The sights are just plain lousy, the safety is hard to work and is positioned where you need 8-inch fingers with the strength to crush basketballs to work it, unless you move your hand from the pistol grip. The magazines are heavy and when you fire more than a few rounds in rapid succession, the fore-end gets so hot it will brand your hands. Yet the AK-47 just keeps on working no matter how it’s abused. Keep it sort of clean, lube it sometimes, feed it just about any ammo of the proper caliber regardless of its origin and it will deliver bullets pretty close to point of aim.

ak.gifIt doesn’t take much training to use one. Just look at some of the pictures on television who carry them in third-world countries. They sure don’t know what the sights are for and they probably have no idea how to field strip or clean the gun. Nevertheless, the gun is cheap and effective in the hands of even the untrained, just as intended, and that’s why the AK and its variants have been manufactured by so many different countries around the world. This is why Communist governments have handed them out to the rabble like party favors, wherever a brush-fire war broke out that held the promise of bringing power to a new Communist regime.

There are more AK variants around the world than any other small arm. It may not be elegant, but just because there are so many of them, there’s a good chance that every American warrior will face an enemy carrying one.

Life-Saving Tricks
Like so many things in life, the AK just takes a little getting used to, but learning some techniques to make it easier to use can help.

Although seldom finely made in terms of workmanship, it is functional and ruggedly made, with a reputation of requiring little maintenance. The tangent rear sight has a battle-sight zero (BZO) setting of 300 meters and is usually graduated for ranges of 100 to 1,000 meters in 100-meter increments, but the sight notch is very narrow, making it difficult for even young eyes to use. On many variants, two wings protect the front post. It is easy to mistake one of these wings for the front post sight, so pay attention when acquiring that sight picture. Some owners will widen the rear notch with a file, outline it with a white line and paint the front post so it won’t be confused with one of the protective wings.

Zeroing The AK
Finding the point of impact with respect to the sight picture is done by pushing the front sight left or right to adjust for windage and screwing it up or down to adjust for elevation. There are no graduation marks to indicate how far to move the post, so it is done by trial and error, and a special sight-moving tool and some luck are a big help. Once in a while a standard production AK built by a foreign manufacturer will come along that is surprisingly accurate. I have encountered a couple that were 1.5 MOA guns, but generally AKs are built to battlefield specifications and a 3-to-4-inch group at 100 yards with surplus ammo is pretty good. Given these considerations, zeroing the guns took a good deal of time.

A few AKs tested recently at 10-8 Consulting’s Phoenix, AZ Ben Avery shooting facility had under-folding stocks, which make carrying the gun easy, but these offer a very poor cheek weld. There are pluses and minuses to everything. When the stock is folded over the receiver, the gun can be easily carried in a vehicle and deployed rapidly when dismounting. A few other guns had American-made telescoping stocks (Vltor makes a good one), but most were standard wood or polymer.

A variety of slings set-ups were used and included single-point, three-point, conventional and various other tactical contraptions. I evaluated a Viking Tactics VTAC-MK2 padded sling that attached to the barrel and buttstock like a conventional sling, allowing for strong or weak-side carry, but one that could be quickly lengthened or shortened for tactical carry across the chest. It worked as advertised.

Skillful Manipulation
Basic gun handling with the AK is a bit tricky, primarily because of the lousy safety design. The safety works—it just can’t be worked by most people without removing the hand from the pistol grip. Hold the gun in a ready position with the right hand forward of the magazine and the fingers wrapped around it. The right thumb rests on the top of the safety, so to switch from safe to fire, the thumb sweeps the safety down at the same time the right hand moves back to the pistol grip and into firing position. When drawing the hand to the rear in this manner though, the operator must be very careful not to pull the trigger accidentally. Be sure to keep the gun pointed in a safe direction.

The AK was not designed with speed reloads in mind. Like most foreign weapons of that era in design, the bolt does not stay open after the last round is fired, so you don’t know you’re empty until you pull the trigger and there is that sickening, hollow click. There is no way to dump the empty magazine while grabbing a fresh one, either. However, AK magazines are nearly indestructible so 10-8 instructors demonstrated using a full magazine to hammer the magazine release paddle and sweep the empty magazine out of the gun in one move, then quickly insert a loaded magazine. We then cycled the gun by reaching over the top or under it with the left hand to grasp the bolt carrier handle, all the time maintaining a firm grasp on the pistol grip.

Always a major consideration with any weapon system is how to securely tote around spare magazines where they can be accessed immediately. I tested an AK-47 chest rig from Eagle Industries and found that it kept the three magazines it is designed to carry where I put them, and still allowed me to extract them in a hurry for reloads. The rig is fully adjustable and uses hook-and-loop fasteners to keep the magazines in their pouches.

Malfunction Drills
No matter how reliable the gun, it can stop working at the wrong time. Ammunition is often the problem with a malfunctioning AK. The simple failure-to-fire is cleared by tipping the gun to the right so the ejection port is down and gravity can help clear any obstruction. Check the magazine by rocking it backwards then forwards and pulling it to make sure it is properly seated, and then cycle the action to clear the chamber and insert a fresh round.

A more serious failure is a double feed and the immediate action drill above will not fix it. In that case, brace the gun butt against the thigh and pull the charging handle to the rear, holding it with the right hand. The magazine is then stripped from the gun with the left hand and the action cycled three times to clear the chamber. A fresh magazine is then inserted and the action cycled, readying the gun to get back into the fight.

I practice slow and rapid fire drills at distances from 3 to 25 yards, incorporating two- and three-round failure-to-fire and non-standard responses in order to build familiarity with the weapon system. Following that, I shoot from the strong and weak side in the conventional off-hand stance, but also with one arm, something many have never tried, but which could be an important skill to have in case one arm is injured or occupied by carrying a wounded buddy.

None of those deploying in service of America will be sent with an AK variant as their primary arm, but any deployed service member will almost certainly find himself on a battlefield where that is a common enemy weapon. If the only available gun is a battlefield-pickup, there may be no time to look it over before using it. The instructors from 10-8 put each client’s gun in a condition unknown and placed it on the ground about 15 yards down range. The gun might have been loaded and ready to go or jammed with a double feed. On command, the student ran to his gun, picked it up, ascertained its condition, prepared it to fire and then engaged a target 5 yards farther down range. The same drill was then repeated with a variant different from the client’s, to increase difficulty.

Lessons Learned
It was a long day in the hot sun. I put 500 rounds of American Eagle 124-grain FMJ and Winchester 123-grain FMJ down range with no malfunctions and learned a lot in the process. Before it was over though, 10-8 suggested a shoot-off. It was pretty simple. Just put a round in the target’s cranial box, represented by a 3×5-inch rectangle. Miss and you were eliminated. Every client started at the 5-yard line, but a few forgot about the bore-sight offset (sights high above the bore) and hit low at such close range. We kept backing up in 5-yard increments to about 25 yards while the shooters dropped off. Before long it was down to three who were pretty evenly matched, so to increase the difficulty, each person had to shoot one-armed. The shooters then switched to one-armed, weak side and our lesson was over. For more information visit

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