A firearm design’s true test of time is reflected in how often it is copied, and perhaps no other design has been copied as much as the AK-47. There are dozens of rifles, pistols and shotguns based on the AK-47, but the VEPR series of rifles ranks among the best made of the progeny.
Rifles in the VEPR series are sporterized versions of the AK intended for the hunting segment of the market. Compared to a wide peer group of AK-style rifles, VEPRs are built at the Russian Molot factory, where they’re made to heavier-duty RPK standards. There are several variants of the VEPR that differ with respect to features such as stock design and sights, but they are all significant upgrades in quality compared to service-grade AK rifles. A number of chamberings are available, too, including models in 7.62x39mm, 5.45x39mm, .223 Remington and .308 Winchester. VEPR rifles have been imported at various times by several companies, and K-VAR Corp. of Las Vegas, Nevada, is currently importing the entire product line. K-VAR is known for importing the best-quality AK variants, including VEPRs and milled-receiver Bulgarian AKs.
VEPRs originated in the mid-1980s in response to an import ban by the first President Bush on “assault rifles.” Rifles with thumbhole stocks and “civilian” aesthetics/features were deemed “OK” to import, whereas those with military adornments were not. This ban popularized the thumbhole stock on AK-based rifles, and the nonsensical elements of this ban are still operative today on imported rifles. Despite all that, I recently got my hands on a K-VAR VEPR in .308 Winchester, and I came away once again reminded why I love this style of AK.
The VEPR’s controls and long-stroke gas piston operating system are similar to a semi-auto AK-47’s. Both rifles use detachable magazines and have identical safeties, magazine releases and field-stripping procedures.
Mechanically and operationally, the K-VAR VEPR can best be described as an AK that uses larger and better-quality parts necessary to handle the substantially increased recoil of the .308 Winchester (7.62x51mm NATO) compared to the 7.62x39mm. The receiver, barrel, operating rod, bolt carrier and bolt are all “sized up” over the standard AK’s. This particular VEPR also uses a medium-weight, 16-inch, chrome-lined, hammer-forged barrel, a thicker receiver than most AKs and a heavy-duty trunnion. The quality is also among the best of any AK variant I’ve seen, as reflected in the tighter-fitting parts and better metal finish.
Though I would not attempt a shot on game using the AK-style open sights at any distance greater than 100 yards, the VEPR can be fitted with optical sights that make medium-distance shots with clean kills quite possible. The VEPR is equipped with an AK-style scope mount riveted in three places to the left side of the receiver. In the past, AK shooters could only choose from a few Russian military scopes that had reticles calibrated specifically for Warsaw Pact rounds. Now there are several scope mounts and accessory rails systems available for
AK-type rifles. Whatever scope mounting system you select, choosing one that would allow you to simultaneously use the open sights would be ideal.
The iron sights on the K-VAR VEPR closely resemble the AK-47’s, with a protected front post and an open rear sight with a shallow, narrow V-shaped notch. The front sight adjusts for elevation and windage using a special tool not supplied with the rifle. The rear sight has notches for elevation adjustments roughly calibrated for .308 Winchester ballistics at 100, 200 and 300 meters.
Unlike AK-type rear sights, the VEPR design is adjustable for windage by turning a simple screw mechanism attached to the sight blade. The rear sight is a dull grey color, and the front sight is black. This color contrast is essential given how little of the front sight post is visible in the shallow, narrow rear sight. The operator’s manual provides adjustment parameters in millimeters (not inches or MOA) for elevation by turning the front sight, but there is no guidance for changing the point of impact by turning the windage adjustment on the rear sight.
The straight-grained plain walnut buttstock is far superior to the AK military design that is too short, too narrow and does not provide a solid cheekweld for most shooters. On my test rifle, there were some slight gaps in the fit between the stock and receiver, but the stock has a well-fitted rubber recoil pad and a nicely shaped Monte Carlo-style cheekpiece to help you get your eye aligned properly behind a scope. The thumbhole stock is comfortable for right- and left-handed shooters, and you can raise the rifle and get on the sights quickly and naturally. Both the forend and stock have a light satin finish and use light stippling instead of checkering. The pattern did not stray from its borders. Non-detachable front and rear sling swivels are supplied, though they will only fit 0.5-inch-wide slings.
K-VAR ships its .308 Winchester VEPR rifles with both five- and 10-round magazines. Like an AK-47’s, these polymer magazines are double-stack designs that attach by tilting the bottom of the magazine forward to engage a locking tab at the top of the magazine with the receiver, then rocking the magazine rearward to lock it in place. The magazine release lever is just ahead of the triggerguard. My test rifle also came with a steel cleaning rod and brush.
I typically test rifles equipped with iron sights out to 50 yards, though I would have liked to test the K-VAR VEPR at 100 yards using an authentic Russian scope. Of course, as you probably already know, accuracy was a secondary concern in designing the AK-47, and less accurate results are largely a function of the design’s limitations, including the long-stroke gas piston operating system, non-free-floating barrel, less rigid receiver and sights that are not at all conducive to accurate shooting.
However, this particular VEPR shot better than I expected with Winchester and Federal ammo. The Winchester 147-grain FMJs created the best five-shot group of 1.85 inches, with the Federal 165-grain load coming in second with a 2-inch group. You’ll obviously get better results on your own if you add a scope, as the AK-style sights, with their short sight radius, are a hindrance to precise shooting. I also noticed that I’d get tight 1-inch three-shot groups with the Federal ammunition before the fourth and fifth shots opened things up. The VEPR slightly deformed exposed lead-tipped rounds when chambering, though the effect on accuracy wouldn’t become apparent until you tried to hit targets at longer distances than tested. The ejected brass was typically dented though still reloadable. Using five different types of ammunition, there were no stoppages whatsoever.
According to my Lyman digital trigger pull gauge, the trigger on my test rifle weighed 7.25 pounds and staged like many other AKs. The first stage weighed about 5 pounds with long, smooth travel followed by a second stage of 2.25 pounds with a fair amount of creep.
The VEPR is a controllable rifle thanks to its improved stock, with its thumbhole design, but the hard rubber buttpad was ineffective at taming any significant amount of recoil. A wider, softer recoil pad would be a big improvement.
The K-VAR VEPR is a quality AK-based rifle that could be even better with just a few changes like larger sling swivels and a more effective recoil pad. Because the VEPR is accurate enough for hunting, adding a magnified optic will allow you to utilize the long-range capabilities of the .308 Winchester cartridge beyond the effective range of the open sights. If you are looking for a rugged .30-caliber hunting rifle that uses an ultra-reliable operating system, and prefer wood to plastic stocks, this VEPR might just be the solution.
K-VAR VEPR Specs
|Caliber: .308 Winchester|
|Barrel: 16 inches|
|OA Length: 37 inches|
|Weight: 7.25 pounds (empty)|
|Sights: Front post, adjustable rear|
|Action: Piston-operated semi-auto|
|Finish: Matte black|
|Capacity: 5+1, 10+1|
K-VAR VEPR Performance
|Cavim 147 FMJ||2,594||2.75|
|Federal 165 Vital-Shok BTSP||2,548||2.00|
|Winchester 147 FMJ||2,576||1.85|
*Bullet weight measured in grains, velocity in fps by chronograph and accuracy in inches for best five-shot groups at 50 yards.
For more information, visit k-var.com.
This article was originally published in ‘AK47 & Soviet Weapons’ 2017. To order a copy, please visit outdoorgroupstore.com.