June 2016

American-Made AK-47 Rifles Compete

Can American engineering and manufacturing enhance the iconic Soviet rifle? In this test of two generations of rifles from PSA and a Century Arms RAS47 Magpul-Zhukov model, we find out.

At one time AKs were made from de-milled parts kits or shipped into the U.S., then rebuilt with a specific number of U.S. parts to make it 922r compliant, and they still are today. But depending on what company remanufactured the rifle, the rifle might look like an AK-47 semi-automatic, but not work like one. In recent years the cost and availability of quality AKs have gone up and good ones can sometimes be difficult to acquire. Two U.S. manufacturers, however, have seen the need to fill shooters’ demands for a well-made AK-47 that has all the durability of the iconic rifle and at a reasonable cost.

It seems an oxymoron to say “American-made AK,” but Century Arms and Palmetto State Armory (PSA) are building AK-47s out of 100-percent U.S.-made parts. These are not former military or new import weapons made 922r compliant, but truly U.S.-made AK rifles built in Vermont by Century and in South Carolina by PSA. The two companies designed their rifles using an amalgamation of AK designs from a variety of countries including Russia, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, Romania, China, and others, taking what was best and incorporating the good ideas into the domestic designs.

We ran three U.S.-made AKs head to head to see how we liked them, or not: They were the PSA AK-47 MOE Edition ($749), a Century Arms RAS47 Magpul-Zhukov ($800), and a PSA AK-47 Gen2 Classic Red ($849) with Magpul and surplus magazines. The RAS47 Magpul-Zhukov (above) offered an excellent stock and furniture set-up, but the side-mount optic rail did not work with a Russian-built PK-01 VS red dot from Kalinka Optics (kalinkaoptics.com), so we ran them all with open sights. The optic worked with the PSA rifles. We found a lot to like with all three rifles and would not hesitate purchasing any of the models tested.

We wanted to look at this new breed of American AK, so we scrounged up a pair of Palmetto State Armory rifles and a Century rifle. The rifles ranged from two that were set up with modern Magpul polymer furniture and a third with a more traditional wood appointments.

The AK-47 was designed and prototyped in 1947 and adopted by the Soviet Union in 1949. The design actually borrows from the M1 Garand and German Sturmgewehr StG 44, both of which were issued in WWII. The M1 Garand saw extensive service with G.I.s, while the StG 44 saw limited service when it began to be issued in 1943. The AK design incorporates a long-stroke gas piston and rotary bolt. The idea behind the AK-47 was to design a weapon that was reliable, durable, simple to maintain, relatively accurate, and inexpensive to manufacture. The AK-47 meets all those criteria hands down. Like the StG 44 and M1 Carbine, the AK-47 was a turning point in military weaponry. Shorter, more compact weapons with close to mid-range accuracy was the way wars were being fought. Heavy, large-caliber rifles were not as effective. The AK-47 shoots the 7.62x39mm cartridge, which was also influenced by other countries, namely the cartridge used in the German StG 44, the 7.92x33mm Kurz, and the U.S. M1 carbine in 30 Carbine. In terms of power and trajectory the 7.62x39mm is similar to the venerable 30-30 Winchester.

Some AK characteristics that U.S. shooters need to get used to is the bolt does not lock back on the last shot fired; the safety is a large lever located on the right side of receiver; magazines need to be rotated and locked in place; and the magazine may need to be stripped away, as some magazines fall free when the magazine is released and some do not. The open sights on all AKs, even these three, looked slightly bent. The sights were perfectly zeroed, but slightly bent sights are another characteristic U.S. shooters must acclimate to. The three rifles tested all used stamped receivers, which was what the original AK design called for. Milled receivers were used in the interim. Century offers a line of milled-receiver AKs in the C39v2 line. Milled receivers offer less flex than stamped receivers during recoil, which can aid in accuracy. Milled receivers are also heavier, so felt recoil is lessened. Milled receivers are also more expensive compared to stamped receiver models.

There can be strong opinions about AK-47s from U.S. shooters, but the fact is the AK is probably the most prolific combat rifle currently fielded. One of our team members who is a Gulf War veteran said if he could have only one gun it would be an AK-47 due to the rifle’s reliability and the better terminal ballistics of 7.62x39mm compared to the 5.56x45mm NATO/223 Remington. Yes, there is more recoil with the Russian cartridge, and it is not as accurate as the 5.56/223, but it has more power, and typical accuracy is 4 minutes of angle (MOA), which is plenty accurate for defensive purposes and hunting at moderate distances. We also had diehard AR fans in our test group who gained a respect for the AK platform. In terms of performance, there was nothing lost in translation with these AKs as testers grew a little more tolerant.

