Coming Soon: SilencerCo Specwar 556 Review

My apologies for the relative silence around here as of late. A recent family emergency has pulled me away from a number of exciting projects that I’ve looked forward to sharing. Fortunately, I am currently wrapping up my experiential review of SilencerCo’s popular Specwar 556 suppressor! While my feedback won’t include sound pressure/decibel testing (look to Silencer Shop for that), I will go over some of the Specwar’s features and plan to highlight those that help it stand apart from competitors. Thanks to everyone who has continued to stop by during my time away; I look forward to hopping back in the saddle.

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Coming Soon: Primary Arms 4x ACSS Compact Prism Scope Review

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While at the range a few weeks ago, I concluded that in order to get the most out of my Knight’s Armament SR-15 upper receiver assembly, I really needed to exchange my Primary Arms red dot sight for something with a little magnification. With my astigmatism, the red dot was challenging to use on cloudy days and in low light situations and I tend to strive for precision while shooting, rather than speed. After hearing impressive feedback for the Primary Arms 4x ACSS Compact Prism Scope, I decided to try one for myself. So far, let’s just say that the scope has been very impressive. I should have a full review in two weeks.

Inter Ordnance AKM247 Review

When Inter Ordnance (aka. I.O. Inc.) moved from North Carolina to Florida two years ago, the company’s stated goal was to seek out better talent in order to improve the quality of their builds. Even so, many AK enthusiasts who feel burned by the company’s past offerings have been reluctant (or downright unwilling) to believe the company’s claims. Indeed, the animosity against I.O. in online forums is so intense that most discussions of their AKs devolve into arguments and rants. In order to give I.O. a fair shake, Atlantic Firearms sent out an open invitation for reviewers to check out one of I.O.’s standard AKM247 rifles. As an AK enthusiast and collector, I had to take the bait.

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About the Rifle

Since the AKM is probably the most prolific rifle ever conceived, I will save the history lesson that I would normally dive into at this point in a review. Suffice it to say that the design is a product of the late 1950s, is an evolution of Kalashnikov’s AK-47, and there are millions of AKMs from multiple countries in worldwide circulation. The AKM 247 is I.O.’s attempt to tap into this design and legacy with a wholly American made rifle.

Extended magazine release

Extended magazine release

As an AKM-based firearm, the AKM247 is chambered in 7.62x39mm and is built around a stamped steel receiver. The roughly 16-inch barrel is capped with a standard AKM slanted muzzle brake and the gas block is the classic 45-degree style with a functional bayonet lug. The AKM247’s rear sight leaf is notched like all other tangent rear sights and is graduated in 100 meter increments all the way out to an optimistic 1000 meters. While the AKM247 is compatible with all AK magazines, it ships with two polymer, US-made 30-round magazines. In a departure from a military AKM, the magazine release on the AKM247 has an extended paddle and the safety is notched in order to lock the bolt carrier near its rearmost position. Lastly, the rifle comes with a cheap cleaning kit.

Safety with notch for bolt carrier

Safety with notch for bolt carrier

Finish

Most of the steel parts on the AKM247 exhibit a flat gray parkerized (or phosphated) finish. I know some shooters will prefer a nicer painted or blued treatment on their rifles, but in this price range such luxuries cannot be expected. Parkerization offers better corrosion resistance than bluing and also happens to provide an excellent base coat for people who are interested in painting the rifle after purchase. Typically, most modern military AKs employ some sort of phosphate treatment under a painted finish. I have had great success using appliance epoxy over the top of similar finishes and the end product looks very similar to a Russian paint job, but is actually quite a bit more durable. In light of this fact, I have no problem with the phosphating on the AKM247.

Nitride barrel with phosphated parts. Note the odd use of roll pins for the gas block and front site. I.O. tells me they are moving away from these.

Nitride barrel with phosphated parts. Note the odd use of roll pins for the gas block and front site. I.O. tells me they are moving away from these.

The barrel on the AKM247 has undergone nitride treatment for added strength and corrosion resistance. Many AK purists balk at nitriding as incorrect or not true to original specifications. While they are correct, nitride treated barrels can actually be excellent options for budget-minded builders and shooters. Treated barrels often approach their cold hammer forged (CHF) counterparts in overall hardness while offering similar corrosion resistance to chrome lined options. Since nitriding is a penetrating treatment done to the steel of the barrel, it does not require the bore to be cut oversize, as is the case with chrome lining. There is also no risk of flaking, a flaw that sometimes manifests in chrome lined barrels. While I will wait until the Range Report to address the accuracy of the AKM247, I can say that the nitride barrel’s performance impressed me enough to consider similar options in future builds.

The barrel is not chrome lined, but it is nitrided.

The barrel is not chrome lined, but it is nitrided.

Furniture

At my request, Atlantic Firearms provided me with the AKM247-C version of Inter Ordnance’s rifle. The “C” suffix denotes “classic”, meaning this rifle has a wood stock and similarly laminated handguards. Made with Canadian birch, I must say that it is some of the best made non-Russian laminate I have seen. The grain is not quite as nice as true Russian examples, but the laminated layers do possess a similar “chameleon”, or color shifting appearance.

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The overall shape of the furniture is also reasonably close to original laminate. The stock’s comb approximates the typical Izhmash cut and the upper handguard is made out of thinly cut veneer that has been wrapped into shape. While the bottom of the lower handguard does not feature a drain hole, this area is appropriately cross-laminated (the lower handguard is constructed of three separate laminate sections that have been glued together). The palm swells on the lower handguard are not perfectly accurate for an AKM and feel more like those found on AK-74s. Unlike most AKM variants, the stock has a ribbed butt plate that features no trapdoor for storage, so the five or six people that actually keep a cleaning kit in there might be disappointed. The whole set appears to be finished in a sprayed-on lacquer.

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After all this praise, it is disappointing that I.O. insisted on slapping a huge “Made in the USA” sticker on the left side of the stock. Removing this decal and the sticky residue it left behind practically necessitates refinishing the entire furniture set. I could not help but roll my eyes in disgust as I carefully, but rigorously scraped at the mess left behind by this gaudy sticker. Even with rubbing alcohol, I could not completely remove the tacky substance. Frankly, when the box, manual, and receiver all say “Made in the USA”, slapping it on the stock is just flat out overkill and a bit tacky (pun intended).

If you look carefully, you can see the residue left behind by the

If you look carefully, you can see the residue left behind by the “Made in USA” sticker.

RIbbed buttplate

RIbbed buttplate

The pistol grip is the only real detractor from this otherwise superb furniture set. The grip looks and feels like the awkward love-child of an affair between a Galil and an AK. I prefer traditional AK grips and this one does not fit my hands well at all.

Odd Galil-ish grip

Odd Galil-ish grip

Trigger

Shooters who have handled a semi-automatic AK or two before would immediately recognize the AKM247’s trigger. While not officially Tapco branded, the I.O. trigger is very similar in both feel and appearance to the popular G2. As a result, the pull is exceptionally light and crisp. At around 3.5 pounds according to my Lyman trigger pull gauge, The AKM247’s trigger is right around what I would consider ideal for a semi-automatic defensive rifle.

Magazines

Typically, I would not spend much time talking about the magazines that come with an AR or AK variant. With so many great options on the market, most of us already own a pile of our favorites and use them with all compatible rifles. However in this case, I have chosen to make an exception. As a result of its features and price, the AKM247 is positioned as an entry level AKM clone. Because of this, I expect most people who are interested in the AKM247 are unlikely to have a deep stash of AK magazines ready for use with the rifle like some of us collectors might.

The rifle has a phosphate finish and an optics rail on the side. Note the magazine, which outwardly resembles a Bulgarian

The rifle has a phosphate finish and an optics rail on the side. Note the magazine, which outwardly resembles a Bulgarian “waffle mag”.

