Like anyone else, I always want an unbiased review of firearms. To have an unbiased review of AKs I needed someone who was knowledgable with the mechanics of firearms and a shooter. I didn't want an AK nut doing the review but someone who has successfully used many different platforms.
I've known Canadian Bacon since shortly after he immigrated to the United States—this was after Canada enacted her draconian gun laws. He's one of the finest gun slingers in Vermont winning top gun honors at the 2006 Vermont Police Academy Handgun Championship. This competition included the top guns from the Vermont State Police, local police and sheriff departments, the VNG, and the Vermont contingent of alphabet agency shooters. FTR, he's no slouch with a long gun or a shotgun either. He's also the first Canadian cowboy I've known—good people.
Here's his evaluation of the five AKs.
Test & Evaluation: AK-47 Variants
When invited to assist in the comparison test and evaluation of five semi-auto AK variants, I jumped at the chance. However, none of the participants knew when we scheduled the event that temperatures would hover around 5 degrees with some wind. All shooting was done from the prone position at 50 and 100 yards. With nothing between me and the ground except clothing and a tarp, it made for a brisk day. The 50 yard portion was conducted unsupported and a range bag was used to support the forend from the 100 yard line. Other than about five rounds to warm up our trigger fingers, each shooter fired a single five round group at each range, unless the rifle needed to be zeroed to get us on paper.
This was not an exhaustive T&E to assess long term
durability, nor was it a test of the particular rifle's mechanical ability
to shoot tiny groups. Do not interpret the groups in the photos as the
best the rifles are capable of producing. No effort to seek a pet load
or pick the best group was done: I already mentioned that it was 5 degrees
and a little windy so we were lucky to get all the testing done in the
time we had. However, it did provide a pretty good side by side comparison.
This Romanian made AK variant features a stamped receiver (no dimples on the mag well), with laminated wood stock, forend and polymer pistol grip
The bore is chromed as is the gas piston. This rifle has the AKM style slant suppressor and a bayonet lug, although other models produced have neither the suppressor, nor the bayonet lug.
The butt stock has a sling swivel on the bottom. The gas tube is unperforated for those interested in such things and the receiver has a scope rail attached. The trigger is the single hook variety.
The metal appeared to be finished with a fairly light parkerizing. The finish wasn't even and there were numerous shallow scratches or marks on the receiver and barrel.
The laminated wood appeared to have been made from recycled Wal-Mart shipping crates. There were tool marks, cast marks and burred screw heads evident. The smooth metal butt plate was somewhat slippery, and the stock is the short Warsaw Pact style, making a consistent cheek weld difficult.
The pistol grip had a small plastic tab, presumably left from fabrication, that would have irritated the shooter's palm if left as is. It was easily trimmed off with a knife blade.
The trigger pull is long, fairly heavy, and somewhat gritty. The action was also a little stiff. Metal magazines inserted without too much effort but mag release was stiff, as the engagement surface of the mag catch was burred. This could easily be remedied with a file and/or stone.
The safety operated without excessive effort.
The interior of the mag well was a little on the rough side.
During firing, the sights, as they came from the factory, were fairly well regulated, despite the fact that the front sight was slightly off center. This could indicate that the front sight base wasn't mounted to the barrel exactly at 12 o'clock. This is common with many AKs I have seen but was not bothersome on this particular rifle.
The rear sight was graduated from 100 -1000 yards. The other rifles tested had 100-800 yard sights.
The rifle grouped reasonably well at 50 yards, but unfortunately suffered from a test ending malfunction that prevented us from trying it out at 100 yards.
The trigger spring (real AK lovers out there excuse me if I am mucking up the proper nomenclature) failed to maintain pressure on the trigger pin, permitting the trigger pin to slip out of the receiver, thereby causing the trigger to fail to release the sear. This happened several times. I observed a groove in the trigger pin that appeared to be where the spring was supposed to rest, but the spring wouldn't stay put.
On retrospect, I believe that the hammer pin retaining
spring may have been missing as well. With time and weather against
us, I decided to stop there.
Polytech AKS 762
This Chinese made AK featured a stamped, dimpled receiver, what appeared to be a heavy barrel, had all wood furniture and a folding triangular bayonet. The sling swivel was mounted on the bottom of the short butt stock and the butt plate was smooth metal.
This rifle had no suppressor and the gas tube is of the perforated variety. The bore, gas piston and bolt appeared to be chromed and the bolt carrier was left in the white. The finish was blued.
There were milling marks on the exterior of the barrel, and some minor fabricating marks on the front sight base and rear sight base and trunnion. The bluing was nicely done and the wood was light (on the blonde side) as is common with Chinese rifles.
