Modern, space-age ARs are great, but they are so common now it’s hard to even keep track of the newest black rifle on the market. Personally, I’d count that as a good thing and a worthy point of pride for American gun culture. The charm of the AR-style rifle is clear, and I keep a few in my personal collection, but it’s not the first gun I want to grab when I get to go to the range.
The AK-47 offers a blend of modern functionality and historical nostalgia that is just hard to beat. My current crush – well, it’s been running for several years now – has been the Zastava M70 N-PAP AK, which is a Yugoslavian-pattern AK that boasts a slender three-hole handguard. It doesn’t offer a lot of bells and whistles, but that doesn’t mean you can’t add some of your own. ARs might be considered the Legos of the gun world, but I think the AK-47 and its many variants deserve serious consideration for any firearm enthusiast that loves to customize their favorite range partners.
The Joy of Shooting AKs
If you want refined precision shooting, a stock AK is probably the wrong way to go for you. If you want practical, functional firepower with a flare of history and mechanical charm, rock that AK mag in and get ready for some fun, comrade.
At 7.8 pounds unloaded, my modified M70 is neither light nor notably heavy in the hands. I’ll also make zero attempt to convince you that the trigger is anywhere near as good as the last seven AR-style rifles I’ve tested. The reset is positive, and rapid fire is easy. But the generally consistent 4.5-pound trigger pull is hardly refined, and the wall is a bit squishy to break through. I could almost care less because it’s a blast to shoot.
The bolt carrier group, gas piston, and recoil spring assembly of the AK design are both charmingly simple – especially when it comes to cleaning – and mechanically enjoyable to shoot. A lot of the mechanical action inside your standard AR-15 goes unnoticed by the shooter. Sure, if you listen closely, you can hear that bolt sliding back inside the buffer tube when you shoot, but it’s nothing like the sound of racking an AK-47.
Accuracy & Reliability
While the trigger might be a bit mushy compared to your normal sporter AR-15, the gun itself is plenty accurate with just the basic AK-style notch sights. When I grouped it at the range a few years ago now, it held a fist-size group at 50 yards for an entire 30-round magazine and little effort. I’d happily call that combat effective.
I’ve never needed to adjust the sights for my shooting, though they do ambitiously go out to 1,000 meters. Still, we were able to give a jack-o'-lantern a third eye at 50 yards while shooting offhand when prepping for this story. The wound channel from the 7.62x39mm round was just the right amount of scary for the season.
As for reliability, we shot a mix of full metal jacket and hollow points for filming. Most of that was steel-cased ammo, and I’ve put a variety of surplus and newly minted brass through my M70. I lost track somewhere after 2,000 rounds back in 2017. Heck, I even fired some soft-tip hunting loads through it. It’s an AK, and it did what AKs generally do. It shot anything we put in it. Issues have been nonexistent.
Customizing Your AK
There is one thing I generally dislike about most AK-style rifles, and it proved mostly true for the M70 as well. The length of pull always feels somewhat lacking and cheek slap seems like it’s just another round away. I found the M70 to be better than most, with a 13.5-inch LOP on the stock furniture, and the elongated handguard with the three ventilation holes is actually one of my favorite changes from the standard AK.
But that’s really a nitpicky point and a bit unfair. If I were to complain about the stock on an AR-style rifle, I can picture the comment section blowing up with people saying I could just change the stock.
That’s a fair enough point, but an easier thing to do on an AK than an AR. The lack of a buffer tube makes altering the AK stock a simple task that any American tool draw should be able to handle. I modified this one with some old surplus furniture and a Magpul Zhukov folding stock, bringing the length of pull to 14.5 inches. I find that to be nearly optimal for my shooting, and the rifle does cycle even with the stock folded. I will confess that I rarely use the folding feature. It is, however, handy for storage purposes.
The real point is that AKs are remarkably easy to customize. They might not have as many options or variations as the AR platforms, but you can swap out stocks and grips, add Pic rail and sights, and generally make your AK custom for you without breaking the bank or buying specialized tools. Plus, if you are in the market for a budget survival gun, the AK has some perks most ARs lack.
Aside from the easy addition of a folding stock and generally common parts and ammo, many AKs still come with a cleaning rod, which would be a very handy thing if you had to clear some jammed brass in the field.
There are plenty of other AK options out there. I will say that I enjoy the fact that my M70 is, well, mine. It was easy to customize, and it’s beyond fun to shoot at the range. The AK lovers out there can appreciate the mechanical coolness of cycling an AK, and I highly encourage anyone who hasn’t done it to rock in a mag and send some rounds down range.