Friday, February 24, 2012

SHTF: Why I Choose the AK

Arsenal SGL31-94 Rifle
I've seen a resurgence in discussions about Survivalism online and in conversations with friends and family.  This isn't a new phenomena, Survivalists have been around all of my life.  As a kid growing up in the 1980's everyone was worried the Russians would invade or that nuclear war was inevitable.  Survivalism was extremely popular back then, so much so that popular movies like "The Survivors" starring Walter Matthau and Robin Williams were all the rage.

In the 1990's Survivalism was alive and well, but it took on a more Constitutional flavor in the form of State Militias.  These groups sprung up all over the country drawing in people from all walks of life into the movement.  They stressed self reliance, weapons training and were mostly concerned with government infringement of rights.

Today we know Survivalists as "Preppers".  Preppers are essentially Survivalists of old but their concerns are focused on economic and political issues with a few folks thinking about 2012 (Mayan predictions) and even people concerned with asteroid or meteor strikes, solar flares, earth quakes, magnetic poll shifts and super volcanos.  It's become so popular that we now have reality television shows cropping up like "Dooms Day Preppers" which continue to fan the flames of interest by the general public in being somewhat self reliant.

Key to many people who Prep is the weapon they choose as a "go to rifle".  Many of the most popular discussions online center around "what rifle would you choose for SHTF?"  These conversations are springing up on general firearms boards, not just Prepper or Survivalist boards - people want to talk about it.

Poll taken on
By far the most popular SHTF rifle in the United States is the AR15.  In every online poll I've seen, the AR usually is at least twice as popular as the second most popular rifle, the AK.  I attribute the interest in the AR to it being America's rifle.  The M16 is the longest serving U.S. service rifle in history.  It's everywhere and millions of Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen have been trained in its use.

Being a former Marine, I know and trust the AR15.  It's a good rifle.  But when it came time for me to choose a SHTF rifle, I gave the obvious choice (the AR) a good-hard look.  After much thought, shooting and comparing of the rifles, I decided the AK was the best rifle for my needs.

I've read many arguments against using the AK as a primary rifle for SHTF.  I'll address the most common arguments against its use and explain why I choose the rifle for my own needs.

You will find more spare parts and ammo for the AR15.
Many of those that choose the AR15 claim they do so because it's the most common semi-automatic rifle in the country.  As such, they believe they'll have an infinite source of spare parts, magazines and ammo lying about that they can either scavenge off of dead Soldiers and civilians or they can barter/trade for.

Modern sights, rails and hand guards on an AK
I'm of the opinion that if your survival plans call for finding spare parts, magazines and ammo vs. stocking up on such things before something bad happens, you should probably rethink your plan.  I believe that most SHTF situations will be relatively short lived.  I believe the most likely scenarios will be short term failures of local, state or even perhaps federal governments.  I can't see too many plausible scenarios where modern civilization is thrown back into the stone ages indefinitely.  If you can survive for 6 months to a year, I believe you're well prepared.  Should the S still be Hitting The Fan 6 months to a year later, at least by having 6 months to a year of supplies on hand (food/water/medicine) you're in a position to prepare for a longer term failure of government.

I have rifles that are 20 years old that have never broken a part.  I have at least 50 magazines for my primary rifle.  I have cases of ammo sitting stored in tin cans to feed the rifles I have for years.  If I really thought a firing pin, hammer, trigger, spring, or something else were going to break, I would buy a spare parts kit before something bad happened and have it in my kit.  The chances of finding a M16, magazines or even cases of ammo lying about after a SHTF scenario happens is highly unlikely.  How many M16's, magazines and cases of ammo do you think people in New Orleans found lying about after Katrina?

