Start with the Right Mount
If you’re going to invest in an optic and don’t have a rail or handguard system that will allow you to place it on your rifle, you’re going to need a separate item called an optics mount. These clamp onto a bracket located on the left-hand side of the receiver — assuming your AK has a bracket; most, but not all, do. There are a number of mounts on the market ranging from not-so-great stuff imported from China to well-made products from Russia or the U.S.
The engineering challenge for these devices has been to build something that will work with all — or at least a great majority — of the AK variants. This is a tall order.
As I outlined earlier, there are inevitable discrepancies in the specifications among manufacturers when it comes to positioning of the rail, thickness of the receiver, and so on. Thus, obtaining a one-mount-fits-all solution is impossible. The lesson is that before you purchase an optic, be certain that the item you acquire will operate correctly with the mount and model of your AK.
There are some decent scope mounts out there. One I’ve tested is the SM-13 from Arsenal. It’s a rock-steady unit that is slung low — close to the dust cover. It will work with the VEPR, Saiga and Arsenal. The only thing it won’t do is allow you to co-witness. The ability to co-witness (see below) is not a must-have, but is certainly desirable.
Co-witness refers to the relationship between the optical sight and the AK’s fixed or iron sights. When you co-witness you’re able to align your iron sights in tandem with your red dot optic. Where the red dot locates in the optic (middle or bottom 1/3) is a matter of preference.
The illustration above shows the red dot in a co-witnessed position resting directly above the post. This means that the two sighting systems are zeroed for the same distance and windage. Both the Aimpoint and the Primary Arms optics allow you to co-witness on a Saiga using the RS Regulate mount.
RS Regulate Mounting System
The system favored by all the professionals I’ve interviewed is manufactured by a company called RS Regulate. It permits you to mount your optic very low (close to the barrel) while centering it over the rifle’s bore.
RS Regulate has developed a mounting technology that accommodates some of the more popular optics brands and will generally, depending on the optic, allow you to co-witness. It’s modular so that you can pick and choose an adapter designed for a specific optic.
The RS Regulate products are a bit more expensive than the competition, but work the best.
Dust Cover/Rail Systems
In addition to side mounts there are other rail systems engineered to fit over the rifle’s dust cover.
In the case of the “Dog Leg Rail,” made by Texas Weapons System, you actually swap out your existing dust cover with the TWS product that has a rail on the top surface. Based in Austin, Texas, the company has made a name for itself with this practical, reasonably priced dust cover/rail combination. Their “Dog Leg Rail Gen 2” gives you the option of using the rifle’s standard sights or an optic while keeping the same cheek weld. The Dog Leg’s low mount also gives you a great platform to co-witness.
The TWS Dog Leg is a two-part system. In addition to the actual dust cover, it comes with a replacement take-down button at the rear of your receiver, which is part of a proprietary recoil spring guide.
The unit is well-finished and engineered to close tolerances. The result is an extremely tight-fitting dust cover that will hold zero even if you have to open and shut it. Be advised you’ll need more thumb pressure to depress the button and remove the cover.
TWS also offers an M4-like aperture that can be placed at the rear end of the rail. This nearly doubles the sight radius. There are other similar options from companies such as Krebs Custom, but at $310, it’s nearly double the price of the TWS offering.
Installation is straightforward. The front end of the Dog Leg system fits into the rear-sight block with a supplied hinge pin. You’re also required to swap out the guide rod and add the existing recoil spring. Instructions are provided in the box and on a pdf file. The company also has an instructional video.
I think the TWS system is a good option, especially if co-witnessing is important to you. The available real estate for placing an optic runs the full length of the receiver cover. The combined rail and dust cover is really light, so unlike a separate rail system, it’s not going to add any substantial weight. This is a noteworthy advantage from the get-go.
The TWS product is priced at $139.99 for AK 47/74 or Yugos. A Dog Leg for the Romanian PSL is $174.99. The aperture rear sight (for another $39.99) is a welcomed addition.
Another mounting system to consider is from a company called Sabrewerks. Their Kalashnikov Optics Platform (KOP) replaces the rear sight block on your AK rifle and offers a dove-tailed mounting platform that allows you to put different rails and proprietary mounts for just about every popular optic. The advantage of “KOP” is that it provides a very solid, low slung base that permits optics to be rapidly interchanged. Another nice touch is that many of the mounts have an integrated fixed iron rear sight which provides co-witness capability. The KOP system also doesn’t add too much extra weight to your rifle. The Trijicon RMR mount, adds a total of only 1.5 oz (including the optic). It’s also mounted on the portion of the rifle that remains stable during firing.