We fired the three AKs using open sights, with some members using a Strike Hard (StrikeHardGear.com) AK chest rig. The rig uses an x-harness and holds four magazines with a shock cord retention system. The weight of fully loaded magazines is comfortable with the rig. Here are the details about how each rifle performed during our head-to-head testing:

Palmetto State Armory AK-47 MOE Edition 7.62x39mm, $749

GUN TESTS GRADE: A

This AK with modern Magpul furniture updated the design; accuracy was acceptable, as well as the price.

Palmetto State Armory AK-47 MOE Edition

ACTION TYPE Semi-automatic long stroke gas piston
OVERALL LENGTH 35.25 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT 8 in.
WEIGHT UNLOADED 6.7 lbs.
WEIGHT LOADED (w/ 30-rd mag) 8.2 lbs.
BARREL 16.2 in. long; 4150 steel; 1:9.5 twist; melonite finish
MUZZLE DEVICE Slant brake, 14-1 LH Threads
BUTTSTOCK Black Magpul MOE AK
LENGTH OF PULL 12.8 in.
HANDGUARD Black Magpul MOE AK
GRIP Black Magpul MOE AK
RECEIVER Stamped blue steel
MAGAZINE (1) Magpul PMAG, 30 rounds
REAR SIGHT Tangent leaf; elevation adjustable
FRONT SIGHT Winged post, windage adjustable
SIGHT RADIUS 15 in.
TRIGGER 5.5 lbs., mil-spec, single-stage, double hook
SAFETY 2-position lever
WARRANTY Limited lifetime
TELEPHONE (803) 724-6950
WEBSITE PalmettoStateArmory.com
MADE BY Palmetto State Armory, USA

Palmetto State Armory AK-47 MOE Edition

The PSA rifles used standard braided-wire trigger springs.

Looking at the rifle out of the box, our team thought the PSA AK-47 MOE Edition would cost almost twice the list price, and that was because of the finish and the Magpul MOE furniture. The blued finish was excellent. The AK-47 MOE rifle looked fine from muzzle to butt with blued metal and the modern polymer buttstock and furniture. The MOE furniture gave the old AK platform a refreshingly new look and feel. The handguard, we thought, allowed for a better grip since it was ribbed and had an integrated heat shield to protect the shooter from barrel heat from excessive firing. The fixed stock was a good length of pull at 12.8 inches, though the tall shooters would have liked a slightly longer LOP. The stock has a hidden compartment under the cheek rest to store small items. An optional cheek riser can also be added at additional cost (Magpul.com; $9.95). It also had a rubber buttpad. The pistol grip was a Magpul MOE, also with a storage compartment. We liked the furniture and thought it gave the AK better ergonomics than traditional wood. The Magpul MOE lightened the AK to 6.7 pounds; the Classic Red with wood stock/furniture weighed 9 pounds, and the Century 9.6 pounds.

Palmetto State Armory AK-47 MOE Edition

SOP on the MOE: Easy to take apart and clean.

Test members also noticed the smoothness of the action. It cycled slickly and was super smooth. The safety lever did not drag over the side receiver and it was precise. On some rebuilds we have found the safety selector drags along the side of the receiver and can be loose, not providing confidence. A cleaning rod and one Magpul mag were included.

The PSA AK-47 MOE employed a 1-millimeter-thick stamped heat-treated carbon-steel receiver with a side mount that allows a shooter to attach an optic. We used a Russian-built PK-01 VS red dot optic from Kalinka Optics and found the optic sat low and just above the dust cover. A good set up. When we found that the PK-01 did not lock in place on the Century rifle we decided to keep the playing field level and test with open sights. But this was a major plus, in our eyes.

Palmetto State Armory AK-47 MOE Edition

The MOE’s short handguard exposed the gas tube; a metal heat shield is built in.

Palmetto State Armory AK-47 MOE Edition

The MOE grip provides better ergonomics over the standard AK pistol grip.

A 16.2-inch 4150 steel barrel that was Melonite treated had six-groove rifling with a 1:9.5 twist. The classic slanted muzzle brake was attached onto the barrel’s muzzle. Sights were traditional, with an 800-meter rear sight and adjustable front sight. The trigger was an ALG single-stage model with a smooth press and shorter pull than the standard AK trigger. Its required a 5.5-pound press to fire. It had initial take up but a relatively clean break. The MOE edition also used a standard magazine release. We used both polymer Magpul and aluminum Polish surplus magazines and had no issues inserting the magazines or running the AK on the magazines. We ran the AK hard and it performed.

