The famous Serbian arms plant Zastava continues to keep the U.S. market supplied with AKs that are well-built, fairly priced, and relatively easy to find.
Who Is Zastava Arms?
- Storied Serbian weapons factory founded in 1853.
- Produced arms used prominently in wars past and present.
- Supplier of civilian and military markets.
- Good reputation for well-built AKs.
- Currently import AKs, bolt action rifles, and pistols.
We’re all aware of the current state of the U.S. firearm market. The run on guns and ammo this past year has left many scrambling to fill holes in their collection they feared may never get filled. This was especially true for AR and AK-style firearms, due to the uncertainty of their futures. Overnight, an executive order could ban the popular semi-automatics or simply cut off firearms imports. Either of which would deal a death blow to the availability of quality Kalashnikovs. These threats help explain why so many people were willing to pay significantly more for an imported AK than they were during previous years. For several months during the scare, if you were trying to buy a foreign-produced AK, you were lucky to even find a new one in stock.
When it comes to quality AKs currently being imported, your options are essentially Cugir from Romania, Zastava from Serbia, or WBP Fox from Poland. Russian and Chinese guns are off the table due to sanctions. Bulgarian Arsenals are either no longer imported or are imported in scant quantities. AKs from smaller producers—Hungary, Egypt, Finland—are no longer options either.
Between Cugir, Zastava, and WBP Fox, which is the highest-quality AK is debatable. When it comes to quantity, there is no doubt—Zastava wins the numbers race stateside. The Serbian guns so saturate the market that if you bought a foreign-made AK this past year, odds are it's a Zastava.
The Long Zastava History
Zastava Arms got their start in the mid-19th century, at first producing cannons. From there, the company expanded to small-arms manufacturing and produced guns used in both world wars. In all, the company operated continuously for more than 150 years. Though, a good portion of those was as a part of Yugoslavia. The history of Yugoslavia is a complex one and not the focus of this article, however, some of the details surrounding it are important to know due to the weapons Zastava made during this era.
Of all the Communist nations to exist, Yugoslavia was unique. They were not a part of the Soviet Union, nor were they members of the Warsaw Pact. The Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia towed a fine line for most of its existence, resisting influence from both Moscow and Washington D.C. The country's member states existed in peace until the death of Prime Minister Josip Tito in 1980. The resulting hardships would escalate into the Yugoslav Wars of the early 1990s and the eventual dissolution of Yugoslavia in that decade. An event that once again left the Zastava Arms factory within Serbian control.
The uniqueness of Yugoslavia is reflected in the very arms they produced. The Kalashnikovs they designed were as different from Russia’s as their own version of socialism was.
The M70, Better Late Than Never
While they successfully produced and tested domestically made AKs before this date, Yugoslavia did not adopt a Kalashnikov as their standard infantry weapon until 1970 with the Zastava AP M70 series of rifles. As the development of the M70 series continued, small changes and improvements were made incrementally culminating in the AP M70B2. Seeing the largest production numbers by far, these are the Zastava rifles known the world over.
There are two variants of these prolific select-fire rifles: AP M70B2 fixed stock model and AP M70AB2 folding stock model. Compared to previous iterations of Yugo AKs, this series’ receivers were stamped from thicker-gauge steel and featured a bulged front trunnion to improve durability.
All M70 rifles were outfitted with grenade-launching capabilities as well, accomplished with a special muzzle device to accommodate a rifle grenade and a gas-cutoff lever that doubles as a grenade sight. Integral to the launching of rifle grenades due to their weight, the gas cutoff lever closes the gas port and ensures 100-percent of the blank cartridge's gasses exit the muzzle. Following Newton’s third law, the extra force necessary to launch a rifle grenade imparts just as much energy back into the rifle. Thus the thicker receiver and bulged trunnion of the M70B2, a design point making the rifle more resistant to excess recoil.
One of the most distinctive features of any Yugo-pattern AK is the non-standard furniture. Instantly recognizable, Yugoslavian AKs feature longer handguards with three vent holes as opposed to the standard two. The pistol grip is made of black plastic and is differently shaped than bakelite or wooden grips that most countries produced. The fixed-stock model’s wooden buttstock also has a different profile and length of pull. Due to the way each piece of furniture is installed, pistol grips of any origin can be attached to an M70, but handguards and buttstocks must be specifically intended for Yugo-pattern rifles.
