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RPK Part V: maximum AK-47 firepower: finishing touches then range time!

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While finishing the economy-priced RPK in the last part of this article series, the Childers RPK receiver showed up at my local FFL dealer. Due to the fact that each Childers receiver is made to order, there was a 2-6 week wait for a Childers receiver. Well, it appears that it was worth the wait. I have built many AK-47s over the last 20 years and utilized several brands of manufactured receivers and I've made a few completely from sheet stock. I can honestly say that the Childers receiver is the best receiver I have ever built. All bends were precisely made with tight radiuses. The many pin and rivet holes were accurately sized and located. The receiver was also heat treated just right to give the correct hardness yet still be able to be worked (drilling rivet holes). What impressed me most was how well the trunions fit the receiver. Due to manufacturing tolerances found in surplus parts kits, it is not unusual to have to spend considerable amount of time fitting the trunions to the receiver to get a good tight fit. With this Childers receiver, it took no more than a few file strokes to get the trunions to easily slide into the receiver. Once in place the fit was excellent with no excessive gaps between the trunion and receiver.

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The Yugo RPK has many parts that are different than standard-pattern AK-47s. The buttstock of the Yugo RPK and AK-47 feature a socket-type rear trunnion rather than just sliding into the rear of the receivers like a normal AK-47. The stock is held in place by a long bolt that extends all the way to the rear of the buttstock rather than a couple wood screws in the trunion tang like a normal AK. This unique mounting method means you cannot use the common and widely available aftermarket AK-47 buttstocks. There are very few Yugo-pattern AK aftermarket stocks. I had decided that I liked the polymer stock set offered by Royal Tiger Imports / I.O. Inc. because the buttstock was styled very much like the "club foot" style RPK stock found on some RPKs. In order to use this stock set on my RPK, I would need to modify the gun to accept it. This meant that I would have to replace the Yugo rear trunion with a regular trunion. I bought a Romanian Euro trunion from Clearview Investments for only $18. To fit into the thicker walled RPK receiver, I had to remove about .025" from each side of the trunion. The rear of the RPK receiver needed modified to fully accept the new trunion. As measured from the top, the Yugo receiver features a slight angle on the end. Euro format receivers are at 90 degrees on the end. The rear of the Yugo receiver needs trimmed so that it is square like regular AK receivers. Once trimmed to 90 degrees, the trunion will slide into place and fully seat. The regular trunion does not feature rivet holes in the same place as the Yugo trunion. When I ordered my receiver from Childers I requested that they delete the trunion rivet holes in my receiver because I knew my holes would not be lining up. This means you will not have a bunch of extra holes in the receiver. It does mean you'll need to precisely locate and drill new rivet holes for trunion mounting. You will need to measure the trunion rivet hole locations on the trunion and then transfer those dimensions to the receiver. This needs to be done accurately so that you get good rivet/trunion alignment. When drilling these holes it is best to drill them under size to begin with. You can then test fit the trunion and check for proper alignment. If you see that the holes are going to be off when drilled to full size, you can adjust the hole location by filing where needed to bring the holes closer to the desired location. You can get the holes closer using this method if you are only off .010"-.015". If your holes are off a lot, you will just have to weld them back in and re-drill again.

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One feature I wanted on this gun was a military-style scope rail so I could mount a red dot sight. These types of rails are widely available and come in many sizes. I went mid-range and ordered mine from Royal Tiger Imports. I chose this rail specifically for its length since it was about a half inch longer than some other rails. I felt the extra length would offer more support of the mount. The position of this mount is not critical as long as you more or less align the clearance grooves for the hammer and trigger pins. The mount does, however, have to be parallel to the top of the receiver. If the rail is mounted at an angle you will likely not have enough elevation adjustment on your optics to compensate for the angled rail. You should try to keep the rail no more than .010" out of parallel. Many of these rails come with small screws and nuts for mounting. While this will work, it is not the best mounting method. The small screws are not very strong and can work loose over time. A much better method is to rivet the rail to the receiver just like manufactured AKs. I aligned my rail and then drilled holes to install rivets. Unfortunately I had to make a modification to my rail before I could drill all the holes. Because I was using a non-standard rear trunion it turned out that the rear rail hole fell just about half way over the existing rivet hole for the trunion. I had to move the hole on the rail so that it would align with the existing trunion rivet hole. This job needed to be done at the time the trunion was installed to prevent having to remove the trunion rivet and re-install it as it passed through the rail. Once I had the rear hole repositioned on the rail I installed that rivet and then drilled the other holes. There should be no issues using the same rivet for the trunion and the rail as long as you properly install the rivet.