The only downside to this platform is that in order to set it up you’ll need the help of a gunsmith to replace your sight block with the KOP base. (This is not the kind of job the average person can do). In doing so, you’ll end up swapping out the lever that locks down your gas tube in exchange for a pin that does the same thing. You’ll have to pay a gunsmith about 1-1 ½ hours for his labor. Cost for the KOP base is about $130 or less and anywhere from $80 to $160 for individual optic mounts.
UltiMAK, a Moscow, Idaho company has a propriety rail system with quite a few adherents in the Kalashnikov community. One of their flagship products for the AK is the UltiMAK Model M1-B which mounts very low atop the barrel, well under the iron sight axis, making it the lowest optic mount available for the AK. This geometry allows for co-witnessing when used with a reflex sight such as the Aimpoint or an Aimpoint clone. The MI-B replaces the original gas tube and upper handguard, by combining both components into one solid unit. In doing so the entire assembly adds less than one ounce to the weight of the rifle.
Adding the unit to your rifle is straight forward and UltiMAK provides both detailed instructions (with color photos) and a helpful video. I mention this because all too often instructions for aftermarket products are an afterthought.
To add the gas tube/rail you first remove the upper and lower handguards and attach two U-shaped mounts that clamp onto bottom of the barrel. The clamps are needed to affix the UltiMAK Optic mount because it’s designed to be cinched down to the barrel. This is different from the stock gas tube which is held in place by being wedged between by the gas block and the rear sight block. The UltiMAK system is actually a bit shorter than the stock gas tube so that it can expand and contract from heat fluctuations without effecting the mount.
The only “tricky” part on the install was making certain the rail was perfectly squared over the bore. I did this by aligning the rail with rear sight block and then tightening the bolts. UltiMAK founder Lyle Keeney says that it’s not necessary to add Loctite. I’ll take his word for it.
Although some have voiced concern about potential damage to a red dot generated by heat from the gas tube, I think this anxiety is misplaced. Unless you’re going to be simulating full auto–mag dump after mag dump—the rail is not going to get inordinately hot. Even if it gets warm, a quality red dot such as an Aimpoint will stand up to the abuse. Larry Vickers, one of the top trainers in the country, told me that he’s never had an issue in any of his classes with an overheated UltiMAK rail impacting an optic.
The bottom line is that this gas block/rail system adds very little weight to the front end and offers the operator a wide field of view. This means potentially faster target acquisition. It’s also an extremely stable platform, much improved from the stock upper CAA handguard on my Saiga.
Using the M1-B was a pleasure. Prior to installing the UltiMAK my preference had been to use a side-rail-mounted optic in order to keep the front end as light as possible. AKs are heavy guns from the get-go and I was leery of mounting anything on the front. I was also used to having an optic closer to my eye.
However, I was won over after using this unit. In testing the M1-B, I added the Micro-Max B-Dot from Hi-Lux, an Aimpoint clone. The few ounces of extra weight did not change the balance of the rifle and on the plus side, target acquisition was improved. My suggestion is that if you are going to put a red dot on the front, use one that is lightweight.
Price for the M1-B is $98 and although you don’t need a gunsmith to add the part on some of the models you may have to do some filing or even wood working depending on the rifle, to make everything fit properly. (This wasn’t the case with my Saiga).
The company offers these systems for Russian guns such as VEPRs and Saigas; and for others such as Bulgarian, Hungarian, and “Yugo” models. They also manufacture a number of different styles of rails and sell a variety of AK parts such as furniture, grips, etc.
If you’re unsure about where on the rifle to mount your red dot, before investing in an UltiMAK or any other rail system, Marc Krebs of Krebs Custom advises that you simply tape your optic on the rifle to determine your preference. If you’re more comfortable with the optic over the receiver get a side mount unit. If you like it over the handguard, UltiMAK, Midwest Industries, Krebs Custom and other companies manufacture good systems.
Mating the Optic with a Mount
When buying an optic for an AK keep in mind you’re really shopping for an optic and a mount.
Obviously, you’ll want a combination that will function harmoniously with the rifle. I would strongly suggest checking the manufacturer’s specs before you buy. You can get a number of hints on matching mounts with optics by reading the Tim Yan interview in this chapter.
There is a plethora of optics available for the AK platform. The most popular, by a long shot, are “red dot” sights which are lightweight and easy to use in a wide range of lighting conditions. They offer the advantage of rapid target acquisition — even if it’s a moving target. This makes them excellent for self-defense, hunting, plinking and shooting at paper or metal at the range.
