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Review: The D&L Sports SLR Hybrid, Too much of a Good Thing?

This article originally appeared in RECOIL Issue 38

The D&L Sports Hybrid — an Elite AK or a Solution Looking for a Problem?

The AK market is beginning to feel the effects of a phenomenon that’s all but business as usual for AR shoppers. With the repeated waves of panic buys, and our legislative branch firmly controlled by a party that’s supposedly looking out for our Second Amendment rights, many people have already purchased the rifles they need or want. In response, manufacturers have been striving to come up with new and unique variations of a base rifle so prolific that demand for it has slowed significantly.

For all its benefits, the Kalashnikov platform lacks a degree of modularity that’s trademark of America’s black rifle. Modifications to the AK sometimes require additional effort and TLC. The resulting artisan industry of AK builders has produced some intensely refined versions of Russia’s chief export.

D&L Sports is a small gunsmith shop with an extensive history of quality work, primarily on 1911 pistols. But they recently added a house-blend AK rifle to their lineup. Using an Arsenal base gun, they refer to it as the SLR Hybrid. Our sample package included a very thorough instruction manual, the rifle, and two magazines.

First Impressions
The first thing we think anybody would notice about the SLR Hybrid is that it has a very distinct aesthetic, even for an AK. The handguard is a wide, round number with all kinds of slots and holes. This free-float tube includes a series of holes drilled throughout to attach Picatinny rail sections at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. According to the included literature, these rail pieces are produced by D&L and hand-honed individually.

The sheer weight of this rifle and the custom D&L muzzle brake make for a noticeably flat-shooting rifle.

The sheer weight of this rifle and the custom D&L muzzle brake make for a noticeably flat-shooting rifle.

While the quality of machining and the artisan approach are commendable, this setup left us scratching our head. There’s a solid selection of high-quality AK fore-ends currently available in the aftermarket. Furthermore, the concept of screwing in individual sections of Picatinny rail to mount accessories all but died out many moons ago. If you’re installing a proprietary handguard, why not one that’s KeyMod or M-LOK compatible — this would decrease weight, reduce bulk, and allow direct attachment of a wide variety of accessories.

Moving south of the handguard, there are a number of modifications to the receiver itself. The traditional rear sight is gone, replaced with a short Picatinny base that carried an Aimpoint Micro on our test gun. Particularly unique about this sight mount is the built-in folding rear sight. It’s a nonadjustable pistol-style notch, complemented by a front sight that also folds down. Both front and rear components are equipped with bright tritium inserts. It’s ample sight to cover you in the down-and-dirty if your red dot should fail, and we like the design.

Once screwed into place, the stock doesn’t budge or rattle. But adjust on the fly, it does not.

Once screwed into place, the stock doesn’t budge or rattle. But adjust on the fly, it does not.

Below the sights, the charging handle has been moved to the left side of the receiver. The handle itself is large enough to gain positive control without much effort and should look familiar to anybody who’s ever run an FAL. The magazine well is large enough to drive a truck through and flared like the bottom of the Liberty Bell. If you like magwells, this one should definitely get your mojo going. If not, you’ve been warned.

What truly made us bite our lip about the magazine well are the myriad holes drilled into it. It gives the piece a distinctly cheese-grater appearance that’s pervasive throughout the entire build. The AR-style stock tube and bolt carrier also sport the Swiss cheese fashion style that, frankly, looks like a high school shop student ate all their Halloween candy and then let loose with a drill press. We’re not sure what the intent was behind drilling so many holes, particularly into parts inside the action that come face-to-face with all the crud that x39 ammo is known for. Our initial thought was weight reduction. But, even with all the ventilation, this particular Kalashnikov variant tips the scales at 9.3 pounds unloaded.

The folding BUIS on this gun are push-button activated with positive lockup in both positions.

The folding BUIS on this gun are push-button activated with positive lockup in both positions.

The aforementioned stock tube has a storage compartment that, on our sample gun, held a cleaning kit. The end of the tube has a screw-in cap that’s easy enough to open and close. However, accessing it isn’t as quick as it sounds. The stock is held in place by two hex head set screws that must be completely backed down before the stock can slide in or out to set length of pull. Both screws must then be tightened all the way down once the length is set. While the tube looks like an AR-style stock tube, it doesn’t function as such. You can’t plug in a standard AR buttstock to replace the one with set screws.

It would seem the stock that comes on this gun is the one you’re stuck with. Said unit is also capable of storing an additional magazine latched into the buttstock itself. Ours is currently holding a 10-round AK PMAG, although others do latch in. And the stock tube doesn’t fold. On the bright side, if you don’t feel like jacking with set screws just to reach the internal storage compartment, you can always stuff your small sundries into the Magpul grip that has a small pocket inside.

The stock tube gives you a fairly large amount of space to stow maintenance or other supplies on board the weapon.

The stock tube gives you a fairly large amount of space to stow maintenance or other supplies on board the weapon.

