March 21, 2016
Before the recent tide of VEPR 7.62x54R rifle imports landed stateside, the hearty AK-derivative enjoyed a near mythic status among AK lovers. The first wave of porcine-inspired firearms arrived in the late 1990s, but due to its so-called 'sporting-configuration,' limited aftermarket support and high price tag (especially compared to AKMs in the '90s), it failed to capture the American market.
Now with the ever-growing popularity of the AK accessory market, and the VEPR 7.62x54R's capability to accept many of these parts, the VEPR 7.62x54R is making a comeback. However, with the expansive nature of this market, it's difficult to separate junk from gold. Which is why I've narrowed down the top seven upgrades to drag the VEPR 7.62x54R into the 21st century.
The VEPR series of rifles and shotguns are quality firearms that are 100 percent functional out of the box. They enjoy similar reliability to AK rifles, since they originate from the squad automatic version of these rifles, the RPK. These Molot-made carbines differentiate themselves from AKMs with their use of a thicker 1.5mm receiver, tighter internal fitting, better accuracy and wider variety of available calibers.
So why upgrade?
The subject of this article, the VEPR 7.62x54R, holds a mere five rounds and ships with barely usable iron sights. Furthermore, the stock, while attractive, doesn't fit every shooter. Tactical-minded or competitive shooters need something a little more versatile. The problem with many of these upgrades is 922r compliance, limiting the total non US-made parts to ten or fewer. Thankfully, shooters who install many of the ones listed below are in the clear. The addition of these accessories decreases the total foreign-made parts count to ten, the legal limit.
The first area in need of a facelift is the furniture. Depending on when and where shooters purchased their rifle, they either have a square or slant back receiver. Functionally identical with stock furniture, shooters looking to install AK stocks need to purchase an adapter if their VEPR 7.62x54R uses a slant back receiver.
Since the VEPR 7.62x54R in this article uses a square back, the only modification needed to use an AK stock is to simply narrow the portion of the stock that interfaces with the receiver, since the VEPR 7.62x54R's receiver is 0.5mm thicker.
That said, of all the buttstocks available for AK rifles today, the most versatile one that strikes the balance between weight, form and function is the Magpul Zhukov. Available in black, OD green grey FDE and plum, the Zhukov-S is constructed of high-impact polymer. It features multiple QD sling attachment points and a side-folding stock.
Attached to the VEPR 7.62x54R, it makes the rifle easier to transport, and to mount a single-point sling. More importantly, it enables the shooter to adjust the rifle's length of pull to fit a wider variety of shooters.
Magpul MOE AK+ Grip
Many shooters don't realize that Magpul makes two varieties of MOE grips: the standard and the plus. Both feature the high-impact ultra-durable polymer Magpul is famous for, and both include an internal storage area in the grip for spare batteries or other small objects. What separates them is their external material.
Standard MOE grips for both the AR15 and the AK47/AKM use a hard polymer outside surface adorned with molded stippling in the shape of Magpul's logo. The plus variants use a rubbery, soft outer jacket not dissimilar to grips made by Hogue. Unlike Hogue, they still retain the original size of the grip and lack finger grooves. For small-caliber VEPRs, like those chambered in 5.45, 5.56 and 7.62x39, this extra padding seems unnecessary. Truly, the extra give the grip is more beneficial when coupled with battle-rifle caliber versions, like the .308 and 7.62x54R models. Still, the softer model provides a more positive, secure grip for shooters who don't run their rifles with gloves on, making it a better choice for shooters looking to transform their VEPR 7.62x54R from a hunting rifle to a bug out gun or tactical carbine.
RS Regulate AK-303 Mount
In the world of tactical firearms, reliability and accuracy may be king, but versatility is queen, which explains the royal crown emblem adorning the RS Regulate AK scope mounts. Indeed, if rails are a tactical shooter's catnip, RS Regulate's customizable series of AK optic mounts will cause these thumb-over-bore enthusiasts to overdose.
Designed as an adaptive system, the AK-300 series of mounts allow AK lovers to enjoy the versatility of their AR15-equipped brethren. With a page from Eugene Stoner's playbook, the RS Regulate mounts consists of two halves: an upper and a lower. The lower determines the range of horizontal mounting positions, while the upper determines the height and mounting interface. These two halves interface through a small, weaver-like rail system and four allen screws.
This is important, as it allows both the lowest possible method of mounting of optics on the VEPR 7.62x54R, and the largest variety of mounting positions and heights since it does away with picatinny adapters. Shooters looking to run either an AimPoint or ACOG (or others) can finally mount them at the correct height by using the appropriate upper. It may be a little pricey, but if you want one mount to rule them all, look no further than the RS Regulate AK-300 series mount.
