September 21, 2015
Wandering about the 2015 SHOT Show, I was a bit surprised at just how popular the AK platform remains. Despite being almost 70 years old, this robust design is still going strong in the U.S. commercial market.
I was impressed by Magpul's new stocks, furniture and metal reinforced magazines. I was surprised by Geissele's new AK trigger. I noted Century Arms is moving away from surplus and concentrating on manufacturing, with American-made AKs being their foundation.
RWC announced it will be setting up a factory to undertake domestic AK rifle production. Plus there was a host of accessories introduced for this popular Russian design. So these are good days indeed if you have an interest in AK rifles.
When it comes to increasing the hit probability of any rifle, AK included, the simplest solution is to add a good optical sight. First proven in competition and then in actual combat, the modern red dot sight offers many practical advantages over traditional iron sights.
It's a bit more complicated to interface optics with an AK than with some other designs, thanks to its removable sheet metal top cover. Complicated doesn't mean impossible, however. It just needs to be executed correctly.
Keep in mind, no matter how accurate your rifle or how precise your optics, if your scope is not mounted rock solid, all is for naught. The fly in the ointment is not only how to mount an optic, but how to retain its zero under use and abuse. It doesn't make sense to mount a fragile sighting system onto an incredibly durable rifle.
One of my earliest SGN pieces was on optics and mounts for Kalashnikov rifles. At the time there really wasn't very much available. 15 years later, things have improved dramatically. Today's mounts show considerable innovation compared to designs of the past. Quality is also noticeably improved over the earlier commercial Chinese, Russian and domestic designs. So I decided to look at some options that will fit the side rail found on many, but not all, AK rifles.
Scot Hoskisson exploded onto the AK scene back in 2011. He seemed to come out of nowhere, and in the years since has carved an enviable reputation for his company RS Regulate. Hard working, talented, humble and religious, he's one of the "good guys" in the industry. He's an excellent engineer with a passion for AKs and doing things right.
With a lot of hard work and sweat he developed and brought to market a very interesting optic mounting system for the AK side rail. Rather than just a mount, Hoskisson's work evolved into an entire family of components that easily fit together to meet a variety of needs.
In order to fully appreciate RS Regulate's system, you have to understand some of its challenges. Namely the AK is a very different animal than, say, the AR-15. With the AR-15, everything is uniform and built to a standard.
AKs vary a great deal not only from country to country and manufacturer to manufacturer but even from rifle to rifle. Some rifles are dimensionally perfect, while others are not even straight. A mount that places an optic perfectly over one bore's centerline will be noticeably off-center on another.
Hoskisson's solution was to build a two-piece mount that could be adjusted for windage. This allows the end-user to adjust the mount for a perfect fit. Once adjusted, the two pieces can be permanently pinned in place for a solid mount. His solution is simple, well thought out and robust. Even better, it looks good, too.
RS Regulate offers a whopping seven lower sections. These consist of the 301 (front biased), 302 (rear biased), 303 (full length), 304 (vz.58), 307 (full length for Yugo pattern), 310 (full length for PSL and M10), 311 (front biased for PSL and M10). Simply pick the lower most suitable for your particular needs. The lower then becomes the foundation for the system.
Precisely machined from aluminum, it slides onto the side rail and features a positive stop. An unobtrusive lever is then rotated closed to lock the mount in place.
The locking system is robust, reliable and easy to adjust for individual rails. A final push secures the locking lever with a distinct click. The lowers are heavily skeletonized to reduce weight without sacrificing strength.
The top of the lower section consists of a railed section similar in concept to a 1913 rail, but narrower. This interfaces with any of five top sections. These consist of the AKM (30mm red dots), AKMD (Burris TRS25), AKML (Aimpoint and similar micro red dots), AKOG (Trijicon ACOG) and AKR (universal 1913 rail). Pick the top you need and then place it where you want it on the lower section.
The top and bottom sections fit together perfectly and are locked in place with bolts. While the bolts lock the pieces together, interlocking shoulders absorb any shear forces. Gross windage adjustments are easily made and if you want, the two pieces can be pinned together.
Once you've made your selection, you'll be impressed by how well the design works. The system is light, yet robust. It installs easily and locks securely into place. Once locked on it stays where it's supposed to. It shrugs off impacts and blows and doesn't flex like the cheap mounts.