Palmetto State Armory AK-47 MOE Edition

The MOE, along with the other rifles, has standard sights.

Using a rest at 100 yards we were able to get three-shot groups under 4 inches with Hornady steel case ammo and steel case Wolf ammo, which we thought was good accuracy considering we were using open sights and the triggers was not designed for precision work.

Our Team Said: The PSA MOE edition clearly updated the handling and balance of the AK-47 platform. The action was smooth, the side optic mount made equipping the rifle with a red dot or low-power optic easy. Some liked the Magpul-Zhukov stock better.

Century Arms RAS47 Magpul-Zhukov 7.62x39mm, $800

GUN TESTS GRADE: A-

The RAS47 with Magpul-Zhukov furniture really enhanced the AK design, especially with the adjustable stock.

Century arms RAS47 Magpul-Zhukov

ACTION TYPE Semi-automatic long stroke gas piston
OVERALL LENGTH FOLDED 25.5 in.
OVERALL LENGTH (min./max) 34.75 to 37.25 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT 8.15 in.
WEIGHT UNLOADED 8.2 lbs.
WEIGHT LOADED (w/ 30-rd mag) 9.6 lbs.
BARREL 16.2 in. long, 4150 steel, 1:10 twist, nitride finish
MUZZLE DEVICE Slant brake, 14-1 LH
BUTTSTOCK Adjustable black Magpul Zhukov
LENGTH OF PULL 12 to 14.75 in.
HANDGUARD Black Magpul Zhukov
GRIP Black textured Magpul MOE AK
RECEIVER Stamped blue steel
MAGAZINE (1) Magpul PMAG, 30 rounds
REAR SIGHT Tangent leaf, elevation adjustable
FRONT SIGHT Winged post, windage adjustable
SIGHT RADIUS 15 in.
TRIGGER 5.4 lbs., single stage, double hook RAK-1 enhanced
SAFETY 2-pos. lever w/ bolt hold-open notch
WARRANTY 1 year
TELEPHONE (800) 527-1252
WEBSITE CenturyArms.com
MADE BY Century International, USA

Century arms RAS47 Magpul-Zhukov

There’s no doubt the Century Arms RAS47 is made in America.

The RAS47 was slightly different from the PSA rifles. Century Arms outfitted the RAS47 with polymer Magpul furniture, part of which was a longer handguard that hid the gas tube and allowed shooters to grasp the handguard closer to the front sight like some shooters do with ARs.

The Zhukov stock folded and locked to the right side of the receiver, allowing users to operate the rifle with the stock in the folded position. The stock also had an adjustable length of pull, and like the MOE stock, was compatible with an optional cheek riser for an additional cost. It also had a rubber recoil pad. We liked this stock because it allowed the rifle to be more easily stowed in a bug-out bag yet still be ready for action. The opening and closing mechanism of the stock was easy on the fingers and operated smoothly and locked opened or closed with confidence.

Century arms RAS47 Magpul-Zhukov

Notice the cut out (arrow) that allows the bolt to be held open.

The stock and furniture also made the RAS47 the heaviest of the three rifles tested at 8.2 pounds unloaded; 9.6 with a fully loaded magazine. We felt the added weight and the design of the recoil rod and bolt carrier helped reduce felt recoil. We did note that Century Arms offers an RAS47 set up with Magpul MOE furniture and PSA offers a model with Zhukov furniture, so the butt stocks and furniture are not exclusive to either manufacturer.

The action on the Century Arms was as smooth as the action in the PSA rifles. Field-stripping the RAS47 was familiar, but when we started to remove parts, we noticed the recoil rod was a two-piece set up with one nesting into the other during recoil. We also noticed the bolt carrier had two cuts in it to reduce weight. The piston was also chrome plated.

Century arms RAS47 Magpul-Zhukov

The longer handguard hid the gas tube and allowed shooters to grasp the handguard closer to the front sight, and aid to accuracy.

Other details that separated the Century Arms from the PSA rifles was a bolt hold-open notch on the safety selector. This notch allows the bolt to be held open, making administrative tasks on the range safer. The magazine release was also T-shaped so it had more surface area to operate for both left- and right-hand shooters. The trigger is a RAK-1 enhanced single-stage trigger group that cleanly broke at 5.4 pounds after a bit of initial take up. It was operated by a standard, non-braided wire spring. We slightly favored the Century Arms’s trigger. There was also no retaining plate like there was in the PSA rifles.

