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)

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.

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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ATI FX Military 1911 Review

ATI FX Military 1911 by Shooters Arms Manufacturing

ATI FX Military 1911 by Shooters Arms Manufacturing

The 1911 has always held an important place in my heart. In addition to being the most attractive military sidearm to ever see mass issue, my grandfather also carried the 1911 during his service with the Navy in the Pacific Theater of World War Two. As a relatively small guy, my grandfather has frequently recalled his dislike for the grip safety of his issued 1911 and on at least two occasions has stated that he would have been better off throwing the pistol at the Japanese. Collectors should note that he loved his M1 Carbine, a fondness I wholeheartedly share.

Unfortunately, as a result of a sticky-fingered fellow shipmate, my grandfather was unable to bring his issued pistol home as had originally been planned. Because of this, I have always felt as if there was a void in my collection that could only be filled with a WWII-era .45 ACP 1911A1. Often selling for over $1,500, an original example has never really been practical for me and would certainly not be a “shooter” so to speak. Instead, I have always kept an eye out for affordable 1911s with the hope that one might come my way at the right time. Much to my amazement, Grabagun recently lowered the price on their Firepower Xtreme 1911s distributed by American Tactical Imports. Since ATI has also been running a $30 rebate on FX 1911s, my total cost for the pistol came out to $299 plus $15 for the transfer through Alpha-Star Tactical in Columbus, Ohio.

 

Agenda

This review will be broken down into ten sections:
-About the Firearm
-Tech Specs
-Internals and Function
-Externals and Controls
-Sights
-Magazines
-Range Report
-Plus-Minus
-Conclusion
-Ammunition Tested

 

About the Firearm

Basic cardboard box that the FX 1911 ships in.

Basic cardboard box that the FX 1911 ships in.

John Moses Browning’s 1911 is without a doubt the most timeless semi-automatic handgun ever to be conceived. The summation of Browning’s previous work in handgun development during the late 1890s and early 1900s, the 1911 was revolutionary both in terms of operation and power for a sidearm. After Colt’s submission proved reliable in 1910 testing, the US Army adopted the pistol in April of 1911, thus dubbing it the Model of 1911, or M1911 for short.

Following World War Two, Filipino forces took possession of several thousand US-produced examples and adopted the handgun as the standard military sidearm. As a result of the 1911’s wide adoption and incredible popularity among Filipino forces and civilian shooters, several companies in the Philippines have made a living off producing faithful copies of the classic American pistol. One such company is Shooters Arms Manufacturing in Quezon City. Respected for closely adhering to original specifications, SAM produces a wide variety of 1911s geared towards all sorts of shooters. While SAM has sold 1911s in the United States under their name for several years, ATI has recently (past 2-3 years) started distributing SAM 1911s under the Firepower Xtreme, or FX, brand. My example is one such model; dubbed the ATI FX Military 1911 it represents a near exact clone of the classic 5” barreled government 1911A1.

Included accessories

Included accessories

The ATI FX Military 1911 comes in a simple cardboard box with one magazine, a manual, and a cable lock. While the presentation is quite Spartan as compared to something like a Springfield Armory or Heckler & Koch gun, it somewhat reminded me of the old-style Beretta M9 cardboard boxes. Of course, this is a $300 pistol, not $500+ like the Beretta.

 

Tech Specs

Caliber .45 ACP
Action Single
Weight 37 ounces
Height 5.28 inches
Length 8.46 inches
Magazine Capacity 8 + 1
Barrel Length 5 inches
Slide Material 4140 Chrome-moly Steel
Frame Material 4140 Chrome-moly Steel
Barrel Material 4140 Chrome-moly Steel

 

Internals and Features

Disassembly of the FX is like any other 1911, so I will spare readers the walkthrough. Compared to newer designs, the 1911 can be a somewhat of a bear to take down. The barrel, slide, and frame are all constructed of standard 4140 chrome-moly steel. Beyond the materials, the frame is cast while the slide is a forged part. Unlike many pistols on the market today, the barrel is not chrome lined. Given the fact that .45 ACP is neither corrosive, nor a high pressure round, I am comfortable that the barrel will still last a very long time. Oddly enough, while the bulk of the barrel is blued, the chamber area has been roughly polished to appear “in the white”.

ATI FX Military 1911 barrel

ATI FX Military 1911 barrel

Operationally, the 1911 is a classic. The ATI FX is certainly not a departure from John Browning’s timeless cam action design. In order to unlock the chamber and retrieve the next round, the chamber end of the barrel tilts downward forcing the muzzle end to tilt upwards. As with most handguns, suppressor users will need a Nielsen device or piston for the 1911. Lock-up while in battery is excellent. While the tolerances may not be match-grade tight on these handguns, they certainly are not sloppily built.

Hearty steel rails and frame.

Hearty steel rails and frame.

Front dustcover

Front dustcover with logo

As is the case with many standard 1911s, the FX 1911 uses a half-length steel guide rod for the recoil spring. Most new designs use full-length, or better yet, captive recoil springs that make reassembly of the handgun much easier. Another challenge with the 1911 guide rod is that it must not be pressed back all the way into the frame for installation. When reassembling the handgun, users must take care to only half install the guide rod so as to avoid blocking the hole for the slide release lever.

Recoil spring and guide rod.

Recoil spring and guide rod.

The trigger on the FX 1911 is a standard medium length 1911 trigger. This means the length of pull is slightly longer than a government 1911A1 and slightly shorter than most government 1911s. The pull and reset are both very short at around 1 to 2mm each and the pull weight hovers in the 5 pound area. Internally, the pistol makes use of the older “Series 70” style layout as made famous by Colt 1911s. Many newer models of 1911 have an added firing pin safety that first appeared in Colt’s Series 80 handguns. Series 80 pistols are reportedly less likely to accidentally discharge if dropped, but Series 70 1911 often have better triggers out of the box due to fewer moving parts.

Slide internals. Note the Series 70 design.

Slide internals. Note the Series 70 design.

