3 Must Have Upgrades for the AKM

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Arsenal SGL-21 dressed to the nines.

While my fervor has subsided in the last few years due to a decrease in various imports, I have always loved ComBloc guns like the AKM – well almost always.

My first semi-automatic rifle was a Century Arms WASR-10 AKM carbine chambered in 7.62x39mm. The furniture was rough with only a single coat of boiled linseed oil as a finish. Inserted magazines wobbled like a drunk, and the action was as smooth as a cinder block dragged across pavement. Yet, despite this the Romanian AKM ran like all properly-made AK carbines: perfectly.

AKM: A Solid Foundation

With a gun that has virtually no issues with reliability, the AKM becomes a very attractive combat arm, and for the gadget-loving gun-guy, an amazing platform to build the ultimate carbine on. But unlike its Western counterpart, the AR-15, the AKM isn’t as readily modular.

Romanian WASR

Romanian WASR AKM carbines were plentiful and cheap in the early 2000s

This fact, combined with a nearly endless slew of sub-par, snake-oil-tier products available for the Kalashnikov, means that shooters looking to get the most from their Avtomat, need some inside information before bolting components to their AKM.

So I’ve taken the time to boil down my 15 years of experience shooting and customizing the AKM, into a quick list of the three most important AKM upgrades to maximize your Kalashnikov’s performance.

Steel-Reinforced, Polymer Magazines

Do the standard, stamped-steel AKM/AK-47 magazines work great?

Yes.

Do they weigh a sh!t-ton?

Absolutely.

The obvious solution is to grab some polymer magazines like Magpul’s PMAGs for the AR-15. Unlike the AR-15, AKM magazines are subject to different types of force and tension requiring different construction.

Three AK Magazines

A Bulgarian, a Bakelite and a Steel AKM magazine walk into a bar…

AKM magazines rock into place held by a locking tab. Anytime the rifle is dropped or thrown to the ground on the magazine (or the shooter stands up from the prone position using the AK as a crutch) the mag takes a bunch of leveraged force. This levered force multiplies on the magazine catch,  because all of the focused weight on a small extrusion at the rear of the mag. (Think of a woman wearing high heels – es no bueno!)

This wasn’t an issue with original-issue Combloc steel magazines because the locking tab was built from nearly a quarter inch of hardened steel. But first generation polymer magazines lacking steel reinforcements are easily torn apart with hard use.

Bakelite? More like Breaklite

The Soviets realized this early, and placed steel reinforcements in their so-called bakelite magazines. But this early polymer is somewhat brittle and prohibitively expensive due to its collectability – so shooters should avoid it for hard use.

Circle 10 Mag on Bakelite mag

The protruding steel locking tabs are a dead giveaway that these mags are reinforced.

A better solution came along a few years later courtesy of the Bulgarian military: the famous circle 10 magazines. Waffle-pattern magazines feature a welded steel collar inside of a durable polymer shell. This collar also features a steel locking tab to ensure the magazine’s longevity.

While these have been considered the creme of the crop in terms of build quality, reliability and longevity, recent years have seen their prices skyrocket. Thankfully, the former Soviet satellite nation has seen the err of their communist ways and fully embraced capitalism.

Bulgarian Magazine

New-production Bulgarian polymer magazines feature steel reinforcements.

A New Spin on an Old Favorite

You read that right, they’re now producing new-production, Bulgarian polymer magazines with steel reinforcements for less than half the price of waffle-pattern circle 10’s.

These new magazines utilize steel reinforcements anywhere the gun meets the magazine. This means that even if shooters run the ever-living-hell out of their guns and AKM magazines, they’ll still provide decades of faithful service.

Shooters in favor of a more modern look can alternatively check out Magpul’s Gen 3 AK PMAGs which feature steel reinforcements. This feature the same iconic PMAG patterning, anti-tilt followers and super strong polymer as their AR-15 progenitors but for the AKM. While on par with the Bulgarian mags, they’re a little more expensive.    

