July 2016

American AK-Mag Variants II: Century, RRA, CMMG Go At It

We prefer the Century Arms C39 V2 in this test, but the Rock River Arms LAR-47 CAR A4 and the CMMG MK47 AKM Mutant have a lot to recommend them. We’d pass on CA’s Classic.

The LAR-47 was the lightest rifle in the test at 6.4 pounds. Fit and finish were very good. The pistol group was RRA’s grip with finger grooves, but LAR-47 owners can easily change out the furniture.

Last month, we began testing AK-pattern rifles built in the U.S., which itself is important to a lot of Gun Tests readers, but also because we wanted to take an in-depth look at the category of what we hoped might be “improved” domestic variants of this famous rifle. Over the years, we’ve admired various AKs for their reliability while we’ve criticized their accuracy, fit and finish, and shooter-experience packages, such as crappy triggers and uncomfortable stocks. That said, we were very pleased with three rifles we tested in the June issue, rating one as a Grade A gun (Palmetto State Armory AK-47 MOE Edition 7.62x39mm, $749), a second as a Grade A- rifle (Century Arms RAS47 Magpul-Zhukov 7.62x39mm, $800), and the third a B+ (Palmetto State Armory AK-47 Gen2 Classic Red 7.62x39mm, $849).

One of our testers who likes the AK platform said this Century C39 V2 rifle was the most accurate AK he had ever shot. We’d buy this rifle ahead of the others.

A problem arose with the Century C39 Classic’s fire-control system. The trigger failured to reset early in accuracy testing and became a permanent irritation, despite our cleaning and lubing the trigger group.

This time we pit what are probably the two most significant military rifle actions of the 20th century against each other, the Kalashnikov and the Stoner. But there is a twist: All four rifles are American made, are chambered in 7.62x39, and use Kalashnikov-pattern magazines. The two Kalashnikov actions are made by Century Arms and look very much like standard AK-pattern rifles. The two Stoner actions, made by Rock River Arms and CMMG, for the most part look like the AR-15 platform familiar to many shooters but have some unique features. The Kalashnikovs have a well-deserved reputation for reliability, and the Stoners have a well-deserved reputation for accuracy. So, how would they do head to head?

The Mutant looks like a AR-15 with an oversized bolt, but the lower has a large opening that accepts Kalashnikov-pattern magazines. A full-length toprail offers plenty of room for mounting optics.

To find out, we fired all four rifles in both cold and hot conditions, and because we expect these rifles to be used both as plinkers and for hunting or rural self defense, we used four different types of ammunition for this test: 122-grain FMJs, 123-grain plastic-tipped hollowpoints, 124-grain soft points, and 154-grain soft points. Due to the fairly big groups shot with open sights at 100 yards last time, this round we fired five-shot groups at 50 yards and measured them from center to center. Here’s what we learned.

Century Arms C39 Classic Sporter RI2170CN 7.62x39mm, $657

GUN TESTS GRADE: D

Took more breaking in than normal, and we expected better accuracy.

ACTION  Semi-auto; Kalashnikov short recoil; parkerized milled billet 4140 steel 
OVERALL LENGTH 37.38 in. 
OVERALL HEIGHT (w/o scope)  7 in. 
WEIGHT UNLOADED  8.2 lbs. 
BARREL  16.1 in.; 1:16 twist; 6 grooves 
MUZZLE DEVICE  Chevron brake 
BUTTSTOCK  Fixed; gray laminated wood 
STOCK LENGTH OF PULL  12.75 in. 
FOREND  Laminated wood 
MAGAZINE  (2) 30-rd. Tapco 
FRONT SIGHT  Standard AK, Elevated & windage adjustable 
REAR SIGHT  Standard AK, Elevated adjustable 
SIGHT RADIUS  15 
RAIL  None 
TRIGGER WEIGHT  5.9 lbs. 
SAFETY  Standard AK 
MAGAZINE RELEASE  Ambidextrous extended paddle 
WARRANTY  1 Year 
TELEPHONE  (800) 527-1252
WEBSITE  CenturyArms.biz
MADE IN  USA 

The oversized magazine release (arrow) was easy to use with either hand.

