Over the last couple of years, we've seen the modern sporting rifle market become saturated, if not deluged, with AR-15 pattern platforms chambered for 5.56 NATO and .223 Rem. Recognizing that AR-15 sales were eventually going to slow down, which they have, gun makers have been working to diversify their offerings with semi-autos chambered for the larger .308 Win. and 7.62 NATO cartridges. The models that have arrived on the market include AR-10 clones, hybrid rifles that blend AR-10 and AR-15 components to reduce their weight, and AR-based adjustable gas-piston operated platforms like the Ruger SR-762. Although these platforms are reliable and accurate, factory-built ARs (especially the piston-driven models) usually have healthy price tags that start at around $1,500 and go up from there.
While this AR-related hubbub has been underway, Century International Arms (CIA) quietly released an affordably priced adjustable gas piston semi-auto version of the Zastava Arms M77 B1 combat rifle called the PAP M77 PS. And by affordably priced, I mean one third to one quarter of the cost of the AR-styled competition. With real-world prices anywhere from $50 to $100 below the suggested retail of $649.95, the PAP M77 PS has been selling like hotcakes on the U.S. market. Having worked with other firearms produced by Zastava, and finding them to be solidly built and reliable, I contacted CIA to request one of these rifles to work with.
The Zastava PAP M77 PS semi-auto rifle (hereafter referred to as the M77 for the sake of brevity) takes its cues from the AK-47. This means it should look familiar to those who already use the platform. However, there are some notable differences. To start with, this model has been “sporterized’ at the factory. In other words, the cosmetic and military features that would bar it from importation have been completely removed or replaced with politically correct ones. Fortunately, these superficial modifications have little impact on the rifle's functionality.
Like most of the budget-friendly AKs on the market, the M77 is not going to win any beauty contests. That being said, the rifle is well made and has better handling characteristics than might be expected for the price. The receiver is stamped from sheet steel while the key internal components are machined from solid steel. The receiver cover has additional support in the form of a spring-loaded retention at the rear left side of the receiver that has to be depressed in order for the cover to be removed. The back of the receiver has a slanted cut where it butts up against the shoulder stock. A flat or straight receiver shape is more common which limits the stock options for this gun.
The rifle's action is operated by a long-stroke AK gas piston modified to handle the .308 cartridges. A 3-position gas adjustment ring, located behind the gas block, can be twisted to increase or decrease the level of pressure directed into the piston so that the rifle can cycle a variety of surplus and factory-fresh ammunition. The rifle arrives with the ring set to the #2 position and there was no need to adjust it in the course of testing.
The 19.70” cold-forged barrel has a threaded muzzle with a steel thread protector welded in place to prevent the attachment of flash hiders or other muzzle accessories. The iron sights are of the standard AK variety. The front sight post can be adjusted for height and windage using an AK sight tool while the rear sight leaf is optimistically notched for shots out to 1000 meters.
The bolt handle and selector lever are found on the right side of the receiver and operate in typical AK fashion, as does the magazine release. Since the bolt does not have an internal mechanism to lock it open, Zastava opted to cut a bolt notch into the selector lever. While holding the bolt open, swing the lever up into the Safe to catch the bolt. When the lever is moved back down into the Fire position, the bolt will close. This was a handy feature out on the shooting range.
The steel bow trigger is rounded and comfortable to work with. With a smooth, grit-free pull, the trigger required 4-pounds 8-ounces of pressure to cycle. The upper and lower hand guards are constructed of a black polymer, as is the thumbhole shoulder stock. Some thumbhole stocks leave much to be desired, but the M77's Monte Carlo-style stock is well-designed. The grip is hand filling, a rubber buttpad successfully mitigates felt recoil, and the raised cheek piece provides a comfortable fit when shouldering the gun.
