Perhaps the first of his generation, Brandon Herrera has gone from casual YouTube and Instagram influencer to manufacturer. Starting in 2014, Brandon’s YouTube channel offered a casual and fun approach to firearms with a blend of humor and useful information. But talking about AKs on YouTube and manufacturing them are two very different things, and Brandon’s jump is even greater than that as he works to produce an AK chambered in .50 BMG. We wanted to find out how a man in the vanguard of the firearms industry got started, and what fueled his mission to produce a .50-caliber AK.
Why AKs? What got you into AKs?
It’s kind of a weird fixation, right? Believe it or not, the first gun I ever shot was an AK. Some dads would start their 8-year old out on a .22 or something, but not mine. I got a Chinese under-folder right off the bat, and it just kind of went from there. As a teenager, I was very mechanically inclined, so I’d take the AK apart and put it back together a million times, seeing how it all worked. It somehow never got boring to me. So, while the other 15-year-olds were chasing girls, I was tinkering with Soviet weapons.
You built your first AK with Jim Fuller of Rifle Dynamics, right?
Correct. I took the Rifle Dynamics AK Build course about five or so years ago. It was a great introduction to the fundamentals of building an AK, and I continue to learn more and more as time goes on.
Why work toward a .50-caliber AK?
It started as a joke, honestly. About four or five years ago, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be funny if somebody did that?” It would have ended there if people didn’t tell me it was impossible. From that point, it became a challenge. I didn’t even think about building it as something to produce and sell until much later on, so that’s pretty funny, looking back at it.
What resistance have you faced jumping into the industry?
I guess like anything else there are the “old guard” types who approach new guys with contempt, and there are those who try to help them along to find their place. Luckily, the gun industry has been full of great folks I’ve come to call friends over the years. It’s great when industry people can find ways to collaborate instead of push each other down. There’s enough room under the sun for everybody, you know? Plenty of industry to go around.
How “The AK Guy” company start?
It officially started two years ago when I knew I wanted to try to make this my full-time job. I had already thrown a bit of money at the AK-50 project, and I knew I wanted to build other AKs, too. I was on a law school track at Campbell University at the time, and I remember it being a big deal when I decided to drop out and pursue the gun career. My friends and family probably thought I was insane, but I don’t regret it for a second. I could either be a likely unhappy lawyer or build a .50-caliber AK. It was an easy choice.
Getting a Special Occupational Taxpayer (SOT) license, starting a firearm manufacturing business and so on at such an early age is uncommon. Did you encounter any flak or resistance from the government?
Shockingly, not at all. It’s actually pretty funny. The ATF has been the opposite of what I was expecting going in. They seem like they’re genuinely there to help dealers follow the law, and not to catch them so they can throw the book at them. At least that’s what my experience has been.
Meet The AKG-47
While we await the release of the AK-50, The AK Guy currently offers the AKG-47 with standard Romanian furniture, refinished Russian furniture or Magpul furniture. I got my hands on the AKG-47 with Russian furniture for a range session or two.
AKG-47s are built using virgin Romanian parts kits, which have about the best quality that can currently be found on the U.S. market. Additionally, the rifles aren’t a mishmash of surplus military parts cobbled together in the U.S., and they aren’t U.S.-made attempts to replicate something the Eastern Europeans have been doing for decades.
The AKG-47 brings you the best of both worlds by using new, un-issued, matching parts from Romania along with a U.S. receiver. After assembly, the guns are finished in graphite black Cerakote for good, long-lasting looks. The color retains a military appearance but with the added toughness of Cerakote.
Upon first inspection, the AKG-47 felt different than what I’m used to with AKs. I own a variety of surplus guns, American-made guns and a few no-longer-importable Vepr rifles. Also, the fit and finish of the AKG-47 exceeds what I have experienced on Saigas and Veprs. While I do own an older WASR import that has proven itself reliable time and time again, the finish wore off quickly. In the Pacific Northwest, that means certain death for firearms. The AKG-47 has them all beat.
