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The Pioneer Arms True AK Trainer Rifle in Economical .22LR

It doesn't just look like an AK. Pioneer Arms has built a true AK rifle chambered in the affordable and fun .22LR rimfire cartridge.

The Pioneer Arms True AK Trainer Rifle in Economical .22LR

Pioneer Arms’ AK .22 LR Trainer is an AK rifle chambered for the economical .22 Long Rifle cartridge making it inexpensive to shoot and train with. (Photo by Ashley Jaderborg) 

Looking for a solution to high ammunition prices for training? Something a bit more exciting than dry-firing or boring laser training aids? A solution that is practical, economical but also one that is a whole lot of fun? If so, you will want to know about Pioneer Arms’ new AK .22 LR Trainer. This is a full-size AKM-type rifle with stamped steel receiver and laminated wood stock but chambered in .22 Long Rifle. Feeding from a 25-round magazine, it is great for recreation while also being a very useful training aid. Many shooters have been hit hard in the wallet by higher ammunition prices and the Russian ammo ban. Owners of Kalashnikov rifles have been particularly hard hit, with the days of cheap 7.62x39mm and 5.45x39mm ammunition seeming to be over. While there have long been inexpensive and easy to find military and commercial .22 LR conversion kits for 5.56x45mm AR-15 rifles, as well as dedicated .22 LR AR-15-type rifles, AK owners have not had it so easy. Sure, there have been .22 LR rifles which sort of looked like an AK rifle, but nothing done well.

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While the days of cheap 5.45x39mm and 7.62x39mm ammunition may be over, you can still have inexpensive fun with an AK thanks to Pioneer Arms. The AK .22 LR Trainer looks like an AK because it is built on Pioneer Arms standard 7.62x39mm AK production line they build their military rifles on.

That is until now. Pioneer Arms builds their new AK .22 LR Trainer on their standard 7.62x39mm AKM production line. It looks, feels, and handles like a 7.62x39mm AKM rifle. It is built using many standard AKM parts and uses standard AKM laminated wood furniture. Even the 25-round magazine is shaped and sized like a 7.62x39mm magazine, so it will fit in standard AK magazine pouches. But why would you want a .22 LR AK rifle? Down through the decades, the .22 Long Rifle cartridge has been widely used for marksmanship training by military forces around the world. Its accuracy, light recoil, very mild report and inexpensive cost all made it well-suited for this role. France, Germany, England, the United States, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the USSR and many other countries all fielded .22 LR training rifles and/or .22 LR conversion units. East Germany went beyond the typical bolt-action rimfire trainer though. They designed, manufactured and fielded about 50,000 selective-fire AK-type rifles in .22 LR for training. Designated the KK-MPi 69, these .22 LR rifles were used for marksmanship training, including with youth groups. A dedicated .22 LR load for it was developed by SK Ammunition to enhance reliability on full-automatic. So, the concept certainly has merit.

One of the main reasons why this small rimfire cartridge saw such widespread use was due to the economical practice it allowed. Ten or more .22 LR cartridges could be issued for training for the price of one standard service round, so it made a lot of sense. Today the .22 LR continues to “make sense” financially. It allows the blue collar worker to fire 250 or 500 rounds during a trip to the range without burning a hole in his wallet. A family can spend an enjoyable day together shooting recreationally, even when times are tough and money is hard to come by. When I first heard of Pioneer Arms’ AK .22 LR Trainer, I was interested but worried about reliability. Many .22 LR pistols and rifles are very fussy when it comes to ammunition. So, I was curious if this would be the case with Pioneer Arms’ design. I was also curious to see how close it resembled a real AK rifle. How would it feel in the hands and handle? To find out, I received a Pioneer Arms AK .22 LR Trainer on short-term loan from the company for this review.

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The very mild recoil and report of the Pioneer Arms AK .22 Trainor makes a fun shooting experience for anyone. (Oleg Volk) The .22 LR cartridge is economical, accurate and useful for a number of tasks from competition to small game hunting.

Taking it out of the box, other than the ejection port area, it looks and feels like a 7.62x39mm AKM. The slant cut muzzle brake, front sight assembly, gas block, gas tube and handguard, rear sight, pistol grip, buttstock, top cover, safety and other parts appear to be standard AK pieces. So, customizing one using aftermarket parts should be easy. The muzzle features standard M14x1 LH threads and is fitted with a slant cut brake. The front sight assembly is a protected post adjustable for elevation and windage. The barrel extends further into the receiver than a 7.62x39mm barrel, and so measures approximately 17 inches in length. Beneath it is a cleaning rod. The furniture is a good-looking laminated wood along with a polymer pistol grip. The buttstock’s buttplate does not have a trapdoor for a cleaning kit. The rear sight is your typical sliding tangent with a square notch and is not calibrated for the .22 LR cartridge. The standard AK lever safety design is fitted, but updated with an extended tab for easy manipulation and a cut-out to lock the bolt open.