The included magazines outwardly resemble Bulgarian “waffle mags”, but are closer matches for the waffle pattern Pro-Mag offerings. I cannot say for sure that Pro-Mag is the OEM for the I.O. parts, but I strongly suspect they may be. Two magazines are included with the rifle and each holds 30 rounds, but one of the parts I received was improperly assembled and only held 26 rounds out of the box. The feed lips and locking lugs on the I.O. magazines are not steel reinforced, so shooters who plan to run the rifle hard may want to upgrade to surplus steel magazines to mitigate the risk of breakage. For casual range use and plinking however, they should fit the bill. When locked into the rifle, the I.O. magazines exhibit no wobble, but they can be somewhat challenging to insert when new. I have also found that the bolt and carrier tend to drag on the feed lips of these magazines, whereas others do not.

I have had very good luck with using surplus and other aftermarket magazines in the AKM247. My steel Russian and Egyptian magazines fit perfectly, as do commercial Bulgarian 40-round polymer magazines and Magpul P-MAGs. Of the above, the P-MAGs are the only ones that are slightly loose when inserted. Brief testing also revealed that all of these options fed the AKM 247 reliably in controlled conditions. I did not carry out an extensive torture test of the I.O. magazines, nor did I validate that all other magazines would continue to work with the AKM247 when exposed to harsh conditions.

Build Quality

Without question, the top questions surrounding these new I.O. AKs relate to their parts and build quality. Most who read this review will be familiar with I.O.’s questionable past and well-earned bad reputation. I.O. claims to have turned a corner, but most enthusiasts are not buying it. My experience with the AKM247 has been a mixed bag, but in general the rifle works as expected.

The AKM247 includes a recoil buffer. I am not a fan.

The AKM247 includes a recoil buffer. I am not a fan.

To start, the sights on my example are incredibly straight and required some very minimal windage adjustment to zero. The rifle as a whole is tight and had no rattle (aside from the sling swivel) out of the box. The cast parts are surprisingly well finished.

Cast rear sight leaf

Cast rear sight leaf

In terms of materials used, the barrel is 4140 steel that has been nitride treated for corrosion resistance and hardness that approaches cold hammer forging. According to I.O COO Ramzi Kheireddine, the cast parts (front sight base, gas block, rear sight base and leaf, front trunnion, bolt carrier, and rear trunnion) are all made of 4140 steel as well. The stamped receiver is fully heat treated and the bolt appears to be nicely machined and of high quality.

Note the dimpled receiver. This image also shows the cast trunnion.

Note the dimpled receiver. This image also shows the cast trunnion. The shadows around the rivets are caused by excess oil.

Unlike military AKMs, the AKM247 uses a cast bolt carrier.

Unlike military AKMs, the AKM247 uses a cast bolt carrier.

On a less positive note, I did experience a crippling malfunction early in my first range session with the AKM247. Feeling that the rifle was overgassed and a bit harsh on the shoulder, I went ahead and pulled the recoil buffer from the gun. In my opinion, a properly built AK has no need for such additions. Unfortunately, removal of this part led to an almost immediate show-stopping malfunction.

Without the recoil buffer, the bolt carrier jumps the receiver rails.

Without the recoil buffer, the bolt carrier jumps the receiver rails.

The photos illustrate the cause of the failure. Without the buffer, the bolt carrier was able to travel back in the receiver far enough to jump off the welded internal rails. While some military AKMs will jam like this on occasion, it is fairly rare. Unlike such “milspec” rifles, the AKM247’s bolt carrier does not have a chamfered leading edge to help prevent this jam. After discussing this issue with I.O.’s Ramzi Kheireddine, it appears the company will be using chamfered carriers moving forward (see update at the end of this review).

Note the geometry differences between the AKM247 carrier (top) and Saiga carrier (bottom). The highlighted chamfer can help prevent malfunctions.

Note the geometry differences between the AKM247 carrier (top) and Saiga carrier (bottom). The highlighted chamfer can help prevent malfunctions.

On a properly built AKM, the receiver should be dimpled into the countersunk lower hole of the front trunnion and a swell-neck rivet should be used for additional strength. Likewise, both rear trunnion rivets should be swell-neck style and installed in dimpled holes. In my initial assessment, I concluded that the AKM247 did not use the proper rivets or dimpling in these areas. This would have meant that the security of both trunnions relied entirely on the shear strength of the rivets. On a rifle that is already noticeably overgassed, these omissions worried me. According to Ramzi, my determination was not correct. The trunnion rivets are all swell neck fasteners that have been crushed in dimpled/countersunk holes. However, it appears the company is countersinking all the holes on the front trunnion. This is a departure from traditional AKM trunnions that only have countersunk lower holes. It also appears that the receiver has not been fully dimpled underneath the swell neck rivets. Notice how the front two rivets have a lip around their heads. This looks to me like the swell neck is actually mushrooming out of the hole during compression.

Swell neck rivets and countersunk trunnion holes. (Photo provided by Inter Ordnance)

Swell neck rivets and countersunk trunnion holes. (Photo provided by Inter Ordnance)

This bottom rivet should be dimpled into the receiver/trunnion. The receiver should look

According to I.O., these rivets are properly installed into countersunk trunnion holes. If so, this is likely the least obvious example of such work. Usually, receivers appear “pinched” around these rivets.

The rear trunnion rivets should also be dimpled into the receiver/trunnion.

Lastly, the front trunnion is a cast part that is then riveted to the receiver subsequent to barrel installation. Outside of the bolt and barrel, the front trunnion is probably the part exposed to the greatest pressure when the rifle is fired. This is a part that has never (to my knowledge) been made from castings on military rifles and I am concerned that the cast trunnion might lack the strength of traditional milled parts. Furthermore, it is not ideal to rivet the trunnion after barrel installation. This order of operations leads to the barrel being used as a bucking bar for the rivets. While this will not damage the barrel, it makes it impossible to determine if the rivets have crushed properly.

Range Report

The first thing I noticed when shooting the AKM247 was that the rifle is quite clearly overgassed. Compared to my Saiga, the AKM247 is considerably less pleasant to shoot. I will not go so far as to say that the rifle feels like a .308, but I.O. has verified that the gas port is drilled at the high end of spec, likely close to some of the Chinese rifles out there. According to the company, the rationale behind this decision was to increase the rifle’s reliability with multiple types of ammunition because early adopters had complained about sluggish cycling. Frankly, I feel that their issues were probably caused by the included magazines and the buffer-shortened recoil stroke. Still, I.O. has asserted that they will be sticking with the large gas port.

Range time with the AKM247

Range time with the AKM247

Once I got past the surprisingly stout recoil impulse, I was surprised to see that the rifle is very accurate for a standard AKM build. The sights needed almost no adjustment out of the box and I was easily able to crank out 2 MOA groupings at 25 yards. My eyes simply aren’t good enough to stretch out my groupings to 100 yards, but suffice it to say that I shot the AKM247 better than my Saiga, at least until my shoulder got tired. I give the nitride barrel and excellent trigger credit for this.

Over the course of 300 rounds and not counting the bolt carrier malfunction, I experienced two additional failures with the AKM247. The first came right around the 150 round mark and was a double feed from one of my commercial Bulgarian 40-round magazines. I am inclined to blame that issue on the cheap magazine and not the rifle. The second was a failure to extract that cropped up after around 225 consecutive rounds fired. I was able to clear this malfunction by removing the magazine and charging the rifle.

This target has around 200 rounds through it. This target was used while I was attempting to heat the gun up with steady fire (around 1 round per second). Distance was approximately 30 yards, but I was not looking for much in the way of accuracy during this test.

This target has around 200 rounds through it. This target was used while I was attempting to heat the gun up with steady fire (around 1 round per second). Distance was approximately 30 yards, but I was not looking for much in the way of accuracy during this test.