RS Regulate AKOG

RS Regulate’s AKOG mount finally brings Trijicon’s combat optics to the AK

RS Regulate AKOG Scope Mount

While the impeccable reliability of my WASR was typical of Romanian AKM carbines, it also shared another typical characteristic of these rifles – canted sights.

However, being as green as I was, I didn’t realize this was an issue on AKM rifles until months after I bought the rifle. Since I was learning to shoot on the WASR, I had just assumed I lacked the proper skill to properly engage my targets, not that the sights were way off.

This lead me down the path of buying a series of awful optic mounts and worse optics in a vain attempt to squeeze some accuracy out of my Romanian semi-auto AKM. Full disclosure, if you’re considering a railed dust cover on your AK, don’t. They are worth less than the questionable steel they’re built from. There’s a reason the Soviets designed the side rail mount – and it wasn’t aesthetics.

Mil-Spec > Chinese Commercial Production

Eventually I settled on a Belarusian POSP scope, and it worked. But these Cold War-era optics aren’t perfect, and they definitely show their age. Between the poor eye relief, unimpressive glass clarity and primitive zero adjustment that physically moves the crosshair inside the scope, the POSP was state-of-the-art 40 years ago, but not anymore.

RS Regulate Mount

Unlike other mounts, the RS Regulate mount allows for lateral alignment.

So I did what many shooters back then did, and purchased a scope mount from Belarus, and eventually from Arsenal, but these too were far from perfect. Both say much too high to comfortable use optics with. Shooters had to adapt a chin-weld on their stock to obtain a decent sight-picture which makes shooting uncomfortable and more difficult.

It wasn’t until years later that a small company out of Michigan would introduce a series of AK optic mounts that would finally answer my prayers: RS Regulate.

Motor City Mounts for Soviet Lead-Slingers

For non-AK shooters, RS Regulate produces what are objectives the finest AKM optic mounts on the planet. They’re modular, light, durable and as low as possible. One in particular that I’m extremely fond of, is the AKOG.

The AKOG as its name suggests, is designed to work with the Trijicon ACOG scope used by US military forces for the past 20 years. The ACOG is vastly superior to Russian optics like the POSP, in terms of clarity and weight.

But since these optics are meant to mount on an AR-15 or M16, they sit far too high to use on AKM rifles and carbines. RS Regulate’s solution to this issue, was to have their AKOG mount replace the Picatinny mount on the ACOG to lower the overall height of the optic.

What’s better is that the AKOG works not just with genuine ACOG optics, but also any prism scope that uses the ACOG mounting system. In our case, a Primary Arms ACSS prismatic 3x scope with a 7.62x39mm BDC was employed.

Solid as a Rock, but much Lighter

In testing, the mount is rock solid. And unlike Belarusian mounts, the AKOG can b e adjusted both horizontally and laterally. This allows your rifle to be zeroed properly and keep that zero out to further distances. If this sounds odd, think of it this way. If your optic is off to the left like many AK mounts force them to be, then your gun is only perfectly zeroed at one single distance. BDC’s won’t help you as they only take elevation into consideration, not windage too.

And while that minor difference in alignment may seem trivial at 50 yards, if a shooter attempts to stretch the legs of their carbine out to 300, they’ll likely find it very difficult to land shots on targets smaller than two feet.

Primary Arms on AKOG mount

When paired with the RS Regulate mount, both ACOGs and ACOG clones like this optic from Primary Arms, sit as low as possible on an AK.

Shooting an AKM at 300+ Yards

With this in mind, I mounted the RS Regulate AKOG on my Russian Arsenal SGL-21 and headed out to a friend’s corn field. There we set up a steel target at 325 yards approximately the size of a 5-foot-tall human made by MGM targets.

At that distance I was able to not only hit the main target’s body, but also the swinging, “hostage” plate that is only 8 inches wide. For a gun normally lambasted as, “five MOA at best” with proper optics and an optic mount was capable of being very combat effective past 300 yards.