 The AK isn't as accurate as the AR15.
What people fail to realize is that even if local governments collapse for 4 months, government *is* coming back.  Order will be restored eventually.  Laws aren't typically suspended because of natural disasters or because riots break out.  If you shoot someone at 500 yards there's a good chance you will answer to a jury of your peers for that shooting, and good luck convincing that jury you were justified in killing someone 500 yards away.  Most self defense situations will take place at much closer ranges, within 100 yards or less.  While the AR15 has a slight accuracy advantage, it's only marginal at best and certainly isn't as drastic as many folks tend to believe.   The AK is quite capable of repeatedly hitting a man sized target at 100, 200 or even 300 yards.  The AK isn't a bench rest competition rifle, but then combat isn't a bench rest competition.

The AK isn't as ergonomic as the AR15.
A bone stock rack grade AK isn't that ergonomic to a Western shooter, it's true.  We're accustom to different firearms here in the United States and the AR15 is still considered one of the most ergonomic rifles on the market.  By taking a training course centered around the AK rifle such as those offered by Tactical Response, a Western shooter will quickly become acclimated to the AK rifle and perhaps, like me, prefer it over rifles such as the AR15.

US PALM pistol grip
What I find interesting is that many people who claim the AK is uncomfortable to operate also love rifles like the M1 Garand, M1A or M1 Carbine yet they never complain about the ergonomics these rifle share with the AK.

The AK has a number of accessories made by U.S. companies that are well designed and of good quality that drastically improve the base ergonomics of the AK rifle.  New pistol grips, stocks, railed front hand guards,  safety levers, sights, etc. are available for the AK making it more comfortable to the Western shooter.

Here's why I choose the AK.

It's simple to operate.  My rifles have (6) moving parts.  A bolt, trigger, safety, magazine release, rear sight and a folding stock.  The AK has large parts that fit together without tiny pins holding everything in place.  They can even be field stripped with winter gloves on, try that with an AR15.

It's incredibly reliable.  The AK is one of the few rifles in the world that can continue to function without much maintenance at all.  When things go south, the last thing I want to have to worry about is cleaning my rifle because it got dropped in a mud puddle or hasn't been cleaned in 3 weeks.  I want a low maintenance weapon that doesn't consume much of my time or energy to keep functioning and doesn't require special lubes, Q-Tips and pipe cleaners to stay squeaky clean.

The cheapest ammo on the market right now is 5.45x39.  This is the caliber I choose for my SHTF AK for that reason, and because I prefer the ballistics of it over the 7.62x39.  I can buy 1280 rounds of 5.45x39 for less than $150.  That means I can affordably buy plenty of ammo for both training and for storage.

In the end you should pick the rifle that best suits your needs.  Buying an AK because I choose to use one, or because someone else chooses an AK isn't a good idea.  It's a personal decision that only you can make.  Weigh your options carefully and give it some thought.  After you make your decision, learn to use your weapon.  Take a fighting rifle course.  Shoot from the standing, kneeling, sitting and prone positions.  Learn to shoot on the move.  Learn how to clear malfunctions and how to do reloads. All of this can be taught to you by a good shooting school.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Polish Beryl to be Imported

Beryl AK Rifle
According to a company representative for Fabryka Broni Łucznik (or just FB) at SHOT Show 2012, the Beryl AK is to be imported later this year to the United States.  Fabryka Broni Łucznik is the manufacturer of the Beryl and has been manufacturing and supplying the Polish military with AK's for a few decades including the Tantal rifle.

The Poles adopted the 5.56mm NATO cartridge in 1997 as their standard issue cartridge for their service rifle, the Wz. 1996 (karabinek szturmowy wz. = assault carbine pattern 1996) also known as the Beryl.  Prior to the adoption of the 5.56mm NATO cartridge, the Poles used the Russian 5.45x39 cartridge.

The Beryl is generally accepted in the AK community as being one of the better made AK variants.  The rifles feature a number of design changes to the original AK design.  Integrated rails, improved stocks, enlarged magazine release, etc. set the Beryl apart from its peers in the AK community.  The Beryl rifles are AKM's, meaning the receiver is made from a sheet metal stamping.