A good, but opinionated, video on the Series 70 vs. Series 80 topic can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chEOAb0C2Is

 

Externals and Controls

From a finish perspective, the FX 1911 is actually fairly impressive. The parkerization that covers all metal surfaces, save the barrel, is very evenly done and is a very dark gray in color. I did see some wear around the ejection port after my first range session. However, these were rub marks on the parkerizing itself and did not result in the exposure of bare steel. Since this is an inexpensive 1911, the finish is not as wear resistant as that found on other firearms in my collection, but it is more than acceptable for a gun that will see frequent use.

Underneath the finish, SAM stamped both the slide and frame with numerous trademarks. This stamping comes off as a bit excessive, but the markings are attractive and are far more subdued than the billboards Rock Island were putting on their 1911s a few years ago. The slide also possesses standard vertical serrations at the rear to aid in charging the firearm. Make no mistake, this gun is not going to win any beauty pageants, but the finish and features work well enough to make for a nice package overall.

ATI FX Military 1911 left side.

ATI FX Military 1911 left side.

Trademarks

Trademarks

The grip panels on the ATI FX 1911 are made of mahogany and have been checkered in a manner similar to the grips on WWII issued 1911s (WWII models used plastic grips). While mahogany is generally held in high regard for its beauty, the grips on the ATI gun are rather bland. Even so, they are functional and look far better than the smooth ones found on Rock Island pistols.

Mahogany grip panels

Mahogany grip panels

The manual (thumb) safety on the ATI FX 1911 has similar contour to what is typically present on issued examples. This means that the lever has a simple, small tab that can be engaged using the right thumb. When activated by rotating it clockwise and up, the manual safety positively clicks and the story remains the same for deactivation. The manual safety on 1911s completely locks the trigger and slide, but can only be activated when the firearm is in battery.

The grip safety on the FX is a standard 1911A1 lever. Though this safety is not beavertailed, as is popular today, I did not suffer any hammer bite while testing the firearm at the range. Speaking of the hammer, it too closely resembles an issued 1911A1 wide, short spur hammer.

The slide release lever used by the FX is similar to most other 1911s. It is low profile and unobtrusive and should not get in the way for most shooters. Like most 1911A1s, the FX has an arched mainspring housing with a lanyard loop.

Safety, serrations, wide hammer and rear logo

Safety, serrations, wide hammer and rear logo

 

Magazines

The ATI FX 1911 is packaged with a single 8-round blued steel magazine manufactured by ACT in Italy. Unlike the 7-round WWI/WWII issue magazines, the ACT magazines feature a baseplate that extends approximately ½ inch from the bottom of the magazine. The magazine is well made and generally feeds reliably.

Magazine

Magazine

ACT made in Italy

ACT-MAG made in Italy

Unfortunately, I experienced several failures to feed on the last round while testing at the range. In contrast to the followers found in magazines for most handguns, the ACT magazine utilizes a follower that dips downward near the front. While an indentation or dip is necessary to engage the slide stop on the last round, the magazine’s failure to support this eighth slug often leads to failures, even when using FMJ ball ammunition. In order to ensure absolute reliability, users should purchase an upgraded follower that will more adequately support the final round. In more positive news, the magazines drop freely when the left-side release button is pressed.

Poor feed ramp design

Poor follower design

 

Sights

I am not sure there is much to say in this section. The sights on the FX 1911 are somewhere between adequate and awful. While they truly are more usable than what some would have you believe, they are far from precise and are clearly geared for close range defensive use, rather than match shooting. That said, I doubt many will be using this pistol for competition. To summarize, the FX 1911 features sights that are faithful reproductions of those seen on government-issue 1911s. Shooters who are looking at this pistol with the intent to upgrade the sights should be warned – Novak and Bomar style sights will require milling the slide to fit.

Rear sight notch

Rear sight notch

Front sight post

Front sight post

 

Range Report

The first thing I noticed when shooting my FX 1911 for the first time – alongside my Beretta M9 and H&K USP – is that the recoil is substantially heavier with the .45 ACP than it is with the 9mm. If the 9mm is like throwing baseballs, the .45 is like heaving softballs at the target. While not unbearable, there is a noticeable difference. The .45 feels more like a heavy rolling push in the hands when fired, whereas the 9mm is snappier and quicker back on target. Both are still more pleasant than most .40 S&W pistols I have fired. The remarkable heft of the 1911 also helps to tame the venerable 230-grain round that explodes out of the barrel with each pull of the trigger. With entirely steel construction, 1911s tend to be much heavier than popular aluminum alloy and polymer framed guns.

The trigger on the FX 1911 is surprisingly good. As a single action gun, the 1911 trigger features only one pull weight and distance for shooters to learn. I would place my example at around 4.5 to 5 pounds of resistance with a miniscule 1mm of takeup before the hammer falls. Reset is also tiny at around 1mm. Overall, the trigger makes for a very repeatable shooter, even if the sights are not the fastest or most precise. I was able to maintain around 2-inch groups at 7 yards from the standing position with the FX 1911, but I am far from an expert handgunner.

Trigger serrations

Trigger serrations

On the whole, the FX was very reliable during my testing. The only issues I experienced were magazine related and should be easily rectified. I did notice that the slide-to-frame fit seemed to loosen up some (very, very slightly) after my initial range session. This seems to be in line with standard, government spec 1911s and will probably make for a more reliable firearm than one that is excessively tight.

 

Conclusion

The ATI FX 1911 is unquestionably an entry-level handgun. Shooters looking to add upgraded sights, safeties, and triggers are likely to find that other 1911s make better starting points. For those of us who only seek a solid 1911 for the range and even self defense, the FX will fit the bill admirably, even if higher capacity and lighter options exist in .45 ACP.

As far as affordable 1911s go, the ATI FX Military most closely replicates the look and feel of the classic 1911A1 and would be an excellent option for curious shooters who respect its heritage or seasoned collectors who are looking to spare their collectible 1911s from unnecessary wear. Even in spite of my frustration with ATI’s rebate process (for some unknown reason they ask for a partial copy of the dealer’s Form 4473), I will not hesitate to recommend the FX 1911 Military to anyone looking for a faithful recreation of John Browning’s classic.