Conclusion

The AKM247 is a difficult rifle to assess. Despite some of the issues I have encountered with this rifle, I do feel that I.O. has improved their product compared to previous offerings. At the same time, there are still several changes that need to be made to bring the rifle to the same quality level as the European AKs or kit builds that are plentiful today. I know that Ramzi and others at I.O. love the AK platform and the company feels that US manufacturers can build every bit as nice a rifle as foreign competitors, so I am hopeful that the necessary improvements will be made in time. However at the same time, I.O. has taken a stance that they will not make certain tweaks that I feel are important, including shrinking the gas port and removing the recoil buffer. This is an issue that could affect the longevity of the rifle and while it may never fail in my lifetime, I buy firearms with the intent to pass them down to my future children and grandchildren so I expect them to last well beyond me.

With increasing uncertainty surrounding AK imports, it is nice to see US companies trying to take on full production stateside. But in the current environment, we have to consider that a Romanian WASR commands only a small premium over the AKM247 and offers (arguably) superior, military spec build quality. With this in mind, I find it difficult to recommend the AKM247 over rival options at this time.

Update (6/14/15)

Last week, I received the modified bolt carrier from Inter Ordnance. This part has chamfers on each side where the carrier engages the rails of the receiver. Fortunately, my testing has shown this new carrier to be much better than the original part. After the swap, the rifle functions perfectly without the recoil buffer and I really appreciate the longer recoil stroke. I also found it interesting that using the new carrier without the recoil buffer almost entirely eliminated the sluggishness I previously experienced while charging the rifle.

The carrier at the bottom of the photo is the new example. Note the differences in the highlighted areas.

The carrier at the bottom of the photo is the new example. Note the differences in the highlighted areas.

The carrier at the bottom of the photo is the new example. Note the differences in the highlighted areas.

The carrier at the bottom of the photo is the new example. Note the differences in the highlighted areas.

Even with the changes, I still would lean towards other options at this price point. The AKM247’s large gas port still makes this rifle less pleasant to shoot than most European AKM variants, even with the recoil buffer removed. I know I.O. has stated that the larger port has been drilled to ensure reliability and reduce stickiness during cycling. My testing has found that these issues are better addressed by swapping for a correctly machined carrier and removing the recoil buffer to allow for a full recoil stroke. If I.O. were to reduce the gas port size, swap the front trunnion for a milled part, tweak their riveting process for the front trunnion, and drop the MSRP of the AKM247 to around $400, I might be more inclined to recommend the rifle to shooters looking for a bargain AK. As it stands, there are simply too many other solid choices in the AKM247’s price range that offer more appealing features and more tested build processes.

Century Arms AES-10B Romanian RPK Review

As an AK enthusiast, the RPK has always been among my favorite rifles. Identical in operation and similar in appearance to the famous AKM, the heavier RPK often flies under the radar of casual shooters and gun owners who are more familiar with the standard AK. Because I have always been a fan of the AK family of rifles, I was ecstatic to see Palmetto State Armory offering the Romanian AES-10B for a reasonable $499 last July. After quickly selling my highly impractical Suomi KP/-31 for almost exactly the same price, I scrambled to PSA’s website to take advantage of the deal.

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About the Rifle

The Ruchnoy Pulemyot Kalashnikova, or RPK, is essentially a beefier brother to the popular AKM. First fielded by the Soviets in 1961, the RPK was quickly adopted and cloned by other Warsaw Pact nations, including Romania who first issued the rifle in 1964. The AES-10B is Cugir of Romania’s semi-automatic version of the RPK that is built using military surplus parts on new receivers with new military spec barrels.

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As an RPK variant, the AES-10B features a heavier profiled, 23-inch barrel and a receiver that is 50% thicker than the AKM’s (1.5mm versus 1.0). These parts are reinforced to handle sustained fully automatic fire and are mated using a heavier, bulged trunnion. At the front of the rifle, just behind the front sight post, a bipod is mounted directly to the barrel. This bipod folds backwards when not in use and unlike Russian RPKs, most Romanian rifles feature bipods that are adjustable for height using two wing-nuts near the feet of each leg. Another departure from the Russian rifle is that the Romanian variant sports a surprisingly useful carry handle to the right of the rear sight block. Outside of these small differences and semi-automatic limitations, the Romanian AES-10B is a faithful clone of a classic Soviet RPK.

Bipod as folded. Note the AES-10B features a US-made slanted muzzle brake. This is not "correct" for an RPK of any origin.

Bipod as folded. Note the AES-10B features a US-made slanted muzzle brake. This is not “correct” for an RPK of any origin.

Finish

All metal parts on the AES-10B are finished with a flat, medium gray phosphate that is frankly pretty average, even as far as parkerization goes. I have found that this original treatment scratches easily and seems to be a dirt magnet. That said, the rough texture of the phosphate is precisely why it is an excellent base for paint to adhere to. I recently applied my favorite AK finish, Rust-Oleum Appliance Epoxy, as a finishing coat to this rifle and have found that it adheres very well to the original parkerization. For those who are not interested in painting their AES-10B, the phosphate is serviceable, but it is not as attractive or as corrosion resistant as “paint-over-park”.

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Furniture

The AES-10B ships with wood handguards and a laminate clubfoot stock. The pistol grip is a black polymer part that was made in the United States and added for 922(r) compliance. As far as laminate AK furniture is concerned, Romanian laminate ranks solidly in fourth place by my standards. Russian birch obviously takes the top spot for me, followed by Polish beech wood and Egyptian (actually Finnish). Romanian laminate often has heavier grain structure than the aforementioned examples and almost always is imported sans finish. It also does not exhibit the “chameleon” color shifting grain effect that makes Russian birch so popular. On my AES-10B, the laminate stock showed signs separation between two of the layers, but this is easily fixed if caught early. The lower handguard is also laminate, while the upper is hardwood. Even though I am critical of the wood, it is relatively easy to add your own finish to improve its appearance and preserve the parts. I opted for Soviet style shellac and have been pleased with the results.

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Ergonomically, many are likely to feel that the AES-10B falls short, even by AK standards. The clubfoot is even shorter than the standard AK/AKM stock and the heavy barrel pulls the rifle’s center of gravity forward of the short handguards. As a faithful RPK clone, these ergonomic complaints should be expected. Like all Romanian RPKs, the AES-10B features a carry handle to the right of the front sight block. Russian RPKs do not offer such a luxury and I have found it to be useful when carrying the rifle at home or at the range.

While I understand why it was included, I am no great fan of the US-made pistol grip. The black polymer looks out of place on the AES-10B and it is actually thinner in profile than a standard Romanian Bakelite grip. For this reason, my rifle now sports a Romanian grip.

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Compliance Parts

In order to achieve 922(r) compliance, the following parts of the AES-10B have been produced in the United States:

  1. Muzzle brake
  2. Pistol grip
  3. Gas piston
  4. Fire control group (Tapco G2, 3 parts)
Fantastic Tapco G2 trigger

Fantastic Tapco G2 trigger. Brown spots are grease, not rust.

Build Quality

By any standards, the build quality of the AES-10B is quite exceptional. Even though I have criticized the finish of the rifle, when it comes to the actual build and the parts used, the AES checks every significant box. The rivets are all set appropriately and crushed evenly. The receiver is properly dimpled at the front and rear trunnions for the swell neck rivets, which adds strength and longevity to the build. When charged, the bolt carrier rides smoothly on the rails with no tendency to hang up on the hammer or jump the rails when cycling. As far as the naked eye can tell, the sights are straight and the barrel threads are clean.

A look at the hammer forged, chrome lined barrel and bulged trunnion.

A look at the hammer forged, chrome lined barrel and bulged trunnion.

Speaking of the barrel, it may be the highlight of the package. The AES-10B ships with a Romanian cold hammer forged barrel that has been chrome lined. Cold hammer forging makes for a harder, more wear resistant barrel and chrome lining not only enhances this durability, it is also sure to be appreciated by anyone who has ever tried to clean a rifle after using dirty or corrosive ammunition. AKs and variants with military quality, cold hammer forged, chrome lined barrels are far less common today than they were just two or three years ago. Import restrictions bar original military barrels from import, even in parts kits. Thankfully, the AES-10B has been built from start as a sporting rifle. Though Romanian surplus parts are used on these rifles, the barrels themselves are new. They are still produced using the same hammer forging process on the same lines as Cugir’s military products, but they have never been assembled on a military rifle so the restrictions do not apply.

