The all American AK: a former Spetsnaz soldier reviews a cross-section of off-the-shelf kalashnikovs.
The AK's history in the U.S. is a tumultuous journey stretching from the very first Galil, Valrnet and Type 56 variants to today's smdrgasbord--a vast array of rifles to U.S. made tactical carbines. There are numerous reputable gunsmiths and custom shops that would gladly build a parts-kit rifle to any specification.
But what about off-the-shelf AKs? Whether they were imported, in kit form or fully U.S. built, I wanted to find out about them. Because I've been around AKs fora while, I had a few companies on my usual-suspects list. There are, in fact, many companies that import, convert or build AKs. Several do all three. I decided to concentrate my efforts on the most popular models in both 7.62X39mm-and-5.45x39mm. With that in mind--and with a boatload of Wolf Performance ammunition (www.wolfammo.com) in both calibers--let's get started.
First on my list was Arsenal Inc. (www.arsenalinc.com). I picked Arsenal's most popular sellers, the SGL21-61 in 7.62mm and the SGL31-94 in 5.45mm. Both of these rifles start as AK 103s and AK74Ms, respectively, at Izhmash Arsenal in Russia. Then, under the sporting label "Saiga," they are supplied to Arsenal. Arsenal then finishes them at its Las Vegas facility, bringing to the U.S. market the closest thing to the original Russian AK rifles ever offered.
SGL31-94 I wanted to take a closer look at 5.45 * 39 mm SGL31-94. There it was, the AK74M in all its glory. The rifle was equipped just like its military twin, with all the right Russian receiver and trunnion markings. It had a U.S.-made muzzlebrake, cleaning rod, side optics rail and black plastic furniture, with the exception of the Russian folding stock.
I fell in love with this folding-stock design back in 1985 during basic training and still consider it the best folding-stock solution for an AK. Unlike my old AK with its metal, skeletonized stock, the new SGL31 comes with a solid plastic unit that includes a slot through its lower part for securing a recoil pad for use with a GP underbarrel grenade launcher. The SGL31's package includes factory manual, test target and Izhmash 10-round magazine.
After stripping and reassembling it, I played around with shouldering, cycling and dry firing the rifle. The SGL worked very well through my exercises. It felt like a new AK should, bringing on a very familiar feeling. There was no drag on the bolt carrier, and the distinct double-stage trigger was nice and crisp. The finish was perfect, with that "new gun" appearance and feel. I set up prone at 100 yards, loaded it and started shooting.
There was minimal deviation between point of aim and point of impact. After 100 rounds or so, 1 was scoring consistent three-inch 10-shot groups, with the occasional flyer here and there. I was pretty content with the results, which exceeded the original Soviet accuracy requirements. The rifle did all this without a single hiccup. I used several magazines to see if the SGL31-94 functioned well with all of them. It did.
SGL21-61 The SGL21-61 is basically a sporterized version of the current-issue Russian AK103 in the original 7.62 * 39 caliber with one exception--the fixed stock. As such, it had a very familiar configuration. The receiver bore the Russian arsenal- and proofmarks. The front trunnion also bore the "arrow in the triangle" Izhmash factory mark. The SGL21 was dressed in U.S. -made black plastic furniture. And just like its 5.45 sibling, it had a side mounting rail for attaching optics.
The original Russian chrome-lined barrel had a Russian front sight and gas blocks with bayonet and accessory lugs, and it was topped with Arsenal's U.S.-made AK74-style muzzlebrake. The finish of the rifle inside and out was impeccable, very close, if not identical, to that of Russian factory guns.
The SGL21-61 package contains a factory manual, test target and Bulgarian waffle five-round magazine. After stripping and reassembling it, I played around with it, shouldering, cycling and dry firing. Operation was smooth, with no drag on the bolt carrier.
The SGL21-61 shot similarly well--the double-stage trigger was crisp, though recoil was more noticeable. If there had to be a surprise, I'd say it was the consistent three-inch groups at 100 yards, the same result I got from the 5.45mm SGL31. The SGL21-61 ate everything and asked for seconds. Not a glitch. No big surprise there. I was done with Arsenal rifles at this point. Both rifles shot very well and felt like AKs should.