 

Ammunition Tested

Federal American Eagle – 230 Grain FMJ – 100% Reliable*

 

*Excluding magazine failures

Beretta M9 Review

When I was a freshman in high-school, I went through a period of serious interest in airsoft replicas. Having come from the paintball world, I appreciated the increased realism and more accurate manuals of arms offered by airsoft guns. At the height of my foray into the hobby my collection probably numbered at around 12 pieces. Toward the end of my involvement, ultra-realistic gas blowback guns were my favorites as they not only offered realistic magazine capacities, but also featured semi-realistic blowback operation that generated noticeable recoil. Because I was also a considerable fan of military-themed games such as Battlefield 2 and America’s Army, I unsurprisingly owned a gas blowback Beretta M9 made by the popular (in airsoft terms) Kwan Ju Works, or KJW.

Jumping forward to 2012, when I began looking for my first handgun as a 21 year old, I found myself once again drawn to the M9. The Beretta’s unique open-slide design and general aesthetic superiority over other modern handguns make it, in my opinion, one of the most attractive firearms on the market. These characteristics combined with its status as the primary sidearm of the U.S. Military ultimately influenced me to purchase one new from Bud’s Gun Shop (www.budsgunshop.com) in May of 2012 for around $520 shipped to my transfer dealer, BZ Gunz.

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This review will be broken down into ten sections:
-About the Firearm
-Tech Specs
-Internals and Function
-Externals and Controls
-Sights
-Magazines
-Range Report
-Plus-Minus
-Conclusion
-Ammunition Tested

About the Firearm
I would be remiss in this review if I did not at least mention the fact that Beretta stands as the oldest active firearms manufacturer in the world. Operated by the Beretta family since 1529, the company has been there for just about every firearms innovation dating back to the Renaissance. That a company can persist under the same family through such drastic political and economic change as that seen since 1500s Europe is nothing short of remarkable.

Moving back to the present, the 9x19mm Beretta M9 was adopted by the U.S. Military in 1985 after nudging out the SIG P226 in the trials to replace the venerable M1911A1. As an incremental upgrade of the Beretta 92 series developed in the 1970s, the M9 utilizes a similar locked breech and open slide design to that found in the famous German P38 from World War II. Such a design is purportedly more accurate than the Browning cam-style action popularized by the 1911, but we will wait until the Range Report to discuss that claim. The M9 also bears a striking resemblance to the Beretta Model 1951 and in fact operates much the same way, but features a double stack magazine as well as a double and single action trigger. My commercial version of the M9 came in a cardboard box with a camouflage sleeve and included two 15-round magazines. It is my understanding that the M9 now ships in a plastic case.

Tech Specs

M9 Specs per Beretta USA

M9 Specs per Beretta USA

Internals and Function
The locked breech of the M9 is certainly a unique design that is almost exclusively used by Beretta in contemporary handguns. Upon firing, the slide begins to cycle rearward almost immediately as pressure-induced recoil attempts to eject the spent casing from the chamber. In order to ensure that chamber pressure has sufficient time to dissipate, the barrel joins the slide in this rearward motion. Meanwhile, the locking block attached to the barrel increasingly hinges downward throughout this motion until it collides with a reinforced section of the frame, just forward of the magazine well. Once this contact is made, the barrel uncouples from the slide for casing ejection. Because the barrel does not tilt as in a cam-style action, this recoil motion is very fluid. The slide truly feels as though it is on ball bearings. The reduced rotational momentum and overall heft of the firearm also contribute to the relatively light recoil of the M9. Disassembly of the M9 is as simple as pressing the locking button on the right of the frame just forward of the trigger and rotating the lever at the same spot on the left side clockwise. The slide assembly can then be pushed forward and off the rails.

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Rails and dustcover

Rails and dustcover

Notice the peening on the frame from the locking block

Notice the peening on the frame from the locking block

Unlike many more modern handguns, the M9 utilizes a single, non-captive recoil spring. This spring travels on a polymer guide rod in newer pistols while older examples feature steel rods. Beretta and their supporters claim that the new, fluted polymer rod is more debris resistant and every bit as durable as the old steel part. Frankly, I am not sure I subscribe to either theory, but am also unconcerned about the durability of my polymer guide rod. I tend to believe that this change was made as a cost reduction and not necessarily as an improvement.

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Much like the guide rod, the trigger on current M9s is also polymer. That said, the polymer on the trigger is actually just a coating over what is internally a steel part. I am ambivalent about the polymer trigger, but am impressed with the glass-like single-action break. The double-action pull of the M9’s trigger is heavy at around 12 or 13 lbs and a little too long for my tastes. To the contrary, the 5 lb single-action pull is very nice, albeit still a bit long, with little over travel and an audible reset of around 4 or 5mm. The M9’s mainspring can be swapped with the same part from the 92D double-action only (DAO) handgun for a reduction of around 2 lbs in double-action and about 1 lb in single-action mode. I have yet to make this change on my handgun. While I am impressed by the crisp break of the M9’s trigger, I am not a fan of its extremely short reach distance on single-action mode and find that the convex, narrow trigger face makes the double-action pull feel worse than it really is.

M9 (top) and USP (bottom). Notice the wider, flatter USP trigger face. This makes the USP trigger feel lighter.

M9 (top) and USP (bottom). Notice the wider, flatter USP trigger face. This makes the USP trigger feel lighter.

Although the manual safety is every bit as much an external feature as it is an internal one, it is important to discuss how this part works from a functional perspective. As the slide-mounted safety/decocker is rotated counter-clockwise, part of the inertial firing pin is rotated up and out of the hammer’s range of motion. As soon as this piece is rotated out of the way, the hammer falls and the handgun is safely decocked. The M9 has three conditions: cocked and ready to fire, decocked and ready to fire, and decocked and safe.

Ready to fire.

Ready to fire.

Safe and decocked.

Safe and decocked.