Hammer forged barrel with proof markings

Hammer forged barrel with proof markings

Century Arms imports, especially from Romania have a spotty history when it comes to quality control, specifically with regard to the work done on the rifles once stateside. In order to comply with US import regulations, the AES-10B comes into the country with a magazine well capable of accepting only single stack magazines. Once in Century’s hands, these wells are opened up to fit standard double stack magazines and US-made 922(r) compliance parts are added. In the past, Century had a terrible tendency to remove too much material around the well, causing significant magazine wobble. Based on my experience with this rifle and reports from other shooters, it looks like Century has gotten their act together.

Range Report

The AES-10B is an extraordinarily enjoyable rifle to shoot. Its heft might he a hindrance if trying to shoot while moving, but as a bench rifle, the AES really shines. It also happens to be one of the few firearms in my collection that I legitimately wish was fully automatic. The long, moderate recoil stroke just seems like it would be amazing in a fully automatic package.

The RPK's rear sight leaf is adjustable for windage, unlike standard AK parts.

The RPK’s rear sight leaf is adjustable for windage, unlike standard AK parts.

When it comes to accuracy, the AES-10B is about a 3 minute-of-arc (MOA) rifle. It is difficult to assess the potential of the design because point of impact (POI) can vary drastically, depending on if the rifle is fired while supported by the bipod, barrel, or handguards. In fact, I have seen as much as an additional 3 MOA difference between using the bipod and firing with the handguard on sandbags. Unfortunately, this inconsistency is a product of the RPK’s design and the bipod’s mounting location at the front end of the barrel. My advice for those who own an AES-10B or similar RPK clone is to sight the rifle for your preferred shooting position and then take note of the hold over necessary when fired from different support layouts.

Adjustable bipod

Adjustable bipod

The G2 trigger included with the AES-10B is absolutely phenomenal. Mine breaks at right around 4 to 4.5 pounds and others should be expected to do the same. Another noteworthy point is that I have experienced no failures to extract or eject with this rifle. My AES-10B’s ejection patterns are consistently strong, with cases landing as many as 10 feet away at the 4 o’clock position.

Unlike standard Russian RPKs, the AES-10B sports a side optics rail by default.

Unlike standard Russian RPKs, the AES-10B sports a side optics rail by default.

Conclusion

While it is not the prettiest rifle out of the box, the AES-10B is a real gem. This rifle has sold me on Century’s Romanian AK imports and has me legitimately considering a WASR-10 for a fun/beater AK. When I purchased AES from PSA for $499, I felt like I stole it. Now that Cugir is no longer producing the AES-10B, prices on these rifles have rapidly increased, with some going as high as $1,000. When available, I would still consider the AES-10B a “buy” at up to $750 with the potential to go as high as $850. Beyond that, I would rather convert a Russian Vepr to RPK configuration. Even so, for someone looking to buy a true factory-made RPK, the AES-10B is a very solid option.

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AES-10B wearing new clothes (new paint and shellac)

AES-10B wearing new clothes (new paint and shellac)

ReCover Tactical BC2 Beretta Grip and Rail Review

For the past two or three years, my Beretta M9 has almost exclusively performed regular nightstand duty. Of all my handguns, the M9 has been fired the most and (contrary to most gun owners) I love the decocker and double-action first trigger pull for a defensive sidearm. Despite these advantages, I did not consider the importance of having a light on my home defense gun until very recently. Because my M9 did not come with a railed dustcover, I needed to find a palatable aftermarket option that could add a durable and secure rail to the firearm. Since I plan to retire the M9 from nightstand service at some point, I also did not want a permanent rail or anything that would be overly expensive.

After some brief research, the ingenuity of ReCover Tactical’s CC3 railed grip caught my eye. The idea of a grip and rail combination seemed novel and obvious at the same time. I was excited to see that ReCover Tactical was working on a Beretta model, dubbed the BC2, and I decided to jump on the grip as soon as it became available. I have now had the grip for a couple of months and can share a few details about its execution

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Installation

One of the main selling points for the BC2 is that the system can be installed very easily. In the package, ReCover Tactical includes an Allen wrench that works with the original Beretta grip screws and is also compatible with the two cross-bolts that join the front halves of each panel. To install the kit, first use the wrench to remove the stock grip screws and panels. After the original grips have been removed, take one half of the BC2 system and, using the original grip screws, secure it to the frame of the handgun. Do the same for the opposite side so that both sides of the grip now have panels. Next, push one of the included bolts from the left side of the unit to the right through the hole near the trigger guard and secure it with the included wrench and nut. The same must be done for the hole at the front of the BC2, near the rail. Once these steps have been completed, the unit should be very secure on the firearm and ready for action.

Nuts and bolts such as the one near the front of the trigger guard secure the front of the system.

Nuts and bolts such as the one near the front of the trigger guard secure the front of the system.

Appearance

After much deliberation, I opted for the Olive Drab BC2 grip kit. Typically, colored guns and dual-tone pistols are two types of firearms that I try to avoid. While I find many such firearms to be quite pleasing aesthetically, the permanence offered by a colored frame or slide almost terrifies me and is wholly incompatible with my indecisive disposition. Interestingly, this is exactly why I chose the OD version of the BC2. As we covered earlier, installation and removal of the grip system is very simple, meaning my choice was far from a permanent one. If I do grow tired of the OD version of ReCover Tactical’s system, I can always pick up a different color or paint my current set with little concern. The BC2 is consistent in hue with other OD accessories, such as those from Magpul and the color works well here in the Midwest/Ohio Valley. I also like that the matte finish on the grips is similar to the original Beretta panels, which ensures that they remain understated and prevents them from detracting from the attractive Beretta handgun.

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My appreciation for the coloration of my BC2 set does not necessarily extend to the stippling and overall profile of the grips. I acknowledge that certain concessions must be made when adding an accessory over the top of a preexisting frame, but the BC2 is somewhat of a departure from the svelte beauty of the Beretta 92 series. The sweeping trigger guard and sectioned stippling of the grip panels comprise an almost sci-fi sort of outfit for the handgun. I am not sure ReCover had many options as far as the trigger guard is concerned, but more neutrally textured grip panels would have been an improvement and might bring more Beretta purists to the BC2.

Functionality

Possibly the most important feature of the BC2 is the accessory rail at the front of the system. Without a working rail, the whole package is simply unnecessary bulk added to an already hefty pistol. Fortunately, the Picatinny rail is well within specifications. I had no problems in mounting my Streamlight TLR-1HL to the BC2 and the light has shown no signs of loosening. Pulling down on the light will cause the rail to flex some, but the sort of force required to actually break the rail would probably also destroy any accessory mounted to it.

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One area of minor concern is that the section of the grips that covers the slide lock lever was a little snug at the start. This prevented the Beretta from locking the slide back on an empty magazine. Fortunately, fixing the issue was as simple as sanding the inside of the BC2 near the lever. When it comes to accessories like this, slightly oversize or tight is always preferable to loose or sloppy fit. End users can easily remove material, but cleaning up slop is rarely feasible.

Snug fit near the slide lock can prevent locking on an empty magazine.

Snug fit near the slide lock can prevent locking on an empty magazine.

Few BC2 owners mention another compelling feature of the grips that I feel is worth discussing. One of the potential weaknesses of the Beretta 92 series is the exposed trigger bar on the right side of the firearm. If mud and dirt become lodged in this mechanism, the whole handgun can become non-functional. Fortunately, the BC2 covers the bar entirely. While it is possible that contaminants could seep under the BC2 and into this area, the close fit of the grip allays any concerns I have.

The right panel covers the trigger bar.

The right panel covers the trigger bar.