While AKs of all makes and models are found scattered across the world, Yugoslavian AKs are especially well-traveled. Zastava exports to over 40 different nations and M70 rifles can be seen in the hands of both government forces and their opposition across the Middle East and Africa. The M70’s prominence during the lawless years of the Yugoslav Wars also resulted in plenty circulating on the black market, as well.
More Than The M70
Zastava produces more than AK-pattern M70 rifles, including several popular pistols and rifles here in the United States, including:
- Zastava M48: A clone of the German Karabiner 98k bolt action, this rifle is one of the more abundant and affordable Mauser-style rifles you can find in the U.S. Produced after WWII, this was Yugoslavia’s service rifle until the adoption of the M59.
- Zastava M59/66: A Yugoslavian produced SKS clone. It’s one of the more common SKS varieties to be found in America and can usually be recognized by its distinctive rifle grenade muzzle device.
- Zastava M76: Yugoslavia’s designated marksman rifle. Chambered in 8mm Mauser like their M48, this technically is also an AK-pattern weapon, just larger and outfitted with a scope. Some have been imported into the U.S., but they are not very common.
- Zastava M91: This DMR replaced the M76 in Yugoslavian service. Now chambered in 7.62x54r and more aesthetically similar to the SVD it takes inspiration from. Despite the visual similarities to the SVD, the M91 still uses a scaled-up AK action like the M76 and shares nothing in common internally with a Dragunov. This rifle is still currently being imported.
- Zastava M57: A Tokarev pistol clone that is yet again distinctly Yugoslavian compared to other TT variants. These are abundant in the United States, both old surplus imports as well as newly produced versions. They are available in both the original 7.62x25mm chambering as well as 9mm.
- Zastava ZPAP92: Based on their M92 carbine, this is Zastava’s 7.62x39mm semi-auto pistol AK. These are also currently imported.
- Zastava M90 and ZPAP85: The 5.56x45mm versions of the Z-PAP rifle and ZPAP92 pistol, respectively. The ZPAP85 is currently imported, and the M90 for the U.S. civilian market will be imported in the future.
Over the years Zastava guns have been brought in by several different importers, but with the creation of Zastava Arms USA in 2019, they became the sole importer of Zastava products out of Serbia. Now Zastava has a direct line of communications with their sizeable American market and can better listen to what consumers want. Perhaps this is the reason why Zastava AKs have been easier to find in stock this past year compared to their competition. Neither Cugir nor WBP Fox has the means to listen and respond to their customer base as well Zastava now can with their American branch.
The semi-auto imports of M70 rifles are known in the United States as the PAP series. When it comes to early Zastava imports there are PAPs, N-PAPs, and O-PAPs. The current M70 imports are called Z-PAPs. If you are in the market for a Yugoslavian-pattern AK, the Z-PAP is the way to go unless you want an underfolder model. Some of the variants imported before the Z-PAP had issues that the Z-PAP seems to have corrected, so do your homework before buying an older PAP model. The currently-imported Z-PAPs seem to be the highest quality semi-auto AKs Zastava have ever sent to the U.S., so as long as the fixed-stock variant is alright with you, this is the model to get (not to mention that newer ones are far easier to find as well).
Another example of how Zastava USA can respond to their customers’ wishes is that the Z-PAP now features a chrome-lined barrel. Yugoslavian AKs infamously did not have chrome-lined barrels as most other variants did, and while this is not necessarily a problem unless you are firing corrosive ammo, Americans wanted a chromed barrel so Zastava delivered. This is another advantage of the Z-PAP over older PAP models.
Current Zastava Imports
Zastava USA has more than AK variants for sale, they also have Zastava-made handguns and bolt-action rifles. Their AKs that are currently available include three 7.62×39 versions- a rifle with wooden furniture, a rifle with polymer furniture, and a pistol. They also have the 5.56 ZPAP85 pistol and the 7.62x54r M91 rifle. They offer three kinds of bolt action rifles and have a few varieties each of their Tokarev and CZ99 handguns.
Zastava-made AKs not only continue to be a good choice, but they may be the best they’ve ever been. Zastava Arms of Serbia and their newly formed Zastava USA branch seem to be going after the American AK market hard in terms of both the quality and quantity of their rifles. Their Z-PAPs are arguably the nicest new AKs on the market right now and are more abundant than WASRs or Foxes. For those looking to grab a foreign-made AK before it's too late, Zastava is definitely a name to consider.
For more information on Zastava Arms, please visit zastavaarmsusa.com.
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