Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Modernizing and Accessorizing the AK-47

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It seems inevitable: if it's got a Picatinny rail on it, there is an innate desire to hang any number of accessories from it. AR-15s have long been a popular platform for customizing, upgrading, and accessorizing, but AK-47 style rifles have recently become increasingly popular as a platform for rail systems and their never ending lineup of accessories. Now more than ever we are seeing numerous manufacturers producing mounts, grips, stocks and rails for the AK platform.

Command Arms 6-position adjustable stock for stamped AK receivers
We've all seen the monstrosities that result from going too far... rifles with multiple optics, flashlights, vertical forward grips, lasers, bipods, sling attachments, and even iPhones and cup holders hung off of the ubiquitous MIL-STD-1913 accessory rail. But how much is too much? Where is the line between "useful accessories" and "way too much junk"? Many fans of Mikhail Kalashnikov's famous rifle argue that you shouldn't tamper with perfection. I'm sure there are those who might argue that we should still be tooling around in Henry Ford's ethanol powered Model A and that "640K [of computer memory] ought to be enough for anybody," but indeed there is a time and place for improvement and modernization. That being said, the general form and function of the rifle should not change. Modifications to the bolt, safety, and general handling of the rifle can cause confusion and/or malfunctions when under the stress of combat or timed competition. Other changes and upgrades such as optics, rail systems and adjustable stocks do nothing but enhance an already well performing rifle.

The first and most obvious upgrade is the installation of an after market stock. Not everyone has arms of the same length, and adjustable stocks are the obvious solution. While many people have dismissed the AR style adjustable stock as a viable accessory for the AK rifle, we find that it is an obvious solution to this ergonomic conundrum. Adjustable stocks allow the user to quickly adjust the length of pull to fit their individual arm length. One of the best collapsible stocks for the AK is the Command Arms 6-position stock. It is solid and well built, and allows you to adjust the length of pull from 8.5" to 12.5". Well known AR accessory manufacturer Vltor also makes a 5-position Mil-Spec buffer tube for the AK that allows the use of any Vltor Mil-Spec AR stock.

After adding on an adjustable stock, the next natural step is to replace the thin standard AK pistol grip with something a little bigger and more ergonomic. For some people, the stock AK pistol grip works just fine. Myself, I have big hands and like something a little bigger to wrap my mitts around. The Tapco AK pistol grip patterned after the M249 SAW fits the bill just fine.

UTG Quad Rail for Romanian WASR AK Rifles
Rail systems allow you to mount quick-detach optics, along with other accessories, on the rifle. There are a number of systems currently on the market that replace the stock wooden AK handguards with a quad rail setup. Quad rail systems that replace the forearm have the added benefit of aiding in heat dissipation. One of our most popular rail systems is the Leapers UTG quad rail system that includes rubber rail covers. But rail systems are a gateway accessory, leading to the attachment of more and more items of dubious usefulness. It's important to be aware of the weight of each item you attach to your rail. Accessories stuck far out on a rail near the muzzle make a rifle heavier and more difficult to wield, leading to a loss in accuracy when shooting off-hand. The rail system you select should be lightweight and shouldn't extend too far towards the muzzle.

Forward vertical grips are also a natural add-on when adding a quad rail. The AK platform however necessitates that forward vertical grips are positioned well forward of the magazine so as not to interfere when performing magazine swaps. For this reason, it is important to choose a lightweight grip that won't weight down the end of the rifle too much. Our Leapers UTG vertical foregrip is easy to slide on and off of your rail, and tightens into place easily using a knob at the base of the grip. Its simple design makes it very lightweight, and it includes side panels designed to mount a pressure switch should you decide to add on a flashlight or laser.

Now that you've got a rail system selected and installed, it's time to carefully choose what accessories you mount on it. Generally, optics should be limited to a red dot scope or MRDS, although a low power adjustable scope may come in handy as well. Due to the inherent accuracy (or lack thereof) of the AK, we feel that magnification beyond 4x is simply not useful for the AK platform. The AK rifle is most effective at ranges less than 400 yards, so anything more than 4x magnification is overkill. Indeed, in a tactical application (including 3-gun matches) most engagements are at 25-100 yards, making a red dot system ideal for rapid target acquisition and "both eyes open" shooting. As far as optics go, you truly do get what you pay for. The Aimpoint Comp M2, M3, and M4 are generally considered the top of the line for red dot systems, although there are certainly less expensive high quality alternatives available.

There is a time and a place for adding on other accessories, such as lasers and flashlights, but as with the AR platform, those are specialized accessories for specialized roles. The beauty of the Picatinny rail system is that accessories can be easily added and removed as the demands of the weapon dictate. Trying to hang every accessory on your rifle for every conceivable need doesn't just give you an ugly rifle, it also gives you a heavy and unwieldy shooting platform.

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