They come in a wide spectrum of prices ranging from $100 or less for products from Primary Arms to military-class gear from companies such as Trijicon or BROWE that will cost $1,000 or more.
Most red-dot sights are not magnified. That said, you can get separate optics from several manufacturers that will provide magnification, but they are not cheap.
There are several excellent, inexpensive red dots available from companies such as Primary Arms, Vortex, Burris and others that work very well with the AK. Or you can go high-end with Trijicon or Aimpoint.
The majority of red dot sights fall under the classification of “reflex sights.” This means the aiming reticle—whether it be dot, triangle or chevron, is projected forward from a point behind the objective lens (the lens closest to the object) and is then reflected off the back of the objective lens assembly toward the shooter’s eye. Although it seems like a laser beam is projecting toward your target, this is not the case. The reflex sight has no laser and does not emit a substantial amount of light towards the target.
Holographic sights essentially use the same technology as the reflex sight in that a sighting reticle is superimposed on your view via a hologram. Without getting into the sordid details, I suggest you do a search for “holography” to get a better understanding. Holographic or holosights are popular with a lot of AK users and I suggest trying one out at a dealership to get a feel for them.
EOTech Weapon Accessories and Burris are well respected manufacturers in this space. Prices for holographic sights range from $50 to more than $1,000, if you combine them with magnifiers.
For further reference, UltiMAK’s web page provides an excellent explanation of the application and use of electronic sights.
Two Popular Optics: Aimpoint T-1 and H-1 and Primary Arms MD-FBGII
The Aimpoint T-1/H-1 series and the Primary Arms Micro Dot with Fixed Base MD-FBGII look alike from a distance. Their size and weight are similar but the resemblance ends there. The Aimpoint, manufactured in Malmö, Sweden, is a top-of-the-line, military-grade optic that sells for more than $600. It is considered the ne plus ultra of the red dot universe. The Primary Arms model is a Chinese-made (Aimpoint) clone and sells for $79.
The attribute they share is that both may be used with the RS Regulate scope mount.
This style of optic works well with an AK because it’s so light. Keeping the weight down, plus getting the opportunity to co-witness, are compelling reasons to buy either one of them.
Given the price disparity, is it fair to compare the two?
In the “micro dot” optics universe, there aren’t too many options.
The Bushnell TR 25 has the same internals and optics as the Primary Arms model. They are even made in the same factory. I believe the Primary Arms MD-FBGII is a good deal if you’re going to need a red dot for the range or other recreational activities.
The red dot will not be as crisp as the much more expensive Aimpoint system, but that’s to be expected. Sometimes the dot looks more like an elongated squiggle or blob, but this effect is in part due to one’s own eye physiology. You may find it kind of irritating at first, but paradoxically it becomes pretty much a non-issue when you’re shooting. I find that you can control his effect by keeping the power setting low. The lower the intensity power, the more precise the dot.
Size-wise, the H-1 and the Primary Arms are the same length but the Primary Arms micro is 0.2 inch narrower than the Aimpoint. The Primary Arms is a fraction taller because its brightness dial is on top. The Primary Arms micro weighs about 20 grams more, but that’s negligible. Its fixed base permits mounting close to the bore and the 4:30 position of the emitter allows for co-witnessing.
Windage and elevation adjustments on the Primary Arms product are made by turning tiny slotted screws. What I didn’t like was that the obligatory arrows that tell you which direction to turn are so faintly imprinted you need eyeglasses to see them.
I liken Aimpoint microdots to the ACOG series of scopes from Trijicon that everybody seems to want (whether they really need it or not). It’s no surprise. These are really well-engineered, precision instruments. Like the ACOGs, Aimpoint models are used by the military atop M4s and some light machine guns. They are battle-proven, sturdy, and waterproof.
Unlike the Primary Arms unit, where the brightness dial sits atop the scope, the H-1 has its adjustment control on the right side of the scope body. The dial is indexed with 12 levels of brightness whereas the Primary Arms scope has 11. The intensity knob on the Aimpoint is easier to turn than the Primary Arms model and stops at the “0” and “12” increments. Thus, you don’t even have to look when you’re turning it off. (The Primary Arms dial just keeps on turning).
