If you are in the market for a Kalashnikov-style semi-auto, be it a rifle or a pistol, then Century International Arms is likely to have what you're looking for. The company provides a wide variety of barrel lengths and stock types in both foreign and domestic models, based on the successful AK-47 action. A few years ago, the company introduced the all-American Centurion line of milled-receiver AKs, including the 16.25-inch barrel Centurion 39 Sporter rifle and the 11.37-inch barrel C39 pistol. For 2014, the company is launching a new variation on the pistol, called the C39 Micro.
To some shooters, the idea of building a handgun from a rifle design may seem a bit odd but rifle-action pistols are more common than one might expect. Some have been developed as novelty or Hollywood movie guns because they look cool on screen, like the mare's leg lever-action pistols. Others have been born of military expediency. Removing a rifle's stock and installing a shortened barrel results in a compact submachine gun that is fully compactable with the parts and ammunition on hand for combat long guns. Modern civilian-legal semi-auto versions of these military-rifle inspired handguns include the Auto Ordnance Thompson pistol, the I.O. Inc. Polish PPS-43C Pistol, the Diamondback DB15 and of course the C39.
The C39 Micro is a pistol that makes a good first impression. Some AKs are fairly rough around the edges but this one is sturdy, clean and has a top-notch level of fit and finish inside and out. This semi-auto employs the classic AK-47 gas-piston system. Propellant gases are bled from the barrel to a piston attached to the bolt carrier. This gas pressure cycles the action, ejecting spent cases from the chamber and loading fresh rounds from the detachable box magazine.
The C39 Micro is, well, “micro” because of the short 6.25-inch barrel, which is fitted with a removable four-port flash hider. A small spring-loaded plunger holds the flash hider in place until it’s purposefully removed. The hooded front-sight post twists up and down for height adjustments. Pairing a traditional rear sight with the front sight posed a problem for the manufacturer because the shortened barrel leaves very little real-estate. Installing a rear sight would leave no place for a scope mount, whereas a traditional scope mount would leave no room for a rear sight.
Century's solution was to mount a 4.25-inch steel Picatinny sight rail to the rear sight block, which contains two 0.35-inch-long, red fiber-optic pipes. A sight picture is formed by aligning the two red dots with the post of the front sight. It's a clever solution that's sturdy, easy to use and allows an optic to be attached without modifications to the iron sights. The rail is held in place by two Phillips-head screws that will need a good dose of LocTite to keep them secured.
The receiver cover is of the standard, stamped sheet-metal variety. The wooden fore-end grip extends from the base of the flash hider to within a half-inch of the magazine well, wrapping around the receiver. The wide, curving shape of the fore-end serves several support-hand functions. First it provides a comfortable griping surface. However,the lip of the fore-end also helps to shield the support hand from muzzle blast and the added girth helps to keep fingers and thumbs away from the four hot gas ports located between the front sight and the rear sight rail.
At the heart of the C39 Micro is a milled 4140 ordnance-grade steel receiver. The receiver starts as an 11-pound billet that is reduced to just 1.5 pounds once the shaping processes are complete. It’s more expensive and time consuming to produce a milled receiver, instead of stamping it out of sheet steel, but the result is a much more durable component with tighter tolerances.
The external controls of the C39 Micro are shaped, located and operated in the typical AK fashion. The charging handle, ejection port and safety lever are located on the right side of the receiver. The safety lever swings down into the fire position and up into the safe position. The magazine release lever is mounted on the front of the square trigger guard. The trigger assembly is the smooth-cycling G2 model from TAPCO. This particular trigger broke cleanly at 3 pounds, 13 ounces. The finger-grooved black polymer pistol grip is checkered with thumb relief notches on both sides. The gun accepts most AK-style magazines and arrives with two polymer TAPCO magazines. One holds 10-rounds while the other is a 30-round model.
Rifle-action pistols can be plenty of fun to work with at the shooting range and the C39 Micro was no exception. Shooters in neighboring lanes stopped by to ask about the pistol because of its unusual size and the impressive light and sound show it produced. Like other rifle-action pistols, the C29 Micro is heavy. Unloaded, it weighs 5 pounds, 10 ounces. Inserting a loaded 10-round magazine adds about 10 ounces to the pistol's weight, while a fully filled 30-rounder adds around 1 pound, 9 ounces. The good news is that the extra weight, most of which is forward of the magazine well, keeps the C39's recoil to a moderate level.
But how does one go about aiming over 6-pounds worth of unwieldy pistol for accurate shot placement? The more common methods for steadying a gun like this one include using a benchrest, attaching a single-point sling or generating a push-pull tension between the shooting hand and the support hand when no other external supports are available. But Century International Arms is now providing an additional option in the form of the SB-47 Stabilizing Brace.
The brace was originally designed by Alex Bosco of SB Tactical for injured veterans to help stabilize AR- and AK-based pistols for single-handed operation. The SB-47 secures the pistol to the forearm of the shooter via a rubber cuff fitted with two adjustable hook-and-loop straps. The brace attaches to AK-type pistols using a bracket that fits between the receiver and the pistol grip, with the brace positioned against the rear of the receiver.
Upon examining the brace for the first time, the following legal question came to mind: Will attaching this product (which looks a bit like a stumpy shoulder stock) to an AK pistol constitute a violation of NFA regulations regarding the conversion of pistols into short-barreled rifles? According to the copy of a BATFE approval letter provided with the brace, the answer is no. "We find that the device is not designed or intended to fire a weapon from the shoulder."
The SB-47 brace did a great job of adding stability to the pistol for off-the-bench shooting. Securing the cuff to the shooting-hand forearm distributes the weight across more muscle groups and greatly reduces the heavy pistol's tendency to twist, sway or drop down at the muzzle. However, the brace adds almost a pound and a half of weight to the pistol, requires a modified shooting stance to use and takes some time to get used to. But it was certainly useful on the shooting range.
The pistol operated flawlessly with every type of ammunition it was fed, ranging from steel-cased full-metal-jacket rounds to brass-cased, soft-nose hunting loads. Formal accuracy testing was conducted from a benchrest by firing five, five-shot groups into targets at 25 yards using the pistol's factory-installed sights. The best single group of 1.91 inches was produced using Hornady 123-grain Z-MAX steel-cased ammunition, which also resulted in the best group average of 2.27 inches. Winchester Super X 123-grain soft-point brass-cased loads averaged 2.35 inches. Century recently started shipping 180-round Range Packs of its steel-cased, non-corrosive 123-grain full-metal-jacket Red Army Standard 7.62x39 mm ammunition, which yielded a group average of 2.42 inches.
The Century International Arms C39 Micro is a sturdy, reliable rifle-action pistol that's one of the most compact factory-made AK-47 variants on the market. Shaving the barrel down to just over 6 inches reduces the pistol’s accuracy potential a bit. But with its unique sight system and smooth trigger, this 100-percent American-made semi-auto is certainly fun to shoot.