As AK-pattern rifle enthusiasts here in the U.S. can attest, imported AKs are not all created equal. Mikhail Kalashnikov’s battle-proven combat rifle design has been borrowed, cloned and modified by countries around the world without the benefit of uniform production standards. As a result, consumers need to pay close attention to where an AK is made and how it's brought into 922r compliance once it arrives in the States.
Among some of the best imported AKs on the market today are the Russian made VEPR semi-automatics. They are manufactured by Molot Firearms LLC at the Vyatskie Polyany Machine-Building Plant, which has been in operation for more than 50 years. VEPRs are manufactured to the same standards as the rugged Russian military RPK design and sport many of the same features. The stamped receivers are 1.5 mm thick, making them 50 percent thicker than standard receivers for added strength and rigidity. The bore of the hammer forged heavy barrel is chrome lined along with the chamber, gas block and gas piston resulting in a much longer working life than standard barrels.
This year the FIME Group of Las Vegas, Nev., has teamed up with Molot to offer its customers a brand new folding-stock version of the VEPR chambered in .308 Win. called the VPR 308-22. Once the Russian rifles arrive, FIME installs high-quality American-made components to meet 922r regulations while maintaining the integrity of the original platform. The following review is a closer look at one of the first rifles to arrive.
The Molot VEPR VPR 308 -22 (referred to hereafter as the VPR for brevity) is a long-stroke gas-piston-operated semi-automatic that feeds from a removable box magazine. The steel components are all treated with a matte-black finish that matches the polymer of the stocks. The 20.5" long chrome-lined barrel is cut with 1:12.5" right-handed 4-groove rifling. The muzzle is 14 x 1 mm left-hand threaded and fitted with a thread protector secured by a spring-loaded detent. The RPK sight system includes a thinner protected adjustable post in the front and a fully adjustable rear tangent calibrated for 100 to 1000 meters. The square notch rear sight blade features a click-adjustment knob so that no tools are required to adjust for windage.
The ribbed, glass-reinforced polymer gas tube cover, grooved handguard and diamond checkered pistol grip are all RPK style but manufactured here in the United States. The handguard is lined with a corrosion resistant stainless steel heat shield and inlayed with a metal locking ring which prevents it from touching the barrel.
The stamped receiver cover is fitted tightly to the RPK front trunnion and receiver to prevent it from rattling. Removing the cover reveals a bolt carrier with a chromed gas piston and a 3-lug rotating bolt that locks into the front trunnion. It's not uncommon for AK bolt carriers to feel rough or gritty when manually cycled. The VPRs bolt assembly cycled smoothly right out of the box.
The square-backed stamped receiver is properly shaped with clean spot welds and nicely rounded rivet heads. The left side of the receiver has a rail for mounting optics. The controls are standard AK fare with the reciprocating charging handle and safety lever both located on the right side of the receiver and the magazine release lever mounted to the front of the sheet metal trigger guard. This version of the VPR arrives with a pair of sturdy polymer magazines, one 5-round and one 10-round. Aftermarket magazines in larger capacities are available.
The 2-stage American-made trigger assembly was designed by the FIME Group. Manufactured using mil-spec steel, the components are treated with a protective black oxide coating. The disconnector’s face makes full contact with the hammer to provide a solid lockup. The tail of the disconnector contacts the rear receiver rivet. Working in conjunction with a hammer retarder, the assembly prevents the transfer of energy into the trigger, known as “trigger slap.” The trigger's arch of travel is about 0.3" with a 1.5" reset. The first-stage take-up is 5 lbs. with the trigger breaking at 6 lbs. of trigger pull.
The VPR cannot be imported with a folding stock, so this feature is installed here. The standard rear trunnion and fixed stock are replaced with a trunnion hinge and tubular stock. This is the same stock system installed on the VEPR 12-gauge folding-stock shotguns. The two steel tubes of the stock are pinned into the hinge plate and topped off with a black polymer butt plate and a ventilated rubber recoil pad. Along the top of the stock is a rubber padded cheek rest. This rest is secured by a spring loaded detent that allows it to switch from right to left quickly and easily.
The folding stock's hinge release is located directly behind the optics rail on the left side of the receiver. With the stock extended, sliding the hooked release forward (toward the muzzle) unlocks the stock allowing it to swing to the left side of the receiver. The release then hooks onto the stock to lock it in place tightly. Inside the hollow of the rear trunnion is a release lever. Depress the interior lever to unlock the folding stock and swing it back into the extended position. It's a folding system that's lean, strong and easy to use.
At the shooting range, the VPR was checked for function and accuracy using match and hunting-grade .308 Win. ammunition. The receiver doesn't have any markings to indicate that it's safe to fire 7.62 NATO ammunition, so it was excluded from this test. The rifle chambered, fired and ejected every single round without any malfunctions. To verify the reliability of the polymer magazines I ordered three extra 10-round units in addition to the magazines included with the gun. All of them rocked-and-locked into place firmly and then dropped free when released. All of the rifle's controls operated smoothly and reliably without any issues. Overall, I found the VPR's fit, finish and reliability to be top-notch and a step above much of the competition.
For 100-yard benchrested 5-shot group accuracy testing, the VPR was fitted with the latest version of the American-made Arsenal Inc. SM-13 AK-type optics mount, the SM-13V, which will be shipping later this year. The optic used was the Sightmark Core TX 3-12 x 44 DCR rifle scope ($299) with fully multi-coated optics, lockable turrets and a BDC reticle tuned for use with either .223 Rem. or .308 Win. ammunition.
HPR HyperClean 150-gr. boattail soft points produced a best single group of 1.31" with an average of 1.43". Gorilla Ammunition's 175-gr. Sierra Match King open tip printed a best group of 1.23" and averaged 1.35". The best performer of the test was Hornady's 168-gr. Match boattail hollow point load with a best group of 1.19" and an average of 1.28".
The latest version of Molot’s VEPR .308 Win. rifle, the VPR 308-22, offers a useful blend of features in a tough, military-grade package. It’s chambered in a caliber that’s flexible and plentiful, the 20.5” barrel fully develops the ammunition’s performance potential and the folding stock makes it easy to store. This reliable rifle can easily fill a variety of sporting and tactical roles.
The FIME Group has only a limited number of these rifles slated for importation into the U.S. this year, so be sure to check in with your local dealer if you want one.
Specifications: U.S. Distributor:FIME Group Manufacturer: Molot Firearms LLC Model: VEPR FM-AK308-22 Action: Semi-Automataic, Long-Stroke Gas System Breech Type: 3-Lug Rotating Bolt Caliber: .308 Win Finish: Matte Black Receiver: Stamped, Straight Cut Trigger Group: 2-Stage Trigger Pull: 6 lbs. (As Tested) Sights: RPK Fully Adjustable Optics: Receiver-Mounted Sight Rail Hand Guard: RPK Ribbed Black Polymer, Stainless Steel Heat Shield Shoulder Stock: Tubular Steel Folding Stock with Rubber Recoil Pad and Cheek Rest Grip: Black Polymer Barrel Length: 20.5" Muzzle: 14 x 1mm LH Threading, Removable Thread Protector Overall Length (Stock Extended): 39.5" Overall Length (Stock Folded): 29" Weight: 8 lbs. 15 oz. Unloaded, With 5-Round Magazine Capacity: 5+1 or 10+1 Removable Box Magazines Twist: 1:12.5" RH Rifle Grooves: 4 Accessories: One 10-round Magazine, One 5-round magazine, Owner's Manual MSRP: $1,249.99