As a self-avowed
hater of the AK, I bought one late in 2007 in order to have one to
take an AK-specific class with and to see if my mind might be swayed.
wound up buying a Lancaster built Bulgarian parts gun from Blaine at Atlantic Firearms after a lengthy phone
conversation. I explained to him what I wanted, we tossed out the
milled guns for what they are (marketing hype and collectors pieces)
and we both wound up agreeing that the Lancaster or the Vector would be
good choices, and the Lancaster won due to the chrome-lined barrel (it
is my understanding that some Vectors come with them and some don't).
thought going into the class was to "learn the weapon", and that if I
wanted an AK it would be because it was inexpensive and simple. If I
wanted expensive and "jocked up" I have plenty of ARs for that.
made some very minor changes before the class. I put a Blackjack SWIFT
safety lever on it to make it easier to disengage the safety with my
trigger finger without taking my hand off the grip. I bought two Ergo
grips and went with the one I found most comfortable. I added a Blue
Force Gear Vickers sling with a clip I ordered off the internet. and I
took off the slant brake and installed an A1 birdcage flash hider to be
more "tactical". This is what the rifle looked like when I took it to
What I learned at the class was mostly what I expected would happen.
The trigger is horrendous. Coming off of a Knight's SR15 T&E rifle
with one of their excellent tow-stage triggers and trying to make the
switch to the AK trigger was a huge hurdle. A Two-day class isn't
nearly enough to even begin to make a dent.
2) The sights
suck. Call it being spoiled by dots and the like, but making 200 yard
hits with the stock sights was extremely difficult for me (and my bad
eyes), and I witnessed other students up and down the line with similar
problems. Some were better than me and some were worse, but the ones
that shot the best had optics.
3) The stock does not fit
me. I find that the toe is not deep enough to really get it into my
shoulder. The sights are so low that I barely get just the tip of the
toe on my shoulder, and the lack of any kind of rubberized coating
makes it hard to get it "into the pocket.
kicks. Mostly due to #3 above, that little point of the stock that I
was able to make contact with really bit in under the greater recoil of
the larger round. I used to shoot a FAL exclusively so I'm no stranger
to recoil, but the FAL has a much better stock design, has a rubber pad
to keep it from sliding around, and it has a brake. Yeah, that
birdcage on my AK wasn't helping at all.
came back from the class, ran the rifle in a drills night, and set out
to fix the things I didn't like. I decided that if I was going to
shoot this gun, there was no sense fighting it when there are products
available that make it possible for me to modify it to better suit my
needs and help me to get better hits quicker. This is what it looks
I bought an Aimpoint Micro. I got the H-1 model which is good to 5
meters instead of 30, and doesn't have the NV settings (as compared to
the T-1). I mounted it on an Ultimak gas tube rail. Man,
what a difference! I haven't gotten it to the range yet, but already
the slightly higher optic allows me to get more of the toe of the stock
into my shoulder pocket, and it just feels 100% better already. In
chasing the dog around the house I found tracking a moving target and
swinging to that target to be much easier.
2) I bought
a J-tac AK brake. This also made a huge difference in the felt recoil
as well as the muzzle climb for followup shots. I would almost swear
that the muzzle was diving it worked so well.
figured out a way to mount the light. I bought an offset rail from
Brownells, and attached a Surefire G2 in a Vltor mount to the offset
rail. I also mounted a Surefire X300 to it to see which I preferred,
and I actually like the G2 in this location better than the X300.
I changed the grip. I liked the Ergo OK, but some of the guys in the
class had SAW grips and I REALLY liked the way they felt, so I switched.
There are some things I haven't/can't/won't change. 1)
There is nothing to be done with the stock. Short of buying an AR
stock conversion it just is what it is. However, I did find that the
Aimpoint Micro did help by allowing me to keep my head higher and
therefore the stock lower in my shoulder. I would still like to see a
rubber buttpad, but for non-slip moreso than for recoil absorption.