Century Arms has been in business for more than 50 years and is primarily known as an importer of surplus military rifles. But Century Arms also manufactures its own rifles in America. The C39 Classic Sporter was the heaviest of the test at 8.2 pounds, probably a result of the milled receiver and the gray laminate stock. The well-finished fixed stock with a metal buttpad looked pretty sharp, some of our testers said. Despite the short length of pull, our female shooter did not find it particularly comfortable.

The sights were standard AK design — adequate but not great.

The generic black-plastic pistol grip with finger grooves didn’t win any raves, but it was functional enough. The controls were standard AK placements. All testers found the safety easy to manipulate, but the female shooter found the bolt handle difficult to rack. The ambidextrous magazine release was oversized and easy to use during rapid magazine changes, using a rocking technique with either hand. The sights were also the standard AK design, which equates to adequate but not great. There was no provision on the receiver to mount optics.

The receiver was milled steel, with lightening rectangles on each side. A nice touch on the left side was a well executed American flag cleanly etched into the receiver.

During shooting tests, the C39 Classic Sporter handled well when coming up to target and transitioning between targets. Recoil was manageable for all shooters. The rifle came out of the box very close to zeroed, but the sights were difficult to resolve vertically due to front-sight hood interfering with the sight picture. While the Classic Sporter’s barrel often produced the highest velocities, it also usually produced the largest groups. While most groups would be adequate for short-range hog hunting, only the Hornady Zombie Max rounds produced sub-2-inch groups at 50 yards.

The Century Arms C39 Classic Sporter had a well-finished gray-laminate fixed stock with metal buttpad that looked sharp.

During firing, all brass ejected 15 to 25 feet to the right and slightly behind the shooter. Some reliability issues came up during testing. While the Tapco and stock steel magazines were easy to insert and remove, the Magpul magazines tended to be sticky to remove. A bigger problem arose with the fire-control system. While the trigger was smooth and averaged 5.9 pounds of pull weight to break, it began generating failures to reset early in accuracy testing. Initially intermittent, the trigger reset issue became a permanent occurrence 50 rounds into the accuracy testing. Since we were able to manually reset the trigger between shots, we proceeded with the accuracy testing. We do not think the trigger issue affected accuracy, but it would have affected the action shooting portion of the test if it happened earlier.

Our Team Said: While the solution to the reset problems is a simple trigger group replacement, we wouldn’t buy this rifle as tested. And even with a replacement trigger, we wouldn’t buy it due to its mediocre accuracy at the range.

Century Arms C39 V2 RI2245-N 7.62x39mm, $749

GUN TESTS GRADE: A

Worth the money. If you want a unusually well built and good-shooting AK, this is the one to get.

ACTION  Semi-auto; Kalashnikov short recoil; parkerized milled billet 4140 steel
OVERALL LENGTH  37.25 in. 
OVERALL HEIGHT (w/o scope)  7 in. 
WEIGHT UNLOADED  8.1 lbs. 
BARREL  16:5 in.; 1:10 twist; Black nitrided chrome Moly 4150 
MUZZLE DEVICE  Chevron black 
BUTTSTOCK  Fixed; brown wood 
STOCK LENGTH OF PULL  12.75 in. 
FOREND  Brown wood 
MAGAZINE  (1) 30-rd. Magpul 
FRONT SIGHT  Standard AK, elevated & windage adjustable 
REAR SIGHT  Standard AK, elevated adjustable 
SIGHT RADIUS  15 
RAIL  None 
TRIGGER WEIGHT  6.9 lbs. 
SAFETY  Modified AK 
MAGAZINE RELEASE  Ambidextrous extended paddle 
WARRANTY  1 year 
TELEPHONE  (800) 527-1252 
WEBSITE CenturyArms.biz 
MADE IN USA

The C39 V2’s accuracy would be acceptable for hunting out to the limits of the cartridge and the skill of the shooter.

