An inside-the-action look at the ARK, the Creative Arms AK-47 variant built for long-range accuracy.
What is Creative Arms’ ARK And How Can It Reach Out:
- The rifle is an AK-47, AR-15 hybrid
- Creative Arms machines all parts in house for a superb fit
- Incorporates a full-length Picatinny rail system to stabilize optics
- Built around AK-style bolt, carrier group and trunnion for reliability
- AR-15 pattern fire-control group that can use drop-in triggers
Want an Accurate AK-47? Don’t bother packing your passport to go east to the Red Square. Instead, just pack an appetite for everything corn-flavored and head to Iowa.
You see, for more than 2 years I tried to answer the question: Can an AK-47 shoot to 500 yards accurately? A few manufacturers I talked to liked the idea of trying to prove it, but one by one they all backed away. Then, a few months ago, I met Bob Folkestad, owner of Creative Arms headquartered in Des Moines, Iowa. I asked him the same question, and his answer was, “Yes.” In fact, I think his verbatim answer was: “Yes, come out to Iowa and we’ll do it in the morning, then I’ll take you to the Iowa State Fair.”
So, I jumped on a redeye to the Hawkeye state, slept fast, and then walked 500 yards downr ange, stood in an old-school range pit, and watched two of Bob’s rifles — one known as an “ARK,” which is a AK/AR hybrid, and the other one more an AK-47 purist’s rendition first created by Arsenal and then tweaked by the staff at Creative Arms — shoot a little less than 5-inch, five-shot groups with off-the-shelf factory-loaded Hornady 123-grain 7.62x39mm ammunition. We promptly went to the Iowa State Fair afterward.
It sounds rather casual — because it was. You see, things really were that simple in Iowa for Bob. He knew his guns were accurate, and he knew I’d like to see my first Midwestern state fair. The fact that he guided me through both mind-blowing experiences so matter-of-factly speaks to just how routine building accurate guns is for him.
Centering On Creative Arms
To understand Bob’s guns, it helps to understand how and why Bob started building them in the first place. “The idea for building my own guns probably started in my mind when I was really young,” Bob said. “My grandfather worked at John Deere in the ‘experimental designing’ department, and he was also an amateur rifle builder — and we shot very often.”
Indeed, if you’ve ever worked on a farm, you understand how and why Bob’s unique kind of agricultural ingenuity played so well into building better guns. Tools need to work every day, year-around on a farm. It’s not a matter of convenience to build something right — it’s the standard — because farm work, frankly, is just too damn hard to tolerate junk.
Thus, for Bob, the engineering transition from farm machinery to firearms, rooted in a keen sense of craftmanship and durability, was easy because it was led by his passion for shooting.
More AK-47 Info, Comrade:
- AK-12: Is This The Final AK?
- AK-74: Soviet Blaster for the 5.45x39mm Cartridge
- Oddities: The AK Bullpup?
- Testing the Potential of AK Accuracy
- AK Upgrades To Trick Out Your Kalashnikov
“I have always had a love for guns, and I’ve had the privilege to sell them to some cool manufactures and distributors,” added Bob. “It just snowballed into something bigger because we already had the engineering and machining capability. That’s how it started: tools, AR receivers, ARK rifle, complete billet AR receiver sets and guns, suppressors and AR10’s. Prior to Creative Arms, I built AK’s for my personal use and still build a limited quantity per year myself for customers.”
The ‘Long-Range’ AK
Back to 500-yard minute-of-angle-accurate AKs: Building one isn’t as complicated as you might think. Historically, the AK platform simply hasn’t been needed to do work at longer ranges, and the downrange energy of the 7.62x39mm cartridge is the chain that yanks on the AK’s capability collar, not necessarily the platform’s accuracy capabilities. Either through myth, urban legend, ignorance or hate, the 7.62x39mm cartridge and its AK platform has a reputation for being, well … just good enough to be broadside-of-a-Baryshnikov accurate.
However, both the cartridge and the weapons platform are far more accurate than we may realize (or are willing to admit), especially if your knowledge of Russian military heritage doesn’t include the common usage of names like Vasily Zaytsev, Stepan Vasilievich Petrenko, Vasilij Ivanovich Golosov, Fyodor Trofimovich Dyachenko, Fyodor Matveyevich Okhlopkov, Mikhail Ivanovich Budenkov, Vladimir Nikolaevich Pchelintsev, Ivan Nikolayevich Kulbertinov, Nikolay Yakovlevich Ilyin or Ivan Mihailovich Sidorenko.
“The AK is accurate, and that’s the truth,” Bob said. “Most shooters do not like the shorter sight radius and grew up shooting guns with a longer site radius. Given that, it seems that pistol shooters shoot AKs very well.”
Some more truth — and this shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone reading a firearms magazine, accuracy — is that accuracy isn’t as much about the design of a firearm as much as it is the quality of the operator and how well the firearm is built to begin with.
“Realistically, accuracy is about training and the quality of the gun,” Bob said. “You do get what you pay for, so a $500 surplus AK with a cheap barrel is not going to shoot as well as a gun that has a $300-400 barrel. We make our own barrels for the ARK and AKs, but others, such as Faxon, make some really high-quality barrels that shoot well. So, to prioritize, the barrel is the most important item in the gun and it needs to be backed up with a high-quality bolt and trunnion.