Something like the pad on the CTR, Emod, or SOPMOD would be nice.
I haven't addressed the trigger. I'm generally not a fan of tinkering
with the trigger too much, but this one could use a lot of help.
Although, for my intended purpose for this rifle (inside 100 yards)
it's not that bad.
I'm going to keep
playing with the AK for the rest of the year. I still don't like it,
and I still think the AR is a better solution, but I can see a place
for a $700 gun (base gun plus minimal upgrades) vs. a $3k jocked up
AR. Eventually I suspect I'll scavenge off the optic, stick the thing
in the truck somewhere with a couple of mags, and be done with it.
I'll bring it out once or twice a year to dust off the skills. I think
it's very well suited to this application.
the meantime, it is kind of fun beating AR shooters running jocked-up
guns when I'm running an AK. We had a match last month that required 4
reloads, and even with the tragically slower reload of the AK my time
was still something like 3rd overall out of 17 shooters. Gave me a
chuckle and a certain sense of satisfaction. I think I'm starting to
understand what the revolver shooters enjoy.
the light mount crapped out. The threads won't stay tight even with
red Loctite, so I pulled it for now. I'm thinking of either going with
the GG&G 90 degree mount and the Sure quick release ring I have
now, or just going with the Vltor M-OCG (Off-Set) Scout Mount.
In other news, people have asked me about the cowitness of the optic. I finally got some passable pictures, so here they are.
Front Sight Focus
Red Dot Focus
addition, some people have asked about weight. I know that,
subjectively, it doesn't feel heavy. In fact, this gun with mounts
etc. weighs less, by feel, than a stock Yugo does with wood stocks.
The weight, without light, as pictured below is 7 lbs 5.5 oz empty,
with a loaded Bulgy circle-10 mag weighing in at 1 lb 10.2 oz. Clearly
a magazine that adds over 1.5 lbs is a major factor. For reference, a
loaded 5.56 Pmag (30 rounds) is 17.5 oz.
Unloaded Lancaster AKM-47RM with Accessories 7 lbs. 5.5 oz.
Loaded 7.62x39 Polymer Arsenal Waffle Magazine 1 lbs. 10.2 oz.
In the final analysis, I think that the setup I arrived at is the optimal setup for the AK given the state of the industry and available equipment and accessories at the time.
The Aimpoint H-1 red dot optic mounted on the Ultimak gas
tube replacement rail is the best solution for adding optics to the AK
as of this writing. Note that I said "best", without the qualifier of
"for the money". There are fans of the various com-block AK-specific
optics, most of which mount to the side accessory rail of the AK. I
find that most of these options are far from ideal for a variety of
reasons, not the least of which is height of optic over boreline
(leaving out questions about the reliability and how robust those
optics really are). The H-1 (or T-1) from Aimpoint mounted on the
Ultimak rail gets the optic so low that you can actually cowitness the
stock iron sights (as seen above). That is an important feature when
dealing with bullet drop at distance, holdovers at close range, and
picking a distance at which to zero the rifle.
Near the end of this test another option appeared on the market in the
form of the Larue Tactical Iron-Dot, which replaces the stock rear
sight with a mount for the Burris Fastfire reflex optic as well as
provides a new rear notch for the iron sights. I had hoped to get my
hands on one of these to try out in my last class with the AK in
December (with Pat Rogers of EAG Tactical) but that didn't happen. The
obvious concern with this setup is again the quality of the optic used
as the Fasfire doesn't have the best reputation for durability. There are rumors that Larue will be coming to market with a version of this mount that will work with the Aimpoint H-1/T-1, but nothing has surfaced to date.
I wound up settling on the Surefire G2 mounted in the Vltor Offset Scout mount. The Surefire wears a clickable tailcap that allows both constant and momentary on, as well as a shock-isolated bezel for use in mounting incandescent handheld lights to carbines to avoid breaking bulbs. Another option would be the LED version, but I would still choose to add the clickable cap.