Spikes Tactical AK47 Dynacomp
Better known for its quality AR15 carbines, Spikes Tactical also makes a series of AK muzzle devices for both AKM and AK-74/AK-100 rifles. For the VEPR 7.62x54R, shooters need the AKM variant that uses 14:1LH threading.
The aggressive-looking Dynacomp diverts escaping gas from the muzzle and directs it skyward, thus compensating for the round's recoil. In testing, the Dynacomp didn't quite index properly on the VEPR 7.62x54R, so a washer was necessary. Once installed, the Dynacomp greatly reduced muzzle rise and felt recoil at the expense of increased muzzle blast. Also, unlike competing designs, Spikes' comp better fits the barrel's profile, despite the barrel's lack of a squared-off shoulder. Lastly, the Dynacomp doesn't add much weight to the end of the rifle, so balance is virtually unaffected.
SGM Tactical 20-round magazine
Arguably one of the VEPR 7.62x54r's greatest shortcomings is its magazine capacity. Despite rising prices, 7.62x54R is still vastly more affordable than comparably-powerful cartridges like .308 or .30-06. Pity then, that the VEPR 7.62x54R's standard magazines hold a measly five rounds. Sure, this is plenty for hunting, but it doesn't cut it for competition or plinking. SGM Tactical first addressed this concern with an extended 10-round magazine, but shooters wanted more.
The problem SGM and other aftermarket makers face with the VEPR 7.62x54R model in general is twofold. The rifle is designed for single-stack magazines, and the 7.62x54R cartridge features a pronounced rim that makes designing higher capacity magazines inordinately difficult. This is due to a phenomenon known as rim lock, where the rims of each cartridge can jump one and other and bind in the magazine body. This issue is further exacerbated with every round added to a stack.
SGM's solution was to design a quad-stack coffin-type magazine, to relieve some of this pressure. This also has the added benefit of reducing the magazine's overall length, making it only slightly longer than their 10-round single stack magazine, despite doubling its capacity.
Manticore Arms Keymod Handguard
A relative newcomer to the industry, Manticore Arms has already made a name for themselves by creating quality, innovative products. Unlike other AK railed handguard makers, Manticore designs adhere to the original contours of the host rifle as much as possible. This not only retains the original silhouette and basic appearance of the rifle but also has the added benefit of reduced weight and bulk.
The newest addition to the company's product line is an aluminum KeyMod rail for the VEPR series of rifles. For the uninitiated, The VEPR 7.62x54R uses its own proprietary handguard configuration that lacks traditional AKM retainers. These special handguards are secured to the rifle by a block that fits beneath the barrel trunnion and a sling screw threaded into the bottom of the gas block.
Manticore's rail is attached using the same two points, but the sling screw can be replaced with a flush-fitting hex screw for shooters who want a more streamlined look. In fact, the mounting area itself can be covered by a KeyMod rail segment, allowing shooters to mount accessories along the full length of the rail. One of my favorite grips to run on the VEPR 7.62x54R is the Arisaka Defense Vertical Grip, since it doesn't protrude enough to interfere with magazine changes and is incredibly light and durable. Remarkably, the Keymod VEPR rail features 72 mounting positions, allowing for an incredibly vast number of configurations.
Hornady 150-gr. SST ammunition
While this last addition to the list isn't truly an accessory, it still bears mentioning. Not because existing supplies of 54r ammunition aren't effective, but the opposite. They're too effective, at least against steel targets at close range.
While the same can be said of .308 FMJ, .30-06 FMJ and even 5.56mm, the mild steel in surplus 7.62x54r ammo has lead many ranges to incorrectly deem it armor piercing and thus ban its use both against steel targets and inside indoor ranges.
Even though other manufacturers make non-magnetic 7.62x54r ammo, Hornady's use of its SST polymer-tipped ammo offers tangible proof to overzealous range officers that your Russian lead-slinger won't wreck their targets. The other good thing about this ammo is its performance.
The polymer-tipped 150-gr. round screams through the sky at an average of 2,800 fps, closely mimicking the ballistics of .308 rounds using the same grain projectile.
Unquestionably, the VEPR 7.62x54R is a formidable rifle. Built on battle-tested technology using a potent, inexpensive round, the VEPR 7.62x54R has the potential to be the most affordable battle rifle in existence. Every aspect of the rifle that was upgraded in this article is perfectly usable as it ships. But for shooters who want to transform their Russian hunting rifle into a serious battle rifle that doesn't destroy their bank account, they'll need a few of these simple upgrades to get the most out of their Crimean carbine.