Jim’s Gems #4 – My Year with an AK-47

By November 14, 2017Columns, Jim's Gems

For this month’s “Jim’s Gems”, I thought I would deviate from defensive handguns. This article will be about my latest experiences on the rifle range, gunsmithing and my reloading bench. This is my odyssey with an AK-47, the world’s most prolific assault rifle.

I Bought an AK-47

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Yes, I bought one of these

Over the past year, I have been toying around with my old nemesis…the AK-47.  For several years, I had zero interest in this rifle though many of my fellow shooters loved it.  The few times I fired one, I found most buttstocks to be short for the average, American male.  In several of the newer models, I did not see the same precision that is found in the AR-15 platform nor did the rifle have the accuracy of the AR-15 carbines I had been building.  Sure, I have worked on several of these rifles, installing various parts and cleaning a few up for resale.  I even took a class on building an AK-47, but the bug just didn’t take hold of me until I thought I would not be able to purchase one.  Maybe I just didn’t want to like the rifle that was used by our past enemies?   Regardless, before the election last year, I finally purchased an AK-47…”just in case”.

As luck would have it, I ran across several sources for ammunition through different friends and various sales.  Before I had the rifle, I was buying ammo…”just in case”.  I located several types of ammunition for the old AK-47, an early 1990’s lot of Norinco 7.62x39mm 123 grain FMJ (steel core), Golden Tiger 124 grain FMJ, WPA (Wolf) Polyformance 123 grain FMJ, PMC 123 grain FMJ, Winchester 123 grain FMJ, Winchester 123 grain SP.  Also, I handloaded some 7.62x39mm ammunition, using Winchester’s 123 FMJ and Hornady’s 123 grain SST bullets.  It seemed like everywhere I turned, there was another “deal” lying in wait for me to purchase more ammunition!

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Arsenal AK-47

Being the “buy once, cry once” kind of guy that I am, I decided to buy a top of the line AK-47.  Since I didn’t know if I would like it, nor did I know what was going to happen down the road, I didn’t want to have any regrets.  I determined that the Arsenal brand AK-47, SAM7R-61, with milled receiver, black in color plastic furniture, 7.62x39mm caliber, was the rifle for me.  This rifle has a 16″, chrome lined barrel.  Again, as luck would have it, my local dealer had already been researching the same rifle and brand.  What could I do?  It just followed me home.

Impressed With Arsenal

I am impressed with the quality of this rifle from Arsenal.  I found the finish to be perfect for this type of battle rifle.  The stock length of pull was correct for me.  The rifle worked perfectly out of the box with no “tuning” needed by “Shawn the Shade Tree Gun Crank”.  Arsenal includes a military sling, cleaning kit, manual, etc., with each rifle they ship.  Nice touch!

Apparently, the Arsenal factory in Bulgaria knows how to build a reliable AK-47.  The only initial rifle change I made was to the flash hider.  I did not care for the look of Arsenal’s factory muzzle brake, flash hider or whatever the current term is for the “thingy” on the end of the barrel.  Though the factory muzzle brake worked fine, I prefer the original “slant” type muzzle brake.  I located an original slant brake for around $15.00.  Done deal!

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Muzzle Brake – I replaced the one on the right.

Since I have been a big fan of Magpul products, I also installed their sling and pistol grip.  As always, the install was as simple as removing one pistol grip screw, replacing it with another and Magpul’s AK-47 MOE grip.  The Magpul MOE AK-47 pistol grip gave me better control over the traditional grip.  Also, this grip helped me to better locate my trigger finger on the trigger face.  Obviously, the Magpul sling aids in being able to carry the rifle “hands free”, while still allowing me to quickly make adjustments as needed.

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Magpul Grip vs. factory on the right.

Picky, Picky

I quickly learned that AK-47 rifles are “picky” about the magazines they prefer.  I found several types of the polymer Bulgarian, E. German and Magpul brand magazines did not easily rock into the magazine of the Arsenal rifle.  While they may have functioned fine once placed into the rifle, I didn’t want to use a pry bar to remove them.  Luckily, I found that most of the Polish, Bulgarian and Chinese metal/steel military magazines worked fine.  These are usually available for $20-$25 from most wholesalers.

So, off to the range I went.   In shooting the rifle over the past year and firing close to 2,000 rounds, there were only a few malfunctions.  When using a 1992 lot of Norinco (Chinese) brand ammunition, I had two failures to eject/extract in almost 700 rounds of this type of ammunition.  Two rounds of this same ammunition failed to fire on the first strike of the primer, though both cartridges fired on the second run through the rifle.  True to the AK-47’s reputation on reliability, there were no other malfunctions with any other brand of factory or handloaded ammunition.  My guess is that these four malfunctions were due to this specific lot of Norinco 123 grain FMJ ammunition and not reflective of any defect in the Arsenal AK-47 rifle.

The more I fired this rifle, the more I warmed up to it.  Unfortunately, I initially found that the rifle was not very accurate.  Groups of 5-6″, using iron sights from a rest at 50 yards, were not uncommon using Golden Tiger 123 grain FMJ ammunition.

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Various brands of AK-47 ammo that were tested.

Thinking that this poor level of performance may have been me, I had several other skilled shooters to try out this rifle.  Again, nobody was going to vote this rifle “Bench Rest Rifle of the Year”.