What I like in particular is it places the optic very low, so you retain a solid cheek weld. Yet you can still pop the top cover off for cleaning. If you need to remove the mount, it returns to zero when reinstalled.
Build quality is very high. The upper and lower sections are machined from 6061 T-6 billet aluminum while the locking hardware is titanium and stainless steel. Parts are milled on precision five-axis CNC-controlled machine centers. All in all, the RS mounts look very good. The only downside is they're not cheap. MSRP on the bottom sections is $133, while top sections are $67.
Hoskisson says he's heard from a variety of countries fielding AK rifles. Special units from not only Coalition Forces but even Russia have expressed interest in fielding them.
Troy Storch of Midwest Industries is perhaps best known for his AR parts and accessories. Without a doubt, Midwest Industries is a big player in the AR market. A few years back, he took notice of the AK's popularity and was surprised by the size of the demand for AK aftermarket parts and accessories. He quickly developed a line of accessories, and has continually grown it over the years. Today, he offers a diverse line of AK accessories, including side mounts. So I thought I'd take a look at three of his latest optics mounts.
Before I get into specific mounts though there are some things they all share in common. They are machined from 6061 aluminum and feature a hardcoat anodized finish. Steel locking hardware features a Melonite finish.
Each model is designed to be very robust yet light. All of them feature ADM's patented Auto Lock QD system. This locking system requires no tools to adjust and once properly set locks the mount securely to the rail.
A small spring-loaded lock secures the QD lever in place. Depressing this allows the QD lever to be rotated, releasing pressure on the rail and allowing the mount to be removed. The mount can be removed and reinstalled without loss of zero.
Midwest Industries' AK47/74 Red Dot Mount is a beefy piece designed to place a 30mm tube red dot low enough to co-witness with the iron sights. With the red dot installed, the factory iron sights are visible in the lower third of the field of view.
The mount is machined from fairly thick aluminum and so features seven holes to reduce weight. It features an integral 30mm ring with the top held in place by four screws. It appears to be very robust and well suited for use on the Kalashnikov. It weighs 6.4 ounces, so is still fairly light for a side mount.
Red dot sights seem to be particularly well suited for use on the AK. Slide on a red dot and forget about the hard-to-see iron sights. In my opinion, an AK rifle becomes much easier to hit with, especially at speed, out to 250 or so yards with a red dot. So I was very interested to see how this mount would perform.
Luckily, there was no drama of any type during testing. I found the mounting hardware easy to adjust for a tight fit on the rail. After that, the mount installed/removed easily with no fuss. Plus I liked how low it put the optic. If your optic fails, your irons are still visible in your FOV. All in all it worked very well and the price is just $109.95.
One of the great things about the Com Bloc side rail system is how easily you can swap mounts out. You just hit the QD lever and pop it off and replace it with something else. So say you have a red dot mounted and would rather have a magnified optic. No problem, just remove the red dot and replace it with a magnified optic in one of Midwest Industries' scope mounts.
The AK 30mm Scope Side Mount is similar to their 30mm Red Dot mount. Instead of one 30mm integral ring though, it has two. This allows compact 1-4X style scopes to be mounted very low.
Weighing just 9 ounces, this beefy mount sports 11 lightening holes that reduce weight. The feature most will like best about this particular mount is just how low it places the optics. Integral rings mean the mount can be made very low.
There is one downside to this design. To avoid interference with the rear sight, you need to select an optic that is not only fairly short but one that also has short eye relief. If the optic is too long, it will come in close proximity to the rear sight.
During testing I fitted a compact Leupold VX R Patrol 1.25-4x20mm scope onto a Romanian 5.45x39mm AK. Even with it pushed all the way forward and a longer stock, I found it was a bit too close to my eye. Between to the rear sight and the fixed integral rings, you are limited in how much you can adjust the scope's position in the mount. So keep that in mind when picking an optic.
Otherwise, the mount performed very well. It installed and removed easily, retained zero and placed the optic very low. No problems were encountered with the mount itself. Price on this piece is $129.95.
A more versatile option is Midwest Industries' AK Railed Scope Mount. As its name implies, this side mount features a modified 1913 rail to allow easy mounting of optics. Simply bolt whatever you'd like to mount to the top. The rail is approximately 6.75 inches long and sits just above the top cover.
