Looking over my experience with the AK-type rifle, I can say I have not been a fan. I’ve owned a few, but the AR-15 has been my rifle, and I’ve spent my time mastering it. The AK seemed the rougher of the two—and that’s its appeal to many. The AK-47 was designed for reliability and low maintenance. If you believe the AK never jams, we’re going to a different church, but the rifle is usually reliable. There have been any numbers of rather poor incarnations that simply do not live up to the promise. There are also several well-built, reliable rifles. The one covered in this review is one of these.
Lately, I’ve strongly considered the AK as an answer to the need for a reliable, but affordable, rifle that most can use well. The AK-47’s origin is in street fighting at Stalingrad and later Berlin as the Russians pushed back the Germans and ultimately marched to Berlin. The Nagant rifle wasn’t well suited to dynamic house clearing. The Soviet “burb gun” was a great close-quarters weapon but lacked the range and power of a rifle. The Soviets developed a short-range rifle cartridge with enough power to do the business and the versatility to replace both the full-power rifle and the submachine gun. This is a very simple description of a complex history, but the AK-47 was exactly what was needed.
The Soviet narrative of the war was different from our own. The United States fought in North Africa and the mountains of Italy, where the Garand was a great rifle. The Soviets fought at long range as well, but the house-to-house fighting and rapid movement behind armor were also part of their war. By the time we were involved in Vietnam, the need for a jungle fighter produced the AR-15, and the rest is history.
As development in either rifle progressed, a steady goal has been to improve the accuracy of the type. The AR-15 is wonderfully accurate, and I don’t think that reliability has been compromised in the best examples. My Colt HBAR, Colt SOCOM and the Daniel Defense have never malfunctioned, but then I haven’t marched in the Sandbox. The Israelis captured tens of thousands of AK rifles and ammunition, but they seem disdainful to use them and favor the M16 types, although they built a homegrown AK variant. The Galil is a mix of AK features and the 5.56mm chambering.
Sometimes conceptions are at variance with observations, and I wanted to test and evaluate one of the newest production AK variants and make up my own mind on the rifle. The Century International Arms PAP M90 caught my eye. It is manufactured by Zastava, whose products I’ve enjoyed excellent results with in the past. The rifle seems well made of good material. The furniture is plastic. The forend and stock are a good fit—though the stock had an angle that worked on my cheek when I used the proper cheekweld. Since the recoil is light, it wasn’t going to jar my molars loose, but it certainly was noticeable. My brother also fired the rifle, but he didn’t notice the angle on the stock. I adapted.
The rifle sports standard AK-type sights. The trigger action isn’t overly heavy, at 6.5 pounds, and it’s clean enough for decent work. Like most AK variants, the bolt doesn’t lock open on the last shot. However, it can be locked open with the safety, which is simply a lever on the side of the receiver. When applied, it locks the bolt shut. This safety was stiff at first but worked in. In all cases, when parts have been stiff at first they have worked in and performed well. Having them be too loose leads to problems.
The big news is that the rifle is chambered for the 5.56mm NATO cartridge. There have been 5.56 AKs before, but they took specific magazines that were sometimes difficult to obtain. This Zastava features a hard plastic addition to the receiver that accepts AR-15 magazines that are cheap and plentiful. If you favor the 7.62x39mm cartridge, this isn’t your rifle. If you like the simplicity and ruggedness of the AK but prefer the easy availability of the AR magazine and ammunition, this is your rifle. I tested a number of both aluminum and polymer magazines including the aluminum NHMTG and Colt, and the polymer Troy and Magpul. All worked well without any problems. This is interesting, as the much more expensive Beretta ARX did not accept all AR-15 magazines.
The sights of the AK-type rifle are rugged and useful. It was not difficult to adjust them for close quarters combat range—25 yards—and also adjust the sight for elevation at a long 100 yards. While the receiver features a device for mounting an optic, I think most of us will be better served with iron sights. The AK is a rugged; go anywhere, do anything rifle, and while accuracy potential is increased by a quality optic, the rifle is useful as it is issued.
I fired the rifle with more than 200 rounds at the first range outing, and it was enjoyable to fire and use. Allowing it to cool between loading magazines, there were no failures to feed, chamber, fire, or eject. I began with Winchester’s USA 55-grain FMJ, firing quickly, offhand, engaging targets quickly. Cases are ejected smartly. However, it wasn’t long before the receiver picked up the characteristic brass mark from cases hitting the receiver. It would not be an AK without this.
I also fired a full box of Hornady’s Steel Match loads. This is about the most affordable quality load available. I did not expect an AK to have any problem with steel-case loads. During this firing program, I practiced quickly changing magazines. The push-button magazine release works fine. The limiting factor is that the bolt doesn’t hold open on the last shot. The rifle isn’t as fast to reload as an AR, but it’s superior to the original AK system.
I also fired a number of loads that are definitely not something the AK was intended for. Fiocchi’s 40-grain V-MAX is a blistering-fast number intended to vaporize varmints at long range. At 3,600 fps, it’s is a great load. Part of the reason the AK is so reliable is that the over-the-barrel gas piston has a bit of tolerance for different loads. In any case, the V-MAX ran right through a magazine without complaint. I blasted dirt clods and clay birds at the 100-yard line with this load with good results.
Next was a heavyweight. Fiocchi also offers a 69-grain load that is gilt-edged accurate in the right rifle. This one breaks about 2,700 fps. The results were good, with 20 rounds through the PMAG in no time and good accuracy in informal shooting.
Absolute accuracy was tested by firing at 100 yards. With iron sights, this type of shooting is just as much about muscle control and a good firing position as sight alignment and sight picture, but all of it is important. I fired the Winchester USA 55-grain FMJ, Hornady 55-grain Steel Match, and Fiocchi 69-grain Extrema in groups of five shots. Surprisingly, the rifle fired to the same point of aim, more or less, with all three loads. Accuracy was consistent, with most groups just under 4 inches. I managed one 3.5-inch group. This is a little better than most 7.62x39mm rifles. I bumped and adjusted the sights and was able to get good results in offhand fire as well. The bottom line is that this is a shooter. It’s accurate enough, reliable, and clearly a good-to-go rifle for alarms and excursions.
What’s your take on AKs shooting 5.56? Have you shot or own a Century International Arms PAP M90? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comment section.