A retired career special operations soldier with 20-plus years of service, Larry Vickers has established himself as one of the foremost firearms instructors in the nation. He travels around the country and offers one-day classes on the AK (as well as instruction in other platforms). He’s also developed several products including a highly regarded two-point AK sling (which is reviewed in this book). His company, Vickers Tactical, regularly trains military and law enforcement units in combat marksmanship. In addition to tactical training and home self-defense instruction, Larry is a TV Show host and has a YouTube channel. He’s also a Master 1911 Pistolsmith, one of the original founders of IDPA (International Defensive Pistol Association), and a firearms historian.
Q: What advice would have for the AK owner who is interested in learning about the capabilities of his rifle and how to shoot it with confidence?
A: The first thing I would do is take a class—it’s worth its weight in gold. Be sure and do research on who is offering the class. There are four basic things to learn on an AK. It’s a simple gun to use and operate but you need to get educated on those points.
Q: So what are the four items that you’re talking about?
A: The first thing is zeroing in the rifle. Whether it’s an AKM an AK-47 or an AK-74. You’ll want to be able to zero the Warsaw Pact-issue iron sights. Sighting in an AK is different from zeroing other rifles because the elevation and windage are on the front sight. Anytime you adjust the front sight, it’s always opposite you want the direction of the bullet to go. If you want the bullet to go to the right, you move the sight to the left. If you want the bullet to go down, you move the front sight up. It’s always opposite and you need to get a handle on that. Adjustments are on the coarse side. My theory is simple. I would put the rear setting on whatever you want, whether it’s 100 meters or the battle sight ‘zero’ setting. Then do your adjustments up front and dial it in. You adjust it and shoot it until you’ve got it right.
Q: How accurate are they?
A: They are roughly half as accurate as an M4. You can “cheat” on that by putting a red dot sight on there. What I tell people is expect to train yourself and zero the rifle to make headshots out to about 50 meters and upper torso shots from 50 out to about 200 meters. That’s the realm of the gun. Forget about shooting some guy at 500 yards. The AK with iron sights, regardless of caliber, is a 200 meter gun.
Q: What was item number 2?
A: Item number 2 is to learn how to manipulate the safety. If you’re only going to do one modification to the gun, put on an aftermarket safety like the product from Krebs Custom. If the safety is really stiff and you’re a right handed shooter, you may have to wrap your hand around the magazine and reach with your thumb to put it in the “fire” positon in order to get some leverage. You can modify the safety, perhaps bend the lever, but in some cases it’s more complicated than that–sometimes in order to reduce the tension it may need some fitting. Then you can manipulate the safety with an extended index finger or middle finger. The main thing is learn to run the safety.
Q: OK, what about number 3?
A: Learn the nuances of reloading the gun and/or fitting your magazines. Often mags have to be fitted to the gun. It’s a byproduct of two things. Number one is that magazines are made by a wide variety of manufacturers around the globe and vary in dimensions. Number two is that the specs on many magwells and magazine releases are not what they should be on US-made rifles and U.S. 922r modified (imported) AK’s. That means even some Warsaw Pact magazines that will fit on any AK worldwide may not fit properly on US guns.
Also, reloading is not as simple on an AK as it is on an M4. With an AK you need to rock the magazine in—nose down and rear end up. The good news is that once it’s in I would argue that it’s an even more stable and reliable way to retain the magazine in the gun.
Q: And the fourth point?
A: Learn how to clear malfunctions. The guns will malfunction on occasion. It’s often ammo related. There are a couple of malfunctions that are unique to the gun which are a direct byproduct of the amount of room you have in the receiver. There’s a ton of room—so much that you can pour sand in the gun and it will still function but the flip side of that is you can get a live round or an empty case near the trigger mechanism and that can cause problems. Fortunately, it’s an easy gun to clear malfunctions but when it happens is not the time to figure it out.
Q: Do you have any general tips for new owners?
A: Number one is to seriously resist the urge to over-accessorize the gun. By doing this you will frankly turn the gun into junk. There’s a very tiny percentage of aftermarket accessories for the AK that I think are worth having on your gun.
Number two is don’t think you can over-abuse the rifle and think that the gun will keep running. Yes, there’s some truth to the myth that the gun is indestructible but it’s not a myth you want to rely on. Lube the gun, take care of it and it will take care of you.
Number three is don’t judge the AK by the ones you see on the American market. Many of the guns you see are poorly made and improperly assembled with substandard materials. There’s a myth out there than anyone can put these together and it’s not true. Case and point: If you compare break-downs in my classes with M4s and AKs, hands down, every time there are always more problems with the AKs. I think there’s only a handful of people in the country who know how to build them.
Vickers advises not to over-accessorize your rifle. Adding a red dot scope, a rail and a vertical grip to this Arsenal are enough. (Courtesy Vickers Tactical)
Q: Which of the manufactured guns do you like the best?
A: As far as manufactured guns, I think the Bulgarian Arsenals are the best on the market. One of the problems is that the average AK-buyer is not willing to open up his wallet as much as the AR 15 buyer who will spend half again to twice as much on a rifle. I think the AK buyers got used to much lower pricing when you could get decent kits for very low prices and you could get a gun put together for $400 or less. Those days are over.
Q: Can you recommend any magazines?
A: I prefer the ‘Warsaw Pact’ steel, polymer or Bakelite magazines. You can still source them at reasonable prices. The Circle 10 magazines imported by Arsenal are more expensive than American-made products but they are fantastic.
Q: Do you think the AK makes a good home defense gun?
A: It wouldn’t be my first choice. It’s not as easy to accessorize as an M4. For example you can put a red dot optic and a white light much easier on an M4 than on an AK.
Q: If you were to set up an AK as a home defense weapon, how would you go about it?
A: You need a red dot optic. I’m a fan of Aimpoint, I think they are without peer. To mount it you need a rail system. RS Regulate makes the best side rail. Up front there are a number of options. You can replace your handguard with a rail system so you can put on a white light, which is the other item you need for home defense. You can get products from Midwest Industries, US Palm and UltiMAK. I’ve seen UltiMAK rails in my classes for years and they work just fine.
Q: Do you have to be concerned that a red dot will get ‘overheated’ being mounted above the gas tube?
A: If you have mag dump after mag dump you may have an issue with heat. But with any reasonable use I have never seen overheating as an issue with a red dot. Never. With a red dot I mean an Aimpoint. Let me be crystal clear on that.
Q: Do you think there’s merit to the argument because of the AK’s notoriety, using an AK for self-defense might give the impression in a court of law that a defendant could be construed as a “suburban Rambo”?
A: I think there’s some validity to that. It’s universally considered to be the gun of the bad guy. If you used it in a self-defense shooting there’s the potential of it being a liability in the court of law.
Q: You said you are pretty selective about third party accessories and provided some examples of products you like. Do you have any other suggestions?
A: The Krebs Custom safety is a good addition. My preference for the pistol grip is US Palm. Circle 10 AK and Manticore Arms are developing a KeyMod rail that has some potential. I also like the Circle 10AK U-notch rear sight. I think the new Magpul furniture looks like it has potential. There’s the Blue Force Gear AK sling which is excellent. I admit I’m biased about that because it’s my design.