When you’re trying to determine which is the best AK-47 for your money, if you’re like me, you’ll consult every check out every Kalashnikov buyer’s guide on the web.
You’ll read every review, watch every video and pour over the many related posts in the online forums. Even after doing all of that, it’s still a daunting task to pick out a rifle.
To a large degree your choice will be determined by your needs.
Do you plan to hunt or compete with the rifle? Will it be your personal defense weapon? A rifle that’s just for plinking may differ from one suitable for home defense. In the case of the latter, you’re probably going to want to drop the extra bucks for a higher quality product.
How do you discern higher quality?
Price is always a guide, but close scrutiny of the finished product is a must. Substandard riveting and canted sights aren’t good signs, but it may be difficult for a novice to recognize these nuances.
Then there are brand names which are associated with a particular provenance. For example, in the $600 range you can purchase rifles with parts manufactured in Romania (the WASR) or Serbia (from Zastava).
As a first step, you may want to view this video from Jim Fuller, one of the top builders in the industry. He discusses what to look for in a rifle, whether it’s new or used.
Rule Number One:
You Get What You Pay For
The first rule of thumb when buying a new AK is that you get what you pay for. A good-quality rifle will have both superior parts and a higher standard of manufacture than an average gun. These elements factor into the final price. With this in mind, I will arbitrarily divide the AK universe into two distinct categories.
The first belongs to the semi-custom rifles coming out of shops such as Krebs Custom, Rifle Dynamics, Definitive Arms and several other outlets.
These operations are run by quality-control freaks and recognized for consistently producing outstanding, dependable rifles. Their firearms are built to hold up in combat or law enforcement environments. The rifles produced by these builders are usually sourced from Russian, Polish or Bulgarian parts. Figure on paying over $1,000 to purchase one.
Let’s classify the other segment of the AK universe as “production” rifles aimed at a broader market with parts sourced generally from Serbia, Romania, Hungary, Poland and Bulgaria. Some guns may come over in a box as parts, whereas others may be converted from “sporterized” rifles. The quality varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, as do prices, which range from $600 to $1,200. Manufacturers in this category include Century Arms, Palmetto State Armory and DDI. Some Arsenal and Definitive Arms models also fall into this price range.
DDI, which began production in June of 2014, is one of the newer manufacturers. It occupies a niche between Arsenal on the high end and Century on the lower end of the price range.
The company builds milled models from Bulgarian parts kits and stamped models from Hungarian parts. The founder, David Fillers, said DDI components go through a Ferritic nitrocarburizing (case hardening) process which purportedly provides superior corrosion resistance, increases accuracy, and reduces wear. DDI barrels are sourced from (US made) Green Mountain Rifle Barrel Company, which are made to DDI’s own specs. DDI models utilize Magpul and Hogue furniture. Although I have not tested their gear, initial reviews from other sources have been very good. Prices begin at around $750.
Palmetto State Armory, a long-time builder of AR 15s, is also selling an entry level AK for $699 and more expensive rifles (with MOE furniture) for $750. I have also not reviewed their AKs but am very familiar with their AR 15 products which are well regarded. If their AKs are of the same quality as their other rifles, consumers should be happy with their offerings.
The trend, as I see it, is focused on manufacturers catering to customers in the $1000 range. These are people who don’t have the resources for a semi-custom rifle but understand that they need to spend about $1000 to get the quality and features they want.