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The methods to install the triggerguard and magazine release and the front trunion were covered in past installments of this article so I won't repeat them here. The Childers receiver features holes already drilled for the trigger guard rivets so installation is nothing more than setting the rivets. Make sure that you remember to install the thin spacer under the trigger guard because it sets magazine depth.

After the triggerguard, scope rail and trunions were installed the receiver was complete. Rather than making a barrel for this project I had ordered a Green Mountain RPK heavy finned barrel. This chrome-lined barrel is equal in quality to military-issue barrels and comes completely finished in black Parkerizing. The Parkerized finish will suffer considerably during installation of the barrel components so it is unlikely that you will have a nice finish when you get the gun assembled. I made no efforts to protect the finish as 1 pressed on parts because I was going to apply a DuraCoat finish later.

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The RPK barrel is installed with what is referred to as a press fit or interference fit. This means that the barrel is pressed into a hole that is actually slightly smaller in diameter than the barrel shank. The trunion will expand slightly and solidly grip the barrel. After the barrel is pressed into the correct position, a cross pin will be installed to lock the barrel in place. Novice AK/RPK builders should note that there are limits to how far you can go on press fits. If the fit is too tight you can crack the trunion. For the hobbyist without specialized fixtures to hold the trunion and barrel, a press fit of .0015" to .0025" (one and a half thousandth to two and one half thousandths) should be adequate. Going to a very tight interference fit of ,003"-.005" will make the job much harder without gaining much benefit.

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Before you can install the barrel, you will need a self-made fixture to grip the barrel. The fabrication of this fixture was previously covered. It is nothing more than a block of aluminum with a barrel-sized hole in its center. The block is split so that it can be clamped to the barrel with bolts through the block. My preferred method to install AK barrels is to press them into the trunion with a hydraulic press. A press with a tonnage rating of 10-20 tons will be needed. There are other methods to install AK /RPK barrels that do not require a hydraulic press but I find them to be less than desirable. If you wish to use those methods you will have to read about them on AK building forums because I will not recommend them here.

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To install the barrel, you clamp the self-made barrel vise to the barrel and then lay it on the press bedplates with the shank facing up. The barrel and trunion hole are lubricated with a heavy grease or oil to ease insertion. The extractor relief groove in the breech of the barrel is aligned at 90 degrees as you insert the barrel into the trunion by hand as far as it will go. You then use a long piece of aluminum or brass to press the trunion onto the barrel shank. You must use a long push tool because you cannot press against the receiver. If you press against the receiver you will likely crush the receiver or shear off the rivets. Only push on the trunion! You only press the trunion onto-the barrel about 1" before you need to stop. During this process you need to check often to make sure the extractor relief slot is still aligned properly. It will be very difficult to rotate the barrel into alignment if you get out of position. As the barrel is pressed into final position the headspace must be set. This involves inserting a "GO" 7.62x39mm headspace gage into a clean chamber and then pressing the barrel in till the gage is tight against the bolt face of the bolt that is in the closed or locked position. To verify that you have done this right, you remove the "GO" gage (the bolt should be hard to rotate or open) and insert a "NO GO" gage into the chamber. You then try to rotate the bolt into the closed or locked position. If you did the previous part right you should not be able to rotate the bolt fully closed.

