The 7.62×39 caliber seemed to be the best choice for this project based on the cost, availability of ammunition and the ballistics of the round. It wasn’t a perfect choice by a long shot. For example, I would have like a more powerful cartridge, something actually on par with the venerable .30-30 it would be replacing. It has been explained to me on several occasions engineering isn’t a matter of making perfect choices it is about making the right set of compromises to meet the desired objective. I am no engineer but the basic concept still applies.
At the time I started building this rifle it was almost blasphemy to build an AR in 7.62×39 and every “expert” out there said it would never be a reliable rifle. Nevertheless, I still thought it was worth a shot.
The lower receiver was pretty easy and simple. A Spike’s Tactical lower I had laying around and standard parts kit from somewhere cheap. The handguard came with the lower parts kit. I did have a MagPul stock laying around so that was an immediate upgrade.
The upper is also a run of the mill Aero Precision I picked up on sale. Same for the handguard; it was light and it was on sale. The bolt carrier is also a standard AR component but that’s where things started to get a little more complicated. The barrel was not that tough to find, it just took some patience. However, every 7.62×39 Ar barrel I have ever seen has a pretty heavy profile. Despite the feather light handguard, this would be no lightweight as far as AR’s go.
The bolt itself has to be stronger as does the firing pin and extractor since most of the inexpensive ammunition for 7.62×39 is generally steel-cased and Berdan primed that is made in former Soviet-bloc countries and this ammo can be pretty tough on those parts. I spent quite a while scouring the InterWebz for all the right pieces. I never did find them available at the same time and for reasonable prices until Radical Firearms released their uppers and BCGs in this caliber. As soon as these were available I was standing at their front door waiting for them to open.
The next big bugaboo for AR pattern rifles in this caliber was magazine selection. As many horror stories as I had heard around firing pins, extractors and bolts there were twice as many around magazines. After a little research I decided to go with ASC magazines. The ten rounders I generally use for hunting and target practice were fairly easy to find and reasonably priced. Thirty rounds magazines for self-defense were a tougher find. I did finally find a 30 round (28 actually) magazine from ASC and then picked up another from D&H Tactical. For the most part all have been reliable. All have issue when fully loaded so I “download” them by one or two rounds.
To save weight and allow for close quarters use I chose a lower power optic. In this case a Vortex 2×7 Crossfire II mounted in an Aero Preceision Ultralight mount. The scope was on sale for a good price and I have been extremely impressed with it. It is very clear and does a good job in low light conditions. My son has a similar optic from Nikon that is pretty comparable but mine was literally 1/3 the price.
Other than upgrading to a MagPul grip and nicer MagPul stock (they came off another AR I re-purposed for my wife) the only other thing I added was a (MagPul again) sling. The sling allows for user in either a single point or two point configuration. While stalking through heavy brush the single point configuration is great. The sling carries most of the weight while keeping the gun readily accessible. For longer hikes the two point options makes it easy to carry across my back. I learned the hard way to make use of the quick detach option for hunting in stands or blinds. I mostly hunt feral hogs which means most of my hunting is at night and Old Man Murphy almost guarantees that, in the dark, a sling will get wrapped around or underneath something when you can’t see it. At least one pig got away as I tried to untangle the sling in the dark.
While I did give up some power going from the trusty old .30-30 WCF to the 7.62×39 the Ar platform brought some real advantages over my old Marlin 336. The weight was about the same and the Marlin 336 was not heavy. If I could have found a lighter profile barrel the AR would have had a slight but significant edge. The rails made swapping optics easy and meant I didn’t have to re-zero each time. Truth be told though the 2×7 from Vortex proved versatile enough that I never really needed to. Adding lights, or a camera, or just about any accessory was also a breeze so I could switch within minutes from a nighttime to daytime hunting configuration. With up to 28 rounds of 7.62×39 on tap it was potent self-defense weapon or feral hog eliminator. But how accurate would it be?
That’s the question for Part 3!