By Jorge Amselle, Gun Digest
The fact is that the design of the AK, based as it was on the utilitarian needs of a ruthlessly efficient Soviet empire, is a little lacking in the area of consumer-friendly features and ergonomics. Fortunately, we live in a wonderfully chaotic free market and, combined with good old Yankee ingenuity, there are a growing number of aftermarket accessories that can turn the stock AK into a much more tactical weapon with improved functionality.
What follows is my own experience in selecting parts and building my own custom AK. For this project, I began with a made-in-the-USA AK rifle: The I.O. Inc. Sporter. This semi-automatic, gas-operated, long-stroke piston system rifle is chambered in the traditional 7.62x39mm, and the construction and design is based directly from Polish AKM blueprints with a stamped receiver.
The main improvement most shooters will make — often the first accessory they purchase — is a suitable optic, either a red dot holographic sight or one with magnification. However, the iron sights on the Sporter, like those found on most AK variants, are utilitarian. They are typical notch and post variety, with no top Picatinny rail as AR rifle owners have become accustomed. Many AKs, like my Sporter, include a left-side steel CNC-machined scope mount, but these are not ideal.
The first thing I installed was the Parabellum Armament AK-47/74 Adaptive Rail System (AKARS). This is a perfect solution for optics, providing a rock steady 5.5 inches of Picatinny rail as low as possible on top of the receiver cover. The AKARS actually comes in two parts: the Picatinny rail with integrated rear sight (which replaced the standard rear sight), and a new receiver cover with an attachment point for the front sight mounted rail section.
On top of this rail, I opted for the Aimpoint Micro T-1 red dot sight with a new 2 MOA dot instead of the standard 4 MOA. Made from high strength extruded aluminum and waterproof to 25 meters, this unit features a five-year battery and 12 brightness settings, including four for night vision. There is plenty of room left for a magnifier if so preferred.
What I really like about the AKARS is, once the unit is assembled and locked down, there is never any need to remove it. To field strip and clean the gun, the entire top rail and receiver cover simply hinge up for access and snap back down to close. The unit retains zero for optics and, since it is low enough, allows for co-witnessing the iron sights for backup. The new rear sight provides a wider notch than the factory original, for faster target acquisition. It is not, however, elevation-adjustable, but this is hardly necessary at combat ranges of less than 300 yards.
Another area of complaint, at least for American shooters, is the AK’s short length of pull, which is fine if you wear a lot of body armor or heavy clothing in sub-zero temperatures. Command Arms Accessories (CAA) offers a lot of AK upgrades, not least of which is their AKTS aluminum buttstock tube. This sturdy unit accepts any commercial AR collapsible stock and gives the AK an adjustable length-of-pull from 12.5 inches to almost 16 inches.
The AKTS, available for milled-receiver AKs and with a recoil reducer, has length numbers on top so you can return the length-of-pull to your desired position without having to guess at it. It includes ambidextrous sling attachment points. I especially liked this unit because of its solid construction and sturdy feel.
I then added the BULS-Battlelink Utility Low Profile Stock from Mission First Tactical (MFT), a tough polyamide AR stock with a lot of well-designed features, including front and rear ambidextrous quick-detach sling swivels. This stock accepts MFT’s GPS attachment kit and adjustable cheek piece. The rear of the stock has a rubber non-slip buttpad and a water tight storage compartment for batteries, small cleaning kit, spare parts or other accessories.
The high quality of MFT’s stock accessories for the AK led me to install their extremely comfortable and ergonomic pistol grip. This is not to say that the standard AK grip is bad, but I prefer a wider one. The MFT Engage grip is not only wider but well-textured for a firmer hold in inclement conditions, with comfortable finger grooves and a sizable internal storage space.
For the ultimate in accessorizing the AK, a new handguard rail system is essential, and while there are many options in this regard, I stayed with MFT’s TEKKO Polymer AK47 Integrated Rail System. This two piece unit is lightweight and comfortable with sufficient rails at top, bottom and both sides for multiple accessories, including lights, lasers, vertical grips and bipods. The lower rail includes a cover that neatly hides it when not needed. Given the propensity of the usual AK handguard to heat up under fire, I opted for the MFT REACT Short Vertical Grip, which protects the hand, offers sufficient purchase and does not interfere with magazine changes. It includes its own waterproof storage space and matches perfectly with the rest of the MFT stock furniture.
The standard AK slanted muzzle brake was designed to vent escaping gas up and right to counter the effect of recoil in full-auto fire. In low light conditions, however, this does nothing to mitigate muzzle flash (which can be intense), so instead I installed an M16-style birdcage flash hider from TAPCO, which included a handy front sight elevation adjustment tool.
The paddle safety on the AK is already easy to use and ambidextrous, but I am used to being able to drop a magazine with my trigger finger alone. For that, CAA makes a very easy to install polymer unit that extends the magazine release and allows for ambidextrous operation with one finger. You still have to rock the magazine forward and out, but this makes it a lot faster.
Another source of complaints with the AK is in the safety, which is almost impossible to operate with the trigger finger unless you remove your hand from the pistol grip. Here, there are two excellent solutions: the first from US P.A.L.M, an enhanced drop-in AK safety with a lowered, extended trigger finger tab that makes flipping it on or off simple while keeping a firm grip. Another enhanced safety from Krebs Custom has an extended trigger finger tab and adds a cutout to allow you to lock the bolt open (something range officers will appreciate).
In keeping with the all-black polymer look of the rifle, I added the excellent 30-round waffle pattern polymer mags from US P.A.L.M. These are truly built tough, with an integral floor plate and vented self-cleaning, low-friction follower. The locking surfaces that engage the magazine release and receiver are of stainless steel, embedded into the polymer for maximum durability under any conditions.
Lastly, I added the Blue Force Gear Victory one-point sling with a quick-detach swivel. This adjustable, value-priced, black nylon sling features a quick-release option for fast removal.
On the range, the improvements to the I.O. Inc. Sporter AK proved their worth, making magazine changes and hits effortless and fast. The improved ergonomics aided greatly in the handling and feel of the rifle, as well as adding distinctly to its appeal. The Sporter is a high quality AK that can be had for less than an AR, but performs equally well, with good accuracy and no malfunctions.
This article is from Gun Digest Guide to the Modern AK.