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 3” 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.
In additon to the highly regarded UltiMAK, Midwest Industries has developed a very similar AK Railed Gas Tube. Shall we call it a clone? Manufactured out of 6061 aluminum and 4140 steel, with mil-spec top rail, it offers a lower 1/3 co-witness sight picture with Aimpoint micro red dot sights. Price is $99.95.
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 atop the handguard, UltiMAK, Midwest Industries, Krebs Custom and other companies manufacture good systems.