for the hunting market that also have application tactically. I’ve broken free to do some hunting again and had some problems that needed solving. That’s usually how I design something new, to solve a problem.

Dueck playing with his son, Ryder, in his backyard.

You live behind the iron curtain in California. What can we all do to support the Second Amendment?

BD: Vote and get out and talk to people. When I meet an anti-gun person, I try to have a conversation with them and move them toward the middle. I’ve found people will have rational discussions. Take people to the range; a lot of them have only seen guns in movies. Helping people spreads the message — the more good people out there shooting, they go back and talk to their friends. People get exposed and find it’s fun. 

Get youth out to the range; I really believe in competitive shooting sports. I spoke at my son’s career day at school. The kids asked a lot of questions and were really interested — “Is there Styrofoam inside a suppressor?” “What do you think about the SCAR versus the M4?” They’re getting a lot of info from video games. Video games expose a lot of people to guns. Some argue against them, but the reality is they show you using guns to defend yourself.

Putting the Dueck Defense Rapid Transition Sights to work at the 2018 SureFire World Multigun Championship.

You’ve said that people can make their own luck. What do you mean by that?

BD: You could say I was lucky that John Matthews gave me the chance to start the suppressor division. The reality is that I had been working on suppressors for years, working 20 hours a day when I started it. I was given an opportunity and took full advantage of it. I had already proven myself to him, so it was a gamble for him but not a complete gamble. You’re born with certain skills, but how hard are you willing to work? Some people get a break or have a certain amount of talent. But how many are actually successful? You need drive and not accepting “no.” I got some formative advice from a Force Recon gunny — to eliminate “can’t” from your vocabulary. I also eliminated “quit.” 

Dueck running and gunning with his custom Benelli M2 at the 2018 SureFire World Multigun Championship.

Barry Dueck

Dueck shooting the 2021 PCSL Cobalt Kinetics Practical 2 Gun Match in St. George, Utah.

Title: Vice President, Suppressors and Weapons, SureFire

Family: Wife and son (Michelle and Ryder)

AR or AK: AR

1911 or Glock: 1911

Favorite firearm: Most sentimental gun, dad’s old Husqvarna 270 Win; ultimate do-everything gun, SureFire 14.5-inch AROC

Favorite food: Elk

Favorite book: In Order to Live, Yeonmi Park

Favorite film: Braveheart

Proudest moment: Yet to come, living for tomorrow

URLs: www.surefire.com, www.dueckdefense.com

Barry’s Everyday Carry:
Glock 19 with Dueck Defense RBU, DeltaPoint Pro, and SureFire XC2, loaded with Hornady 135-grain Critical Duty, Haley Strategic Incog Holster, SureFire E2D Defender flashlight, Zero Tolerance folding knife, Panerai Luminor Marina watch, RAM keys with spare handcuff key iPhone

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