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Readying for Red October: Gunsite AK Armorer-Operator Course

The art of gunfighting took a huge leap forward with Jeff Cooper’s scientific approach, which developed into his “Modern Technique” of gunfighting. However, like all worthwhile journeys, there is no end. There are always improvements in weapons, gear, evaluating critical incidents and tactics. Gunsite continues to develop and grow with the addition of new classes to fill different niches in the world of personal protection. One of those classes is the Gunsite AK Armorer-Operator Course.

Gunsite AK Armorer-Operator Course

First, let me admit I am a dyed-in-the-wool AR guy. I carried them in Afghanistan and the streets of the U.S. during more than two decades of federal law enforcement service. That said, the AK-47 (and its variants) is arguably the most prolific rifle in world history. If you are going to claim to be any kind of modern weapon expert, you better be more than comfortable running one. For this reason, I jumped at the chance for a week at Gunsite under the tutelage of Master Armorer Jim Fuller, the founder of Rifle Dynamics and owner of Fuller Phoenix, along with Gunsite Rangemaster Freddie Blish and Instructor Monte Gould. Century Arms provided me with their top-of-the-line BFT47, I procured a couple cases of ammo, and I was ready to go.

Day one, we fully disassembled our guns, learned about the parts, made modifications, and put them back together. Here is a little of what I learned from Jim Fuller and from playing with all of the different AKs that different students brought. 

AK iron sights are well…AK iron sights. They leave a lot to be desired. All windage and elevation adjustments for sight-in are done on your front sight. KNS makes a great replacement rear sight that allows windage adjustments. They also have different widths of front sight for easier long-distance aiming.

AK Optic Solutions

If you want to run an optic, there are three main ways: a side mount, a replacement dust cover, or a replacement fore-end. Each have pros and cons. Good side-mounts are rock solid but typically have to be removed each time you want to disassemble the gun. The good news is, as long as you aren’t shooting corrosive ammo, you can wait to clean them to around the 5,000-round mark, when you should be changing out your springs.

Dustcover mounts tend to be too wobbly unless you get one like the F.A.B. Defense AK/AKM Picatinny Scope-Mount Dust Cover. It has a dial on the back that tightens it down. One guy ran it all week and had no trouble with it keeping zero and hitting targets out to 300 yards. The Picatinny on the fore-end, also needs to be rock solid, and many of them are. The issue with it is that it gets very hot up there and can quickly cook your optic, so they better be of the highest quality.

Next mod: get an enhanced-style safety selector. Several companies make them. It allows you to flip off the safety with your trigger finger and lock the bolt to the rear. The Century Arms BFT47 came with it pre-installed, and it was far easier to run than a traditional safety selector.

Part of the Gunsite AK Armorer-Operator course includes classroom instruction.

Better Trigger Options

Triggers on the AK aren’t terrible, but they aren’t great. ALG makes an aftermarket, drop-in trigger that is night and day better than a stock one. I ordered mine on the second day and wish I had it before the week was over. Steel, Magpul, US Palm and F.A.B. Defense magazines were used all week, and they all worked great. My Poly FDE US Palm magazine is see-through and quickly became my favorite for the week because of how easy it was to see how close it was getting to empty. A buddy of mine ran F.A.B. Defense Ultimags, which have a window down the side. He likewise had no issues with them and liked how the window helped him keep track of his round count.

A sling is mandatory for the class, and an adjustable sling is a big plus. I had a good one with quick detach that I brought, but ended up loaning it to a friend when it wouldn’t work on my gun. A mounted weapon light is also recommended for the low-light portion of the class. I took a F.A.B. Defense Vanguard AK handguard to install, because it would allow me a way to install both the sling and the light. It was too tight.

Jim explained my BFT47 has a bulged trunnion (a good thing for added strength), but it was too wide to allow the handguard to slip on. I ran a wood stock and handguard all week, but was able to put on the F.A.B. Defense Gradus AK pistol grip, which was a huge upgrade. Stock pistol grips seemed too small for most people’s hands. After a lot of sanding, hammering and a little bit of lithium grease, my Century Arms BFT47 felt smooth and ready to run.

Shooting the AK-style rifle at distance.

Gunsite Range

Range time with Freddie and Monte taught me the proper manual of arms as well as lots of advice based on their vast experience. First, these guys love the AK and have spent years teaching people how to run them, including active-duty soldiers in Europe. I thought a milled receiver would be a lot better than my stamped receiver. Wrong. Once you realize how heavy the gun is, trust me, you want a stamped receiver. I also learned gloves are almost mandatory all the time. Everything on an AK will cut you, and running them hard increases the damage to your hands. I thought I had knocked off the sharp edges with Jim’s sandpaper, but I was wrong. Everyone on the line bled at some point.

Before we started training, Freddie had us take our time zeroing the iron and red dot sights while explaining the ballistics of the 7.62×39. Over the rest of the week he covered mechanical offset, controlled pairs of shots at different speeds at different distances, tactical (save magazine) reloads, speed reloads, failure drills, shooting from varying distances out to 300 yards, stoppages versus malfunctions and how to clear them, shooting positions, techniques for shooting moving targets at different distances, combining moving with shooting, reduced light shooting, improvised shooting positions, and then lots of drills on lots of different ranges under varied circumstances including hail, wind, rain, cold and heat.

I’m in pretty good shape; I run and I hit the weights everyday. His course still had my back and fingers aching. You can take it easy or really push yourself at a Gunsite course. I was there to learn, so I pushed.

The Gunsite AK Armoer-Operator Course gave the author greater appreciation for the AK.

AK Myths & Realities

What I learned: AKs are not the ultimate in reliability. They can have light primer hits, and they can fire a round out of battery. They are designed for steel-cased ammo and will rip brass-cased ammo in half during extraction. And they are heavy because they were designed to withstand rough treatment and built in the days before CNC machines were really a thing. They are also a lot more accurate than I gave them credit for. On the last day Freddie took us to the Crimson Trace range where we were hitting 8-inch Caldwell steel plates at 100 yards and Caldwell IPSC steel out to 300 yards with unmagnified red dots and making it look easy.

Now that I am back home, I’ve taken off the red dot and I’m upgrading my iron sights and my trigger. Other than that, my Century Arms BFT47 will stay stock. I’ve registered for the once-a-year, Red Oktober match at Rio Salado Sportsman’s Club, where Kalashnikov lovers come together to celebrate the unique weapon system that is the AK. You think you know how to run an AK? This is the place to find out. I still prefer my AR-15 overall, but I have a new-found appreciation for AKs. Now I have a few months to continue to hone the skills I learned at Gunsite before I put them to the test at Red Oktober. I can’t wait to show off what I have learned and see how I measure up to the guys and gals who have been shooting them their whole lives.

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