The C39 V2 is a newer version of the model from Century Arms. Our example was a little lighter and came with one Magpul magazine. It had a brown fixed wooden stock with metal buttpad. The wood finish was even, but the pores of the wood were still exposed. Some of the testers thought the forend shape was more comfortable than the one on the Classic due to the V2’s indentations. The same generic black plastic pistol grip with finger grooves was provided on both of the Century rifles. Our female shooter found this stock set to be more comfortable.

Some testers liked the indentations in the V2’s forend better than the shape of the Century Sporter’s front wood.

The controls were mostly standard AK style and placement. The safety included a bolt hold-open notch that was very popular with all the testers except our female tester, who found the safety harder to work and almost impossible to release with the bolt held back. The bolt release did get easier with usage. Our consensus was that the new safety design was a simple, significant, and welcome improvement. If the shooter has the hand strength, the bolt hold open is great. If not, then simply don’t use the feature. Our female shooter found the bolt on the C39 V2 easier to rack than the bolt on the Classic. The ambidextrous magazine release was oversized and easy to use during rapid magazine changes using a rocking technique with either hand.

The sights were the standard AK design, but the front hood didn’t interfere with the sight picture as much as with the Classic. Again, there was no provision to mount optics. The C39 V2 barrel was 16.5 inches long and, like the Classic, was tipped with a chevron-style muzzle brake that proved effective at controlling recoil and muzzle rise. The receiver was milled steel with deeper rectangles on each side. Unfortunately, the etched American flag was missing — a feature we found we liked on the Sporter.

The V2’s front hood didn’t interfere with the sight picture. The chevron-style muzzle brake controlled recoil and muzzle rise.

During the shooting tests, the C39 V2 handled well when coming up to target and transitioning between targets. Recoil was manageable for all shooters. The rifle is marketed as having an enhanced trigger group. While the trigger pull was a little heavier at 6.9 pounds, it was very smooth and consistent with an excellent surprise break. There were no reset problems as we noted on the Sporter.

The rifle came out of the box very close to zeroed. At 50 yards, the C39 V2 produced much better groups than the Century Classic and would be acceptable for hunting out to the limits of the cartridge and the skill of the shooter. Like most AKs, the brass ejected 15 to 25 feet to the right and slightly behind. No reliability issues came up during testing.

Our Team Said: One tester has been shooting the AK platform for more than 25 years, and he stated that our Century Arms C39 V2 was probably the most accurate AK he had ever shot. We’d buy this rifle.

CMMG MK47 AKM Mutant 76AFCD7 7.62x39mm, $1650

GUN TESTS GRADE: B

Took more breaking in than normal, and we expected better accuracy.

ACTION  Semi-auto; DGI semi "mid size" stoner, carbine length; black anodized 7075-T6 aluminum
OVERALL LENGTH (min/max)  33.5 to 36.8 in. 
OVERALL HEIGHT (w/o scope)  7 in. 
WEIGHT UNLOADED  7.2 lbs. 
BARREL  16.1 in.; 1:10 twist; 6 groove; black nitride chrome Moly 4140 
MUZZLE DEVICE  SV muzzle brake 
BUTTSTOCK  Magpul MOE collapsible 
STOCK LENGTH OF PULL  Variable 
MAGAZINE  (2) 30-rd. Magpul 
FOREND  CMMG RKM15 aluminum; KeyMod attachment 
FRONT SIGHT  N/A 
REAR SIGHT  N/A 
SIGHT RADIUS  N/A 
RAIL  M1918 picatinny top; 21.25 in. long 
TRIGGER WEIGHT  6.5 lbs.; single stage mil-spec 
SAFETY  AR-15 style 
MAGAZINE RELEASE  Ambidextrous paddle 
WARRANTY  Lifetime 
TELEPHONE  (660) 248-2293 
WEBSITE  CMMGInc.com 
MADE IN  USA

The Magpul OEM collapsible stock proved to be sturdy and tight.