Ergonomics

Picking up the BC2-equipped Beretta for the first time can be a bit startling. The grips technically add very little width to the firearm (1.370” wide with original panels versus 1.393 with the BC2), but the handgun initially felt somewhat foreign to my hands. The first apparent change was that the grips felt much fuller to me. This is probably because the front edge of the panels blends better with the contour of the Beretta’s front strap than the original grips. Another notable difference is that the raised stippling of the BC2 is much sharper than the diamond checkering of the original panels, which translates to a slightly better grip surface. Although the BC2 is really unnecessary if used with a bare rail, the front of the trigger guard is grooved for those who like to wrap their index finger around this spot. On the less pleasant side of the ledger, the swooping area of the trigger guard near the magazine catch has a sharp edge that irritates my middle finger after extensive shooting.

The area where the grip wraps around the trigger guard can irritate fingers.

The area where the grip wraps around the trigger guard can irritate fingers.

Durability

Contrary to my statements in my initial impressions article, the BC2 is not made of ABS or similar plastic. Rather, the panels are molded of nylon similar to the kind used in Glock, Smith & Wesson, and FN frames. This is an important detail because nylon is generally far more temperature and solvent resistant than most other common polymers, including ABS.

Note the beefy rail and dustcover

Note the beefy rail and dustcover

Beyond the inherent qualities of the material, the BC2 is well reinforced in potential breakage areas. The rail is appropriately supported by the dustcover section of the system and the trigger guard seems capable of taking a substantial beating without issue. While the grips feel flimsy out of the packaging prior to installation, once they have been firmly affixed to the Beretta, the package comes together very nicely.

Holster Compatibility

Holster availability is perhaps the biggest factor working against the BC2. As of now, there are no hard-sided holsters for BC2-equipped 92 series handguns. To my knowledge, the only existing options are generic soft holsters for accessorized pistols. These holsters often lack the excellent retention characteristics of quality rigid holsters and they do not protect the handgun (and trigger) as well.

Fortunately, ReCover Tactical is working to develop the HC92 holster for Berettas with BC2 systems installed. Like their HC11 holster for 1911s, the HC92 will accept “recovered” 92 series handguns sporting any of the popular lights or lasers. I am curious to see how this is accomplished while still adequately protecting the trigger. I will be receiving the HC92 from ReCover Tactical as soon as they are available and I plan to review it shortly after arrival.

Conclusion

Despite my positive feedback for the BC2, I do want to make it clear that I would not intentionally purchase a non-railed handgun with the intent of adding a ReCover Tactical kit after the fact. If a rail is a priority, it is always best to grab a gun that includes one from the outset. Not aftermarket rail can match the durability and stability of a molded or machined mounting surface. However, for those of us who already own firearms with smooth dustcovers, ReCover Tactical’s new systems offer another option that frankly is better executed than most other aftermarket rails. The affordable $50 price tag and easy installation should appeal to those on a tight budget or shooters who fear the permanence of other add-on rails. As a mounting place for lights and lasers, the BC2 works well and is surprisingly durable for a polymer part. While the BC2 is not perfect ergonomically and I do wish that it meshed better with the aesthetics of the M9/92FS, it is not a significant downgrade from the stock grips and does not substantially detract from the soft contour of the Beretta’s grip. For shooters looking to add a rail and light to a Beretta already in the safe or nightstand, I would comfortably recommend the BC2 from ReCover Tactical.

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Yukon Outfitters Tactical Alpha Backpack Low Mileage Review

I was surfing Woot! last week when I came across some excellent deals on backpacks and bug-out bags from a company called Yukon Outfitters. After some research, I found that Woot! often runs heavy discounts on Yukon Outfitters gear, but reviews are somewhat lacking on these products. Since I have been in the market for a bag capable of doing double duty at work and at the range, the $40 Yukon Tactical Alpha backpack seemed like an excellent, low-risk way to subtly “rep” my enthusiasm for firearms at the office. Meanwhile, the MOLLE compatibility of the bag appeared to be ideal for potential range usage. While Woot! is by no means fast in the shipping department, the bag arrived around five days after I placed my order and I have now been carrying it to work for the past week. This simple, short-term review will cover the basics of the bag, along with my initial thoughts regarding its quality and features.

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Appearance

One thing I really liked about the Alpha bag when I first saw it was that it screams “tactical”, but does not go overboard. An affordable MOLLE compatible bag is something I have wanted for a few years and the Alpha has no shortage of MOLLEwebbing on its front, sides, and straps. In addition to the MOLLE loops, the front pockets of the bag are adorned with two sections of Velcro. This should provide plenty of space for patches.

MOLLE webbing and Velcro for patches.

MOLLE webbing and Velcro for patches.

The Alpha I purchased was sold as a Coyote and Foliage Green colored bag. In my opinion, these designations may not be true matches with gear from other manufacturers. The Coyote on the Alpha bag is closer to what I would typically consider khaki and the Foliage Green looks a little more like Ranger Green to my eyes. While color variations unsurprisingly exist between manufacturers, those interested in the Yukon Outfitters lineup may want to keep this in mind. Overall, I really like the two-tone look.

Yukon Tactical logo is embroidered on the lower pocket of the bag

Yukon Tactical logo is embroidered on the lower pocket of the bag

The only logo on the bag is the Yukon Tactical wordmark and bear at the very bottom of the lower front pocket. It’s nice to be able to carry a piece of gear that does not make me a billboard for a certain brand. Approximately three inches below this logo and on the bottom of the bag are two drain holes that I really hope I’ll never need. There is also another hole in the rear of the bag. Flaps that flank either side of the bag’s top handle can be lifted to reveal two ports for a hydration hose.

Port for hydration system is hidden under a flap adjacent to the top handle of the bag

Port for hydration system is hidden under a flap adjacent to the top handle of the bag

Note the three drain holes in the bag. I hope these are never needed!

Note the three drain holes in the bag. I hope these are never needed!

Storage

The bag’s primary compartment features three large mesh pockets and a throw pocket with a drawstring. Approximate dimensions for this compartment are 21” by 12” and it is about 4.5” deep. While a padded compartment can be found on the back side of the backpack, a large laptop might be more likely to fit in this area. For reference, I can squeeze my 17” Alienware PC in this pocket, but cannot fit it in the rear padded one.

Large primary compartment

Large primary compartment

Since I’ve mentioned it, the rear compartment is easy to miss if you aren’t looking for it. The zipper can be found underneath the bag’s straps and it only travels halfway down the sides of the Alpha. This pocket can store a small laptop or hydration bladder and has a port that a hose can be fed through on its way to the outer ports near the handle. While this compartment is reinforced on one side (where the bag sits on a person’s back), it is not really padded in the same sense that most laptop-ready bags are. I highly recommend a laptop sleeve be used with the Alpha.

Rear compartment is good for laptops and hydration bladders

Rear compartment is good for laptops and hydration bladders

Moving back to the front of the pack, the upper small pocket contains a medium-sized mesh zipper pocket and two nylon open-topped pockets. There are also four elastic loops in this compartment, but I doubt I will ever use them. This is a great place to store external hard drives or glasses that might otherwise be crushed in the primary compartment or large front pocket.

Small upper pocket interior

Small upper pocket interior

At the very top of the bag is a small pocket with soft cloth lining. This area is intended for cell phones or GPS units that might be scratched if stowed with other gear. I really like the placement of this pocket as it is well isolated from the rest of the bag.

Top pocket for electronic devices

Top pocket for electronic devices

The large front compartment of the Alpha is rife with pockets. A single large open nylon pocket, two medium nylon pockets, and two medium nylon pockets with retention straps can all be found here. There are also places to store business cards and pens. Lastly, a single large zipper pouch rests in the back of this compartment.

Large lower pocket interior

Large lower pocket interior

The final storage areas can be found on the sides of the Alpha. These tall, narrow pockets are excellent for water bottles or umbrellas. Suppressors also happen to fit very nicely in these compartments. This will come in handy for me as this bag is expected to see range duty on occasion.

