Setting up a defensive rifle-caliber pistol.
Oleg Volk 02.26.18
Due to the limitations imposed by NFA1934, short rifles common in countries like Italy, Canada and Switzerland aren’t readily available. Since their utility is undeniable, the niche is filled with “rifle caliber pistols” of various degrees of ballistic efficiency and handiness. With the various braces doubling as ersatz stocks in emergencies, these pistols also win by being legal to carry as side arms in most states. Past ballistic tests showed 7.62×39 is one of the calibers that work fairly well even in short barrels.
In considering the AK pistol, two questions come up. Does it work well for the purpose? Is there a better option for the same size, weight and cost. Since I’ve had a chance to work with this firearm for a long time, let me address the question of effectiveness first.
In its current configuration, the pistol mounts an inexpensive Primary Arms red dot. It has a large, clear tube and a crisp reticle, along with good battery life. The dial allows starting at either the dim or the bright end of the range. Texas Weapons Systems railed dust cover mounts the red dot and a backup aperture sight. With the center of the red dot being 2.75″ above the bore line and the irons sights being much lower, only a slight co-witnessing is possible. However, the red dot tube can act as an emergency rear sight with the protective front sight ears acting as the front. Ideally, the standard screw mount of the red dot should be replaced with a QD version. The AKSU-like muzzle booster has been replaced with an Aklys flash hider/compensator.
Zeroing of the red dot can be done with two outcomes in mind. One is to maximize the +/- 3 inch point blank range with the assumption of 6-inch tall upper chest target. For that, the sight should be zeroed around 30 yards, giving the trajectory apex at 100 and the far zero of just past 180 yards. The far reach of point blank range stands at 210-220 yards, depending on the load. Center mass hit at 250 is accomplished by aiming at the head. The other assumption is that defensive shooting past 100 yards is a statistical aberration. Even the Sniper Utilization Report lists very few such incidents, with the average distance being around 60 yards and the median even lower. With maximum efficiency at closer range in mind, a 50 yard near zero gives the 120 yard far zero and 170 yard far zero. The reason why this may be preferred to the more flexible 30/180 is the reduced mid-trajectory height of only 0.6″ instead of three.
All this makes sense only if the AK pistol is suitable for hitting point targets. Just from a sitting position with the cheapest Tula FMJ, I got 1.5″ at 50 yards or 3MOA. Better ammunition, such as Federal Fusion, prints 2.5MOA. Not quite sniper rifle credentials, but substantially better than any handgun. Most importantly, the stubby form of this gun balances well and allows support very near the muzzle for high real-world accuracy. Several adults without prior AK experience and even a 10 year old boy were able to hit sporting clays at 50 yards pretty much on demand. Felt recoil is minimal and the muzzle blast not excessive. In terms of terminal performance, 7.62×39 edges out .357 Magnum fired from the same 10.5″ barrel by about 10% for both energy and penetration.
Reliability has been perfect. I’ve had this gun since 2014. I have not cleaned or maintained it in any way yet. For over a thousand round fired, I’ve had no malfunctions. That includes the cheapest surplus ball and the high-performance defensive and hunting loads fed from surplus steel, Magpul, Promag and US Palm magazines. Overheating doesn’t set it until the third consecutive 30-round magazine.
The main disadvantage of this pistol is weight. As configured with a full 30-round polymer magazine, it weighs 9.6lbs, more than most AR15s in either 5.56 or 300 Blackout. The stubby length is only to some extent an advantage: at 28 inches from the front of the brake to the back of the brace, it’s only slightly shorter than a 16″ AR carbine with collapsed stock. Those range from 30 to 32 inches, depending on the muzzle device. The safety is also questionable: replacing it with a better designed Krebs part permits one-handed disengagement.
By the time all enhancements to the original are installed, the pistol becomes as expensive as a decent AR15 while being no lighter. However, if you already have an AK pistol like this, it is reliable with any ammunition and magazines, puts down a hefty smack and delivers very useful grade of practical accuracy. And, being a legal pistol, it can legally travel loaded on a single-point sling under a jacket, or stowed in a bag where a true rifle may not.