The imaginatively and appropriately named Mutant is an adaptation of the standard Stoner AR-15 platform to accommodate the 7.62x39mm cartridge. While the upper looks like a standard AR-15 with an oversized bolt, the lower has a large opening at the bottom that accepts standard Kalashnikov-pattern magazines. The rifle comes with Magpul’s OEM pistol grip and collapsible stock (with tensioner). The stock proved sturdy and tight for a collapsible stock, which often rattle.

The safety and charging handle are standard AR-15, but the magazine release is a three-sided paddle located at the front of the trigger guard (arrow).

The CMMG RKM15 Keymod system is relatively light and easy on the hands.

The forend is a CMMG RKM15 Keymod system with a full-length upper rail that is relatively light and gentle on the hands when shooting. The safety and charging handle are standard AR-15 designs, but the magazine release consists of a large three-sided paddle conveniently located at the front of the slightly oversized trigger guard. The single-stage trigger released at a fairly consistent average of 6.5 pounds with acceptable take up and overtravel. The sights used consisted of height-adjustable rear peeps sights with two sizes of peepholes and a front post with heavy protective ears. All testers found them easy to work with, but they required maximum adjustment to get onto the paper. We also shot the Mutant with the TRS-25 Red Dot sight but saw no significant differences in accuracy.

While most of the shooters found the rifle and its controls easy to use, our female tester found the Mutant to be a little heavy, the safety a little stiff, and the rifle difficult to rack. She did find the rifle to be pleasant to shoot and she really liked the adjustable stock. Other testers found the CMMG Mutant’s slightly-muzzle-heavy balance to be helpful for off-hand shooting.

The barrel description is often tagged SBN, which is short for Salt Bath Nitride. Nitriding offers improved wear, abrasion, and corrosion resistance.

We tested the Mutant with several magazines. Most worked fine; however, Magpul magazines were a little sticky to remove. Surplus steel magazines didn’t originally feed very well, but as the rifle broke in, the feeding issues mostly disappeared for the FMJ cartridges. However, we continued to experience issues with soft-point bullets, particularly the final one to two rounds in a 30-round magazine. Upon close inspection, we found the tips were being shaved by the feed lips as they were being chambered. Prior to break-in, we found the Hornady plastic-tipped bullets being marred when chambered, to the point that they sometimes would not feed. The Hornady failures seemed to permanently disappear after the first 150 rounds had been fired. After 250 rounds, we had no further functional issues with the 154-grain soft point or any other test ammunition for the duration. Evidently, this particular rifle required an extended break-in period, though we didn’t see that documented anywhere. The heavy Tula 154-grain SP grouped better in the Mutant than any other rifle/round combo in the test. This rifle would be good for hog hunting with the heavy soft-point.

Our Team Said: The Mutant was OK, but when compared to the C39 V2, it was easy to put the V2 at a grade above the CMMG.

Rock River Arms LAR-47 CAR A4 CL Rifle AK1263 7.62x39mm, $1270

GUN TESTS GRADE: D (WITH OPEN SIGHTS)
GUN TESTS GRADE: A (WITH OPTICS & COMPATIBLE MAGS)

This rifle clearly has enough accuracy to make maximum use of the cartridge. We just wish it worked better with open sights and more brands of magazines.

ACTION Semi-auto; DGI Stoner, black anodized aluminum; proprietary forged LAR-47 lower; proprietary forged A4 upper 
OVERALL LENGTH (min./max.)  33.5 to 36.5 in. 
OVERALL HEIGHT (w/o scope)  7 in. 
WEIGHT UNLOADED  6.4 lbs. 
BARREL  16 in.; 1:10 twist; HBAR; black chrome-lined 
MUZZLE DEVICE  A2 flash hider; 5/8-24 threads 
BUTTSTOCK  RRA Tactical CAR collapsible 
STOCK LENGTH OF PULL  Variable 
FOREND  Classic CAR polymer 
MAGAZINE  (1) 30-rd. RRA 
FRONT SIGHT  N/A 
REAR SIGHT  N/A 
RAIL  M1918 picatinny top 
TRIGGER WEIGHT  7.3 lbs.; RRA two-stage 
SAFETY  AR-15 style 
MAGAZINE RELEASE  Ambidextrous paddle 
WARRANTY  Limited lifetime 
TELEPHONE  (866) 980-ROCK 
WEBSITE  RockRiverArms.com 
MADE IN  USA

Our shooters liked the RRA’s heavy barrel, which produced a slightly muzzle-heavy feel.