I found this light and mount combination to be very good, but less than ideal. For one, the Vltor mount is attached via thumb screws. Some would argue that this makes the mount "quick detach", but my experience with the mount taught me that if it is loose enough to be removed with bare hands then it's loose enough to come loose and fall off during shooting, and if it's tight enough to resist coming off then it's too tight to remove with bare hands.
What I would really like to see is a small piece of rail added to the Ultimak at the 9 o'clock position. In fact, I would like to see the Ultimak optimized for the optic setup above and not have any rail at all at 12 o'clock forward of the area where the Aimpoint mounts, and a section of rail at the front end at 9 o'clock. The reason for the 9 o'clock rail? To mount a Surefire X300 or similar. I have really become a fan of mounting these pistol lights on carbines, and I think it would really lend itself well to the AK. However, this would interfere with the sling as currently mounted. More about that below.
I used the Blue Force Gear Vickers Combat Application Sling pretty much from start to finish. However, since keeping things on the less expensive side was a stated goal of this experiment, the BFG Victory Sling, or even the Boonie Packer Tactical Quick Adjust Sling may be a better option. The Boonie Packer product is $16 shipped, and all you need to do is cut the clip off of the stock sling for the front mounting point. Very economical at almost 1/4 the price of the VCAS and extremely functional. Just be sure to get the1-1/4" sling and not the 1-1/2".
One thing I would like to see on the market for the AK is a lower handguard with a sling socket built in at the rear. I have actually bought the parts to make this modification but did not get around to installing it. The reason for this is that, first, it's how I typically run a two-point sling on my AR-pattern carbines. However, the reasons I attach here in the AR can carry over to the AK. For one thing, it keeps the sling out of the way of the support hand. I typically find that my support hand is creeping more and more forward, and with the AK and it's stock front sling mount it gets in the way. Second is that it keeps the sling out of the way of the weaponlight, which then plays hand-in-hand with my desire for a 9 o'clock rail for the light as mentioned above.
I kept the Blackjack Swift extended safety lever on the gun for the duration of this experiment. While I came to appreciate it, especially the bolt-hold-open notch for admin purposes, I also came to see it as unnecessary. The notch could be added to the stock safety with a couple of minutes with some hand tools, and it is not the hardship that I thought it would be to swipe off the standard safety, nor to re-engage it.
I came to, while not appreciate, at least get familiar enough with the trigger that came on the Lancaster that I didn't see a need to modify it. In the beginning I thought it was a real liability, and I do still think that the AR trigger is better, I also found it to mostly be a training and familiarity issue on my part.
For a variety of reasons I came to settle on using my support hand thumb to activate the magazine release, strip the empty magazine, and then insert a fresh magazine. I had started down the path of using the fresh magazine to bash the empty out of the gun by hitting the magazine release with it, but found this less than ideal. While the bash method can be the fastest, it becomes the slowest once you miss on your first pass. I found it much more consistent to use my thumb. This led me to a quest for an extended magazine release, and I did not want to get into using one of the trigger-finger activated extended releases like this. I settled on the PWS Mag Latch Extension but quickly found that POS would be a better description. In the days leading up to the December EAG class I had issues getting it to stay on, and within the first hour of shooting at the class it detached itself. I re-installed it and an hour later it fell off again. The good news is that over three days of shooting the AK in this class I really came to appreciate the stock magazine catch and I think that it, along with the trigger and safety, is just fine as-is.
To sum up, I find that for my level of skill (and I consider myself pretty proficient with the AK at this point) the stock controls on the gun more than suffice and that any issue with them is a training issue and not a gear issue. Trying to make the AK something it's not with drastic changes to these components along with fixtures to install AR-style stocks and grips are counter to the whole intent of the platform, and the reason for using the platform to begin with.