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Once headspace is correct and the barrel is in its final position, a cross pin will need to be installed to lock the barrel in place. The tight press fit is not sufficient to secure the barrel no matter how tight the fit. The cross pin will be somewhat difficult to install because the used trunion already has a hole in it. Even though you may use the existing hole in the trunion as a drill guide, the rounded side of the barrel will deflect the bit as it drills. This will cause the bit to drill off to one side of the pin hole in the other side. For those without a milling machine, the easiest way to drill the cross pin hole is to use a bit almost the same size as the existing hole in the trunion and then drill half way through from each side once you have the trunion set up squarely in a drilling vice. Unless you get lucky, these two holes will not be precisely aligned where they meet in the center of the trunion. You will have to drill the hole larger to get a straight hole all the way through the trunion. It is absolutely imperative that you have a straight and perfectly round hole through your barrel and trunion. A standard trunion hole is 7mm (.284" or so) but you will have to go larger than this size since you need to straighten out the hole. You don't want to go any larger than necessary. Anything between .284" and .312" should be fine. Going larger than .312" gets risky since you are getting pretty close to the chamber and bore.

Once you get a straight hole you need to find or fabricate a cross pin to press fit in the hole. You need a .0015" to .0025" press fit to keep the pin from moving out during use. The pin needs to be alloy steel because common steel is too soft. Hardened dowel pins are the best choice but those are only available in certain sizes. Drill bit shanks made from good steel are good sources for pin material. The bits shanks can be reduced in size by spinning in a drill press and then using a file to reduce the diameter. After you get a pin sized a thousandth or two over hole size, press it into the trunion. After the barrel is secured in its final position it is time to install the barrel sub-assemblies. These are also press fitted but they are much easier to locate and secure in place.

The first barrel component to be installed is the rear sight base and gas tube retainer. This part is relatively easy to install since you just press it on until it is against the trunion and centered over it between the edges. Once in place, a small cross pin is installed to lock it in position. The pin can be a solid dowel pin or it can be a common roll pin because the part is not under much stress. The fit of the base needs to be tight so that it won't move but it certainly doesn't have to be a real tight press fit like some other parts. My base was tight but it could be moved into place with a soft faced hammer rather than a hydraulic press.

The next part to be installed was the handguard retainer. This part needs to be fitted loosely because it has to slide back and forth on the barrel during handguard installation and removal. Since the G. M. barrel already had the retainer groove machined all I had to do was slide it on the barrel. Do keep in mind though that if you are going to finish your project with a spray-on finish that you need to allow for finish thickness.

Now the gas block needs installed, and it must be fairly tight so that it will not leak gas. While there are pricey special fixtures available to precisely align the gas block, I have always just aligned it by eye. While I eyeball the radial alignment, the front-to-back alignment is determined by the fit of the gas tube. The gas block must be positioned so that the tube fits tightly over the gas block opening and that the locking lever on the sight base can be rotated down to lock the gas tube in place. Positioning is a series of trial-and-error fittings once you have the radial positioning fairly close. When making the radial alignment, view from multiple angles to verify that the block is positioned correctly. One other method is to install the bolt carrier in the receiver and insert the gas piston into the gas block. View the gas piston from the top and verify that the rod of the gas piston is centered and parallel to the barrel under the piston. I have used these crude methods on all the AK type guns I have ever made and all have worked fine. Of course this really is an experience and judgement type of thing. After the right position is determined the gas block needs secured with two small cross pins. Use the method described earlier to install the cross pins. If done correctly you will be able to re-use the original pins.

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One touchy job that now needs done is drilling the gas port hole. You need to be very careful when drilling this hole to prevent drilling into the opposite side of the barrel when the bit passes through the top side. Failure to drill carefully can result in a ruined barrel. Compared to most guns, the AK gas port is fairly large at .125" (1/8"). Fortunately the gas passage in the gas block is also that size and you can use the passage as a drill guide for drilling the port. The passage is angled but the gas port hole is also angled so it works out fine. You just use a long 1/8" drill bit inserted into the passage and slowly drill into the barrel wall. Because the bit is starting on the round edge of the barrel you must start with very light pressure on the bit. You need to drill slowly and carefully and pay particular attention to noticing when you are about to break through the barrel wall. Drill all the way through the barrel wall so that you end up with an oval-shaped gas port.

