The Presidential Election, mass shootings and terror attacks on our soil have touched off a “mini-panic”, not quite the size or scale we saw in 2013 after Sandy Hook. This mini-panic has again focused the attention of would-be gun owners, and current owners of two type of firearms: handguns and semi-auto rifles. The two most popular platforms of rifles right now flying off store shelves are of the course the AR-15 and it’s many variants, and the many AK type rifles.
This is not an article debating the superiority of either of these rifles. I’ve written this to provide a quick buyer’s guide for anyone looking to buy their first AK. With several of these rifles available on the US market, I am going to focus on just a few “every man’s rifles”. The criteria being a rifle must be affordable, reliable, well built, and reasonably accurate.
The Avtomat Kalashnikova (AK)
Mikhail Kalashnikov designed his world changing rifle during the closing days of World War II and it was adopted by the Soviet Military in 1947. Since then, the number of AK-47s, AKMs, and AK-74 rifles and their many variants are estimated to be between 150-200 million throughout the world as of 2016.
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The AK first came to America in large numbers starting in the 1980s. For 3 decades, it was the semi-auto rifle just about anyone could afford with prices under $400. I bought my first Romanian AK, a WASR-10/63 in 2007 for $350. Up until a few years ago, you could still get an AK for around $4-500, sadly those days are gone. The AK’s reputation as being a reliable rifle has strongly resonated with millions of American shooters, who in turn own millions of AK type rifles. Though not as popular in the US as the AR-15, the AK is not going anywhere. The AK rifles in America fall into 2 distinct groups: imports, and domestic built rifles. In This article, we will be discussing AK series rifles currently imported into the United States.
Current Import Rifles
These are the rifles that I recommend for purchase. The reason being they are made the way a Kalashnikov pattern rifle should be. The trunnions are forged from solid hunks of steel as are the bolt carriers. The barrels are cold hammer forged, and most of them are chrome lined. CHF chrome lined barrels are known to last well over 50,000 rounds, with cases of over 100,000 rounds reported. With the current geopolitical system, the AK import market in America is limited. That said, there are still some very solid options available.
The WASR-10: for years the WASR-10 was derided as just a cheap rifle. Early versions were known for canted sights and even canted barrels. But WASRs worked, didn’t jam and were affordable. For the price of less than $400, you could have a solid semi-auto rifle, 2 magazines, and a bayonet. American shooter bought them by the truckload.
After years of complaints, most of the WASRs problems have gone away and new canted rifles are rare. The WASR is made by Cugir (pronounced Soo-gar) in Romania and is imported by Century Arms. WASRs are in nearly every way a mil-spec AK built on the same production lines as AKMs for the Romanian military and exports. The only noticeable differences are the lack of dimples on its stamped receiver and a single stack bolt. The WASR-10 enter America in the single stack magazine configuration, the mag wells are widened to accept standard AK double stack magazines and some US parts added. Beyond this, it is an AKM. Reliability is very high, and most rifles that are now imported are very straight.
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Even with the better quality, when buying a WASR it is prudent to inspect the rifle and make sure the sights, barrel, and trunnions are straight, and the rivets look good. Additionally, some rifles imported in 2015 had extractor issues, it is a very easy fix taking less than 10 minutes to replace the old extractor with a new one. At the time of this writing expect to pay between $650 and $800 for a new WASR. Cost: Expect to pay between $600-720 on a new WASR, prices are coming down after the election cycle.
Romanian M10/RH10: Think of it as a WASR (which it is), with better fit and finish, and a front sight with integrated front sight. Offered by M+M as the M10, and imported by Century as the RH10 both offerings are the same firearm. Folding stocks, AR style flash hider, and polymer stock all are geared towards the tactical shooter or AR-15 owner. Cost: Average price is hovering around $700-750.
Arsenal: has built a reputation as a solid AK builder, and it is often held up as the best imported AK in the US. Arsenal imports rifles built at the Arsenal Factory in Bulgaria and before 2014, also imported rifles Russian-made rifles as well. Their SLR and SAM rifles have built a solid reputation amongst US shooters and collectors as solid, battle ready rifles. SLR rifles come with a stamped receiver chambered in 7.62x39mm, 5.45x39mm or 5.56x45mm. SAM rifles are built in the original AK-47 style with a forged receiver.
The only complaints that have gained any traction with Arsenal firearms are that the price tag is steep, and when compared to a new WASR, the reliability is about the same. The fit and finish of the Arsenal are undoubtedly better, though there are reports of bubbling paint (does not affect rifles’ performance). Cost: SLR Series will cost between $1000-1200, SAM will be north of $1200.
Zastava: Another extremely popular current import rifle is the N-Pap rifles made by Zastava in Serbia. Zastava has been producing and exporting M70 series AK rifles to the US since the 1980s when American Arms and Mitchell Arms first started importing them in the late 1980s. Zastava rifles are now, like WASRs, imported by Century Arms International. Zastava rifles come with a cold hammer forged barrel and is built with forged trunnions. The barrel, however, is not chrome lined.
New Zastava N-Paps have a mixed reputation. Their predecessor, the O-Pap rifles had solid reputations. However, N-Pap rifles are known to have poor receivers that stress crack after several thousand rounds. Battlefield Las Vegas has pulled N-Paps off their rental lines after many of their rifles experienced stress cracks in their receivers. Cost: $650-700.
VEPR: In 2014, Obama and the ATF banned the importation of certain arms and ammunition from the Russian Federation. This included Saiga rifles which were based on the Russian AKM and AK-74. Saiga rifles were commonly rebuilt and converted to near mil-spec configuration. When the ban fell, the only remaining Russian-built AKM style rifle that was legal for import was the Vepr. Veprs are known for their high quality, fit, and finish. They are built with the same forged trunnions and cold hammer forged chrome lined barrels that AKs around the world are known for.
Veprs are a little different than other AKMs, in that they are RPK style rifles. Meaning they have a thicker receiver and trunnions and are very close to the Russian RPK family of light machine guns.
A Vepr can be purchased in both the uncovered sporting configuration or converted into an AKM style rifle. If purchased in the imported sporting configuration, some work will need to be done to convert the rifle to handle double stack standard AK magazines. Cost: An unconverted Vepr will run between $680-800, fully converted expect to pay $1100-1300.
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