The first firearms to be imported will likely be Beryl pistols.  Since pistols aren't subject to the restrictive 922r laws that make importing military rifles from overseas very difficult, the pistols will be manufactured 100% in the Fabryka Broni Łucznik plant located in Radom, Poland.  The company rep at SHOT Show 2012 said that pistols featuring 16" barrels are also being considered so that once in the country they can be converted to rifles with the proper number of U.S. manufactured parts to satisfy 922r regulations.

We can expect to see the Beryl on U.S. shores sometime this spring (2012).

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Building an AK-74 DMR Rifle

AK-74 DMR Rifle
The AR-15 seems to get all the attention in the U.S. market place.  No less than 50 different companies currently make, or did make, AR-15's for civilian sales in the U.S.  Couple that with the countless manufacturers of accessories like rails, stocks, sights, mounts, slings, barrels, triggers, etc. and it's a massive industry that feeds the AR marketplace.

But what about the AK?  The popularity of the AK has been growing by leaps and bounds over the last couple of years.  At one time major online retailers like Atlantic Firearms sold mostly AR's.  Today Atlantic Firearms tells me they sell 10 AK's for every AR they sell.  If you look at their main page you can see a massive array of AK's presented to the buyer, something they apparently want.

Slowly we're starting to see high quality accessories for the AK being made by companies such Midwest Industries, US PALM and RS Products being offered.  The one area where AK's still need development is in the long range accuracy department.  Many people believe that the AK is horribly inaccurate and there's nothing you can do about it.

Straight Jacket system
This isn't true.  Marc Krebs has been working to build sub-MOA AK's for a while now and I've shot a couple examples.  But having Marc build you a rifle is not only expensive but it can take a while.  Gunsmiths such as Marc are in high demand and they're usually swamped with work.

What if someone could build an AK that shot 1" groups at 100 yards that cost less than $1500?  That puts it in the same price range as a good quality AR.

I've always wanted a Designated Marksman Rifle (DMR) based on the AK.  A DMR isn't a sniper rifle per se, it's a rifle intended to be used by regular grunts for medium range aimed fire.  It's not typically as fancy as a full blown sniper rifle and it's usually semi-automatic.  It's also usually based on a standard infantry rifle that's been slightly modified to increase the long range accuracy.

Muzzle brake on the Straight Jacket system
When I attended David Fortier's Big 3 Event last year, I was introduced to Teludyne Tech.  They offer a unique product called the "Straight Jacket" that is applied to a factory barrel and is claimed to substantially increase the accuracy of the rifle.  It not only makes the barrel more rigid, like a heavy barrel, but it also acts as a very efficient heat sink that whisks heat away from the barrel and chamber of the rifle.  I gave a demonstration of this in my video review of the event.

It dawned on me, what if I took the Straight Jacket system and applied it to a AK-74?  Would it make it as accurate as an AR-15?  I contacted my friends at Atlantic Firearms and discussed the concept with the owner.  He shared my interest and so the project to build a DMR AK-74 began.

The rifles were sent to Teludyne before Christmas of 2011.  We got them back the week after SHOT Show 2012.  I just received my test rifle last week and the testing will begin this coming weekend.  The goal is to confirm the accuracy potential of the rifle with common commercially available 5.45x39 ammo.  A video or two about this process will be posted to the Military Arms Channel in the next few weeks.

Straight Jacket adds little weight to the rifle
Why was the AK-74 chosen vs. one chambered for the 7.62x39?  Simple:  Ballistics.  The 5.45x39 is flatter shooting and less effected by wind drift than the 7.62x39.  The DMR rifle should be able to engage targets out to 500m and the 7.62x39 simply isn't up to that task.  The AK-74 also has very mild recoil, similar to that of the AR15 which will make follow-up shots very quick and easy.  I believe the 5.45x39 is the ideal cartridge for this project.

