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Preview – Arsenal SLR 104 and Petronov AK-74

Photos by Chris Heising

The 74's Not Dead. And We Can Prove It.

There’s little question that the last two years have given rise to a massive expansion of the AK consumer market in America. Domestic companies, many of whom made their names on the back of the black rifle, are now neck-deep in Kalashnikov accessories. Everything from handguards and buttstocks to triggers and optics are now being made in the USA for Russia’s chief non-vodka export. Several companies are producing full AK rifles with 100-percent American parts. Let’s all just read that last sentence one more time and appreciate the irony …
It is, however, an unfortunate truth that one member of the immigrant family Kalashnikov has been left behind in this collective embrace of the American AK revolution: the AK-74. But we think times are changing for this little brother of the iconic “peasant’s rifle.” In order to make our case, we tried out two 74-style rifles and some pretty cool accessories.

The Rest of the Story
The “original” AK was produced in the ubiquitous 7.62x39mm, itself a bastardization of the 7.92mm Kurz introduced to the Eastern Bloc by the Vermacht. This was the only AK chambering worldwide, from the late ’40s until the AK-74 was released in (you guessed it) 1974. Why the sudden change after nearly three decades?

On the other side of the planet, the United States was experiencing a flurry of service rifle development. We went from the M1 to the M14 to the M16 in half that span — about 15 years that, in military procurement, might as well be time travel. The rise of close-range, low-intensity conflict precipitated a shift toward lighter, hyper-velocity cartridges. Hence the USA, and then NATO, shift from 7.62x51mm to 5.56x45mm. The motherland may have had no desire for such evolution (because, in Soviet Russia, the rifle evolves you!), but some quantity of 5.56mm rounds were captured during Vietnam and sent back across the Iron Curtain. This, at least in part, gave rise to the 5.45x39mm and the AK-74 that fires it.

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Fast-forward some to the eventual introduction of AK variants to the American consumer. The 7.62x39mm has always been the more prevalent of the two red cartridges, leaving 5.45mm to a somewhat cult following in the commercial market. The smaller round offers a couple of noteworthy advantages to its bigger, older brother: it’s lighter-recoiling, flatter-shooting, and farther-reaching. And, for a long time, 5.45 ammo was significantly cheaper than just about any other mainstream rifle round out there. Soviet military surplus ammo practically washed up on our shores by the container load, and we remember when a spam can of 1,080 rounds could be had for $100 and the change in your cupholder.

Then 2014 happened. Said surplus ammo, known as 7n6, was “reviewed” by the ATF and “determined” to be armor piercing due to its mild steel core. Importation was immediately banned partly because a 5.45 AK pistol, which none of us have seen in the flesh, was approved for import in 2011. You might remember that they tried a similar stunt with M855 green tip, which was shut down by the handful of politicians who do their effing jobs. Unfortunately, no retroactive courtesy was extended to the 5.45. Some folks spent their life savings to buy vaults full of 7n6. The majority dropped the AK-74 like a hot potato and what little aftermarket support there was stagnated or vanished until recently.

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