One of two tall side pockets

One of two tall side pockets

Comfort

Carrying the Yukon Alpha backpack over the course of the past week has been mostly an upgrade over my old Targus bag. The rigid back and sectioned padding on the rear of the bag help it to rest comfortably on my back. When the bag arrived, I immediately noticed that the foam padding used by Yukon is much denser than the kind used on my Targus backpack. The straps are also a substantial improvement for me with a pronounced curve that helps them stay in place on my shoulders. My biggest complaint about the backpack so far relates to the awful plastic buckles used to adjust the straps. These pieces lack teeth to bite into the adjustment strap and as a result, never stay in place. Unfortunately, I find that I am constantly readjusting the straps to fit as I like. To me, this is a serious design issue that does detract from an otherwise nice product.

The four padding zones and ample strap padding make for a very comfortable backpack

The four padding zones and ample strap padding make for a very comfortable backpack

The adjustment buckle for the straps. I find the straps' tendency to loosen very irritating.

The adjustment buckle for the straps. I find the straps’ tendency to loosen very irritating.

Durability

Since I’ve only carried the bag for a week, it is perhaps a bit premature to start talking about its durability.  That said, the double stitching used throughout the Alpha looks good and the material feels like it will hold up to regular, low intensity carry. Yukon Outfitters does use 600 denier polyester for this bag, while companies like Maxpedition frequently use 1000 denier fabric, so technically speaking it will not hold up to the same sort of abuse that a more expensive bag would. The buckles on the Alpha are also all plastic and feature no reinforcement. I do not expect this to be an issue for my usage level, but it might concern some. Another potential area of concern are the zippers. They seem to work fine right now, but Yukon does not use known zippers, like those from YKK. My recommendation is to be careful when zipping the pockets closed.

Nice double stitching is well done throughout the bag

Nice double stitching is well done throughout the bag

Plastic buckles are not metal reinforced

Plastic buckles are not metal reinforced

Zippers are not a known quantity such as YKK. Time will tell on these guys.

Zippers are not a known quantity such as YKK. Time will tell on these guys.

Conclusion

So far, the Yukon Tactical Alpha backpack has proven itself to be a very nice option for my usage level. At $40, I was willing to take a risk on this bag and I feel it was money well spent. For heavier use, I probably would go with a pricier option from 5.11, Maxpedition, or LBT, but this bag should serve me well. My minor quibble over the lackluster laptop compartment can be easily addressed by simply using a laptop sleeve. However, I am very disappointed by the poor showing by the strap buckles. Had I paid full retail, this would have been a deal breaker for me, but I can deal with it considering the price I paid. With that said, while I would not recommend anyone pay the full $80 retail price for the Alpha, at $40 it is a solid value.

Yukon Tactical Alpha backpack

Yukon Tactical Alpha backpack

Coming Soon: Yukon Outfitters Tactical Alpha Backpack Short-Term Review

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I grabbed this Yukon Outfitters bag on Woot! last week for $40 plus shipping. Having previously carried a large Targus bag to work each day, I wanted something a little smaller, but with plenty of pockets that could moonlight as a MOLLE-compatible weekend range bag. I also like to sport subtle references to my enthusiasm for firearms whenever reasonably possible as it has helped me strike up conversation with fellow (but previously unknown) gun owners around my workplace. While the bag has not yet followed me to the range, I have been using it for a week now and I plan to share some early impressions over the weekend.

Classic Arms Review: Mosin-Nagant M91/30

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After antiquated weaponry led to heavy Russian losses during the Russo-Ottoman War, Russian military leadership recognized the urgent need for a more modern infantry rifle. At the time, Russian forces were equipped with single-shot Berdan rifles that were woefully inadequate against newer, magazine-fed rifles. Over the course of the following decade, designers worked to develop a replacement for the Berdan and in 1889 the Russian military accepted trial submissions from Sergei Ivanovich Mosin, Leon Nagant, and a relatively unknown Captain Zinoviev. While Zinoviev’s rifle was quickly eliminated from the competition, leadership was split on the Mosin and Nagant designs. Further testing found Nagant’s submission to be a better performer than Mosins, but politics and nationalism derailed adoption of the Belgian design. The end result was something of a bastard version of Mosin’s submission that incorporated some of Nagant’s concepts, known formally as the 3-line rifle, Model 1891 (or M91 for short).

The M91/30s we will be examining today are more or less the same rifle as the original M91, but with a few minor improvements that were adopted in 1930. Among these are a full upper handguard (added before 1930) and modified iron sights. Since it is difficult to account for all minor variations among Soviet M91/30s, I will limit this discussion to two examples of the rifle: an Izhevsk made, 1934 dated M91/30 with the early octagonal (aka “hex”) receiver, and an Izhevsk made, 1944 dated M91/30 and ex-sniper rifle.

Barrel markings of 1934 Izhevsk M91/30

Barrel markings of 1934 Izhevsk M91/30

Barrel markings of 1944 Izhevsk M91/30

Barrel markings of 1944 Izhevsk M91/30

Finish

The metal parts (save the bolt) on the M91/30 are finished in a deep satin blue. This finish is intended to combat some rusting, but bluing in general is a poor finish for total rust prevention. Because of this, it is important to completely field strip the M91/30 as soon as you receive it to check for rust and pitting underneath the wood stock. Once the rifle is freed from its cosmoline-induced stasis, a thin film of light oil, such as CLP, should be applied to all metal surfaces as a lubricant and preservative. The metal finish, both in terms of machining and bluing, is one facet of the Mosin that suffered most during hasty wartime production. While absolutely functional, my wartime M91/30 ex-sniper rifle features considerably more prominent evidence of machining on the receiver and barrel than my 1934 example.

Date stamp on 1944 ex-sniper receiver. Notice the rough machining.

Date stamp on 1944 ex-sniper receiver. Notice the rough machining.

For the most part, current Mosin imports were refinished at a Soviet military arsenal after World War Two and placed into storage until very recently. This fact makes original, non-refinished M91/30 rifles more desirable and more valuable than a refurbished example. It also goes to show just how well cosmoline can preserve a firearm, as many of these imported Mosins are in impeccable condition. Ignoring a Mosin’s refurbishment status, the bolt should always be “in the white” and machined to a near-polished sheen. Without a surface treatment or finish, the bolt is susceptible to tarnishing or rusting when used with corrosive ammunition or exposed to humid conditions. This is another part that should be well cleaned after each range session and oiled.

The Mosin bolt should be "in the white".

The Mosin bolt should be “in the white”.

Most Mosin-Nagants come with hardwood birch or birch laminate stocks that have been hastily slathered in shellac. While there is some disagreement as to what the original M91/30 wood finish might have been, the majority of collectors seem to believe shellac has always been used. Even so, the shellac on common refurbished Mosins was likely restored during the late 1940s and 1950s. In a majority of cases, these rifles were completely re-stocked after the war. The overall color of M91/30 stocks can vary drastically as a result of variance in shellac batches. The grain of the birch also ranges from tight and subdued to strong and heavy. Birch is a tough hardwood that works well both as a solid cut or glued as a laminate.

The wood grain on this 1944ex-sniper is so nice, it almost looks like laminate.

The wood grain on this 1944 ex-sniper is so nice, it almost looks like laminate.

Ergonomics

Ergonomically, Soviet Mosin-Nagants compare rather poorly to their western counterparts. Shouldering the rifle is similar to tugging rope due to the very straight profile of the wood stock. The lack of a “pistol grip” makes the M91/30 much less comfortable to shoulder than contemporaries like the M1903A3 Springfield or the numerous Mauser variants of the era.

Some shooters complain that the Mosin has a short length of pull that is uncomfortable for larger framed people. I have not found this to be an issue at all. The distance from palm to buttplate is very nearly as long as a Mauser Kar. 98 and is longer than a Lee-Enfield No.4 Mk1 with the short stock. While the M91/30’s buttplate is not as comfortable as that of an M1 Garand, it compares favorably to most other rifles of the era.