The receiver was made of 0.0625-inch-thick stamped 4140 steel. As mentioned, the optic side mount did not work with our Russian red dot. We docked the Century Arms points due to this, and we have since learned Century Arms will now equip rifles with a new side scope mount. The barrel was chrome moly 4150 steel with a 1:10-inch twist rate and the standard slant muzzle brake. It screwed off so other muzzle attachments could be used. The barrel was nitride treated. The blued finish was well executed.

Century arms RAS47 Magpul-Zhukov

The RAK-1 enhanced single stage trigger is operated by a standard, non-braided wire spring (arrow).

At the range we noticed the recoil of the RAS47 was slightly less due to the weight of the rifle and lightened bolt carrier. There was less weight moving back and forth to operate the mechanism, and it was most noticeable in firing sequences where we shot for speed.

Our Team Said: We had absolutely no issues with the RAS47. It fed off the Magpul and surplus magazines with ease and liked the Tula Ammo and Hornady ammo best. We are able to shoot about 3.5-inch three-shot groups with this ammo and averaged just slightly under 4 inches at 100 yards. The RAS47 with the Magpul-Zhukov stock and furniture brought the handling and balance of the AK-47 platform squarely into the 21st century. The action was smooth. The non-functioning optic side mount caused us to lower the grade.

Palmetto State Armory AK-47 Gen2 Classic Red 7.62x39mm, $849

 GUN TESTS GRADE: B+

The Classic Red with beautiful wood furniture was a more traditional AK design that performed well, but showed its age in dated ergonomics.

Palmetto State Armory AK-47 Gen2 Classic Red

ACTION TYPE Semi-automatic long stroke gas piston
OVERALL LENGTH (min./max) 35.25 in.
OVERALL HEIGHT 8 in.
WEIGHT UNLOADED 7.5 lbs.
WEIGHT LOADED (w/ 30-round mag) 9 lbs.
BARREL 16.2 in. long, 4150 steel, 1:9.5 twist, melonite finish
MUZZLE DEVICE Slant brake, 14-1 LH Threads
BUTTSTOCK Red polished maple, fixed
LENGTH OF PULL 13 in.
HANDGUARD Red polished maple, smooth
GRIP Red polished maple, smooth
RECEIVER Blued, stamped
MAGAZINE (1) Magpul PMAG, 30 rounds
REAR SIGHT Tangent leaf, elevation adjustable
FRONT SIGHT Winged post, windage adjustable
SIGHT RADIUS 15 in.
TRIGGER 5.4 lbs., single stage
SAFETY Double hook RAK-1 enhanced 
WARRANTY 1 year
TELEPHONE (800) 527-1252
WEBSITE CenturyArms.com
MADE BY Century International, USA

Palmetto State Armory AK-47 Gen2 Classic Red

The magazine release is standard size; the RAS47’s was much larger. Neither of the PSA rifles had a bolt-hold-open notch in the safety selector. The selector on the Classic Red began to scratch the receiver after extensive use.

The PSAK-47 Gen2 Classic Red is a PSA Gen2 model. The MOE tested was Gen1, and with the newer Gen2 models, PSA uses a different manufacturer to build the barrel trunnion.

The Classic Red is close to the original AK design with a traditional wood buttstock and handguards. The birch was nicely mated to the metal and wore a reddish stain like some former Soviet rifles. You can see the grain of the wood. All grip areas were smooth. Traditional lightening cuts are located on the sides of the butt stock and a hard, coarsely-textured buttpad was fitted onto the butt, along with a sling swivel. Traditional cooling slots were also built into the two-piece handguard. The pistol grip was similarly tapered as a traditional grip and was smooth. Test members thought Classic Red looked good. The Classic Red came with a cleaning rod and one Magpul magazine.

Palmetto State Armory AK-47 Gen2 Classic Red

The PK-01 VS red-dot optic from Kalinka Optics mounted effortlessly on both PSA rifles. There are plenty of aftermarket AK mounts that also put a Picatinny rail on top.

Other than the red wood stock and furniture, the Classic Red is similar to the MOE Edition from PSA. It is equipped with a 16.2-inch barrel made of 4150 steel that is Melonite treated and wears the classic slanted muzzle brake that can be screwed off and swapped with something else if the shooter wants that. Sights are classic 800-meter rear sight, adjustable for elevation and the front sight is adjustable for windage. The stamped receiver wears a side mount that allows a user to mount an optic. The Kalinka PK-01 VS red dot mounted with ease, but we tested with open sights. The trigger was an ALG single stage, double hook trigger, same as in the MOE Edition. It too had a clean 5.5-pound break. The bolt carrier group operated smoothly, and the safety selector worked positively. We did note the safety selector dragged along the side of the receiver. It locked positively and was not loose.

