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Preview – Non-AK – SIG 556R and VZ2008

Photography by Ryan Hayes and Matt Tillman

How Do You Stand Out in the AK Crowd? By Not Being Part of the Herd. Meet the SIG 556R and VZ2008.

The 7.62x39mm cartridge was developed during World War II by the Russians, and it served as their primary rifle cartridge for over three decades until the 5.45x39mm round replaced it. The sheer volume of Kalashnikov variants produced in this caliber has ensured that it remains one of the most widely used cartridges in the world. Cheap Eastern European 7.62x39mm remains more affordable than .223/5.56mm NATO, and this cost differential has certainly contributed to its success in the United States. X39 is also at times more available than .223 — following the latest round of panic buying, .223 was either ridiculously priced or simply unavailable as people snapped up everything they could find to feed new guns or simply to stash away. It was still possible to find 7.62x39mm during this time period, and the price did not increase as dramatically.

SKS and AK rifles have been available in the United States for decades. Both designs have their limitations and their detractors. AR-15s chambered in 7.62x39mm have never experienced much commercial success. There are, however, other semiautomatic options in 7.62x39mm available to the consumer — and we decided to give a couple of them a workout. Meet the SIG 556R and the VZ2008.


SIG 556R
The SIG 556 is produced by SIG SAUER based upon the design of the Swiss SG550 and is available in both 5.56mm and, in the case of the R (or Russian) model, chambered in 7.62x39mm. It is a direct descendant of the Kalashnikov design and uses the same long-stroke piston and rotating bolt. When comparing any SIG 556 bolt to that of an AK, the similarities are readily apparent — both have a massive extractor and twin opposed locking lugs. However, the overall design is more refined and has features that American users have come to expect. The two-piece receiver design, hinged like an AR-15, allows for an optic rail to be attached solidly to the upper — no flimsy sheetmetal top cover, like on an AK. A functional ambidextrous safety is standard, and it doesn’t rip your hand to shreds when racking the charging handle. Regular 556 models use STANAG AR-15 magazines, whereas the 556R in 7.62x39mm uses standard AK mags, so there’s no problem getting hold of spares.

The first generation of 556R rifles had reliability problems compared to their 5.56mm counterparts. SIG took these deficiencies seriously and revamped the 556R, turning it into a reliable workhorse in its second generation. Between the factory optics rail, better trigger, and more precisely machined parts, the 556R can consistently outperform AKs in the accuracy department. With our Silver Bear test ammo, the rifle was able to consistently deliver 2 to 2.5 MOA groups using just an Aimpoint M4 red dot. The recoil impulse is smooth, and it’s easy to shoot fast while keeping the rifle on target.

Though not as well served as the ubiquitous AR-15, there’s a wide range of accessories available for the SIG 556. On the 556R, the barrel is threaded 5⁄8-24, providing compatibility with many .308 brakes and compensators. So we replaced the standard A2-style flash hider with a TSD Kompressor to reduce muzzle climb, making it more suitable for use in action rifle competitions. Samson Manufacturing iron sights were added, as the 556R only ships with a lonely rear lollipop-type sight built into the rail and no front sight at all. Although well built, the Samson sights are AR height. As such, some shooters might want a cheek rest to get behind them better, but as rarely used backup sights, they functioned well enough. We also tried out Samson’s quad rail system — it installed easily and would be useful for those who want to use multiple accessories. But because the rifle really didn’t need anything other than a light for our purposes and the additional weight shifted the balance of the rifle forward, we ultimately removed it.


During the Cold War, the Soviet Union required all Warsaw Pact forces to standardize on the M43 7.62x39mm cartridge. Most of the Soviet Bloc countries standardized on Kalashnikov variants. However, Czechoslovakia, showing their usual hearty “screw you” attitude, chose to design a new rifle, the vz. 58. The vz. 58 has an external appearance similar to that of a Kalashnikov, but internally they are very different. Instead of a long-stroke piston with a rotating bolt, the vz. 58 uses a short-stroke piston system with a falling breach block and a striker rather than a traditional hammer. The magazines are unique to the rifle and have a follower that holds open the bolt after the last round is fired. The safety selector is on the right-hand side of the receiver — in the original, it rotates forward to fire. The U.S.-made semiautomatic version reverses this in order to accommodate a revised fire control system, which is counter intuitive and a retrograde step. Thanks, ATF…


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