Overall, the AKOG mount from RS Regulate (and really all their mounts) is a solid buy for AKM enthusiasts and shooters alike who want to utilize modern, quality optics without having to sacrifice comfort. If a shooter is going to mount optics on their AKM and they’re not going for historically accurate, there is no reason not to use an RS Regulate mount.

Hornady SST 7.62x39

Hornady’s 123gr SST rounds fed flawlessly from every magazine tested.

Hornady Steel Match SST Ammunition

Ultra-cheap AKM ammo doesn’t exist anymore. If you’re anything like me, you clearly recall buying sealed tins of corrosive 7.62x39mm for less than 12 cents per round. Now, even steel-cased Russian ammunition runs north of 20 cents per round. Not bad compared to 5.56mm or 9mm, but still not super cheap.

While Russian FMJ rounds are excellent for plinking cans and paper at the range, shooters looking to either stretch the legs of their Soviet carbine or use their guns for hunting need something better.

Ideally, this means a more precisely loaded round with a ballistic tip. Something that can both perform more consistently and more efficiently dump its energy into the target. After testing scores of soft-point and hollow point rounds from a handful of manufacturers, I finally found one that outperforms the rest in terms of accuracy and terminal ballistics.

Made-Grade Kalashnikov?

Enter, the 123gr Hornady SST Steel Match.

Hornady takes primed steel cases from Eastern Europe, and tops them with their award-winning SST round along with an ultra-precise amount of powder. The result is a match-grade 7.62x39mm round with top-tier terminal ballistics.

In testing, the SST round cut the group size of my Chinese military SKS by more than 40%. Shrinking my 3.8 MOA groups down to an incredible 1.5 minutes of angle. While a 1.5 MOA gun isn’t a huge deal to AR shooters, that’s damn impressive from an SKS.

Wolf, Yugoslavian brass and a round of Hornady's SST ammo.

Wolf, Yugoslavian brass and a round of Hornady’s SST ammo.

The round made such a difference in my SKS, that I was able to reliably hit man-sized targets out to 500 yards with an optic. Previously, I would see rounds careen off target at that distance regardless of hold. So much so, that it was painfully obvious it was a matter of the gun limiting the shooter.

Further testing revealed that the Hornady rounds were on average twice as consistent as Wolf and Tula in terms of standard deviation of velocity. This translated to vastly superior accuracy out of both the SKS and the Arsenal SGL-21 used for testing.

Hunting with an AK-47?

After seeing more qualified ballisticians test the terminal performance of soft-point and hollow-point 7.62x39mm ammunition from Russian, I felt it was possibly unethical to hunt with these rounds.

With the SST ammunition’s release, and past experience with the round, I’m certain these are phenomenal hunting rounds. So a few years back, I took my Arsenal SGL-21 hunting with a 5-round magazine loaded up with Hornady’s SST rounds.  A single shot behind the left shoulder of a 210-lb doe at 55 yards put the animal down within seconds.

SGL-21

With proper ammo, optics and magazines, the AKM is capable of reaching out beyond most shooter’s natural abilities.

I don’t relish any creature suffering, so I was impressed and satisfied with the round’s ability to dissipate its energy into the animal with plenty of penetration.  

AKModified

While it has been popular to joke that, “Rifle is fine!” for years, but that reality of the AKM is that it could use some help in the ergonomics, precision and optics departments. While the gun is very functional and effective as it arrives from the factory, shooters who spend a little more money and time on the gun will find its far more capable than they originally believed.

  • Walter Williams

    Good read. I have are POS I.O. AKM247. Front sight is canted, rear sight moves left and right. I bought a UTG side mount on clearance dirt cheap. I will pay attention to the alignment of the red dot I put on it. I have one of the Primary Arms 3X7.62×39 retical scopes. It is going on a PSA AR47.

    Thanks for the article!

  • Moe Less

    “…and tops them with their award-winning SST round along with an ultra-precise amount of powder.”
    A “round” is a loaded cartridge, ready to fire. The part Hornady places atop a steel case is called a bullet, a slug, a projectile, et al. With it installed in the case, with powder and primer, they have produced a “round.” Just trying to help the new writer out with terminology.