Windage and elevation adjustments on the H-1 are done with the actual dial covers. You simply flip them over and use them as keys to turn the dials. Unlike the nearly invisible arrow on the Primary Arms, the inside of the caps have a clearly defined arrow telling you which direction to turn. The engineers in Sweden clearly spent some time thinking about this stuff. By using the caps as tools, you’re also more likely to put them back on when you’re finished tweaking, and thus are less like to put them aside and lose them. (Well, that’s the theory …)
Interestingly enough, they both use the same CR-2032 coin battery but the Aimpoint’s life is five years (50,000 hours) vs. 1,000 hours for the Primary Arms.
The moral of the story is that not everybody needs a military-grade optic. The Primary Arms scope represents a good value for someone who wants the advantages that the RS Regulate system affords but doesn’t have the discretionary funds (or the need) for an Aimpoint.
I’ve had a Primary Arms micro dot for years and it still works after plenty of abuse. It doesn’t have the refinement and durability of the Aimpoint, but it also doesn’t cost $600.
More Optics Options
There are several other choices that lay in between the $79 Primary Arms product and the $600+ item from Aimpoint.
One line of red dot optics that I’ve grown to like over the years is from a family-owned company called Ultradot. Their entry level product is the Ultradot 30, which is a compact, lightweight tubular sight that was designed for Bullseye competition. If you go to a match anywhere in this country, you’ll see a lot of Ultradot’s mounted on 1911s.
I happen to think any of their tube type sights are a great choice for an AK. At 3.9 ounces, the Ultradot 30 is really light.
The optics are also quite good — up to par with much more expensive glass.
The 4 MOA red dot is surprisingly crisp and features an 11- position, adjustable brightness dial. The more expensive Ultradot models, such as the Ultradot Match, offer adjustments for light intensity as well as a separate dial to change the size of the red dot.
Engineered in the U.S., the Ultradot line is manufactured in Japan. Because they were designed to work with the hard recoil of a 1911, they are built to take a pounding. I’ve owned several of their models and have had no problems with them.
I mounted my Ultradot on an Arsenal scope mount using 30mm rings, but it also works with the RS Regulate system. Note that but because of its configuration (it’s about 5 inches long) it needs to be mounted with RS Regulate’s longer-railed AK-303 model and fitted with two 30mm ring mounts.
At $190, including a lifetime warranty, the Ultradot 30 is a superb deal. If you really want to save money, check out the bulletin boards of bullseye shooters where you can pick up a used Ultradot for about $100.
Another inexpensive red dot optic that is favored by our optic’s guru, Tim Yan, is the Vortex StrikeFire II.
Vortex is a Wisconsin-based company but manufactures its products in Asia. The StrikeFire II is made in China. At $179, it’s not going to break the bank and the quality (plus its warranty) is quite good.
The first thing that strikes you about the Strikefire II is how robust it is. It’s built like a tank and screams “tactical.” The single-piece chassis is compact and weighs in at 7 ounces. It’s a little heavier than the micro dots and tubular models from Ultradot but reportedly can handle a lot of abuse.
It’s a snap to mount on an AK. It comes with a cantilever-type mount for an AR, but you’ll dispense with that if you use the RS Regulate system with their 30mm ring.
Unlike other tubular-type optics, the Strikefire requires only one ring, which secures the unit in the middle of its casing. You can make horizontal and vertical adjustments using the top of the plastic caps which have a ledge that fits into the screw tops. Aimpoint uses the same system and it’s a very thoughtful adaptation.
One of the most important points is the quality of the Strikefire’s red dot, which is surprisingly good for the price.
Another very big plus I discovered using this scope is that in concert with the RS Regulate mount it will co-witness with a VEPR. One cannot do this with an Aimpoint or any other micro dot that I’m aware of.
I looked at the red-only version, which Tim Yan prefers, because it’s brighter than the green-red version.
The Lithium CR2 battery has a life at maximum brightness of 300 hours. It also has an automatic 12-hour shut-off, which is very handy for people of a certain demographic (such as myself). As an optic designed for plinking, hunting and the range, it’s ideal, especially for the price point.
Another one of Tim Yan’s favorites is the 2 MOA (minute of angle) Hi-Lux Micro-Max B-DOT. Call it a T-1 alternative or an Aimpoint clone; it’s a sturdy little red dot priced at around $200 with an impressive life of 55,000 hours (6.2 years) on a CR2032 battery. Thus it’s equivalent to the $700 Aimpoint when it comes to staying power.
Of course, you can use it on any mount that will accept an Aimpoint. The unit has 12 brightness settings accessible on a dial atop the aluminum housing. The lowest two settings work with night vision. The scope will automatically shut down after eight hours of use (with the factory default settings) but you can configure it manually for anywhere from between 2 to 12 hours.
