All AK-pattern rifles use a long-stroke gas-piston system of operation. The gas bled from the barrel directly impacts a long, chrome-plated steel piston that is permanently affixed to the bolt carrier and charging handle. This carries the rotating bolt, which features two locking lugs on its face. When fired, the operating rod, handle and unlocked bolt move back as one unit, improving the rifle’s reliability in field conditions.
This is nevertheless a lot of mass slamming back and forth, which can increase perceived recoil and shift point of aim, affecting accuracy. Indeed, AKs are not generally admired for their accuracy, although they are capable of achieving very good results. The effect of this system on reliability is undeniable however, and is one of the AK’s key strengths. The rifle’s inherent reliability is attributed to its design and basic method of operation. No need to look for lots of extraneous controls or ambidextrous add-ons — there aren’t any, really.
Loading and Firing
The standard AK magazine uses a staggered column design in which the cartridges sit diagonally one above the other. This maximizes the magazine capacity. The feed lip at the top of the magazine uses this staggered column system to keep the rounds in place until they are pushed forward from the rear. As a result, the opening at the top of the mag is wide enough so that rounds can be inserted straight down and will stay in place.
Unlike a pistol or single-column magazine where the rounds have to be inserted at the front and then pushed down and back under the feed lip, AK magazines load like an AR: just push the rounds straight down. This makes loading easy and allows for the use of various speedloaders — you can load the magazines from a pre-loaded 10-round stripper clip using an adaptor.
To place the magazine into the rifle, the system is very different than what American shooters are accustomed. The AK mag must by inserted by first placing the front lip inside the receiver and rocking it back so that it locks into place. This can provide a loose or tight fit, depending on the make of the rifle and magazines.
To remove the magazine, simply press forward on the paddle release behind the magazine and rock it forward and out. The mag will not simply drop free when you press the release, as it is still hooked at the front.
To load a round, make sure that the safety is in the down/off position. When the safety is in the up/on position, it blocks both the trigger and bolt handle. The right-side charging handle protrudes for easy manipulation. Pull it all the way back and release it to load the rifle. As the charging handle is attached to the bolt, it can be used as a forward assist as well. Since it is attached to the gas tube, it will reciprocate when the rifle is fired, so left-handed shooters should beware.
If you are not immediately going to fire the rifle, the safety should be engaged. The right-side safety is a simple latch that you push up to engage, down to fire. There is no bolt hold open device, and the bolt will not remain open on an empty magazine (unless you are using one of those Yugoslavian mags).
The rear sight can be adjusted for elevation using a slide mechanism. The front sight can be adjusted for elevation as well. Actually, the front sight can be adjusted for windage, too, but this requires a special tool, and it should have been at least bore-sighted at the factory, so adjustment should not be needed.
The trigger fires the gun. You squeeze it.
These are all the basic controls on a standard AK. However, some customized AKs and newer variants may include thumb-operated safeties, improved magazine releases and ambidextrous charging handles which may or may not reciprocate. Make sure to become familiar with the operation of your specific rifle.
This article is an excerpt from…
With the release of the Gun Digest Guide to the Modern AK, no longer is the Russian-designed AK-47 rifle merely a cobbled clunker pressed into service by dusty rebels in Third-World war zones. Now, author Jorge Amselle presents the AK as a state-of-the-art firearm, with endless accessories and upgrades, used by the most elite shooting schools. Get Your Copy