Externals and Controls
From a finish perspective, the M9 is a bit of a mixed bag. The slide features Beretta’s proprietary Brunitron finish. Brunitron is a tough, inky black finish that features incredible lubricity and has the appearance of paint. In fact, the lubricity of the Brunitron finish is such that racking the slide using even the rear serrations can be a slippery affair. The M9’s frame is anodized aluminum alloy while the barrel is chrome lined and blued. I have found that in unusually humid environments, the blued barrel does tend to rust rather quickly; so as with any firearm buyers will want to keep the M9 stored somewhere especially dry.

Notice the slight color/finish variations.

Notice the slight color/finish variations.

Please pardon the dirty barrel. Through the carbon, the chrome lining is visible.

Please pardon the dirty barrel. Through the carbon, the chrome lining is visible.

The grip panels on the M9 are run-of-the-mill checkered polymer panels with a prominent Beretta seal centrally located. I have found these panels to be acceptable for pretty much any usage environment. However, thinner and more aggressively textured grip panels are available through popular vendors, such as Hogue and VZ Grips.

Checkered grip panels and button magazine release. The lever just forward and above the trigger is rotated clockwise to remove the slide assembly.

Checkered grip panels and button magazine release. The lever just forward and above the trigger is rotated clockwise to remove the slide assembly.

While on the subject of the M9’s grip, we should take a moment to partially dispel a popular myth regarding the M9 and other 92 series handguns. Often, detractors of the pistol will point to the grip as a major deficiency. Many say that it is larger than other service pistols and that it does not work for people with small hands. With those people, I must respectfully disagree. Based on my measurements at the trigger, center of the grip, and base of the grip, the M9’s grip circumference is within a millimeter or two of several popular handguns, including Glocks, FNs (FNX/FNP), and HK USPs. Where there is a difference is in the width of the M9’s grip in comparison to other options. As a result of the grip panels resting on top of an alloy frame, the M9 does feature a wider grip than other options. However from front-strap to back-strap, the Beretta is actually slimmer than its peers. I also have found that the more contoured, softer-edged grip of the M9 is more comfortable than the utilitarian approach taken by Glock, for example.

Backstrap texture

Backstrap texture

Frontstrap texture

Frontstrap texture

Perhaps the most maligned part of the 92/M9 series handguns is the slide-mounted safety. A quick internet search will easily yield numerous results where people are inevitably complaining about two main issues. The first is that shooters who like to “slingshot” the slide to reload after an empty magazine often accidentally activate the safety, which decocks the pistol upon return to battery. The second common complaint is that the safety is (in some peoples’ opinion) oriented backwards. Some think that the downward position should be fire while the upward position should be safe.  In my opinion, both issues are overblown. The first is easily overcome by using the slide release lever to return the firearm to battery, while the second complaint is merely an opinion that is likely held by those more familiar with frame mounted safeties.

Slide markings

Slide markings

Slide markings

Slide markings

Some might wonder where how the M9 differs from the 92FS also available from Beretta. Outside of different markings and packaging, the M9 also features a straight dustcover and a non-radiused grip. Another notable difference is that the M9 uses i-dot sights rather than the standard 3-dot system.

Sights
From a sights standpoint, the M9 is a noticeable departure from its 92 series brethren. Whereas most pistols these days feature 3-dot sights with two dots in the rear and one on the front sight, the M9 has a single rear rectangular/semi-circular mark and a single front dot. Rather than line up three dots on a single plane, the M9’s sights simply require users to place the white front dot above the white rear post to accurately aim the handgun. I find this to be a quicker arrangement as the sight picture is slightly less cluttered than that of 3-dot systems.

Front post

Front post

Rear notch

Rear notch

Magazines
The M9 ships with two 15-round magazines. The provided magazines are constructed of steel and have been phosphated to provide some corrosion resistance. I have found that the finish does wear rather easily on these and they will rust in humid environments.  Beretta also sells a sand and corrosion resistant version of the M9 magazine that features what the company calls Physical Vapor Deposition (PVD) finish. These can be identified by their gray, almost NiB-X, finish. In addition to the finish options, Beretta now sells a 17-round, flush-fit magazine that was originally designed for the M9A1 and 92A1 pistols. These magazines work perfectly fine in the original M9/92s as well. Like other manufacturers, Beretta magazines have holes in the rear to assist in counting the number of rounds within.

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Before moving on, we should take a moment to discuss the several aftermarket options available for the M9/92 series handguns. The three most popular are Beretta factory (actually Meccanica del Sarca, or MDS), Mec-Gar, and Checkmate Industries. Both the Beretta/MDS and Mec-Gar products receive very good reviews and are recommended both in the 15-round and 17-round capacities. Checkmate began manufacturing the magazines a few years ago as part of a government contract. These magazines have a reputation for being unreliable in harsh environments. While the Checkmate magazines may make for decent range parts, I would stick with the Beretta/MDS or Mec-Gar offerings for potential social situations.

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Range Report
Like a few of the firearms I have reviewed here, the M9 has made so many range trips with me that I cannot confine this section to a single “test” trip. Rather, I will share my experience with the handgun as a whole in an effort to highlight both the positive aspects and frustration points that have cropped up during my time with the M9. Fortunately, I have also introduced several new shooters using this handgun and can share some of their feedback as well.

The first notable characteristic that comes in to play when shooting the M9 is its overall heft. The pistol is by no means light and anyone looking to holster it for carry will want to make sure their belt fits very well. However on the range, this bulk can be a blessing. Muzzle rise with the M9 is very manageable as a result of its locked breech operation and weight. In my experience, new shooters have almost unanimously approved of the M9 for this very reason.

From an accuracy standpoint, the pistol is more than acceptable. I cannot say if the M9 is any more accurate than your average cam-action pistol, but in capable hands, it can be a very effective sidearm. You may remember I previously complained about the trigger. I still am no fan of this part, however a distinction must be made between precision and accuracy. The M9 is a very accurate pistol that I just happen to shoot somewhat imprecisely. With this handgun, I tend to push my shots left of my point of aim (POA).

Trigger in forward, double action mode.

Trigger in forward, double action mode.

Trigger in rear, single action mode. This makes for a very short pull.

Trigger in rear, single action mode. This makes for a very short pull.