Lest we be accused of judging a book by its perforated cover, it seemed to be only fair that we bring this thought-provoking piece of work out for field testing.

Rounds Downrange
We put several hundred rounds through the SLR Hybrid, using an eclectic array of ammunition, ranging from Tiger Imports to Silver Bear “Match” to Federal, Hornady, and Red Army Standard. The rifle ran exactly as an AK should — so consistently as to be boring. The trigger appears to be of ALG provenance, tripping our pull gauge at just under 3.5 pounds. It’s certainly lighter than we’re accustomed to for AKs, but it’s a refreshing change and enables more precise engagements — at least, as precise as you can get for an AK. Out to the 50- to 60-yard marker, this rifle held groups noticeably tighter and more consistent than other AKs we’ve shot.

However, the modifications made to this rifle did lead to some interesting quirks with the manual of arms. As previously mentioned, this model is set up with a left-side-only charging handle. To achieve this effect, it appears that the original right-side handle was ground down, leaving a small nub on the bolt carrier.

This mag well may be one of the most forgiving we’ve seen for rapid reloads.

This mag well may be one of the most forgiving we’ve seen for rapid reloads.

An AK’s selector lever is designed so that, in the up (safe) position, you’re unable to charge the weapon. But this nub is sized and shaped perfectly to kick the safety lever down into the fire position when you run the bolt. The safety on our D&L AK remains functional in the sense that it still prevents the weapon from firing. But it no longer keeps the bolt from cycling.

This “feature” might prove a boon to those who would keep this rifle stored in condition 3 — maybe under the bed or in the trunk. In that case you could leave a full mag inserted with the selector on safe. When needed, running the bolt would both chamber a round and kick the selector down into fire. We’re not 100-percent convinced this was an intentional design feature, as there’s nothing about it listed in the company literature included with our test gun. But, like it or not, it’s there.

The other significant difference in functionality has to do with the magazines. Our test gun came with two: a 30-round Circle 10 and a 10-round PMAG stored on board the stock. In addition to these two, we used several other 30-round PMAGs — both the standard Gen 3 and MOE varieties. While the included magazines locked into the weapon easily, our personal mags required significant manual assistance to seat properly. Specifically, we had to brace the stock of the rifle against our chest and pull the magazine back with both hands in order to get it to latch into place.

After some careful side-by-side comparison, we realized that the two mags included with the gun were both dimpled on the left feed lip. These dimples correspond to a small hump on the bottom of the ejector, allowing the included mags to fit smoothly. The unmodified mags from our personal stock only fit when aggressively muscled in. After this, we tried a whole slew of different AK mags. Russian slab-side, Russian Bakelite, Hungarian tanker mags, Bosnian FDL, Chinese steel mags, and AK-103 mags all fit. Un-modded PMAGs and Circle 10s didn’t.

The included polymer mags required some factory fitment to work properly. Steel mags we borrowed from friends locked in without issue.

The included polymer mags required some factory fitment to work properly. Steel mags we borrowed from friends locked in without issue.

Some of the information provided by D&L reads as follows: “There is no guarantee that random battlefield pickup mags are going to work in all guns. I recommend shooters get the mags they may need when they order a carbine, then they can all be tested for fit and function, and the carbine’s serial number put on the bottom of the mag. Then use a drop pouch and don’t abuse a critical part of the reliability chain. Magazine fit is critical to reliability. Polymer and overmolded mags often require extra fitting, and it is a toss up with steel mags too.”

While we agree quality magazines are an important factor in the overall reliability of any weapon, this verbiage is at hard odds with conventional wisdom. Magazines are, at the end of the day, consumable components. Like brake pads on a vehicle, their importance doesn’t make them immune to the need for periodic replacement. Furthermore, these modifications take one of the most prolific battle rifle designs in modern history, for which there is a well-established dimensional standard, and “converts” it to run on magazines that need to be fitted for function. To seek clarification on the issue, we spoke with Gary Hughes of MOD Outfitters. His take on AKs and magazines went like this: “…we fit the gun to work with a variety of mags, Romanian, Polish, Russian, etc. Always fit the gun to those mags. With American made or poly mags you do the opposite. With those mags, you fit the mag to the gun. By and large an AK should not require custom-fitted mags of any sort.”

slr hybrid.03

Upon examination of the ejector, the humped design appears similar to those found on the AK-74, which may also contribute to the need for magazine fitment …

The Smoking Gun
The amount of effort put into this rifle is clear, and we applaud D&L for the high level of craftsmanship. But, arguably it seems that much of the effort could have been better applied. The amount of time spent on lightening holes alone could’ve been all but eliminated through different parts selection. Considering that the weapon weighs over 9 pounds after removing all that metal, it’s as if they were fighting their own design choices. But we admit freely that this is only our particular experience with the rifle. Your mileage may vary, and if the aesthetic appeals to you, then it may be just what you’re looking for.


Visit http://www.dlsports.com/


slr hybrid.01


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