There have been AR-15s in the Soviet 7.62x39mm for decades. Unfortunately, many of them are unreliable due to the way the angled cartridge feeds in a straight box magazine. The Rock River Arms LAR-47 CAR A4 attempts to solve this problem with a unique aluminum lower receiver specially designed to accept the standard Kalashnikov magazines.

The safety on this rifle will not work unless the action is cocked.

The upper receiver will be familiar to anyone who knows the Stoner action. The bolt is oversized. The lower action has the familiar trigger and safety group, but the magazine release is more like that on an AK-47, with very large wings on either side for ambidextrous operation. The rifle comes with a Thermold magazine, Magpul BUIS, and a very nice lockable case. Fit of the rifle was very good, with an even matte-black finish. The LAR-47 was the lightest rifle of the test at a handy 6.4 pounds. The rifle came with a standard ribbed forearm and CAR-style collapsible buttstock with rubber recoil pad. The pistol group was the standard RRA grip with finger grooves, which most testers liked. Because the LAR-47 is a Stoner platform, owners can easily change out the furniture to suit themselves. The rifle has a 16-inch heavy barrel with an A2-style flash hider and railed gas block.

The LAR-47 CAR A-4 has a unique aluminum lower receiver that accepts standard Kalashnikov magazines.

The heavy barrel gives the rifle a slightly muzzle-heavy feel that some of the testers really liked during the dynamic shooting drills. Recoil was considered reasonable by all shooters, with our female tester stating that the RRA recoiled noticeably less than the Kalashnikov style rifles. During these drills we discovered an interesting quirk: the safety on this rifle will not work unless the action is cocked. Nobody considered it a significant issue, just an interesting trait. The two-stage trigger was the heaviest in the test at 7.3 pounds but was extremely consistent, with no more than a 2-ounce variation and little overtravel.

Yes, that does look odd to the AR-15 owner’s eye: A familiar bolt and receiver marked 7.62x39mm. That must be why it’s called an “AR-47.”

At the range, we saw the rifle was bone dry out of the box. Function firing it, we saw the first two rounds fail to extract. We lubed the rifle thoroughly. A third round also failed to extract. At this point, we explored different magazine options and discovered that this sample LAR-47 is very picky about magazines. We exchanged the Magpul magazine we were using for a surplus steel one and experienced no failures to extract — but they would not always lock into the action. When we tried a second Magpul magazine, we found it interfered with bolt travel. Tapco magazines would not lock into place. The Bulgarian plastic magazine experienced no functioning problems, but could be a little sticky to insert and remove. The Thermold magazine that came with the rifle functioned well. AK-47 magazines are notorious for having widely varying specifications, so our recommendation is to thoroughly function-test any magazine at the range before using it in the field. When we installed the Magpul BUIS, we found that they could not be lowered enough to hit paper. We tried two other back-up iron sights with the same results. Upon closer review, we found that the gas-block rail was 0.25 inch lower than the top rail. We suspect that the wrong gas block was installed on our test gun. While we believe this is something that RRA would quickly remedy, we have to report the results of the sample as we received it.

This top view of the LAR-47 shows how it saves some weight: A shorter top rail than on the Mutant and a polymer handguard.

Since we could not use iron sights, we used the Bushnell TRS-25 sight to complete our testing. This rifle was easy to shoot fast and accurately onto multiple targets. In fact, the LAR-47 was consistently the most accurate rifle in the test with two types of ammunition (124-grain Tula soft points and 123-grain Zombies) averaging well under 1 inch.