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A dedicated .22 LR rifle, it features a 1 turn in 16 inches rifling twist with the muzzle threaded M14x1 LH. Good looking laminated wood furniture is fitted to this Polish made rimfire rifle. Rather than being gas operated, this rimfire model uses a conventional blow-back action. The design feeds from a polymer 25-round magazine.

Rather than being gas operated, this rimfire model uses a conventional blow-back action. It is built on a 4140 stamped metal receiver. If you pop the top cover off, you will note a recoil spring on a guide rod where a normal AK recoil spring assembly would be. Remove this, and the bolt can be pulled to the rear of the receiver and then lifted up and out. The bolt rides on the receiver rails like a standard AK bolt carrier does. The fire control group looks like regular AK pieces but with a lighter hammer spring. So, field stripping it and reassembly can easily be accomplished by anyone that can field strip a regular AK. The design feeds from a polymer 25-round magazine. This is a robust looking design which mimics the size and shape of a 7.62x39mm AK magazine. It features a cut-out on the sides so you can visually see how many rounds are in the magazine with corresponding marks for 5, 10, 15, 20 and 25 rounds. The magazine rocks into place, just like a standard AK magazine. The rifle ships with one magazine. Operation is the same as for a regular AK rifle. The controls are all in the same spot and operate in the same fashion. With the rifle on safe, rock a loaded magazine into place until it locks. With the rifle pointed in a safe direction, move the safety down to the fire position. This will allow you to retract the bolt and chamber a round. Pushing up on the safety will place the rifle on safe. The sight picture is the same as on a regular AKM rifle. Zeroing will be done in a similar manner. Elevation changes are made to the front sight by using a tool to screw it up or down. Windage changes are made by drifting to the front sight assembly left or right. This can be done with an armorer’s tool or a simple punch and hammer.   

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The Pioneer Arms AK .22 LR Trainer strips easily for cleaning and routine maintenance. If you can strip an AK, you can strip the Trainer.

To fire, push the safety down into the fire position. Pressing the trigger will now fire the rifle. The trigger has a bit of “roll” to it, but is actually quite light at approximately 3.5 pounds. When the rifle fires it will automatically extract and eject the spent cartridge case and load a new one into the chamber. Like a real AK, the bolt does not lock-back on the last shot. Retract the bolt and verify the chamber is empty. Pressing the magazine release forward allows the magazine to be removed. If desired, the bolt can be retracted to the rear, and the safety lever pushed up to the Safe position. A notch in the safety lever will then catch the bolt handle, locking the bolt open. I have a number of dedicated .22 LR AR-15 rifles and they tend to be a bit ammunition sensitive. Most semi-automatic .22 LR pistols and rifles have a preference for certain loads. So, I was interested to see how well Pioneer Arms’ AK .22 LR Trainer would actually function. To find out, I first mounted a sling. A sling is to a rifle what a holster is to a pistol. One of my favorites is Savvy Sniper’s (SavvySniper.com, 740-492-0100) M4 Marine Corps Sling. This is a really well-designed quick-adjust 1.25-inch wide sling which only costs $44.95. I mounted by running it through the rear sling swivel and used a loop of 550 cord at the front.

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The design looks like, feels like, operates like and even field strips like a standard 7.62x39mm AKM rifle.

Next, I collected a variety of .22 LR loads and hit the range. I began with some relaxed plinking to check operation and get a feel for the rifle. The 25-round magazine loads easily until the last three of four rounds which require a bit more force. Rounds feed smoothly, and extraction and ejection are vigorous. Three friends and I gave the Pioneer Arms AK .22 LR Trainer a good initial workout. About 500 rounds of Remington Golden Bullets, Aguila SE and Winchester’s M22 load were fired with zero issues of any type. This was followed up with another 250 rounds of Aguila’s 40-grain SE load a couple days later, without issues. Next, I checked the rifle’s accuracy from the bench at 25 yards. This was done using the factory iron sights from a rest with a rear bag. Four five-shot groups were fired with each load and velocity recorded with a LabRadar Doppler chronograph. Seven loads with six different bullet weights ranging from 29 to 60 grains were used for testing. Selected were Aguila’s 60-grain SSS, CCI’s 45-grain Quiet 22 Semi-Auto, Eley’s 42-grain force, Federal’s 29-grain Punch Flat Nose, Remington’s 36-grain Golden Bullet HP, SK Ammunition’s 40-grain Standard Plus Match and Winchester’s 40-grain M22. I thought this diverse array of loads would give an idea on what Pioneer Arms’ AK .22 LR Trainer is capable of.

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Here is a full 25-round magazine fired on a steel silhouette while running some “Up” drills. Practical accuracy is good. Here’s a five-shot 0.75-inch group (right) fired with CCI’s Quiet 22 Semi Auto 45-grain load at 25 yards.