This rifle ships with a single proprietary 10-round double-stack magazines. Unfortunately, as of this writing, additional 10 or 20-round factory magazines are as rare as hens’ teeth. The good news is that Csspecs recently released its first batch of 20-round M77 magazines. Made in the United States, these sturdy steel magazines weight 9.7 ozs. and feature a black Nitride finish on all parts. They lock tightly into place and can be removed with ease. Both of the magazines I received for testing are cleanly constructed with an attention to detail which exceeds that given to the rifle itself. Having a source of high quality, full-capacity magazines for $41.50 a piece goes a long way to increase the value and flexibility of this affordable gun. The first batch of these new magazines has already sold out, but second batch is on the way.
At 8 lbs. 10 ozs. with an unloaded magazine in place, and having a 14.75” length-of-pull (LOP), the M77 definitely qualifies as a full-sized rifle. But despite its weight, the rifle balanced nicely and the thumbhole stock felt good in the hand and formed a comfortable cheek weld. The recoil generated by the M77 was on par with the other .308 semi-autos I've worked with, meaning it was manageable and comfortable to deal with thanks in part to the rubber butt pad on the shoulder stock.
The M77 was fired with a variety of 7.62 NATO and .308 Win. ammunition, all of which fed, fired, and ejected without any malfunctions in the course of testing. The steel 10-round magazine worked as intended, but proved to be a little persnickety when it came to being placed in the receiver. Other AKs, especially when using polymer magazines, will forgive a little lack of precision. But this magazine wanted to be placed just so. Otherwise it would not go in, or it would stay in place when released and have to be wrestled out. Once I knew just the right placement, the magazine problems evaporated. Although a magazine with ‘personality’ is not a game changer, it's something to be aware of.
For formal accuracy testing, five-shot groups were fired from a bench rest into targets set at 100 yards using an optic. A scope was attached via the Zastava-style optics rail located on the left side of the receiver using an AK Double-Rail Side Mount (PAAK0100A) provided by CIA. Although this rail is slightly longer than some AK rails, the scope mount fit tightly in place and kept a Leupold VX-R Patrol 1.25-4x20 30 mm Firedot SPR scope zeroed in.
The best single group of 1.90” was produced using Winchester 7.62x51 mm NATO 147-gr. full-metal-jacket ammunition. This load also produced the best average of 2.28”. Hot Shot Elite 7.62x51 mm NATO 146-gr. full-metal-jacket rounds, which are distributed by CIA, yielded a best group size of 2.46” with an average of 2.79”. Hornady's .308 Win. 168-gr. boattail hollow-point Match load turned in a best group of 2.38” with an average of 2.86”.
The Century International Arms Zastava PAP M77 PS semi-automatic is a solid, enjoyable rifle to shoot that sells at a fair price. The gun I tested did not produce quite the same level of accuracy as a $1500-$2000 rifle. But with a real-world price of less than $600, it leaves plenty of cash in the buyer's pocket to explore their ammunition options.
Some buyers will not care for the “sporty” features and the basic finish of this rifle. But in its favor, this ruggedly-built version of the AK-style M77 is comfortable to handle both on and off the bench, is chambered for the potent and easy-to-find .308 Win. and 7.62 NATO cartridges, and it has an adjustable gas system that will allow it to feed a wide variety of ammunition. If you are looking for a reliable workaday semi-auto, a rifle to have on hand for emergencies, or you want to start exploring the potential of the .308 cartridge without spending a fortune, then the M77 is well worth considering.
Specifications Distributor:Century International Arms Manufacturer:Zastava Arms Model: M77 PS Rifle Action: Adjustable Gas-Piston Semi Auto Caliber: .308 Win. Receiver: Stamped Slant-Cut AK Type Receiver Stock: Black Polymer Thumbhole with Rubber Butt Pad Hand Guards: Black Polymer Sights: AK Type Adjustable Barrel Length: 19.70” Overall Length: 40.55“ Weight: 8 lbs. 10 ozs. with empty magazine Capacity: 10 +1 rounds Twist: 1:12” RH Rifle Grooves: 6 Accessories: One Proprietary 10-Round Magazine, Owner's Manual MSRP: $649.95