Plus-Minus
+ Reliable
+ Attractive
+ Smooth operation
+ Parts availability
+ Accurate
+ Good SA trigger weight
– Poor trigger geometry
– Heavy DA trigger pull
– Heavy for carry
– Slippery slide (no pun intended)

Conclusion
The Beretta M9 is a solid service handgun with a respectable track record for reliability among both civilian and military users. Most issues can be avoided by properly maintaining the pistol and using quality magazines. Though I have found that I perform better with other handguns, I have no regrets about having chosen the M9 as my first pistol.

Ammunition Tested
I have yet to experience a failure with the M9. I have used the following ammunition types with this handgun with 100% reliability:

Federal 115 grain brass
Winchester (WWB) 115 grain brass
Privi Partisan 115 grain brass
Blazer 124 grain aluminum
Tulammo 115 grain steel

2014 SHOT Show in Review

For gun owners, SHOT Show makes up four of the most exciting days of the year. Every January, numerous new and innovative products from various manufacturers make their public debuts at the NSSF event. Since only three things are guaranteed in this life: death, taxes, and opinionated gun owners, I figured it could not hurt to share some opinions about new products at this year’s show. As a disclaimer, Modern Rifleman as a new blog did not attend the show, but it is my hope to be there in the future.

Advanced Armament Corp
AAC  appears to be addressing a weakness in their lineup this year. Ever since the M4-1000 was discontinued, AAC has lacked any real midrange product for 5.56/.223 rifles. It looks like they will be filling this hole with the new, budget minded 556-SD. The 726-SD will also make a return this year. Both will carry a reported $650 MSRP and will utilize AAC’s popular, but controversial 51-tooth mounting system. According to AAC representatives, the 556-SD is only 2 dB louder than the current M4-2000. Lastly, the Ranger 3 will make a reappearance as a thread-mount 5.56mm suppressor. The MSRP for the Ranger 3 will be $600.

Taking over the top of the line for AAC will be the new SR5 and SR7 suppressors. As you might imagine, the SR5 is a 5.56mm suppressor while the SR7 is a 7.62. These new models will use AAC’s new 90-tooth mounting system that has been vaporware for the past couple years. The new suppressors can be seen in SWAT Magazine’s video (http://youtu.be/zuskA0Hwvr4).

Lastly, as part of Freedom Group’s acquisition of Storm Lake, AAC will be releasing threaded barrels for a wide variety of pistols. Initial offerings will be aimed at the Glock, M&P, and XD lines of handguns. The barrels will feature traditional rifling, which should please lead shooters. The MSRP is expected to be around $250 so these should sell pretty well. Personally, I hope to see HK barrels join the AAC lineup in the near future, but there has been no announcement thus far that this will be the case.

Crye Precision
Crye is not exactly known as a firearms manufacturer, but look for them to make waves this year with their new SIX12. The SIX12 is a revolving 12 gauge shotgun that can be used as a standalone firearm or in a mounted configuration similar to the famous Masterkey. The SIX12 can be reloaded by individually loading the chambers, or by dropping the entire cylinder and swapping it with another one. Initial reports were that the shotgun had a pretty brutal trigger, but the SHOT model was a preproduction prototype and may have also been broken. Haus of Guns did an excellent, brief video on the shotgun (http://youtu.be/5t9aMAT784w).

Desert Tech
Desert Tech may seem like a new name for some readers and in a sense, it is true. Formerly known as Desert Tactical Arms, Desert Tech has undergone a rebranding and as part of this process, plans to release some very interesting products over the course of the next year. Starting with their established bread and butter, the precision rifle market, DT will be releasing their new R7S chassis for the Remington 700 series of rifles. Unlike their current Covert chassis, the R7S will be a traditional, non-bullpup chassis.

Perhaps the most exciting new release at SHOT this year was DT’s new MDR and MDR-C caliber convertible bullpups. With plans to offer them initially in 5.56mm, and .308, DT also has plans to release 7.62x39mm, .300 Blackout, and 6.8mm SPC models later on. Parts interchangeability will mean easy conversion between calibers. The rifle utilizes a short stroke piston and features a unique forward ejection system that pushes cases out of the ejection port on the forward travel of the bolt. MSRP will be around $2,400 for the .308 version and $2,150 for the 5.56 model. I hope readers will pardon my ineloquence, but I think these are damn cool rifles that may help me forget that I once lusted after a Bushmaster ACR. InnerBark Outdoors (http://youtu.be/JWi6ff22xBs) and Iraqveteran8888 (http://youtu.be/TJWWSDR7i5o) have excellent videos showing off the MDR and R7S.

Fabrique Nationale
FN was a little quieter than some vendors at this year’s SHOT Show, but still brought some excitement to die-hard AR fans with the announcement of the FN 15 line of rifles. At an MSRP of $1,149 the FN 15 series is likely to go toe to toe with Colt’s lineup and should carry significant appeal for those who are looking to buy an as close as possible replica of a USGI M4 or M16. Guns & Ammo has a video of the new rifles here: http://youtu.be/LLm27dd6ECQ.

Glock
Glock created all sorts of commotion when they announced the Glock 41 and 42 handguns just prior to SHOT.  The Glock 41 is a long slide .45 ACP pistol similar to the 9mm Glock 34 and .40 S&W Glock 35 handguns. The 41 has a 13 round magazine. The Glock 42 represents the fruit of all the crying Glock enthusiasts have done for years about the Austrian company’s unwillingness to make a single stack 9mm handgun. Unfortunately, Glock gave shooters a .380 ACP (9mm Kurz) pistol in lieu of a 9x19mm offering. There is some speculation that Glock may be attempting to double-dip the market with intent to release a 9x19mm model at a later date. Obviously, there is no proof to support these claims, but I must admit that I have given them some serious consideration. In terms of size, the 42 compares closely to Smith & Wesson’s M&P Shield and is slightly larger than Kahr’s P380. Hickock45 has already reviewed the Glock 42 (http://youtu.be/LskihWv3ALw) and firearmsguide has Media Day footage of the Glock 41 (http://youtu.be/LIrRNeFjn2M).

