Without a doubt, you can not think of modern military small arms and not have the image of an AK-47 come to mind. For years, and still to this day, the AK was seen as a ‘commie gun’ or the rifle of terrorists and the proverbial ‘bad guy’. But, today in America you are just as likely to see and AK pattern rifle on the range as you are the American counterpart the AR.
The AK quickly earned its way into the history books by becoming the most prolific small arm ever produced. There are several reasons for this that go beyond its simple, reliable and legendary rugged design, such as the use of the rights to produce AK’s as a diplomatic tool during the Cold War era. Perhaps this use of the AK by then Soviet Russia is why we have such an association with it being the weapon of the enemy, considering every foe America has faced since the Korean War was armed with some variant of the AK design I suppose this would be accurate.
The times have changed though, and with the collapse of the Soviet Union the American market has been flooded with various copies, some licensed, some not, of Mikhail’s original design – and Americans have been buying them.
In the years following the Vietnam War the AK was a novelty item and was limited to very few Class III versions, mainly Type-56 Chinese rifles that found their way from Vietnam. Oddly enough, actual Russian made AK’s were some of the last to make it to the American market. The Chinese were the initial venture capitalists to offer their versions. Companies like Polytech and Norinco introduced various models of the Type-56 to an eager market for many years up until the import ban of 89’ and the assault weapons ban of 1994 that banned both companies. It is important to note that there was a lot of controversy regarding the illegal importation of military arms during the Polytech and Norinco import years. The Chinese AK’s are still considered some of the finest AK’s ever offered to American consumers and are worth many times their initial back page of gun magazine prices of $175.00.
Unfortunately, though the market has opened up it also opened up to some AK’s of a lesser quality in the Post-Ban era. Everyone has heard horror stories of the quality of the WASR warhorse – some of which is earned but most of which is blown out of proportion. Most of the quality concerns of today’s AK’s are mainly an issue of importers such as Century International Arms (who seems to have no concerns over quality or end user safety when assembling their rifles). Most of today’s AK’s are imported into the states as a parts kit – that is that the receiver is cut and disassembled and reassembled on a new receiver sometimes using barrels and trunnions from different rifles. There in lies the biggest issue. Most AK’s based off of the AKM pattern feature a barrel that is pinned into the receiver and trunnion by two pins. Over use wear begins to develop and the holes in the trunnions will open-up more as well as wear of the barrel itself. This of course leads to wider groups and is translated as Minute of Milk Jug by the gun-pros.
So what is the best AK to get you may ask – your mileage may vary, but I have found the newly imported, and new production, Saiga rifles to be quit affordable and amazingly accurate compared to parts guns. In addition to being new, Saigas are also produced by the Izhmash company where Kalashnikov and his son continue to work as weapon designers. There are companies that sell converted, or modified, Saigas as well – such as Arsenal Inc. in Las Vegas, NV, Kreb’s Customs and Redstick to name a few. There are many that swear by the quality of Bulgarian AK’s and will argue till they are red in the face that milled receivers are inherently better and more accurate – that is not the case and it is important to note that the original design of the AK was to be used on a stamped receiver. The only thing a milled AK has over a stamped AK is weight to be honest.
So in the end with some many choices, like Romanian, Yugoslavian, Egyptian, Russian, Chinese, Bulgarian, Polish, Hungarian and American home grown, what’s best for you will be a matter of your own intended use and personal likes and dislikes – but know that when it comes to choosing an AK, there is no wrong choice.