AK Guy Criticism
Brandon’s experience in social media has made him well aware of criticisms—both deserved and not—when it comes to AK builds. A top concern among critics is often the quality of the rivet job. Some use tapered rivets, and others do not. The question comes down to what the receiver was made for. Meanwhile, the AKG-47 uses Russian-spec rivets seated down flush with the 1mm U.S. receiver. And in a move loved by some and hated by others, the AKG-47 is branded with The AK Guy logo. Also, this logo is carefully etched into the receiver to be deep enough to remain visible after the Cerakote is applied. As an owner of several AKs, I applaud this move to brand an AK in a way that is artful and clearer than simple Electropen or stamping.
On the topic of stampings, it is clearly evident that the rifle is built of virgin parts, as the only marking on the original Romanian parts is “AKG-47” on the front trunnion. Also, the spiritual home of the AKG-47—the Romanian parts kit—is all new.
In The Field
The range session started by testing the magazine fit. For the uninitiated, this is one of the most common challenges with AKs. This is because the receiver is stamped steel from which a magazine well must be cut, and because there are so many (only moderately standardized) magazines, that fit can be troublesome. Americans prefer a tighter fit, but for which magazine? After cutting the sheet metal that becomes the receiver, of course we’d prefer edges that are rounded, but that also removes material. Surely you can see that making a receiver that fits Eastern European magazines—or even more troublesome American polymer magazines—can be a challenge.
I tested the AKG-47 with Croatian, Hungarian, Magpul, Master Molder, Romanian, Serbian, TAPCO, U.S. Palm and XTech magazines. The front-to-rear fit was snug on most, with some side-to-side play that is normal with AKs. Every magazine functioned flawlessly, though releasing the magazine understandably required a little more effort than on my old beater build, which has had thousands of rounds through it.
Without having tens of thousands of rounds on hand for an unrealistic torture test, the AKG-47 appeared to be exactly what Brandon Herrera intended it to be: an affordable, reliable AK that, while not being a custom shop build, is still reliable than an e-blast discount gun. Accuracy testing came next.
To be fair to myself and the rifle, I fired all of my five-shot groups at 50 yards. Running the rifle as equipped out of the box meant iron sights. Contrary to what many believe, Soviet and later Russian military doctrine was entirely defensively based. Designated marksman rifles like the PSL were intended more for harassing fire than for precision, and the AK-47 was generally employed to halt or end threats at 300 meters and closer. The AK was never intended for precise shooting, nor were the iron sights. Further, in keeping with the minimalist spirit, only a front rest from Range Systems was used to support the rifle. This accuracy test was practical and represents what an end-user can expect in the field.
I chose some common loads from Wolf Performance Ammunition, Red Army Standard, TulAmmo and Golden Tiger. For premium ammunition, Nosler did not shy from the chance to demonstrate what its Silver State Armory 123-grain Flat Base Tipped (FBT) ammo can do. It should be noted that the Red Army Standard ammunition on hand was from a previous manufacturer, and the current ammunition is produced by Vympel, which was previously sold in the U.S. under the Golden Tiger name.
For The People
It certainly appears that Brandon Herrera, The AK Guy, who has risen from social media to manufacturer, has faithfully built the people’s AK. Additionally, the AKG-47 provides a fit and finish above that of the old surplus guns and is made with new parts. The AKG-47 makes for a quality AKM without pushing the price point into the thousands. This is exactly what Brandon Herrera had in mind with his rifles, and he’s definitely accomplished that. Now we’ll just have to wait patiently for more to come. In the meantime, we put some slow-motion AKG-47 sex appeal at the bottom of this post.
For more information, visit theakguy.com.
The AK Guy AKG-47 Specifications
- Caliber: 7.62x39mm
- Barrel: 16.3 inches
- Overall Length: 34.25 inches
- Overall Weight: 7 pounds (empty)
- Stock: Wood
- Sights: Front post, adjustable rear
- Action: Piston-operated semi-auto
- Finish: Graphite black Cerakote
- Overall Magazine Capacity: 30+1
- MSRP: $999
The AK Guy AKG-47 Performance
- Golden Tiger 124-grain FMJ: 1.95 inches
- Red Army Standard 122-grain FMJ: 2.60 inches
- Silver State Armory 123-grain FBT 1.05 inches
- TulAmmo 154-grain SP: 4.30 inches
- Wolf Performance 123-grain FMJ 4.80 inches
Bullet weight measured in grains and accuracy in inches for best five-shot groups at 50 yards.