Notice the deep-cut finger grooves in the stock. Also, take note of the lined out serial number on the barrel. That was the serial number for the scope that used to adorn the rifle. The pair would have been matched prior to issue.

Notice the deep-cut finger grooves in the stock. Also, take note of the lined out serial number on the barrel. That was the serial number for the scope that used to adorn the rifle. The pair would have been matched prior to issue.

The mid section of the stock features deep finger grooves that are intended to enhance grip comfort. Personally, I find these grooves unnecessary. They are too far rearward to effectively maneuver the muzzle of the 48.5 inch, 8.8 lb rifle and the stock as a whole is so narrow that they really are not needed. It should be noted that Mosin stocks can display significant dimensional variation. For example, my 1934 M91/30 has a noticeably beefier stock (46mm wide at finger groove) than my 1944 ex-sniper rifle (43mm wide at finger groove). For this reason, some Mosins may feel better than others for some people.

Sights

The M91/30 features standard tangent iron sights with a rear sight leaf that is graduated out to 2000 meters and a hooded front post. While I sincerely doubt anyone will be making hits at 2000 meters with the M91/30 on any reasonably sized target, the option is there. Notched tangent rear sights have always been common on continental European firearms, especially Russian arms, and are usually quicker to acquire than the peep style sights that are more often seen on western rifles. Tangent sights (including the ones on the M91/30) can be troublesome for people who have less than perfect eyesight. For this reason, I prefer peep sights over the tangent ones found on the M91/30.

Rear sight leaf

Rear sight leaf

Front sight post

Front sight post

Magazine

The M91/30 feeds from a single stack, 5-round magazine. The body of the magazine is wedge shaped to accommodate the pronounced rim at the base of the 7.62x54mmR cartridge. A button/lever can be found on the magazine’s floorplate near the trigger. This handy little feature facilitates unloading and cleaning the magazine by allowing the entire floorplate to hinge forward. Unlike many other 5-round magazines from the era, the Mosin’s is exposed outside the wood stock. This does leave the area open for damage/debris, but given its robust steel construction, such issues are unlikely to surface.

Magazine, hinged open

Magazine, hinged open

Operation

Like most rifles of its era, the Mosin-Nagant is bolt-action operated. In order to open the bolt for charging and casing extraction, the straight handle must be rotated 90-degrees upward and then briskly pulled rearward until the bolt face bottoms out at the rear of the magazine. The M91/30 is compatible with 5-round stripper clips that are intended to make quick loading easier, but my experience with these has been frustrating to say the least. Frankly, loading via clip requires more practice than I am currently willing to pursue.

Mosin-Nagant bolt face

Mosin-Nagant bolt face

In contrast to the British Lee-Enfield, the Mosin’s action cocks on opening. This means that more force is required to open the bolt than is needed to close the action. Because of this, rifles with dirty chambers have a tendency to lock up on stuck casings. Mosin enthusiasts recommend aggressively scrubbing the rifle’s chamber with cleaning solvent prior to taking it to the range for the first time and I have to agree with them. I have experienced a few stuck bolts between both of M91/30s that required considerable pounding to rectify.

This knob can be rotated counterclockwise when cocked to activate the safety.

This knob can be rotated counterclockwise when cocked to activate the safety.

The “safety” on the rifle can be activated by pulling the cocking knob at the rear of the bolt and rotating it counterclockwise.

Cartridge

The M91/30 fires the venerable 7.62x54mmR cartridge. This round was originally developed for the Mosin-Nagant in 1891 and remains in service with the Russian military today. To aid in extraction, it has a prominent rim at the base of its casing. The Soviets used both light ball (147 grain bullet weight) and heavy ball (182 grain bullet weights) during WWII. Generally, the heavy ball rounds impart more felt recoil than the lighter loadings. In terms of muzzle energy, the 7.62x54mmR rivals the popular 30-06 at around 3,600 Joules. This makes it a little over twice as powerful as the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge and more than 20 times as powerful as the diminutive .22 LR. Needless to say, the 7.62x54mmR is an impressive cartridge that should effectively handle pretty much all North American game.

Left to right: 7.62x54mmR, 5.56x45mm, .22 LR

Left to right: 7.62x54mmR, 5.56x45mm, .22 LR

Bayonet

If cult heroes existed among firearm accessories, the M91/30 bayonet would absolutely be a part of this group. Little more than a sharp spike, the Soviet issue bayonet is horrifically inadequate as a killing tool as its design almost necessitates multiple thrusts to effectively wound a combatant. When affixed to the M91/30, the bayonet brings the whole package to nearly 6 feet in length and it begins to seem reasonable that someone could mistake the rifle for a wizard staff or walking stick. Better used as a screwdriver than a stabbing instrument, this Soviet “pigsticker” has mostly gained notoriety for dubious reasons.

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Range Report

Firing the M91/30 is about as raw as a shooting experience can get. This no-frills bolt-action rifle packs a respectable two-way punch that will batter your targets as well as your shoulder. Similar to a 12-gauge shotgun from a recoil standpoint, many shooters prefer to add a slip-on buttpad to the rifle or will use a shooting jacket with padding at the shoulder. To be honest, most recoil issues that crop up when shooting the rifle can be addressed by pulling the firearm tightly into the shoulder and firing from while standing or seated instead of prone.

Rifle with bayonet

Rifle with bayonet

While accuracy for any old military rifle can vary by example, most M91/30s should be able to achieve consistent 2 MOA performance. I like to think of my two M91/30s as “minute of index card” and my range experience seems to bear that out as it is fairly easy on a good day to keep most shots within a 3”x5” index card at 100 yards. One limiting factor when it comes to accuracy is the M91/30’s mediocre trigger. When tested using my Lyman digital pull gauge, my 1934 “hex” receiver rifle averaged a 7 lb 7.5 oz trigger pull while my 1944 ex-sniper rifle averaged 6 lb 4.5 oz. The overall pull experience is fairly gritty on both rifles and the break is also difficult to predict, especially compared to other WWII-era rifles.

While I mentioned sticky bolts before, I should mention it again in this section. A properly cleaned and cosmoline free Mosin should not have a sticky bolt. That said, it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether or not the chamber has built up oil and debris. Because of this, even clean-looking chambers should be thoroughly cleaned prior to shooting.

Conclusion

The M91/30 is a large, unwieldy rifle with poor ergonomics. Even so, this classic Soviet arm is one of the best values on the market today. While prices have recently eclipsed the $100 mark, the fact that $150 can buy an excellent example and a rifle that almost certainly saw wartime action is almost unbelievable. As a .30 caliber bolt action rifle, the M91/30 can be used to hunt several types of game in many states and ammunition is cheap enough for weekend range blasters looking to get a taste of WWII goodness. For collectors, countless Mosin variants from a wide variety of nations are available and with some being very rare and impressively valuable. While I would not recommend the M91/30 to a new shooter, it is an absolutely perfect rifle for casual shooters and militaria collectors.

Early "hex" receiver. These tend to be a bit more desirable than later round examples.

Early “hex” receiver. These tend to be a bit more desirable than later round examples.

Filled in scope holes on 1944 round receiver.

Filled in scope holes on 1944 round receiver.

M91/30 disassembly. This can be completed by removing the bolt by pulling it to the rear with the trigger pulled, pushing the barrel bands to the muzzle, and removing two screws split between the bottom and top of the receiver.

M91/30 disassembly. This requires removing the bolt by pulling it to the rear of the rifle with the trigger pulled, pushing the barrel bands to the muzzle, and removing two screws split between the bottom and top of the receiver.

Barrel band

Barrel band

Older handguards often were equipped with brass caps instead of steel.

Early handguards often were equipped with brass caps instead of steel.

Rear sight leaf on 1934 M91/30. There is no consensus on why the orange filling was added. Notice the pitting on the sight slide.