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Now move to the muzzle end of the barrel to install the bipod and front sight base. Before you install the front sight, make sure to install the bipod because it is nonremovable. The front sight must be aligned with the rear sight otherwise your sights won't be able to be centered. I gave readers a simple improvised method to align the sights in the earlier part of this article series so I won't repeat it here. You just clamp straight edges to the front and rear sight bases and then align them so that they are parallel when you sight along them. Once you have the front sight aligned, secure it with cross pins. I typically only install one cross pin and then shoot the gun to check alignment before drilling and installing the second pin. That way if I got it wrong I haven't installed both pins wrong.

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This project features handguards that are specific to Yugoslavian RPKs. The Yugo RPK lower handguard is shorter than a regular AK pattern gun or the Yugo AK. This makes finding polymer lower hand guards that match the other poly furniture almost impossible. To have a black lower hand guard I just painted my wood RPK hand guard with matte black DuraCoat. Before painting I added some grooves to increase grip.

While the lower handguard was unique to this model of RPK, the upper handguard from my Royal Tiger Imports / I.O. Inc. tactical stock set could be utilized after some minor modification. All I had to do was shorten it slightly and it simply rolled into place on the gas tube.

At this point all that remained was to install all the remaining parts onto the RPK barreled receiver. A little hand fitting of the bolt carrier was required to get smooth operation but this was simply a few file stokes on the upper rails. My top cover was a little long and I had to shorten it to get a good fit. The ejector in the receiver needed trimmed to fit my specific bolt because Childers leaves it extra long so that it can be fitted to customer's needs. The ejector needs fitted so that it doesn't push against the bolt and prevent the bolt from moving over it as it moves forward. You must make sure though that you do not over trim the length, otherwise the ejector wont contact the cartridge rim after extraction.

For this project I utilized the Tapco G2 AK-47 fire control group that installed without any issues. To retain the hammer and trigger pins, I used one of the plate-type retainers rather than the infamous shepherd's hook wire retainer. I had two retaining plates with different brand names on them but they appeared to have been made by the same manufacturer.

One thing builders should do is to check fit of the magazines in the magwell. Due to wide length and width variations between magazines, you should check fit with multiple brands of magazines that you may be using. AK firearms feature very broad tolerances and so do the magazines. You will have to make a judgement call to decide if you want to modify the magazine well or the magazines themselves if you find some too big to fit.

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After all parts were fitted, I used some dummy rounds to do some workbench function testing. NEVER, I repeat NEVER, use live ammo for work bench testing. If you don't have the means to make your own dummy rounds they can be purchased from Brownells. Testing revealed that my project only needed some minor tuning to get it to chamber, extract, and eject rounds. AK-based guns are typically very builder friendly and most times they work right after good assembly work. After work bench testing indicated proper operation, I headed to my backyard range for live fire testing. This also went well so it was time to apply a final finish to my project.

The original finish on my excellent condition Numrich Arms RPK kit was typical blue/black hot blue as found on most commercial guns and many older military arms. Many of today's modern guns feature polymer finishes because they offer much better protection than the old finishes such as bluing or Parkerizing. I wanted a finish that looked like the old time finishes but I wanted the protection and low maintence qualities of modern finishes. In order to get the best of both worlds I decide to use Lauer Custom Weaponry's new DuraBlue finish. Just a few months ago I wrote an article about it in Firearms News. Back issues of this article may be available through the store section of the Firearms News website for those wishing to read a full review of this fine product. DuraBlue is available in liquid form for those with spray equipment but is also available in aerosol cans for those without spray equipment. I have spray equipment so I decided to order some liquid DuraBlue in the color of matte blue/black. DuraBlue is available in several color variations. Besides DuraBlue, LCW offers their original DuraCoat in more than 200 color variations. On my RPK project I also used some matte black DuraCoat and some Brownells matte black GunKote. GunKote is also a sprayed-on modern finish but it has different characteristics than DuraCoat. For readers interested in learning about the application of several types of gun finishes the old Shotgun News specialty publication Shotgun News Gunsmithing Projects features articles on bluing, Parkerizing, DuraCoat and GunKote. This 400-plus page book is available through the Firearms News website. Besides articles on gun finishes there are dozens of other gunsmithing articles written by many of the present and past writers. The publication also has an AK building article that may be of interest to readers considering this AK based project. I don't have the space here to cover the DuraBlue application in depth but I will give readers a brief over view of how this RPK was finished.