Being involved in the U.S. AK scene for years, I am familiar with I.O. Inc. (www.ioinc.us). The company's line of U.S.-built rifles includes the traditional, classically configured AK 47C laminated-wood model, based on the Russian AKM design, and more up-to-date models such as the STG 2000 and Hellhound.
I selected I.O.'s AK-47C Laminated Wood for its classic appeal and the Hellhound for its modern fighting-carbine features. Both are in 7.62 * 39. When the rifles arrived, they were nestled in I.O.'s original packaging along with accessories. Both rifles were built in North Carolina using U.S.-manufactured parts. Nonchromed barrels were installed into stamped U.S.-made receivers that sported side-mounted optics rails. Both rifles came with one 30-round polymer magazine, a cleaning-kit pouch, a sling and a manual. The finish on both rifles was a durable military type, but of a lesser quality than some of the more expensive AKs. Both of them proved to be solid shooters, well within AK performance parameters.
AK-47C This is the good ol'AKM in its original glory--laminate-wood furniture, slanted muzzlebrake/compensator and nothing else that would violate this rifle's simple beauty. I couldn't help but immediately lift the AK-47C out of its box and shoulder it, as I've done thousands of times before. It felt so familiar that I neglected to notice the black plastic pistol grip, which added to the overall comfort. It was the only departure from a dead-stock AKM. It had the proper AKM-pattern front sight and gas block with bayonet lug.
I pulled the charging handle a few times and dry fired it before taking it apart. Once again there were no surprises. Everything was in its place, and all mechanisms functioned as expected. The weight, size and overall feel were unmistakably and quintessentially AK.
As expected, it shot exactly like an AKM. So I went to work to see what it could do on paper. Through magazine after magazine, I was scoring"4(1/2) -inch groups at 100 yards from prone. I was satisfied with the gun's performance. There were no malfunctions or stoppages. The I.O. plastic magazines functioned well, as did the rest of my test mags. Having all the attributes of a classic AKM, the AK-47C is a better shooter.
Hellhound While the AK47C is pretty much a stock AKM rifle, the Hellhound is a departure from it. It has a slightly longer barrel topped with a YHM Phantom Flash Hider. The gas block is combined with the front sight, and there is no bayonet lug. The Hellhound sports quad Picatinny-rail handguards. It has the same black plastic pistol grip and Com-Bloc-length plastic but stock, resembling a "club foot" RPK stock. After shouldering the Hellhound several times, I found it very comfortable. The pistol grip/butt-stock combination is well suited for it.
I pulled the charging handle a few times and dry fired it before taking it apart, finding it full of U.S.-made AK parts. Though at first glance the Hellhound appears drastically different, in reality it is still a good ol' AK. After reassembly, I loaded it, racked the charging handle and squeezed the trigger.
My first impression was, once more, a surprise. The Hellhound, equipped with a Phantom flash-hider, had noticeably increased recoil, even compared with the standard AKM slanted muzzlebrake. However, after my first magazine I got used to it and the difference faded away. The Hellhound ran smoothly throughout the test with no glitches. Though the quad Picatinny-rail handguard didn't offer an inherently comfortable grip, its practicality outweighs this minor inconvenience, one that is easily remedied by the addition of a small vertical grip. More than 100 rounds through the Hellhound produced consistent 3(3/4) -inch groups.
CENTURY INTERNATIONAL ARMS
Century International Arms (www. centuryarms.com) offers a wide range of imported and U.S.-assembled and-built Kalashnikov variants, ranging from the Yugoslavian M76 Sniper to the Israeli Galani and its best-selling Romanian GP WASR-10.1 picked the 7.62 * 39 WASR- 10. Since I wanted to cover rifles in both main AK calibers, the other Century gun I selected was the 5.45mm-chambered Polish Tantal. The reason these rifles are on the list--and have contributed to Century's success--is their price.
Having tested several Century rifles in the past, 1 had no illusions when it came to its economically priced AKs. When I pulled both rifles out of their boxes, I couldn't help but crack a smile. Both were regular military infantry battle rifles, no more and no less. Crude around the edges with no shiny finish, these guns represents what the original AK47 was intended to be--a mass-produced, simple, highly functional battle rifle. Both the Tantal and the GP WASR-10 are solid shooting machines--especially the Tantal. Aesthetically, they may concede a bit of ground to some of the other rifles, but this is easily remedied by replacing a couple of pieces of furniture.