The action was fairly smooth to operate and the double hook trigger was fairly light and smooth as AKs go. The safety was very easy to engage & disengage and magazines inserted and ejected easily.
The front sight was well centered in its housing but was difficult to obtain a good sight picture as the post was fully hooded (my eyes found the wide post in the small circle made for a cluttered sight picture).
The range session confirmed that the sights were well regulated for windage. The rifle grouped reasonably well due to the good trigger, but the slippery butt plate and fully hooded front sight made it tougher and slower to acquire and hold a good sight picture at 100 yards.
The front sight also would need to be turned down to raise the point of impact up as it shot low, but this was a used gun so we can't hold that against it.
Overall, except for the front sight and slippery butt
plate, this was a really nice rifle that felt solid. It also appeared
to be a well constructed rifle. These rifles carry a fairly high price
tag due to their scarcity on the market place.
Arsenal SA M-7S
This US made rifle, features a milled steel receiver, chrome gas piston, bolt and bore. The furniture was completely synthetic/polymer and felt a little longer, making it the NATO style stock.
The butt plate is metal and has horizontal waffle shaped groves to keep it anchored to the shoulder. The finish was a black enamel type that was dark and well applied. There were but a few very minor casting marks on the front sight base and rear sight block and trunnion.
The rifle had a slotted suppressor and a sling swivel mounted on the left side of the butt stock. The action operated smoothly, as did the safety. Magazines were of the polymer waffle type that inserted and ejected easily as well.
The double hook trigger was smooth and light. The trigger reset was a little long feeling, but smooth and clean. The gas tube was the solid unperforated type, and the receiver has a scope rail already attached.
This was a very solid feeling rifle that was extremely
well put together and well finished. I can see why those who own them
like them. This rifle grouped very well and felt great to shoot. The
smooth, light trigger and waffled butt plate probably helped.
This rifle featured a machined steel receiver, slant suppressor and synthetic furniture. The gas piston, bolt and bore were chromed and the gas tube is perforated.
This rifle was not fitted with a scope rail and the parkerized finish was dark and appeared evenly applied. There were almost no tool marks evident on the exterior. The parts were well fitted and the rifle had a solid, quality feel to it, as did the Arsenal.
The stock has a side mounted swivel and waffled metal butt plate. The trigger is of the double hook variety, and the trigger pull was smooth and light with a little creep, and a clean/crisp reset.
The safety operated smoothly, as did the magazine release. The front sight appeared to be slightly off center, but nothing serious enough to detract from the sight picture.
The rifle shot well, and the sights were well regulated.
This was a quality rifle that was well finished, well put together and
This Armory USA receiver based rifle featured a stamped, dimpled receiver, chrome bore, bolt and gas piston.
The finish was a dark possibly moly coat type finish. Whatever it was, it was very well done and evenly applied.
The rifle had a short, slotted Phantom suppressor. The single hook trigger showed evidence of extensive polishing on the sear surfaces and the reset surfaces.
The polished internals really improved the trigger. I forgot I was shooting an AK for a while. The trigger pull was really exceptional, both smooth and light. The rifle operated smoothly, the safety was smooth, magazines were inserted easily and ejected easily.
The black polymer stock, which was grooved and had a side mounted sling swivel, was comfortable. The front sight was well centered and there were virtually no tool marks or flaws in the finish...maybe some minor casting marks on the sight block and trunnion. The gas tube was perforated.
The operating rod had what appeared to be hardened grease on it that was tough to get off. I wouldn't quite call it pitting, but it was stuck on pretty well.
The receiver was of the thicker 1.6mm type.
The rifle shot very well and the sights were reasonably well regulated out of the box. This rifle was extremely well constructed and well finished. The trigger was exceptional.
The only problem was that it was unreliable with the test
ammo, which was HP. Switching from metal to Bulgarian polymer mags improved
feeding, but the problem was still there. Going to hardball was the
solution, but for the price this rifle should feed hollow point ammunition.
All the other rifles feed the HP. These failures to feed could be eliminated
with some careful polishing of the chamber, but as I said, for the price...
I was a little disappointed by the Century Arms rifle, as it failed to function during testing. It is the lowest price AK tested and was a little rough, but it should work.
I personally own one of these rifles that has functioned flawlessly, and has had about 1000 rounds or more through it. With a little filing and stoning to improve loading/unloading and a Brownells Alumi-hide II paint job to make it a little less homely, it has proven to be a decent rifle. I am sure that the fix for the Century WASR 10 would be a new trigger spring or hammer pin retaining spring.