The elevation and windage adjustments elicit positive clicks that move the point of impact 0.5 inch at 100 yards (1/2 MOA). Like the Aimpoint and the Vortex Strikefire, the tiny caps that cover the adjustment knobs have little flanges that can be inserted into the notch at the top of dial, so that you can tweak the elevation or windage without using a coin or screwdriver.
Two flip-up lens covers are included as well as an extra battery that resides inside the battery cap. This is a sturdy little beast. The finish on this product is also excellent
The quality of the red dot is crisp and shines intensely, even in bright daylight.
When you consider the Micro-Max B-Dot, along with the Strikefire II and Primary Arms scopes, which are manufactured in China, it’s clear that the Chinese have come a long way in improving the quality of their optics.
This scope is fully submersible and has been used at temperatures as low as -85 degrees Fahrenheit and as high as 167 degrees Fahrenheit. It’s been tested with a semi-auto .338 Lapua, which has more than a healthy kick, and passed with flying colors.
I think this product is well worth a look.
If you’re going to use an AK in the 100+ yards range and you don’t want to spend a lot of money, consider the Primary Arms 1-6x scope with the ACSS (Automatic Combined Sighting System) Reticle.
This style of reticle which is designed for a 7.62 x 39 cartridge is generally what you’d find on a much more expensive scope such as a Trijicon or a Browe. (Note that there are many variations of reticles, including dots, posts, circles, scales, chevrons or a combination of these).
The scope utilizes a battery to illuminate the reticle for low light conditions. If you’re shooting during daylight hours it’s generally not even necessary to switch on the illumination.
Eye relief, at up past 4 inches, is quite good. (Eye relief is the distance from the last surface of an eyepiece at which the user’s eye can obtain the full viewing angle. If a viewer’s eye is outside this distance, a reduced field of view will be obtained).
The 6x zoom provides a ton of flexibility so that you can engage targets at a wide-ranging distance envelope. The reticle offers a bullet-drop compensator and other nifty little tables that allow you to estimate the range and other variables such as the wind.
To set up the reticle properly, you’ll need to sight in the dot at the center of the horseshoe at 100 yards.
At 10 ¾ inches, weighing in at 17.4 ounces, this is not a small scope. If most of your shooting is off the bench, this won’t be an issue. If you’re going to be shooting long distances, you will absolutely need it.
Priced at around $280, this optic isn’t going to equal what you’d get with the expensive glass. However, if your plans entail shooting at the range rather than doing a tour in Afghanistan, this scope is perfectly adequate.
On the other end of the optics spectrum is a new import from Wolf Performance Optics which is now bringing in the PSU 1x/4x variable zoom optical gunsight, a high end scope from Russia. This model utilizes some very advanced technology and employs top of the line SCHOTT glass from Germany for its lens and prism. According to our optic’s maven, Tim Yan, at 4x the image quality and contrast is reportedly exceptional. The BDC (Bullet Drop Compensator) on the reticle is calibrated for a 62 grain (5.56mm) round to 800 meters but Tim reports that AK users will be able to use a 5.45x39mm bullet out to 300 yards. Additionally, Wolf offers a commercial 60gr 5.45×39 load that will match the 62gr 5.56mm NATO to 500+ yds. Price is around $1400. AK-74 users should be very happy.
Upgrading to custom sights
Once you get more familiar with your rifle, you may want to change out your rear sight. A rear sight upgrade can be an inexpensive way to tighten up your groups and improve target acquisition.
You owe it to yourself to check out an aperture sight (also known as a peep sight) which you may find to be an improvement on the classic AK rear sight.
Why? Of course everyone has different preferences, but for many, an aperture has more intuitive feel.
Even with decent eyesight it’s not possible to clearly focus on both sights and the target. Since the rear sight will tend to be somewhat unclear, in my experience you can more readily place the post in the center of a ring than in the center of a notch. The brain naturally understands centering an object within an aperture. Another advantage with the peep sight is that some shooters will find it easier to aim with both eyes open compared to the stock sight.
If you’re shooting offhand and need quick target acquisition an aperture can be advantageous. There are several iterations you can purchase from either Red Star Arms, Krebs Custom, Arsenal and, Circle 10 AK.
The Red Star Arms version, called the “Combat Sight,” is actually manufactured by a company called Mojo Sights. It’s fully screw-adjustable for elevation and windage and sells for $49.95 on the Red Star Arms website.
The other version is the Krebs Custom AK Aperture Sight. Coated with a black oxide finish, it differs from the Mojo product because the elevation is adjusted by using the original rear sight’s elevation slide. Price is $64.99. I’ve used both and like them equally.