Heckler & Koch
It was an interesting SHOT Show for HK. Leading up to the show, the expectation among many enthusiasts was that we would see civilian G36, UMP, and MP5 rifles announced. Unfortunately, only some of this news proved to be true. HK will be releasing civilian versions of the G36 line and will also bring an MP5K to the market. Unfortunately, the company has no plans to introduce civilian UMPa or full-size MP5s. This is perplexing to me, given that a full-size MP5 could be imported in pistol configuration.

HK expressed no plans to release a civilian MP7, but did suggest that a .22 LR version may be in the works. On the pistol side, despite rumors no striker-fired models made an appearance at SHOT. It also appears that HK will not be releasing .22 LR conversions for their handguns.

The biggest newsmakers from a consumer perspective at the HK booth were the new MR-556A1 and MR-762 A1 rifles. Sold both with and without the specially designed Operators Suppressor Systems (OSS) suppressors, these new rifles will feature keymod rails for user customization. OSS’s new suppressor is a reflex design that reportedly carries no increase in backpressure. Time will tell whether these claims prove true. More information on these rifles can be found here: http://blogs.militarytimes.com/gearscout/2014/01/07/heckler-koch-introducing-mr556762a1-sd-with-oss-suppressor-and-new-handguard/?repeat=w3tc.

Remington
Remington made a splash this year with the R51 handgun. Designed as a concealed carry handgun, the R51 takes its name and design from Remington’s old Model 51 handgun. The pistol operates off of a delayed blowback mechanism that was originally designed by John Pedersen. This operation should result in lower recoil than straight blowback designs, and possibly even less noticeable recoil than a Browning cam-style action. Unfortunately, Remington was noticeably absent from SHOT’s Media Day at the Range, so the pistol remains untested from an independent perspective. Tim from Military Arms Channel and The Bang Switch has commented that the slide had some discomforting machine marks internally and that both the trigger and grip safety were not as nice as he would have preferred (http://www.thebangswitch.com/remington-r51-over-hyped/). Regardless, the firearm is an interesting design that should suppress well and has a low enough bore axis to almost certainly allow for quick follow-up shots. Another nice feature is that the sights and other edges of the handgun are remarkably snag-free, which should help with concealment.

Remington also showed subcompact, officer sized models of its 1911 line. Unlike the R51, these were at media day. These can be seen Mike Beliveau’s video here: http://youtu.be/e-M6WCJ6CHM .

SAR Arms
Some readers may be unfamiliar with this company. As the importer for the Sarsilmaz line of firearms from Turkey, SAR Arms is a relatively new company on the US market that has gained a following for its incredibly affordable line of CZ clones. I must admit, SAR makes some very attractive firearms, not the least of which are the ST10 and SAR9/40/45 series handguns. The ST10 has already made its appearance here in the US and resembles a sort of alloy framed USP derivative. By all accounts, it is a nice firearm. My hope is that the SAR9/40/45 handguns will make an appearance here in the US at some point this year. SAR did have these pistols at SHOT so it may be possible.

However, the most intriguing product from SAR Arms was not a handgun, but a pistol caliber carbine based on the AR-15 layout called the 109T. The Bang Switch covered the 109T in a post (http://www.thebangswitch.com/sar-arms-109t-9mm-carbine/) and had good things to say. As a recent NFA enthusiast, I am very interested in the 109T. Personally, I am not a fan of the magazine well adapters that many use with 9x19mm AR-15 uppers and I have always found myself drawn towards the DDLES-style pistol caliber lowers. With DDLES’s recent inability to deliver product, the SAR 109T may fill this void nicely.

Serbu Firearms
Serbu created a great deal of excitement by announcing their new SU-15 upper receiver for the AR-15 platform. This upper roughly resembles the SCAR upper receiver in that it features a monolithic rail and short stroke piston. Serbu expects that the upper will retail at around $700. To me, that is an amazing value for an upper that will almost certainly be of excellent quality. A video from James Madison can be seen here: http://youtu.be/YuUGtxf3C_k. I am very excited about this upper.

SIG Sauer
SIG brought a number of new products to SHOT this year. The new 556xi was likely the most interesting of the bunch. This new offering in the popular 556 line is completely ambidextrous and features a swappable barrel that will allow the rifle to interchange between 5.56mm, .300 Blackout, and 7.62x39mm. The rifle features a new pistol grip and three stock options. A video from 2brothersadventures can be seen here: http://youtu.be/vveRucu9OjA.

SIG Sauer has also announced the release of the P320 striker fired handgun. This model replicates the look and feel of SIG’s P250 and features the same interchangeable lower frame (non serialized part) system. SIG boasts that this pistol has an excellent trigger. Given that it is SIG’s first foray into the striker fired world, I look forward to seeing just how nice the trigger is. A video by Rockwell Arms from Media Day at the Range can be seen here: http://youtu.be/DM1cf5cb2P0.

SilencerCo
SilencerCo made news just prior to SHOT with the announcement of the Harvester and Harvester Big Bore suppressors. Rated for up to .300 Winchester Magnum, the Harvester is an incredibly light suppressor at 11.3 ounces. In an interesting departure from traditional suppressors, the Harvester has a brake on the end to reduce felt recoil. This should make shooting .300 Magnum very tolerable. The standard Harvester will be a direct thread suppressor and will have several adapters available for different thread pitches. MSRP on the Harvester will be $750 and it is likely that street prices will hover in the $500 to $550 range. At this price, the Harvester should sell very well.

The Harvester Big Bore is simply a larger version of the Harvester intended for use with the powerful .338 Lapua round. Unlike the Harvester, the Big Bore model will be compatible with SilencerCo’s Active Spring Retention (ASR) Mounts that are used with the Specwar line. MSRP on the Big Bore will be $1,600.

Lastly, SilencerCo announced the release of the much anticipated Saker 762. Using the same MAAD mounting system that the 556 introduced, the Saker 762 should be a highly versatile suppressor for anything up to .300 Winchester Magnum. SilencerCo has reported impressive suppression on a variety of calibers with especially impressive performance using 5.56 (134 dB) and .300 Blackout (127 dB). The Saker 762 will weigh 20.7 ounces and carry a retail price of $1,300.