The rifle proved very comfortable and fun to shoot from the bench. The trigger is very good, and while it rolls like any AK trigger, it is both smooth and light. The report is mild. Accuracy varied a bit depending up on the load. The best groups of the day were posted with CCI’s Quiet 22 Semi Auto and Winchester’s M22 which both posted a best of .75 of an inch. Groups across the board typically ran from one to two inches with Remington’s 40-grain Golden Bullet HPs not being to the rifle’s liking. Function wise, the Pioneer Arms AK .22 LR Trainer was flawless with everything except CCI’s 45-grain Quiet 22 Semi Auto. This was the second to the last load tested and the rifle had not been cleaned since the start. It was by this time a bit dirty and three of the low velocity subsonic CCI’s failed to fully cycle. Switching to a different load returned flawless operation. With the bench testing out of the way, I moved to running drills on steel plates and silhouettes from 25 to 100 yards. This is where the AK .22 LR Trainer really shines. I ran drills doing tactical reloads, speed reloads, “Up” drills and practiced my shooting while moving. Next, I practiced traditional position shooting, firing offhand, kneeling, sitting and prone. While doing this, I was careful to take my time, watch my sight picture and mentally “call” each shot. It was a good day on the range, and a lot of fun. So, what did I learn? Pioneer Arms’ AK .22 LR Trainer looks, feels, handles and operates like a regular AK rifle. Reliability is excellent and it is noticeably less ammunition sensitive than my .22 LR AR-15s. Accuracy is plinker grade, it is certainly not a match gun. However, it shoots fine for its intended purpose and would be a fun small game gun. It is very easy to field strip and clean. That said, the test rifle was never cleaned throughout testing and it functioned flawless with all loads except CCI’s Quiet 22 Semi Auto. This load only averaged 894 fps, and I think a good cleaning of the rifle’s action would have fixed the issue. It’s also noteworthy to note that even with cheap bulk pack ammunition I experienced zero ignition problems.     

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While many .22 LR semi-automatic rifles and pistols are ammunition sensitive, the Pioneer Arms AK .22 LR Trainer proved surprisingly reliable with a variety of loads. (Photo by Ashley Jaderborg)

What didn’t I like about the rifle? It has no optics rail mounted on the side of the receiver. For some this will be a drawback. Having a rail would allow quick and easy mounting of optical sights. It would also allow the rifleman to easily switch from iron sights to a red dot or a magnified optic and back. It would be nice if it had a trapdoor in the buttplate for a cleaning kit. Other than that, there’s really not much to complain about. Everyone who handled the rifle commented on how attractive the laminated wood furniture is. The fit of the wood is a bit proud of the metal, but it’s nicely finished. Plus, since standard AK parts are used in its construction, it is an easy rifle to modify and customize. It would be a simple matter to add a rail, modern side-folding stock, optics mount, different muzzle device and turn it into something resembling a rifle carried by a Russian “Alpha” Team member. Some may balk at using a semi-automatic .22 LR as a training aid in place of a 7.62x39mm AKM or 5.45x39mm AK-74. Some might feel the difference in recoil negates its usefulness. My reply is they are dead wrong. You can perform a wide variety of drills from basic marksmanship to much more advanced drills with this rifle and learn a lot. My admonition is: do not have a closed mind when it comes to training.

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While many shooters learn the basics of marksmanship using a lowly .22 Long Rifle, it’s unfortunate that all too many leave this wonderful little cartridge behind as they advance. To some, the .22 Long Rifle is viewed as nothing more than a beginner’s cartridge. A diminutive rimfire round, they consider it fine for learning basic marksmanship fundamentals on, but nothing more. In my experience this is not only a mistake, but it also fails to grasp the full potential of this versatile little cartridge. I’ve also noticed that many who began shooting over the past 10 years may not have started on a .22 LR and fail to appreciate the usefulness of this cartridge. MSRP of the AK .22 LR Trainer is $749.99, and spare 25-round magazines are available for $29.99. Pioneer Arms also offers a muzzle adapter to convert the M14x1 LH threads to 1/2x28 RH. This device costs $25 and will allow you to mount standard AR-15 type muzzle devices and sound suppressors. A good suppressor and subsonic ammunition will make this a very discreet tool. All in all, I found Pioneer Arms AK .22 LR Trainer to be a lot of fun on the range. If you love AK rifles and enjoy economical shooting this is something you may want to consider.

Pioneer Arms AK .22LR Trainer Specs

  • Caliber: .22LR
  • Operation: Blow-back from closed bolt
  • Barrel: 17 in. with Nitride finish, 1:16-in. twist
  • Feed: Detachable 25-rd. box mag. 
  • Weight: 6.6 lbs. 
  • Trigger: Single-stage with 3.5 pound pull
  • Overall Length: 35 in. 
  • Length of Pull: 12.75 in. 
  • Sights: Protect post front, sliding tangent rear
  • Finish: Black Nitride
  • Price: $749.99
  • Contact: Pioneer Arms

If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.

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