Waffen Werks was chosen as the test bed for this project.  They are known for building quality AK's using Bulgarian parts kits and NODAK SPUD receivers.  They produce about the best U.S. made rifles on the market and they're reasonably priced.

I'll keep you guys posted on the progress of the project here on the Blog and on our YouTube channel. If you have any questions, swing by our Facebook page and post your questions there (or here in the comments section).

Monday, February 13, 2012

Changing of the Guard

My carry Glock 19 w/Raven Vanguard II holster
I've carried a Glock 19 for many years.  I have always liked the Model 17, which is the G19's bigger brother, but found it to be a bit to large for comfortable concealed carry.  I find the G19 to be a good compromise of size, weight and capacity for use as a daily carry pistol.

The G19 is a boringly reliable handgun that I've learned to shoot very well, however it lacks features found on more contemporary designs.  Things like ambidextrous controls for the slide stop and magazine release have never appeared on later generations of Glock pistols.  Glock has made some effort to modernize the design of its aging pistols, but I've not been impressed with these modernization attempts.

The user replaceable backstraps that appeared in the Generation 4 Glock pistols were a bit disappointing. The Glock design doesn't have a user replaceable backstrap per se, it has user installed backstrap additions that make the already bulky Glock grip even bulkier.

Glock attempted an ambi-magazine release with the Gen 3 Model 21SF, but it was destine to failure.  As soon as it was released, reports of broken magazine catches and dropped magazines started flying.  Glock quietly dropped the G21SF with the ambi-magazine release.

I've never really progressed past the Gen 3 Glock pistols, I stopped buying them once the Gen 4's were released and had numerous issues with failures to feed.  I felt that Glock's decision to go with a dual recoil spring system was misdirected and unnecessary.  To me it seems as though Glock is floundering, unable to come up with purposeful updates to the basic Glock design.  But that's fine, I'm mostly content with the Gen 3 Glocks.

M&P w/Raven Phantom Holster
Despite being mostly content with my G19 as a carry gun, I'm always keeping an eye out for any new developments on the defensive handgun market.  I expect someone to eventually build a better mousetrap.

The first pistol to come along that piqued my interest as a possible replacement for my Glock 19 was the S&W M&P 9mm.  I didn't jump on the bandwagon early with this pistol, I want to take a "watch and see" position during the roll-out.  As with all new pistols there were reports of various problems including the magazine unexpectedly falling out of the pistol while firing.

S&W moved quickly to remedy these issues and once I was satisfied that all was well in M&P land, I bought my first pistol for evaluation.

Right away I noticed the ergonomics of the M&P were a substantial step forward from the Glocks' rather pedestrian erogo's.  The M&P features a nicely contoured grip that fits your hand like a custom fit glove.  It has, by far, the best feeling grip of any handgun I've owned previously.

The pistol is a natural pointer, you can instinctively point the pistol and hit targets at standard combat ranges quite effortlessly.  The sights are common, but easy to pick up and use.  Things were going great with the M&P except for one minor issue.

My finger hooking the M&P trigger
The trigger.

The M&P's trigger is the weak point in the design as I see it.  It's designed for people with much smaller hands than mine.  The reach from the back strap to the trigger is so short that I'm forced to hook my finger around the trigger when I shoot.  This is not conducive to good accuracy and it's uncomfortable.

Another problem with the trigger is that it lacks a tactile and audible reset, meaning you can't feel or hear when the trigger resets for the next shot.  This drives some people nuts, myself included.

I've been trying to work around the issues with the M&P by shooting it regularly.  I was on the fence trying to decide if this pistol was worthy of taking the daily carry title from my G19.  After considerable thought, many rounds fired and even taking the pistol for a few test runs out on the town in my Raven Phantom holster, I've decided this pistol isn't the right choice as my daily carry gun.