A third option is the new U-Notch “hybrid” rear sight from Circle 10 AK. It combines features of the classic notched sight and the peep sight. You use this by aligning the circles on the front and rear sights and placing the post in a six o’clock position on your target. I had a chance to try this system out a few times at the range prior to publication of this book and am totally hooked. Target acquisition is fast and it’s an intuitively comfortable to use. For $52, I think it’s a great investment. There are also such as dust covers and rail systems with apertures mounted much closer to your eyes than the traditional rear notch sight. The companies that manufacture these systems are Krebs Custom, Texas Weapons Systems and a company called Tech-SIGHTS. The prices for these products range from around $100 to $300.
Keeping it Traditional
If you’re a traditionalist, you can go with an improved version the original sight. There are several companies that have products I would recommend. Krebs Custom and Jim Fuller’s Rifle Dynamics both make a variation on the traditional AK sight.
Essentially, they have modified the original by rounding the edges of the rear sight and widening the notch. The result: both products offer clearer, cleaner sight pictures by making the eye naturally align with the sight notch. The Krebs product is priced at $39.95 and utilizes the original elevation slide. The Krebs Fast Acquisition Rear Sight also has rounded edges but uses the rifle’s original elevation slide. It’s priced at $39.95.
The Rifle Dynamics unit comes with its own elevation slide and is priced at $90.
If you’re going to spend most of your time shooting off a bench, the traditional sight will serve you well.
Another variation to the traditional sight, sold by Arsenal, is the RPK style rear sight (which is standard on the VEPR). It allows for both elevation and windage adjustments on the slide. I’ve used it on my own VEPR and can say from personal experience how convenient it is to have both adjustments available in the same place. Price is $85.
If you’re going to shoot in low light situations Meprolight, an Israeli concern, offers “Tru-Dot Night Sights” for AK-47 rifles. It resembles an ordinary AK rear sight but there’s a tritium dot on both the notches and the sight post as you’d find on some handguns. Justin McMillion of JMAC Customs, which manufactures aftermarket AK parts, is a big fan of this product. He said that the sights help him shooting in low light and are even are easier on the eyes during normal daylight hours. The other advantage is that you can adjust windage on the rear sight using a small screwdriver. His only complaint was that it was necessary to lock down the front post as it wasn’t as tight as he would have preferred. Price is $109 on Amazon.
Circle 10 AK sells a number of sights, including their own U-Notch Peep Sight for $51.95. This is the invention of Circle 10 AK founder Luke Williams and it has already received attention from government agencies.
K-var also has a variety of front and rear AK sights to choose from.
An AK Optics Buyer’s Guide from
Several years ago while wandering the floor of the SHOT Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center, I literally bumped into Tim Yan. It was a fortuitous meeting.Tim is a freelance writer and contributor to Shotgun News, Guns &Ammo: Book of the AR15, Guns & Ammo Handguns, Guns & Ammo: Book of the AK47, Be Ready!, and other publications. He’s also the resident optics editor for The Firearms Blog.
A five-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, he served as a marksmanship instructor in the 1st Marine Division deployed in Somalia and the Iraq.
He knows his way around optics and has some great suggestions on what to look for when purchasing optics and mounts for an AK. For anyone contemplating the purchase of an optic, this interview is a must read.
Q: You did a major piece on AK mounts for Guns & Ammo magazine. What did you discover about AK scope mounts in doing the research for that piece?
A: There are really only two suitable locations to mount an optic on an AK: the side mount on the receiver and the handguard/gas tube mount.
Not all AKs have the receiver-side mount. However, it’s relatively easy for a gunsmith to install one on a stamped receiver.
Q: What do you think about the utility of the Texas Weapon Systems and Parabellum “Dog Leg”- style rail dust covers?
A: The Texas Weapons Systems and Parabellum dust covers and rear sights are OK for the recreational shooter.
Q: If you were to recommend a couple of quick-detach-style scope mounts for the AK, what would they be and why?
A: Any of the RS Regulate modular models: the Arsenal SM-13; Midwest Industries’ AK side-rail flat-top; single and dual 30mm ring-type scope mounts will work. All of them, except for the Midwest Industries flat-top mount, offer very low-bore axis but still allow removal of the dust cover. (Editor’s Note: Midwest Industries has just come out with a Ultimak-style rail/gas tube combination).
The RS Regulate design is the best because it allows adjustment for side-to-side sight alignment as well as front and back adjustment for eye relief and field of view.