Rear sight leaf on 1934 M91/30. There is no consensus on why the orange filling was added. Notice the pitting on the sight slide.

Floorplate showing lined out and restamped serial number. Few if any refurbished Mosins retain their original parts. Even those with stamped matching numbers likely had old ones ground off.

Floorplate showing lined out and restamped serial number. Few if any refurbished Mosins retain their original parts. Even those with stamped matching numbers likely had old ones ground off.

Coming Soon: Mosin-Nagant M91/30 Review

Over the next several months, I will be going back over some of my rifles from the World War Two era to highlight the features that set each of these firearms apart from one another. The first of these “Classic Arms Reviews” will be the Soviet M91/30. Be sure to check back for the full rundown.

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Primary Arms 3 MOA Red Dot Review (CR2032)

The PA30CR comes in a surprisingly attractive box

The PA30CR comes in a surprisingly attractive box

When I moved to Ohio a couple of years ago, I traded a beautiful range with backstops all the way out to nearly 250 yards for a much smaller facility whose rifle range extends only 100 yards beyond the firing line. After a couple of outings at my new range, I came to realize that the SPR build I was working on was frankly overkill for the shorter range. The Redfield Revolution’s 12x magnification made shots on steel at 100 yards far too easy and the rifle as a whole was much heavier than I wanted it to be. Rather than invest in lightening that beefy 18-inch barreled upper receiver, I sold the whole assembly and scope to purchase a lightly used Knight’s Armament SR-15 Legacy upper half.

As soon as the KAC assembly arrived, I realized that a lightweight optic would be absolutely necessary to preserve the impressively svelte feel of this new setup. Recognizing that such a requirement essentially eliminated non-ACOG magnified optics as an option, my only real choice was to find an affordable red dot sight to adorn the rifle’s upper rail. After all, the SR-15 upper had pretty well shot a hole clean through my wallet. At the same time, I previously owned a G&P (airsoft) Aimpoint clone that not only had very disruptive parallax issues, but also was essentially a no-go with my moderate-to-severe astigmatism. Needless to say, my previous foray into the world of cheap red dots had sullied my opinion of the whole category of optics.

After some brief research, I was impressed with the solid user feedback that Primary Arms’ red dots seem to universally receive. As an owner of a PA14X adjustable scope, I knew that Primary Arms put out quality products at surprisingly low prices. With the above factors in mind, I took the plunge on the “special offer” 3 MOA red dot powered by a single CR2032 battery. The official model name for the sight is PA30CR and it has since been discontinued. However, the current “Classic” red dot offered by Primary Arms should compare very closely to the review model (aside from using LR44 batteries).

Size

The overall appearance and size of the Primary Arms PA30CR red dot is very similar to the Aimpoint CompM3 and CompM2 red dot sights. In fact with little effort, Aimpoint covers can be fit to the Classic red dot to complete the look. Like the Aimpoint, the Primary Arms red dot includes lens covers for both the front and rear lenses.

PA30CR mounted on KAC SR-15 upper

PA30CR mounted on KAC SR-15 upper

While heavier than micro-sized red dots, the PA30CR weighs in comfortably at just under 10 ounces when paired with Primary Arms’ absolute cowitness 30mm mount. At approximately 5 inches long, the red dot is fairly large compared to newer EOTech or micro-sized red dots, but it is far from a rail hog. The 30mm tube offers a wide field of view without making the sight a monster when mounted.

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The PA30CR is compatible with the Primary Arms kill-flash, but does not work with similar items intended for use with the Aimpoint. Additionally, the Classic red dot is not at all compatible with kill-flash lens accessories.

Glass Quality

The quality of the glass lenses used in the Primary Arms red dot absolutely demolishes the glass used in the cheap G&P airsoft red dot I previously owned. The G&P sight suffered from an overpowering blue-tinted sight picture, however the parallax was also so severe that at 50 yards, I was seeing as much as three inches in point of impact shift, depending on my cheek weld. In contrast, the sight picture through the Primary Arms red dot is a much lighter hue of blue that is only really obvious when looking at white surfaces or in low light situations. The Primary Arms red dot offers a nice bright sight picture, but does not reach the light transmission levels of an Aimpoint or high-quality scope. The parallax is also much better with the Primary Arms sight. At 25 yards, I see around 0.75 inches in shift when the dot is held in the extreme edges of the sight. To be honest, parallax is practically a non-issue with this sight.

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Durability

Frequent readers will know that I really do not beat up my gear unnecessarily. I have always had the mindset that if something is worth paying for; it is worth taking care of. That said, the sight has naturally been bumped and knocked around during its handful of range trips this past year. In this respect, I have been pleased that the sight has maintained zero. The sight also seems unfazed by the admittedly soft recoil of my SR-15. In fact according to Marshall at Primary Arms, these sights can handle the stout recoil of a 12-gauge shotgun. Part of me wants to slap this guy on one of my Mosin-Nagant rifles for a “torture test”, but the purist in me has prevented such ridiculousness.

Water-resistant caps cover windage and elevation turrets, as well as the battery compartment.

Water-resistant caps cover windage and elevation turrets, as well as the battery compartment.

While I do not typically trudge around in water and mud while shooting, the sight is waterproof (or perhaps more appropriately, water-resistant) for those who might be looking to use it while hunting or while taking a carbine class on a rainy day. I have had the sight out in the rain with no trouble at all as all openings have substantial rubber seals.

Single CR 2032 batter powers the red dot

Single CR 2032 batter powers the red dot

The packaging of the PA30CR indicates a battery life of 1000 hours. In my first year with the sight, I have not needed to replace the battery, nor have I experienced any dimming of the reticle.

Adjustment

Adjusting the zero on the Primary Arms red dot is simple. The elevation mechanism is housed on top of the sight tube and the dial is concealed by a water-resistant cap. Likewise, the windage screw rests on the right of the sight’s body and is similarly covered by a water-resistant cap. The windage and elevation screws are marked to indicate how the red dot will move within the tube as the adjustments are rotated. Each positive “click” of the screw represents ¼ MOA of adjustment.

Windage screw

Windage screw

Reticle

There is not a whole lot to say about the reticle. It is a simple 3 MOA in diameter red dot that has 11 brightness settings. Settings 1 and 2 are intended for use with night vision devices and as such are difficult, or impossible to see with the naked eye. Light bleed is negligible up until settings 10 and 11 where the dot does begin to flare or bloom somewhat, making it effectively larger than 3 MOA. Overall, the nice, small 3 MOA dot works well for me, despite my astigmatism.

Red dot on cinder block wall approximately 30 feet away

Red dot on cinder block wall approximately 30 feet away

The left side illumination knob features 11 levels of brightness.

The left side illumination knob features 11 levels of brightness.

Primary Arms Absolute Cowitness Mount

Primary Arms’ affordable absolute cowitness mount is almost as impressive as the red dot itself. The sight tube is held secure by six hex screws divided in threes on the left and right sides of the sight. The unit as a whole is then held in place on the rifle’s rail with a single hex nut and screw. While incredibly basic, the mount has yet to loosen during storage, transport, or fire. It is not the lightest option at just over 3 ounces, but for $20 plus shipping the weight is more than tolerable. I also enjoy the absolute cowitness with the SR-15’s built-in sights. I find that on days when my eyes are uncooperative, using the red dot by peering through the rear iron sight helps to clear up the reticle and target.

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Conclusion

While Primary Arms will be the first to tell you that their red dots are not built for war fighters and that they certainly are not to be compared with Aimpoint’s formidable offerings, the sights do hold their own even when compared to more expensive red dots. To be honest, I doubt I would use any Chinese-made optic as a primary combat sight, but with models starting at $70 including mount, there really are not any better options in the price range. Because of their solid performance and respectable durability, I have no problem recommending the Primary Arms Aimpoint-style red dot sights to recreational shooters, hunters, and even gun owners on a tight budget who are looking for a night-friendly sight for their home defense firearm.

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