At the same distance, I also tried the old, reliable 5.56mm, BCM brand, 16″ barreled, AR-15 Recce carbine for comparison.  Group sizes were hovering around 1″, or less, at 50 yards from the AR-15 with iron sights.  This tells me that the “flyers” are not just from shooter error.

Accurate Rifles Are Interesting

The late Colonel Townsend Whelen once said, “Only accurate rifles are interesting”.  I agree.  Furthermore, I just can’t stand to let something beat me.

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Reloading the AK-47

So, it’s off to the reloading bench I go.  After knocking the dust off of my reloading dies, I purchased a box of Winchester brand 123 grain FMJ and Hornady 123 grain SST bullets for reloading (both were .310″ diameter).  I used 25.0 grains of Accurate #1680 powder, with Federal and Winchester large rifle primers in new Winchester cases.  Back to the range I go.

All of the handloads functioned perfectly.  They shot to the same point of aim and point of impact as the other 123/124 grain FMJ factory ammunition.  As far as 5-shot, 50 yard accuracy from benchrest, this is what I found:

Golden Tiger 124 grain FMJ 6″ groups
WPA Polyformance 123 grain FMJ 5″ groups
Norinco 123 grain FMJ, steel core 6″ groups
Winchester 123 grain FMJ 4″ groups
Winchester 123 grain SP 3″ groups
PMC 123 grain FMJ 4″ groups
Winchester 123 grain FMJ handload 3″ groups
Hornady 123 grain SST handload 2″ groups
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7.62 x 39mm Reloading Dies


As you can see, ammunition matters in the AK-47 just as it does in every other rifle, pistol or shotgun.  The better quality ammunition you feed your rifle, the more accurate it will become.  Better quality cases, bullets and primers all make a difference.

CMC To The Rescue

During the summer, I was talking with a good friend of mine who works in the firearms industry.  While catching up, I was telling him about my experiments with the AK-47.  After learning that I was seriously working with an AK-47, he asked if I had heard about the new CMC trigger for the AK-47.  At this point, I had not.  But, I had used CMC triggers in numerous AR-15’s and was already sold on their products.  While the factory Arsenal trigger was serviceable, I always appreciate a better trigger on any firearm.

After my friend made a telephone call to CMC Triggers, I picked up three of their 3.5 lb. single stage, standard shoe AK-47 triggers.  Trigger shoes are available in straight and curved triggers, as well as the traditional AK trigger shoe.  These shoes are modular so they can be easily switched out if you do not like the one you have.

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CMC AK “Elite” Trigger

I installed my trigger in about 30 minutes.  The written instructions and several YouTube videos make it easy for anyone with a little mechanical skill to handle this job.  I discovered that Arsenal AK-47’s do not have the correct safety to work properly.  The trigger works fine, but the safety will not engage.

A quick call to CMC Triggers directed me to Kreb’s Custom, known as one of the premier AK-47 builders.  Kreb’s shipped out their “full auto” safety for the milled receiver rifle I had – their part # AKM6F.  This safety has a bolt “hold open” feature that I believe is lacking on the original AK-47 design.  So far, so good.

How would this trigger work in another AK-47 rifle with a non-gunsmith person installing the same?  Well, I wanted to know!  So, I went to find my old friend, who we’ll call “Mike”.  “Mike” has the same addiction as we do…guns.  He has a Norinco Mak-90, AK-47 clone, 7.62x39mm rifle that shoots very well.  After Mike tried the CMC single stage AK-47 trigger in my rifle, he wanted to try one in his.  About 45 minutes later, Mike had installed his new CMC trigger – all by himself.  It should be noted that Mike had to make a few file strokes on the bottom of the safety lever for clearance.  A new safety lever was not needed for the Norinco Mak-90, since the existing safety worked with the slight modification.

With the new handloads, both rifles were consistent with 2″ group shooters, at 50 yards from the rest.  Many of the groups had 3-4 rounds that were inside of less than 1″, though one of the “flyers” would open the group up to 2″.  The CMC triggers worked perfectly and were easily installed by two people who had little experience with the AK-47 platform.

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Trigger Comparison: Stock Trigger (Top), CMC (Bottom)

At $225.00 per unit retail, the CMC trigger is not cheap.  However, you get what you pay for.  Since the trigger has a shorter reset, the trigger works as advertised and makes for faster follow-up shots.  I would like to note that CMC Triggers was an absolute pleasure to deal with, even after the sale.  When I called back about the safety question, I was just a regular customer who had an issue.  There is no name dropping needed with CMC Triggers.  To top things off, a real person answers the telephone!

Jim Don’t Tell Me…

Many of you are asking the next question, “Jim, are you getting rid of your AR-15 for an AK-47?”  No, I’m not!  What I can say is that I appreciate the AK-47 for what it is and it has a place in my safe.  I have learned how I can get the most out of it for accuracy and performance, while using parts and components that were not available until the past few years.  The best thing is that cheap ammunition is available for practice…so cheap that you cannot even handload it for the same cost.

If you are an AK shooter, give these companies, components and parts another look.  I’m glad that I did…”just in case”.  Until next month…

Hopefully, I’ll see you on the range!


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