With this setup, you can mount a red dot, low magnification scope, high magnification or a red dot and magnifier. I like the flexibility this mount provides. The downside is your optic will sit higher than with the other AK 30mm Scope Side Mount.
I mounted a beater Hi-Lux 1-4x24mm CMR scope I use for testing with this mount and had zero issues. My only comment here is to suggest you use the lowest rings possible. Try to keep the scope as low as you can.
The mount installed and removed easily from the rifle and returned to zero. Price on this model is only $109.95. So equipped my Romanian 5.45x39mm AK proved much easier to hit with at distance compared to the iron sights.
Wolf Optics Military Classic Scopes
Perhaps you'd rather have a classic Com Bloc scope that mounts directly to your rifle. No problem, Wolf Performance Optics has introduced a complete line of classic Russian optics. This "Military Classic" line complements the modern day and night optics they are also offering.
I decided to look at the PO 4x24mm and PO 6x36mm fixed-power rifle sights. The PO 4x24mm is a commercial version of the famous PSO-1 sniper scope developed for the SVD Dragunov, so it will appeal to many shooters and collectors. The PO 6x36mm is a higher magnification "big brother" to the 4X model. It features 6X magnification and a larger 36mm objective lens. Both of these scopes are manufactured for Wolf Performance Optics by the famous Novosibirsk Instrument Plant (NPZ) of Russia.
Both scopes feature an integral mount that slides onto a rail on the left side of the rifle's receiver. In the center of the mount is a throw lever. Unsnapping the lever and turning counter-clockwise will unlock the mount, allowing the scope to be attached or removed.
Turning it clockwise until it snaps into place locks the scope securely to the rifle. Tension on the mount can be adjusted by removing the scope and pushing down on the locking block to compress the throw lever spring. This will allow the locking nut on the bottom of the mount to be rotated. Adjust the mount so it locks tightly onto the rifle's rail. Once mounted, the scope sits slightly off-center to the left of the rifle's bore.
Both models incorporate integral metal sunshades. These can be extended and locked into place (simply slide it forward and give it a twist) to reduce glare and to keep rain/snow off the objective. Ballistic adjustments are made using easy-to-read turrets.
The single-rotation elevation turret features audible and tactile clicks, along with a zero stop. Adjustments are in 5cm clicks for the 4X model and 3.2cm clicks for the 6X. Typical of scopes whose design dates back to the late 1950s, their reticles are non-centered and move in the field of view as adjustments are made.
The design of the reticle was based upon combat experience gained during the Second World War. It's intended to allow rapid engagement of man-sized targets in bright and low-light conditions. It consists of a center chevron aiming point flanked by 10 mil marks on either side. Spacing of these marks is 1 mil center to center. The fifth and 10th mil marks are slightly longer for quick reference.
These mil marks are intended to be used for rangefinding, windage corrections and lead corrections on a moving target. Beyond the mil marks is a horizontal line to help prevent canting. Directly below the primary chevron are three additional chevrons arranged vertically for use as holdover aiming points.
In the lower left of the field of view is a "choke"-style telemetric rangefinder. It consists of a lower horizontal flat line and an upper curved line delineated in 100 meter increments from 200-1,000 meters. Simple in concept, it's designed to range a 1.5-meter tall target by placing it on the bottom line. Where the top of it hits the upper curved line is the range.
An illumination feature is incorporated allowing targets to be engaged in low light conditions. Power is provided by a common AA battery. On the forward bridge of the mount is a simple On/Off switch.
Turning the switch up to the on position illuminates the reticle, allowing targets to be engaged in low light conditions. However, there is no provision for adjusting intensity. A long rubber eyecup is included. This ensures consistent head placement, eliminates piercing sidelight and protects the ocular lens. It's easily removed by simply sliding it off.
So both of these models are actually chock-full of features, especially considering when their age. Optical performance is good and adjustments proved consistent and repeatable. The satin black finish also looked very good.
Over the years, scopes of these types have been offered from a variety of manufacturers. Quality varied, with some rough examples offered. In recent years, scopes of this type have been hard to find. So itÃs good to see quality examples available. Both performed very well during testing, with zero issues encountered. Models are available to fit the SVD/PSL and the AK/Saiga. Pricing starts at $299.