I had resigned myself to the fact I could not find a suitable replacement for my Glock 19.  I'm not heart broken by any means, I'm content with my Glock 19.

Or so I thought.

Caracal F w/Raven Phantom holster
Then I stumbled upon the Caracal 9mm pistol.  When I first spied this pistol, I didn't have very high expectations.  It looked like a Glock clone, and clones hold little interest for me.  Then I picked one up at my local gun shop.  Ok, it's nice.  It feels familiar, like a Glock, but improved.  Hey, it has a ambi-magazine release!

A few weeks pass and I pick a Caracal up from my friends over at 21st Century Firearms to test out.  Once I started shooting the pistol I realized this is what the Glock should be today, after 25+ years of evolution.  It's more ergonomic.  The recoil is straight back into your hand since it has a very low bore axis.  The sights are easy to pick up.  The trigger is lighter, cleaner and more crisp than a factory Glock trigger and the reach is perfect.

I'm back on the evaluation train again.  While I'm not 100% sold on the Caracal as my daily carry gun, it is the best candidate so far.  In a couple of months I will decide if this pistol will officially replace my Glock 19 I've been carrying for years.  I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

To Trace, or not to Trace

Tracers going down range
Tracers are nothing new.   The modern tracer was first developed by the British in 1915 for use in their .303 caliber rifles and machine guns.  Tracers were developed so soldiers could adjust their fire onto enemy targets by visual cue.  These modern tracers produce a visible trail of light to the target that the soldier (and their enemy) can see.

Before the advent of modern tracers, soldiers were forced to watch for bullet impacts on the ground in the target area to see where their rounds were hitting.  Seeing a bullet impact is hard enough without adding the stress of combat into the mix, so this method was obviously not the best solution.  Various attempts at devising a workable tracer were tried before we arrived at the modern pyrotechnic tracers we see on the battlefield today.  

One failed design was a smoking bullet.  The smoking bullet would leave a barely visible white smoke trail through the air.  The smoking bullet had to give up considerable mass in the creation of a visible smoke trail, so the ballistics of the bullet didn't match the trajectory of ball rounds.  Another failed design was an exploding bullet that left a puff of smoke where the bullet impacted.  These were deemed to be in violation of the Hague Convention which banned exploding projectiles that weighed less than 400 grams.

Composition of a modern tracer
The modern "hot" tracer, or pyrotechnic tracer, solved the problems encountered with earlier designs.  Military tracers closely approximate the flight path of a standard ball round and are visible in a wide variety of light conditions.

The pyrotechnic tracers currently used by the worlds militaries use a composition that burns at high temperature and is visible to observers 360 degrees around the bullet.  

Since pyrotechnic tracers are burning, they can cause fires.  Pyrotechnic tracers are not safe for use on indoor ranges as they pose a very serious fire risk.  Many outdoor ranges ban the use of tracers because of the fire risk they pose as well.  Some states, such as California, have an outright ban on the use of tracers within the state by civilians.

9mm Glow Ammo
Another issue with pyrotechnic tracers is the fact both you and the bad guy can see your tracer.  You can walk your rounds in on the bad guy, but the bad guy can trace the light trail back to your position and return fire.

Enter Glow Ammo and their cold tracer technology.  Glow Ammo uses a non-pyrotecnic compound that glows a bright red color once the bullet is fired.  Since it's non-pyrotechnic, the tracer compound does not pose a fire risk and is non-destructive to the bore of your firearm.   Glow ammo is also safe for indoor range use.

Another benefit to Glow Ammo is that only those standing behind the bullet will be able to see the trace. If the bullet is coming at you, the tracer will not be visible to you.

However, as with all things there are some limitations to Glow Ammo's capabilities.  The tracer is only visible in low light and darkness.  The manufacturer doesn't hide this fact, they're actually very forth coming with this information.  They advertise the ammo as being visible from "dusk until dawn".  It's also visible in most indoor lighting conditions.  