The Arsenal and MI are made to fit the Russian- and Bulgarian-pattern side rail. They could be a little off for other AK variants.
Q: What about rail systems or handguards to mount optics? Got any favorites?
A: Krebs Custom, Midwest Industries, Arsenal and Manticore Arms are a good bet. The Krebs Custom UFM keymod handguard is nicely made and has a removable 1913 rail top that holds zero. The MI’s offerings come in many options in both the rail interfaces and the dedicated optic top pieces. These include modular, quad rail, keymod or M-Lock. The top half of the MI design is really the modular part with nine different optic-specific interchangeable top covers. This includes options for the popular Aimpoint Micro T1 and 30mm body and the standard 1913 rail.
If you prefer a solid quad rail, Arsenal’s billet handguard, which was originally made for a military contract, has an actual cleaning rod hole that allows you to keep the full-length AK cleaning rod on the weapon. (Billet means that the product was machined from a solid chunk of metal).
Manticore makes a very affordable and good-quality polymer handguard for the Yugo-pattern AK called the Renegade as well as for my favorite, the M92 short-barreled model.
Q: Is it really possible to get a bottom one-third co-witness with an AK scope?
A: Many optics using the MI top cover and the Manticore top half will co-witness with the stock AK iron sight — although in most of those cases it’s more of a lower ¼ co-witness.
As for the receiver side mount, RS Regulate’s Aimpoint T1 and 30mm mount offer a true lower-1/3 co-witness.
Midwest Industry’s 30mm-ring side mount also allows mounting an Aimpoint 30mm body model for a lower-1/3 co-witness.
Q: Can you suggest some budget, midrange and high-end red dots for an AK?
A: The best red-dot sight for AK is the Aimpoint Micro T1 or T2. It’s small and lightweight but a bit expensive.
The next down at $350 to $400 is the Aimpoint PRO. They are based on the older Aimpoint 30mm tube-size models.
On the more budget end, I really like the new Hi-Lux Micro-Max B-Dot mini-red dot sight. It has flip-up caps and 2 MOA dot like the Aimpoint T2. Its battery life even surpassed the Aimpoint models, with 55,000 hours from just a CR2032 lithium battery, and it carries a spare one in it cap. It also has an Aimpoint Micro compatible screw pattern in its base to use with the RS Regulate direct mount.
It’s also been recoil-tested by firing 300 rounds of .338 Lapua Mag while mounted on an Alexander Arms Ulfberht semi-auto rifle.
During a recent Big 3 Media event in Daytona Beach, Florida we mounted the Hi-Lux on a Rifle Dynamics AK owned by Bill Geissele and did mag dumps until the rifle was too hot to hold. The gas-tube rail was actually red-hot and the little Hi-Lux sight mounted on it was still working fine. Not bad for a $200 sight.
I am not a big fan of the Trijicon RMR or other types of mini-reflex sights in that category, mostly due to their tiny field of view, especially if they are mounted on the handguard position.
Q: Can you recommend a good combination of red dot and scope mount for someone who is buying their first AK?
A: If your AK has a receiver side rail, I would recommend the RS Regulate AK300 direct mount for the Aimpoint or the Hi-Lux.
I prefer mounting the red dot as far back as possible for the maximum field of view through the optic. Scot Hoskisson from RS Regulate likes to mount the red dot just behind the rear sight for the best balance on the weapon.
If your AK doesn’t have a receiver side-rail or has a milled receiver, I would recommend the Midwest Industries’ modular AK handguard with the Aimpoint Micro T1 top cover for the T1/T2/Hi-Lux or the 30mm ring-top cover for the APO/PRO. I prefer the direct mount type because it’s solid mounting and fewer things to go wrong.
Q: What about some hologram optics? Which would you recommend?
A: As far as EOTech’s laser holographic sights go, I recommend the XPS (which has a lower bore height) rather than the EXPS. Actually, all the EOTech models are too high for AK and the battery life is relatively short. Another projection type sight with large square sight ocular window is the Meprolight M5. The Meprolight uses a red dot-style LED projection instead of using laser on the EOTech, and has the battery life close to that of the Aimpoint. However, the Meprolight sights have the same height issue on the AK.
Q: Can you recommend any 1-4x prism scopes?
A: My favorite prism sight is the ELCAN, but like the EOTech they are too high and too heavy for the AK.
I also wouldn’t recommend any of the Trijicon ACOG TA31 4×32 models for AK because of their very short eye relief. The ACOG TA11 3.5x35mm model is better, but it’s big and heavy.