GP WASR-10 The WASR appeared to be a basic AKM by look and feel. It came dressed in a combination of solid and laminate wood with a Tapco G2 trigger group, black polymer pistol grip, original slanted muzzlebrake/compensator, bayonet lug, scope rail and, strangely, no cleaning rod. It did come with two Romanian steel 30-round magazines. When I cycled it and dry fired it, it functioned as it should. The action was smooth enough, and the trigger felt pretty good.
As expected, the rifle wasn't shiny and possessed little glamour. It was a simple and functional AK that looked and felt like it. It looked crude in comparison with some of the guns I'd already shot. Then again, the WASR is not the type of gun you lay on your lap and gently stroke like a family pet. This is a gun you drag through mud, drop on concrete, pick up and expect to function. And function it did. It gobbled up everything I fed it out of a variety of mages without a single stoppage. It felt like the AKM-type rifle that it is. Shooting it prone, it produced 4(1/2) -inch groups at 100 yards all day. Every time I pulled the trigger it went bang. Can't ask more from a gun.
Polish Tantal The Polish Tantal is a side folder and came equipped in its standard configuration, including all the Tantal-esque features, such as its original variation of an AK74-style muzzlebrake, Bakelite lower handguard, modified gas tube, plastic upper handguard and thumb safety, in addition to the regular AK lever. The folding stock is a wire crutch-style right-side folder seen on Romanian and East German rifles.
The Tantal came with two steel 30-round magazines, bipod and cleaning rod. Both bayonet and accessory lugs were present. I disassembled and reassembled the rifle, then played around with it a bit, cycling the bolt carrier and dry firing it a few times. The operation was smooth and very AK-like. The single-stage Tapco G2 trigger group worked very well. Built by Century on the U.S.-made NoDak Spud receiver using an original Polish military parts kit and U.S. barrel, this gun was an enigma to me.
Being ultra-conservative, I didn't like what the Polish designers had done with my beloved AK74-type rifle. The weird muzzlebrake and wire stock only added fuel to the fire. With a mind full of prejudice, I shoved a mag into the gun, chambered a round and pulled the trigger. That first shot produced my first real surprise of the day. I actually had to stop and see whether the gun had in fact fired.
The recoil was so insignificant--even in comparison with the SGL31-94--that I thought the Tantal had misfired. I pulled the trigger again and again, sending a round to my exact point of aim every time. The results were again very satisfactory, one 2%-inch group after another. Handling characteristics and operation were superb. With its sharp edges, matte finish and rattling gas tube, it may be an ugly duckling, but it proved to be the best shooter of the day.
With a smile on my face, I put away the WASR and Tantal, and with that, I was done.
All of the above was not intended to compare several rifles with each other, but rather to describe what's available off the shelf and what is to be expected when selecting any of these rifles. After my trip to the range, there were clear winners, but there were no losers. Each gun performed well, whether it was assembled or fully manufactured in the U.S.
But no matter what your new AK looks like, it's still an AK.
My relationship with the AK started when I was a pesky eight-year-old second-grader at Public Elementary School No. 33 in the city of Orenburg in the former USSR. Every day during recess I, along with several other curious kids, was glued to the wooden fence that separated our school from the Air Defense Missile Academy. There, just over the fence, just-relieved cadet sentries would unload, clear and check their shiny AKMs. The loud clunking of bolt carriers would alert us that the show was about to begin, and we would watch quietly through the half-inch gaps between the wooden planks.
Later, while on my middle school's Civil Defense Athletic Team and later still in my high school's Military Preparation class, my relationship with Kalashnikov's rifle continued. A couple of short years later my very life would depend on the AK as I served in the Soviet Spetsnaz unit fighting in northeastern Afghanistan. At that time my own rifle, the AKS74 folder, was the main service rifle of the Soviet Airborne Forces and Spetsnaz units. It is that rifle's reliability that I have to thank for being here to write this today.
Middle-school members of a Civil Defense Athletic Team learn how to operate the ubiquitous AKM. In such surroundings, the author learned to fieldstrip one in 12 seconds flat.
See photos and specifications of the guns mentioned in this article and order from an inventory of thousands--all online through Gun Locator Visit www.galleryofguns.com.
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|Publication:||Guns & Ammo|
|Date:||Sep 20, 2011|
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