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The Most Reliable Semi-Automatic Rifle You Can Buy?

Image source: wikimedia

Image source: wikimedia

I remember the day I first saw her. There I was in a large crowd amongst merchants peddling me the latest and greatest inventions and innovations, and that’s when I saw her. She was rather plain, almost homely in appearance, but I had fallen head over heels. And I left that day with her in my arms. Truth be told, I had arrived at the gun show in pursuit of a Colt AR-15, and left with my Ugly Duckling. A Romanian parts kit built AK-47.

Since that day, almost 10 years ago, I have never stopped using the AK platform rifle. I have fired thousands upon thousands of rounds, purposely tortured rifles, and compared them to just about everything else on the market. There is no other long arm I would ever want to carry during the apocalypse.

After thousands of rounds, none of my AK platform rifles have suffered a failure to feed, jam or even a misfire. That just doesn’t happen with an AR-15. Yes, accuracy is in the hands of an AR platform firearm, but reliability goes to the AK. To be honest, accuracy is not bad at all. It is not nearly the “Communist Blunderbuss” that many shooters crack it up to be. I can easily achieve 1-3 inch groups at 100 yards, and 3-4 inches at 200 yards. Perfectly able to bring down deer-sized game.

When I first joined the ranks of AK owners, there were not all that many of us compared to AR-15 and M1A owners. I would show up at the shooting range and when I pulled out my AK I would receive some very curious looks.

In the 1990s, and early 2000s, almost every AK platform rifle was an import. The most common rifles at this time by far were the Norinco and Polytech rifles that were produced in Communist China. As opposed to just about everything else made in China, they were extremely well-built with 1.5mm receivers, chrome-lined barrels, and excellent workmanship. Other common rifles were several different models of Romanian AKs — the most popular by far being the WASR 10 – and there were a few Egyptian MAADIs. There were other European imports, too. One thing for sure: There was no such thing as an American-made AK. That, though, has changed.

Made in ‘Merica

Arsenal in Las Vegas, Nevada, was really just about the first truly American-made AK. Arsenal both imported rifles and built new production rifles at their new state-of-the-art facility. Quality was and still is extremely high. Most other American AK producers purchased de-milled former Communist weapons in parts kits and reassembled them in semi-automatic-only variants for US civilian use. For many years the quality of these thrown-together parts guns was either really great, or criminally horrible.

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Not so with Arsenal. Every AK that rolls off their line was and is new production. Cold hammer forged chrome lined barrels are standard, as are properly riveted receivers and aligned sights. Rifles are offered with either a stamped receiver, or forged receiver (whatever floats your boat). Chamberings include the venerable 7.62x39mm, the 5.45x39mm, and the US 5.56x45mm. With Arsenal you will pay around $1,000, or slightly north thereof, but you will have a rifle that your great grandson will pass down.

AK-47Century Arms, for many years, was the company that produced guns that were ugly and cheap, but that never seemed to die. It became a well-known fact that Century took the cheap way around things and installed barrels chambered in 5.56x45mm on a rifle chambered for the Russian 5.45x39mm. The results were bad. Very bad. Combine that with horrible customer service and warranty, and Century Arms rightly incurred the wrath of many AK shooters around the nation.

I think Century Arms took a hint starting around 2012, because all of a sudden they stopped producing junk. Century overhauled their company and started keeping a close eye on quality, and the firearms community noticed.

The first change was to their famous WASR 10 — famous for being functional, and looking as if a preschool class had built it. Suddenly a rifle known for shoddy workmanship started to have decent stocks, proper riveting, properly widened magwell, and no more canted sights. The quality of the new WASR 10, especially after 2012, is simply outstanding. The rifle has a stamped receiver, and a hammer-forged chrome lined barrel. The price is great too: around $550. The price and quality now make it a great and affordable AK, and one that enables someone to get into the platform quickly.

Now the WASR 10 is mostly built overseas and finished here in the states, so we can’t fully count that as an American AK. However, it does go to show the reader the improvement of Century at their base line rifle. Two new models made by Century are the RAS47 and C39 V2. Both rifles are fully built in the US. Both feature excellent nitrited barrels which will last just as long as a chrome lined barrel (anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what they are talking about). Both rifles are built well to high standards. The RAS47 has a stamped receiver, and the C 39, a forged. You’ll pay around $640 for the RAS47 and $700 for the C39.

IO Inc. was another company with a horrible reputation. At first, IO started out with a promising future. Based originally in North Carolina, they were one of the first companies to start producing a 100 percent US-made AKM. However, starting around 2010, they went downhill very quickly. After much research, it was soon learned the problems arose from the employees of the company. Horrible customer service, manufacturing and other problem almost shut that company down.

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To be honest, had I owned IO, I would have thrown in the towel. Uli Wiegand, the owner of IO, did not do that. To his credit, he stuck it out. He closed up shop completely in North Carolina and moved all of his equipment to a new manufacturing facility on Florida’s space coast. IO hired all new staff and trained them before opening back up in 2013.

Today, the products offered by IO are very well built. I was quite shocked when I saw their new AKS. Nitrited Barrels, all American parts, and plenty of options have really made this rifle a great addition to the American AK family. Reliability is excellent, and so is accuracy. These are some of the most accurate AKs I have seen at their price point. And just what is their price point? Around $500 to $550 for a M247 model in either synthetic or wood stock.

DDI happens to be one of my favorites right now. Based out of Knoxville, Tennessee, this is a fairly new company. DDI has taken some pretty nifty technological leaps ahead of the other companies out there. This is seen with their use of a fenocite barrel. Just what on earth is fenocite, you ask? Well to put it simply, it is a chemical and gas process that hardens the steel to around 70 on the Rockwell scale of hardness. It is just as hard as chrome, and believed to last 1/3 longer.  Time will tell. But the rifles built by DDI are beautiful, reliable and reasonable priced. I would almost say they have the same quality as a higher priced Arsenal. You, too, can put a DDI AK in your gun safe for around $700.

The Future

Well, if God in his mercy grants us a wee bit more time before hard times come, there are other AKs about to be American made. Because of the Obama Administrations’ embargo against all Russian firearms, many AK producers are now forced to look to our shores for production. The Russian Weapons Company is about to start production of Russian pattern AKs in the US. Palmetto State Armory, which for years has built quality AR-15 and AR-10 platform rifles, has now joined the AK-producing world. Their firearms are of high quality, and I trust Palmetto State. A Palmetto AK sells for around $650-750.

In closing, if you are looking for a semi-automatic sporting rifle (if you call these assault rifles, I will reach through my computer screen and slap you!) to add to your preps or gun safe, you should consider one of these AKs. You will have a reliable platform that you can count on to function in the worst conditions, and a rifle that can supply meat to your table and security for your loved ones should ever the need arise.

Do you believe the AK-47 is the most reliable semi-auto sporting rifle? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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