Glow Ammo .45 ACP bullet
Since Glow Ammo is non-pyrotechnic it doesn't give up any of its mass to produce light.  That means it will retain its original bullet weight throughout its flight.  This makes Glow Ammo suitable for defensive purposes.  

Right now Glow Ammo only comes in one color, red.  In the future Glow Ammo intends to offer additional colors which might be useful for various tactical scenarios.   They also say defensive ammo loaded with hollow point bullets will become available in the future as well.

Stay tuned for a video review of Glow Ammo to be posted on the Military Arms Channel.

Friday, February 3, 2012

The American Enfield

US Service Rifle, Cal. 30, Model 1917
Here's an interesting fact about WWI some people don't know.  The M1903 Springfield wasn't the most common rifle used in Europe by American Doughboys during the Great War.  That honor goes to the "United States Rifle, Caliber 30, Model 1917", or the M1917 as it's affectionately called.  Sometimes the rifle is inaccurately referred to as the P17.

When hostilities broke out between Germany and Great Britain, the Brits found themselves in a bit of a predicament.  They were in the process of adopting the SMLE rifle but were facing some difficulties with production and the new .276 Enfield cartridge. As a contingency the Brits had been working on a back-up rifle design in case they couldn't get their SMLE project off the ground.  That back-up rifle design was the Pattern 14 Enfield.

The P14 was based on the famous Mauser rifle design and chambered for the aging .303 Brit cartridge.  When hostilities broke out, the Brits found themselves short on rifles.  They couldn't produce rifles quickly enough, and their SMLE rifle wasn't ready for production.  They were forced to reach out to the United States for assistance.

Remington markings
The United States quickly tooled up three factories to produce P14 rifles for the British government.  Remington, Winchester and Eddystone (a subsidiary of Remington) began producing the P14 in massive quantities.

When the United States enter the war, we found that we also had a shortage of rifles.  At the time of the outbreak of hostilities for the U.S. the official rifle of the U.S. Military was the Model 1903 Springfield.  The U.S. Army Ordnance Department decided that to meet the demand for service rifles they would need to make modifications to the P14 design and push the rifle into service.  Remington Arms set about to redesign the P14 by re-chambering it for the 30-06 cartridge and making a few other minor alterations to the basic design.  The result was the U.S. Service Rifle, Caliber .30, Model 1917.

Remington, Winchester and Eddystone produced millions of rifles during the years of 1917 and 1918.  It's estimated that around 75% of the rifles in use by American forces were M1917's by the end of the war.

Sgt. Alvin York used a M1917 Enfield during the action that earned him the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Hollywood took creative liberty, as they often do, in their 1940 movie classic "Sergeant York" and armed Gary Cooper with a M1903 Springfield instead of the M1917 which Sgt. York actually used.

The M1917 wasn't particularly well suited for the trench warfare of WWI given it's 3'10" length and 9.3lbs weight.  The rifle with it's 16.5" bayonet affixed was often times taller than the soldier that carried it!

Rear sight
While soldiers often complained about the weight and length of the rifle, few complained about the accuracy.  With an increased sight radius over the standard Mauser design on which the M1917 was based,  it was found to be a very accurate weapon.  The M1917 not only had a lengthy 26" barrel but it also sported a rear sight located at the rear of the receiver giving it a sight radius advantage over the German Mauser it faced on the battlefield.

After hostilities ended in November of 1918, production of the M1917 rifle ceased.  A large number of rifles were released for civilian use through the NRA after the war.  Many of these rifles were sporterized for hunting and target shooting.  The sporterization of many M1917's put a big dent in the number of unmolested military configuration rifles on the surplus market.

The M1917 was once again called into service in limited numbers when WWII broke out.   After WWII ended, the M1917 ceased being used as a front line rifle but did serve as a sniper rifle during the Korean War.

Stay tuned for a video review of the M1917 rifle on the Military Arms Channel.