More information on SilencerCo’s new suppressors can be found at http://www.SilencerCo.com.

Zenith Quest
Zenith Quest International is a new entrant into the civilian firearms market. Zenith plans to bring the MKE line of Turkish HK clones back to the United States. A video from SHOT by the NSSF can be seen here: http://youtu.be/vZwQAZBOAN4.

Heckler & Koch USP Review (9mm)

Those who follow Modern Rifleman will recall that prior to becoming an established firearms enthusiast I was a considerable fan of the realism that airsoft offered over my prior foray into paintball. Though at the peak of my airsofting days I probably owned around eight guns, I will always remember starting out with a Tokyo Marui Heckler & Koch Mark 23 (MK 23) spring-operated replica. At the time, the MK 23 was Tokyo Marui’s top spring gun and was a favorite for its accuracy and power. Much like HK’s real MK 23, the airsoft gun was an absolute behemoth, but even after selling it to a good friend I could not help but feel a certain attraction to HK handguns.

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Fortunately for me, Kodiak Range (www.kodiakrange.com) in South Bend, Indiana received the Mark 23’s older, smaller, and more practical brother, the USP 9mm on consignment last December. The example I purchased included 4 15-round magazines as well as all the accessories that come with a new pistol. The estimated round count for the USP at time of purchase was less than 200 rounds. All included, I paid $700 for my USP.

This review will be broken down into ten sections:

-About the Firearm
-Tech Specs
-Internals
-Externals
-Sights
-Magazines
-Range Report
-Plus-Minus
-Conclusion
-Ammunition Tested

About the Firearm

The USP (Universal Self-loading Pistol) served as the template for the aforementioned MK 23. Initially developed for the US market as a .40 S&W sidearm, the 9x19mm USP was released alongside the .40 S&W version in 1993. Around 2 years later, HK released the larger .45 ACP variant. Though the firearm was originally intended for US law enforcement and commercial buyers, the USP has gained a substantial following internationally and a variant of the pistol (P8) is the primary issue sidearm for the German Bundeswher. Much like the revered 1911, the USP uses a Browning style cam-locked chamber meaning the barrel must be allowed to tilt upward slightly after firing.

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Tech Specs

Official USP Specifications

Official USP Specifications

Internals

As I mentioned previously, at its heart the USP operates very similarly to John Moses Browning’s Hi-Power and 1911 pistols. After the pistol is fired, the blowback causes the slide to travel rearward, tilting the barrel assembly up and unlocking the chamber. This is a time-proven system that is used in the vast majority of modern centerfire pistols.

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In addition to having a substantial, sloped breech, newer USP barrels (post-1996) have polygonal rifling similar to that found in Glocks and CZ82/83s. For those who are not familiar with this sort of design, polygonal barrels have several flats cut into them that spiral inside the bore. These flats “grip” the bullet as it exits the barrel, rather than cutting into the bullet as is the case with traditional land and groove rifling. Proponents of polygonal rifling claim that these barrels last longer and are easier to clean than traditional designs and that they also offer improved accuracy and velocity. It has been reported that during testing, HK cleared a squib round lodged in a USP barrel by firing another round behind it. According to these reports, the firearm survived the test with only minimal barrel bulging.  Unfortunately, I can only personally vouch for the claims related to cleaning the barrel. Compared to my Beretta M9, the USP does seem to be quicker to clean, if only by a small margin. The USP is also cold hammer forged, which ultimately makes for a very durable part.

Polygonal rifling

Polygonal rifling. notice how it looks ‘worn’ compared to traditional rifling. This is normal.

Reloaders should take caution when using cast lead bullets with this barrel as according to HK and Glock (both makers of polygonal barrels), cast bullets can cause buildup and may suffer from an accuracy standpoint. Also, lead buildup reportedly can cause damage to the polygonal barrel. This warning in mind, I have heard from several reloaders that cast bullets work fine in these barrels. With 9mm ammunition being relatively inexpensive, I will likely stick with jacketed rounds for my USP.

The recoil system used by the USP is noteworthy. Rather than utilize a single recoil spring and guide rod as was the norm at the time of its development, the USP features a captive dual spring recoil assembly. When the handgun is fired, the larger outer spring serves as the primary recoil spring. At the rear-most part of the cycling motion, when the slide is nearly at its rearmost position, the inner spring is engaged as a recoil buffer. HK has claimed that in addition to reducing stress on the firearm, the spring system also reduces felt recoil by as much as 30%. While the USP is certainly a soft shooter, I cannot say that I notice significantly less recoil than is present when firing other handguns. In comparison to my M9, the two are pretty similar in this category. Based on my memory, it may be possible that the felt recoil on the USP is slightly less than your average pre-Gen 4 Glock, but I have yet to fire the two side-by-side. Regardless, shooters should not base a USP purchase solely on the recoil reduction characteristics of its spring system.

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I would be remiss not to discuss the USP’s trigger system and options in this review. My example is what HK has dubbed a V1 (Variant 1). This means that it is a traditional single action and double action (SA/DA) handgun. However, HK also offers their Law Enforcement Modification (LEM) trigger as an alternative to the standard SA/DA variants. Essentially, the LEM trigger is HK’s equivalent to SIG Sauer’s DAK system in that it offers a consistent double action only trigger pull that has been substantially lightened in comparison to your average double action only (DAO) trigger. On my V1 I find that the DA trigger pull is long, but smooth. The SA pull is pleasantly light with an average reset, coming in between 3 and 4 millimeters. The break on the USP’s SA pull is not nearly as glasslike or predictable as my M9’s, but I am weird in that I prefer it this way. The trigger face on all USP variants is pleasantly wide and flat which does help to reduce the perceived trigger weight.

Lastly, the USP has a small lock inside the grip near the bottom of the mainspring. Using an included tool, turning this lock 90 degrees will lock the gun and prevent it from firing. I never use this feature, but it is there and unobtrusive.