“The next most important items are the trigger and optics mounting,” added Folkestad. “Again, AKs are accurate, though its optics-mounting options are not as stable as traditional Picatinny rail systems. You cannot cantilever a scope over 4-6 inches and expect it to be as solid as a scope solid-mounted to rails, so a stamped AK with a side scope mount is not as stable as our ARK, milled AK or an AK with a Kreb’s-type rail.”
Dissecting The AK Cluster
Bob is a lover of all things AK. So, for his fellow AK fans, he has some simple advice as to what he would do with any AK presented to him to make it as accurate as it can be.
“AKs are relatively straight-forward, so if someone sent me a gun, we want to make sure it has a good barrel — that’s most important,” Bob said. “Then, I would polish the moving surfaces, de-burr the trunnion, bolt head and bolt carrier. I would change the trigger (CMC or ALG). Most AKs have bad paint that does not hold up to some gun-cleaning chemicals, so we generally shot peen blast and Cerakote them, too.”
Like any firearm platform, there are AKs that can be bought at entry-level prices, then then there are AKs that fall into the, “Honey, we’re going to miss our mortgage payment this month” category. To help put some parameters on all of this, I flat-out asked Bob this question: “What does an inexpensive AK get me, versus one that will cost a good chunk of change?”
According to Bob, what’s true in any business is true in the AK world. “Time spent doing a good job makes the difference,” he said. “Many guns are good but not finished well. Many have good barrels, but the finish leaves something to be desired. Most high-end guys do not make all of their parts, and that’s where we’re a little different because we have all the CNC machinery in-house to build anything we want, anytime.”
Defining The ARK
I keep talking about an ARK, so let’s take a look at what an ARK is: In short, the ARK name makes it sound a lot like an AR and an AK all mixed together, and that’s exactly what it is. It’s a Creative Arms firearm which, according to Bob, takes the best of the AR platform and merges it with the best of the AK platform.
“It is kind of a long story,” said Bob. “We were doing some design work for Brownells and we ended up getting our 07 FFL and SOT. The guys in the shop wanted to build some AR’s — so I let them — and then I thought about the AR and the AK. At that time there were not many good trigger options for the AK, so I thought wow, ‘Let’s build a milled receiver AK that has an AR trigger group, full-length rail system and a buffer-tube-style stock mount.’
“After four patents, $500k-plus and a few years … we got It dialed in to be a cool sporting rifle,” Folkestad added. “Our thought was that there were enough AR variants in the market. We build many AR-15 and AR-10 style rifles, as well as OEM rifles for several other manufactures, so this was something different in the market.”
When Creative Arms was designing the ARK, they stuck with the 7.62x39mm cartridge purposely. “The 7.62×39 is cheap to shoot and a good round for midsized game out to about 250 yards,” Bob said. “We make .300 Blackout and 5.56 NATO in ARs, and at the time we were working on the ARK there was a big ban on ammo in 5.45x39mm, so we did not use that caliber. However, we can make the ARK in 5.45x39mm, but it’s a limited market due to lower-priced ammo and most Americans would rather shoot an AR variant.”
Now, let’s make one thing clear. Creative Arms, Bob Folkestad — and even little ole me, the gun writer — know quite well that an ARK is not an AK-47. It’s an AK hybrid. We also know that the AK following is by far the most boisterous in the firearms community, so how they reacted to the ARK was absolutely noticed by Creative Arms.
So, how did the AK crowd react?
“They love it or they hate it,” said Bob. “I am an AK purist personally, and I have 20 or so in my personal collection from several countries and calibers. AK owners do not drink the same Kool Aid as the AR guys do — they’re much tougher on any AK variants that are new. If it’s from the (former) Eastern Block countries or Russia, they love them. Dedicated AK shooters pick apart my guns — until they shoot one.”
So, if you’re not a card-carrying member of the “AK-47 or nothing” crowd, how do you decide between an ARK or an AK platform to blow through a few cases of 7.62x39mm ammunition? Even for Bob, it’s a hard question.
“It’s like buying tennis shoes: What do you want?” said Bob. “Our guns are 100 percent USA made, we make our own bolts, carrier, trunnion, gas tube, receiver, rails and handguards. It’s a solid gun, and to make it this way we needed to bring everything in-house. If a potential buyer wants to put an optic on a sporting rifle in 7.62×39, add a rail and have countless furniture, grip and trigger options — then the ARK is a good platform.”
For more information on Creative Arms, please visit www.creativearms.com.
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.
Dominating the 20th-century battlefield and beyond, the AK-47 is arguably the world’s most influential rifle. Now you can discover how the elegantly simple weapon beat the odds to become the legend it is today in AK-47: Survival and Evolution of the World’s Most Prolific Gun. Former Soviet Spetsnaz Solider Marco Vorobiev details the rich history of the rifle, its design and dissemination across the globe, and how it survived both inside political pressures and constant competition from newer firearm designs in this definitive volume. Learn more