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The parts to be finished with DuraBlue, DuraCoat or GunKote are cleaned in solvents to remove all oil, grease and dirt. The parts are then abrasive blasted to roughen the surface for best finish adhesion. DuraCoat and DuraBlue do not absolutely require abrasive blasting but GunKote does. After blasting (if done) the parts were again cleaned in solvents to remove any contaminates that may have worked out of the seams during blasting. DuraBlue and DuraCoat are two-part finishes that must be mixed according to supplied directions prior to application. GunKote is a single-part finish. Either product is sprayed with a small automotive spray gun or airbrush (airbrushes are only suitable for small projects or parts). After the application of 2-5 coats of finish, the parts are set aside to dry. DuraCoat-based products dry to the touch in a couple hours but should be left to dry for a couple days before re-assembly. A mild baking at 150 degrees can be used to speed DuraCoat drying if you choose. DuraCoat also hardens by a chemical reaction of the hardener that is mixed in before application. This hardening takes a couple weeks for full hardness but this hardening is not really noticeable. Brownells GunKote does require baking at 300 degrees for one hour of so. After the one hour bake and later cooling GunKoted parts are ready for re-assembly and use. Both finishes have their own desirable properties and the user will have to decide which finish is best for their needs. Many times I use both products on the same project. After my finishes were completed, I assembled my gun. It worked just as well as any factory made gun at a significantly lower cost. I was extremely pleased with the economy project and the premium project both.

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This RPK project was a great AK-47 based semiautomatic gun but the RPK was made to run full-auto fast. Due to legal restrictions, the RPK cannot be legally converted to full-auto operation. There is, however, a way to make this legal semi-automatic gun to fire as fast as a full-auto gun. The famous Slide Fire rapid-fire stock can be adapted to the RPK. For those unfamiliar with Slide Fire stocks, they are special stocks that allow you to manipulate the trigger of a semiauto gun at a speed equal to full-auto guns. They are approved by the BATFE and are legal to own, install and use on semiauto guns. The key to their legality is the fact that they do not convert a gun to full-auto. They only allow one to operate the trigger of the gun very fast. Slide Fire offers two of these stocks for the AK-47. That all-plastic model replaced the buttstock and pistol grip on a fixed stock AK-47. The reason the item was named "Slide Fire" was because the stock allowed the gun to slide back and forth about 1" within the stock. Your trigger finger however does not move that 1" with the stock. It remains stationary on a finger rest. As the gun slides back and forth, your stationary trigger finger comes into contact with the gun's trigger and fires the gun at a high rate of speed. What makes the gun slide back and forth is the gun's normal recoil and your forward pressure on the forearm. Once you learn how to operate the gun and stock, you can get the host gun to fire at a rate of 500-750 rounds per minute. The effect is the same as full-auto fire. I have a couple NFA registered and taxed full auto guns and I can honestly say that shooting a Slide Fire-equipped gun is almost the same as shooting a full auto.

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The Slide Fire stock I chose for this project was their new and improved AK-47 rapid fire stock. This model is known as the SSAK-47-HYB version. This new version is made partially from aluminum and is fitted much tighter. When I ordered my new Slide Fire stock I wanted a better looking AR buttstock than the basic GI version that comes on the new stock. I ordered one of MagPul's ACS mil-spec buttstocks since the Slide Fire unit was advertised as accepting Mil-Spec AR stocks. In an effort to make their stocks fit nice and tight, MagPul made their ACS stock fit the buffer tube fairly tight. I quickly found out that MagPul's efforts to create a nice fitting stock caused issues when adapted to the new Slide Fire stock. Due to the tighter tolerances the MagPul stock would not slide easy enough to operate well in Slide Fire mode. I found that better results were obtained by using a looser-fitting commercial spec stock. I did not want to purchase another pricey MagPul ACS stock so I ordered a less expensive Command Arms stock. The Command Arms stock slid fine on the Slide Fire stock.