Our Team Said: With the magazine and sight situations worked out, this rifle/sight combination proved to be very effective for both dynamic drills and accuracy testing.

RANGE DATA

Tula 7.62x39mm 122-gr. FMJ Century Arms C39 Classic  Century Arms C39 V2  CMMG MK47 AKM "Mutant"  Rock River LAR-47 CAR A4 CL Rifle 
Average velocity 2436 fps 2368 fps  2456 fps  2372 fps 
Muzzle energy 1607 ft.-lbs. 1519 ft.-lbs. 1634 ft.-lbs. 1524 ft.-lbs.
Smallest group  1.6 in.  1.1 in.  1.7 in.  1 in. 
Average group  2.4 in.  1.7 in.  1.8 in.  1.1 in. 
Tula 7.62x39mm 124-gr. SP     
Average velocity 2440 fps  2372 fps  2418 fps 2356 fps 
Muzzle energy  1639 ft.-lbs.  1549 ft.-lbs.  1609 ft.-lbs.  1528 ft.-lbs. 
Smallest group  2.1 in.  1.1 in.  1.8 in.  0.8 in. 
Average group  2.6 in.  1.7 in.  2.2 in.  0.9 in. 
Tula 7.62x39mm 154-gr. SP     
Average velocity  2189 fps  2141 fps  2233 fps  2140 fps 
Muzzle energy  1638 ft.-lbs.  1567 ft.-lbs.  1705 ft.-lbs.  1566 ft.-lbs. 
Smallest group  2.4 in.  1.8 in.  1.3 in.  1.5 in. 
Average group  3 in.  2.1 in.  1.6 in.  1.8 in. 
Hornady 7.62x39mm 123-gr. Z-Max Tipped HP     
Average velocity  2221 fps  2212 fps  2271 fps  2183 fps 
Muzzle energy  1347 ft.-lbs.  1336 ft.-lbs.  1408 ft.-lbs.  1301 ft.-lbs. 
Smallest group  1.3 in.  1.8 in.  1.2 in.  0.6 in. 
Average group  1.6 in.  2 in.  1.5 in.  0.8 in. 

Odd malfunction: The Mutant’s feed lips shaved soft-point bullets as the rounds were being chambered. The arrow indicates the top part of the lead nose, which doesn’t have the same shape as the bottom half. But feeding was fine in the rifle.

Muzzle velocity was measured with a MagnetoSpeed electromagnetic sensor chronograph to detect the presence of the bullet. These sensors are immune to muzzle blast, which allows the sensors to be located near the muzzle under the gun.

Ammunition Notes: All our test ammunition had steel cases. Tula Ammo 7.62x39mm 122-grain full metal jacket, $24.60/100 (Midsouth Shooters Supply #112-UL076210); Tula Ammo 7.62x39mm 124-grain soft point UL076213, $10.66/40 (Defender Outdoors #127429); Tula Ammo 7.62x39mm 154-grain soft point UL076214, $10.66/30 (Defender Outdoors #127430); Hornady Zombie Max 7.62x39mm 123-grain Z-Max Tipped Hollowpoint 80782, $16.48/20 (Able Ammo).

Equipment Notes: There are Bolt Hold Open (BHO) magazines available on the market, but we did not use them for our testing. Therefore, none of the rifles’ bolts held open when shot empty due to the standard magazine design.

In addition to the open sights, we did field-shoot the rifles with a Bushnell Trophy Red Dot Sight TRS-25 on board. Pros: Great price, easy to solidly mount, 3-minute-of-angle-size dot was great a compromise between speed and accuracy, 11 brightness intensities, easy to manipulate controls. Cons: No auto power shutoff, the finish was easy to damage, the dot got slightly out of round at higher brightness intensities, and it was too easy to turn on accidentally. Conclusion: We’d pass because of the lack of auto power shut-off.

Written and photographed by David Tannahill, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.

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