Palmetto State Armory AK-47 Gen2 Classic Red

No surprises in the Gen2’s disassembly. One of the favorite aspects of the AK gas design is its simplicity and robust nature. They are not at all finicky, and they’re easy to maintain.

The reddish wood furniture felt good in hand, and the 13-inch LOP on the stock was slightly longer than on the MOE Edition. The Classic Red weighed a total of 7.5 pounds unloaded; 9 pounds in total with a fully loaded 30-round magazine. Disassembling the PSA rifles and the Century rifle followed the standard AK field stripping routine. Push in the recoil spring retainer button to lift off the dust cover. Remove the recoil retaining spring and pull the bolt carrier group and piston out. We needed pliers to rotate the gas-tube lever, which is normal for most AKs we’ve experienced. Both the PSA rifles used a one-piece recoil rod.

AK-47 ammo

It’s fair to say that all three of these AKs were 4-inch guns at 100 yards, which is quite remarkable since we fired groups with iron sights and not optics. The best fodder was the Hornady 7.62x39mm 123-gr. SST round, top middle and displayed. Tula Ammo’s 122-gr. FMJs, left, were best in the Century rifle. Wolf 7.62x39mm 122-gr. hollowpoints were slightly more accurate in the PSA MOE edition.

Our best accuracy with the Classic Red was about 3.9 inches with all the 7.62x39mm test cartridges from Hornady, Wolf, and Tula Ammo. The rifle ran consistently and without incident and did not care what type of magazine was feeding it cartridges. There was less felt recoil with the Classic Red due to the extra weight of the rifle; in fact, we thought it had less felt recoil than the MOE edition. Our petite female tester had no issues handling the rifle. In fact, she had never fired an AK previously and was able to run the Classic Red efficiently. At 25 yards she perforated the center of mass on the target.

Our Team Said: The PSA Classic Red is a good choice for someone who wants a traditionally styled AK. The wood was nice, but we felt the polymer models offered a better grip and better ergonomics.

Range Data

Hornady 7.62x39mm 123-gr. SST PSA AK-47 MOE Edition Century RAS47 Magpul-Zhukov PSA AK-47 Gen2 Classic Red
Average velocity 2144 fps 2151 fps  2154 fps 
Muzzle energy 1256 ft.-lbs.  1264 ft.-lbs.  1267 ft.-lbs. 
Smallest group 3.5 in.  3.5 in.  3.8 in. 
Average group 3.7 in.  3.7 in.  4 in. 
Tula Ammo 7.62x39mm 122-gr. FMJ PSA AK-47 MOE Edition Century RAS47 Magpul-Zhukov PSA AK-47 Gen2 Classic Red
Average velocity 2336 fps 2385 fps  1276 fps 
Muzzke energy 1478 ft.-lbs.  1541 ft.-lbs.  651 ft.-lbs. 
Smallest group 4 in.  3.6 in.  3.9 in. 
Average group 4.6 in.  3.7 in.  4 in. 
Wolf 7.62x39mm 122-gr. HP PSA AK-47 MOE Edition Century RAS47 Magpul-Zhukov PSA AK-47 Gen2 Classic Red
Average velocity 2428 fps  2344 fps  2347 fps 
Muzzle energy  1597 ft.-lbs.  1489 ft.-lbs.  1492 ft.-lbs. 
Smallest group  3.5 in.  3.7 in.  3.9 in. 
Average group  3.8 in.  4 in.  4.1 in. 
To collect accuracy data, we fired three-shot groups from a bench using a rest. Distance: 100 yards with open sights. We recorded velocities using a ProChrono digital chronograph set 15 feet from the muzzle. 

 

Written and photographed by Robert Sadowski, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.

Special thanks to Eastern Outfitters of Hampstead, North Carolina, for their assistance.

Comments (3)

Sjybarra to answer your questions it's got to do with the SKS having a longer barrel which helps with velocity and stabilizing the bullet.

Posted by: Protejay | February 23, 2017 9:50 AM    Report this comment

Are the velocity and energy numbers right for the the PSA classic red using Tula ammo? Is that a misprint? That dropp off from other ammo and from other guns is too significant to ignore.

Posted by: RottweilerGuy | May 26, 2016 2:31 PM    Report this comment

i don't see why an ak 47 using the 762 39 shell cant do better that a 4 inch moa.
i have an sks same shell and at one hundred yards it is 1 to 1 1/2!
so what is the deal , it ain't the ammunition.

Posted by: sjybarra | May 26, 2016 10:37 AM    Report this comment

Add your comments ...

New to Gun Tests? Register for Free!

Already Registered? Log In