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The SSAK-47-HYB stock worked well with the looser fitting stock but there are modifications that need done to adapt the stock to the RPK. As stated earlier, I had replaced Yugo RPK trunion with a regular-format fixed stock trunion. Because the trunion needed to be reduced in width to fit in the narrower RPK receiver, the Slide Fire stock would also need to be thinned to fit into the receiver. Whether you do it with a file, grinder or milling machine the mating surface of the Slide Fire stock will need to be thinned ,020"-.025" on each side. The new stock also replaces the pistol grip and the grip mounting arrangement is different on a normal AK. I had to relieve a little metal on the Slide Fire stock to clear the RPK trigger guard and grip mount.

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Once I had done the modifications to my new stock I found that it ran on my RPK just as well as my other Slide Fire AK-47s. Due to the fact that I am disabled and cannot stand to shoot rifles anymore, I typically shoot from a shooting bench. With the attached bipod the Slide Fire RPK shoots great. There is no need for a pile of sand bags or a shooter's vice. Recoil is much easier to handle and the sliding effect of the stock seems much more consistent. With the increased stability, it was much easier to fire short and long burst. Due to the heavy weight of the RPK (over 12 pounds loaded) and the low recoil of the 7.62x39mm round I was getting a rate of fire of about 550 rounds per minute. This speed was perfect to experience the full auto effect yet was slow enough to keep ammo cost down.

With each 30-round magazine only lasting about 3 seconds it was obvious that I needed larger magazines. I decided my best option was a 75-round drum. At the present time there are two 75-round drums that are priced reasonably, if $60-$ 125 is reasonable. I found Korean copies of Romanian military drums for sale in the $50-$75 price range. These Korean copies are made from slightly thinner steel and feature painted finishes rather than Parkerizing. Workmanship is adequate for the price, but be aware that some minor deburring and tuning may be required to get them running smoothly. I purchased a couple of the Korean drums from Center-fire Systems and CDNN Sports. The other option was genuine military Romanian drum magazines. The prices for these drums run from $75-$ 125. CDNN Sports and Apex Gun Parts were good sources for the drums. While more expensive than the Korean copies, I have found that all the Romanian drums I have bought have run fine right out of the box. There are other drums on the market from other countries but the prices can get awful steep (some are over $200).

One thing that made shooting the Slide Fire equipped RPK much easier was adding a red dot sight. With their wide field of view and unlimited eye relief they are great for a gun that is moving around like a full auto. With my budget burned up with the gun, stock and drums I did not have big bucks to spend on sights. For my informal plinking a budget-priced red dot would be fine. I mounted a $40 UTG red dot on my Guntec detachable optics mount that I got from AK-Builder.

RELATED ARTICLE: A short message to my readers.

More than 12 years ago I wrote my first Shotgun News article. With the assistance of former editor Robert Hunnicutt, I ended up penning more than 125 articles since then. About 8 years ago I began to have spinal cord nerve problems that severely limited my abilities to walk and stand. For many years I was able to work around my physical limitations but over the last few years my physical abilities have deteriorated to the extent that now I can barely walk or stand for more than a few minutes. This makes building projects and writing articles extremely difficult since my problems also cause intense pain. It really takes the "fun" out of projects when you fall all the time and hurt like hell! A few years ago I had spinal surgery but it offered no relief from my symptoms. The doctors I see just look at my test results and say they can do nothing to help me. For the last several years I have had an article in this magazine each month. Due to my health issues I can no longer do the projects that need done in order to produce my monthly articles. It is with great regret that I have to tell my readers that I will no longer be writing monthly articles for this magazine. If my health allows It I would like to write the occasional article but even that is doubtful at this time. Being a writer featured in this magazine was a lifelong dream, and I thank Robert Hunnicutt (and the new editor David Jones) for accepting my article submissions over the years. Robert Hunnicutt allowed me to write about anything that I found interesting and I thank him for accepting and publishing every article I ever wrote. Over the years I have met many of my readers and I thank you for reading my articles. Without readers you can't be a writer so I guess you are as responsible for my successes as I am for writing them. I hope to write again if I can but I figured I better say my good byes now in case this does turn out to be my last project. Thank you for allowing me to live my dream of being a gun writer for the last dozen years. Good-bye for now, I hope to see you again someday.

--Steven Matthews, 5-1-2016

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Author:Matthews, Steven
Publication:Firearms News
Date:Jun 1, 2016
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