Externals

Although utilitarian in design, I find the USP to be a very attractive handgun. The slide is finished using a carbon nitriding treatment similar to that found on Glocks. HK calls this treatment HE or Hostile Environment finishing and it seems to live up to the task. It is important to note that in contrast to a painted finish, the HE finish may appear worn in spots, but the firearm is still protected. With carbon nitriding, the protection goes beyond the surface. Because of this, HK firearms tend to hold up well even in salty environments.

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The frame of the USP is made of high-impact and temperature resistant polymer. Although the mix for the polymer is proprietary to HK, it is likely a form of glass-filled nylon much like the Glock series and Smith & Wesson’s M&P line. The frontstrap and backstrap of the grip both feature highly aggressive texturing.  Fortunately, this texturing is used sparingly enough that the pistol is still very comfortable to hold. In contrast, I find that the texture on the backstrap of pre-Gen 4 Glocks goes a little too high into the webbing between my thumb and index finger, causing some discomfort. Overall, the grip on the USP is reasonably comfortable and more than adequate for a combat sidearm, but it is not nearly as ergonomic as the M&P, P99/PPQ, or HK’s newer pistols such as the P2000 and P30. It feels thinner, but perhaps a bit longer frontstrap to backstrap than a Glock.

Aggressive grip texturing

Aggressive grip texturing

The manual safety can be found on the left side of the V1 handguns, near the hammer.  Simply pushing the lever up will engage the safety. The USP safety allows the slide to cycle, but locks the trigger. Pushing the lever down past the red “F” for fire will decock the pistol. The safety on the USP is very positive and allows the handgun to be safely carried “cocked and locked”.

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The USP, as with all current HK offerings, uses a lever-type (or paddle) magazine release just below the trigger guard. This feature really bothers some shooters to the point that they will not even consider the USP as a viable sidearm. I love this release and wish more manufacturers would include it as an option on their handguns. For someone with smaller hands, the lever release works very well as it facilitates the use of the middle finger of the dominant hand to drop the magazine. For button-style releases, I find that I need to turn the pistol slightly to comfortably release the magazine. The USP addresses this issue for me. The magazine release is also naturally ambidextrous.

Notice the large slide release lever and unique magazine release.

Notice the large slide release lever and unique magazine release.

The slide release on the USP is very large and extends back far enough that smaller hands can easily release the slide using the lever. It has enough spring tension that accidentally locking the slide while firing is unlikely. Unlike newer HK offerings, the slide release on the USP is not ambidextrous.

Unfortunately, the USP features a proprietary accessory rail. Although there are several options that fit this rail, it is disappointing. However, on an older design like the USP I can understand it and HK has moved away from this rail in subsequent releases.

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The USP features a proprietary accessory rail.

Determining the production year for a USP is very easy. HK, like Walther, uses a standard letter system that is common on German-made firearms. HK and Walther both use the Ulm proof house, meaning the same dating system applies to both manufacturers. The system can be seen below. The two letters coincide with the last two digits of the production year. As an AG (06) coded pistol, my USP was made in 2006.

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AG marking denotes a 2006 manufacture date

German date proofing system (Ulm):

0 A
1 B
2 C
3 D
4 E
5 F
6 G
7 H
8 I
9 K

Sights

The USP makes use of a standard 3-dot sight system. The dots are bright white, but are not night sights so illumination should not be expected. Strictly as a matter of preference, I tend to prefer the Heinie “Straight Eight” or the i-dot sights as found on the M9 over the 3-dot system. Still, the USP’s sights work well and have very minimal wiggle room when viewing the front blade through the rear notch.

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Magazines

The magazines for the USP are made out of polymer. For someone who is used to SIGs, Berettas, or 1911s, this may be a bit discomforting at first. However, my experience has shown that they hold up very well. The standard USP 9mm magazine holds 15 rounds, but 18 round magazines are available for use in conjunction with the Jet Funnel magazine well. Some newer handguns (XD/XDM, M&P)  have managed to squeeze more rounds into their magazines, but for the overall grip profile of the USP, 15 rounds is pretty solid. Both flat and extended baseplates are available for the USP magazines. I have two of each, but generally prefer the flat ones.

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This 2006 dated magazine retains the LEO-only markings from the Assault Weapons Ban years. HK was likely still using molds from the ban era even after it expired in 2004.

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Holes in the back of the magazine indicate remaining rounds

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The extended baseplate is curved to aid in weapon retention and grip.

Range Report

Since purchasing the USP 9mm last December, I have had it out to the range several times. I am always surprised to see how much better I shoot with it than my Colt/Walther .22 LR 1911 and my M9. For me, the firearm seems to fit perfectly. Although I am not sure that felt recoil or muzzle flip are much different with the USP than they are with the M9, I consider the USP a very soft shooter given its light weight. Furthermore, the gun is far more accurate than I am, but despite my weaknesses I can still hit a paper plate at 25 yards with relative ease using the USP. It should be noted that I have never had a malfunction while shooting my example, though I do tend to baby this gun and try to keep it as clean as possible.

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Plus-Minus

+ Ultra reliable

+ Good finish

+ Solid trigger

+ Several trigger options

+ Soft shooter

+ Good manual safety

– Proprietary rail

– Average ergonomics

– Expensive, both the pistol and accessories

Conclusion

In my opinion, the USP is among the best pistols ever conceived. It is reliable, lightweight, soft shooting, and has an above average trigger, especially for a service pistol. I have fired several different handguns and the only one that comes close to working as well as the USP does for me is the Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm. If I am taking 9mm ammunition to the range with me, you can bet the USP will be in tow as well. It is because of the USP that I now lust after a P2000 or USP Compact. I must admit that I am a bit sour on the fact that factory threaded barrels are so expensive ($300+). I have a SWR Octane 45 pending approval and hope to use the USP as a suppressor host. Although it is a pricy handgun, shooters who are willing to stretch the budget a bit are likely to be pleased with the USP or one of the newer HK designs inspired by it, such as the P2000 and P30.

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Ammunition Tested

Privi Partisan, Federal Champion, Winchester white box, TulaAmmo, and Blazer Aluminum have all functioned with 100% reliability in my USP 9mm.