The Poly Tech AK was well made and well finished, functioned smoothly, and shot well. It has the collector appeal too. I just didn't like the fully hooded front sight and the slippery butt plate. Easy to fix if it were mine.
The Arsenal and Vector arms were both well made, well finished and smooth handling/functioning. They both shot well and I would be more than happy to have either one. I liked the Vector a little better, but only because I liked the looks of the parkerized finish and slant suppressor better than the Arsenal's black finish and slotted suppressor.
The Krebs was a disappointment, because of the reliability issue. Maybe it could be overcome with some breaking in (we were firing a brand new gun), or maybe it needs to be sent back for a little chamber throating/polishing.
If it were 100 percent, which I know it can be, it will
be the cream of the crop. It is well made, well finished, has a nice
suppressor and an outstanding trigger.
AK-47 Test and Evaluation: UPDATE
Upon closer inspection back at the shop, the CAI Romanian WASR 10 was easily repaired.
It seems that the trigger pin retaining spring was improperly installed. The fix required reinstalling the spring to properly bear against the trigger pin and hook under the hammer pin to provide proper tension. No new parts were needed and the fix took only a few minutes.
As well, I noted that another WASR in the shop needed a simple repair to the hammer spring, which was also improperly installed. In short, the WASR 10 is an ok AK (excuse the pun), but may need some minor tweaking to get it to work properly.
While gently throating the Krebs chamber, I also noted that it uses a flat spring in lieu of the conventional trigger spring, obviously a higher quality part. After some careful and gentle polishing of the feed ramp and barrel throat, and replacing the magazine, the Krebs fed HP rounds reliably. I should note that Brian Krebs offered to polish and throat the rifle but had no problem letting me take care of it myself to speed things up and save the shipping.
It's nice to have someone trust you to take care of business and not worry so much about "voiding the warranty."
On a much nicer day, I had the opportunity to shoot several three round groups with the top three performers (Krebs, Arsenal and Vector) at 100 yards. All testing was prone, using only a range bag for forend support.
The Arsenal provided the tightest overall groups and was the most consistent performer. This could be due to the heavy milled receiver, nice trigger, and full length stock. In any event, all the groups fired were pretty impressive for an iron sighted rifle firing milspec ammo. I am no Carlos Hathcock either.
The Vector shot nice groups but was not as consistent as the Krebs or the Arsenal. One of the groups was exceptionally tight, but it couldn't perform the same feat with regularity. This isn't to say that it shot poorly, because the groups were quite respectable, but it wasn't the top performer.
The Krebs shot with great consistency, probably attributable to the custom polishing of the innards, the care with which it was put together, and quality of parts used. It didn't shoot groups as tight as the Arsenal, but given the fact that it uses a stamped receiver (lighter, less rigid) and has a shorter barrel and sight radius, it still shot very well. With its exceptional trigger and the effective suppressor, it was a joy to shoot.
We also had the chance to shoot these rifles at approx 25-30 yards offhand from the shoulder firing ten shot groups to see how they pointed and handled under recoil.
Three of us engaged in this test (ok it was mainly for fun) and came up with similar observations. The Arsenal shoots extremely well, but is a little heavier and didn't feel as handy as the Krebs and Vector. That being said, once you get the Arsenal pointed where you want it, it really stabilized well and recovered from recoil quickly. The shorter and handier Vector felt lively, but had a little more felt recoil than the Arsenal and didn't group quite as well. The Krebs, had the absolute best feel for quick and smooth handling. The suppressor seemed to dampen recoil (maybe it is a combination of factors) and the trigger made rapid, accurate hits come naturally.
So to update my conclusions, after ringing out the rifles a while, I have to say that you do get what you pay for. All three of the finalists are great AKs. If fast handling, fast target acquisition and recoil recovery are important to you, and you can afford it, the Krebs is the AK for you. It may not shoot groups quite as tight as the milled Arsenal, but it is a smooth and consistent shooter.
If you value tight groups and don't mind the extra length and weight, the Arsenal is a great shooter. The Vector, although not as fast handling as the Krebs, and not as consistent a shooter as the Krebs and Arsenal, is still a fine AK variant that is well made and smooth functioning.
If I had to pick one of these rifles to go into harms way, I would take the Krebs (after throating and polishing the feed ramp) without hesitation.
Choosing between the Arsenal and Vector would be pretty much a toss up. The deciding factor would be whether the extra length and weight but better accuracy of the Arsenal would be more or less important than the quicker handling of the Vector. I guess if pushed to make a choice, I would probably take the Arsenal due to the accuracy potential.