My preferred ACOG for the AK is the TA33 3x30mm Compact ACOG model with the 7.62x39mm bullet-drop compensating (BDC) reticle. If you have a 5.45x39mm caliber AK, then any of the 5.56mm M4 Carbine BDC models would work for you. The trajectory for both calibers are very close to about 300 meters.
There’s a lesser-known ELCAN Specter OS 3.0 3x32mm model that would work just as well as the Trijicon ACOG because it’s the only ELCAN that uses internal adjustment and features the M16 carrying handle-style mounting.
The ELCAN 3x32mm model offers significant bigger field of view and an inch more eye relief than the Compact ACOG 3x 30mm.
The drawback of the ELCAN is its busy reticle. It also lacks daylight illumination, not to mention it’s a good three to four ounces heavier than comparable optics.
On the budget end, I have had success with the Burris AR-332 (3x32mm) and AR-536 (5x36mm) prism sight. Both are in the $350 to $450 price range. Both utilize a version of the Burris reticle that offers a very thick outer ring for fast target acquisition at close range and BDC dots for range out to 600 meters. Both models also have switchable red and green day-visible reticle illumination.
All of the above sights use Trijicon’s ACOG mounting screw pattern and could be used on an RS Regulate ACOG mount for the lowest sight height on an AK.
Now let’s talk about the lower magnification prism sight such as the ACOG 1.5x16mm and the new Vortex Spitfire 1x. Those are great red-dot sight alternatives for those of us who have bad eyesight. By featuring an etched reticle on the glass, those lower-magnification prism sights have a couple of advantages over a red-dot. The reticle will be still useable if the battery dies and it allows for BDC and other shapes in the reticle design.
Q: I see a lot of 1×4 scopes out there. Can you recommend a high end model?
A: On the higher end, I recommend the Meopta MeoTac 1-4x22mm RD tactical scope. Don’t let the price of $999 shock you. The Meopta tactical 1×4 scope is actually at the same level as the Swarovski and Schmidt & Bender in terms of optical performance and daylight reticle illumination, plus it offers a true 1x magnification at the lowest setting.
I think Meopta is the best-kept secret in the premium Euro optics. The Meopta’s BDC are calibrated for the 5.56mm NATO, so it will work just fine with 5.45x39m AK74.
For the 7.62x39mm caliber, since the Meopta’s BDC hash marks are not named, it’s easy to figure out the hold-over for each of the 3 small chevrons.
Q: You did a review several years ago of the CMR (Close-Medium Range) model from Leatherwood Hi-Lux. Would you still recommend that scope for an AK user?
A: I think that is still the best 1-4x scope for the AK.
Leatherwood Hi-Lux is now offering two tiers of the CMR models. There is the original and the CMR4 model with a better grade of glass. The latter has capped turrets with the MIL-MIL adjustment, and the windage turret is relocated to the left side.
Both AK models of CMR have a reticle BDC out to 900 meters for the 7.62x39mm. I actually tested that out to 1,000 yards (914 meters), with a Noveske AR in 300 Blackout, which the ballistic matches on the 7.62×39 mm.
Q: What is your impression of the Russian-produced optics for the AK? Do you recommend them, and, if so, which models do you like?
A: The Russian military uses a variety of combat optics on their AK. Some of those are not available to the commercial market and most are not available in the U.S.
The Russian red-dot sights are, in general, not very good. Most are heavy and have a short battery life. That’s why the Russian special operations forces use Aimpoints and EOTechs.
On the other hand, their prism sights are surprisingly good. For example, the Russian Kashtan 2.8x prism sight has an impressive 13-degree field of view. The PSU model 1x/4x switchable sight I tested is the only alternative to the ELCAN Specter DR.
Keep in mind that if you acquire a Russian optic via mail order, the biggest issues you will have are the warranty and customer service. If anything goes wrong, you may have to ship the item back to Russia for repair.
I don’t trust the Russian postal system and there may be U.S. government restrictions regarding sending weapon accessories to another country.
If you go this route, I would recommend only that you buy optics made in the NPZ (Novosibirsk Instrument Plant) factory for top-quality Russian-made optics.
The good news is that WPA (Wolf Performance Ammunition) will be importing the NPZ-made optics and night-vision scopes to the U.S. market.
Wolf Performance Optics will be handling the customer support and warranty in the U.S. They are importing the PSU 1x/4x, Kashtan 2.8x and the Rakurz 1x prism sight.
The PSU 4x and 6x models will be also imported for the SVD, Saiga and VEPR side mount.
Wolf is also working with RS Regulate to adapt their sights and night-vision for AK mounting.