The Most Hated AK on the Market: The Riley Defense RAK-47 – Full Review

The Riley Defense RAK-47 comes with a lot of historical baggage – is it still warranted?

Why the Hate?

I’ve been fortunate enough to shoot a lot of firearms over the years and I understand how the consumer market can be incredibly quick to denounce a manufacturer. It subsequently takes years for them to rebuild their reputation, if they can at all. For example, I remember when WASR-10s were considered trash but with refinement, they eventually became the most commonly recommended entry-level AK. These days, WASR-10s retail for about $1,000 leaving a void in the entry-level AK market.

For Riley Defense, the criticism started in 2018 when AK Operators Union began a series of reviews featuring the Riley AK where it failed spectacularly at the 300-500 round count. The Riley AK saw notable wear after AKOU’s legendary torture tests, the headspace shifted and it was no longer safe to fire.

In defense (ha!) of Riley Defense, they took this feedback to heart and made some changes to the design which were seemingly well received. However, the stigma remained in spite of a few notable members of the AK community voicing their support for the new and improved Riley AK.

The RAK-47 C-L handles like any other entry-level AK. It’s fun to shoot.

This support is what led me to give the RAK-47 C-L a chance. Like a lot of people, I’ve been shooting a lot of 7.62×39 since 2020 simply because it’s accessible and still relatively affordable. I purchased the RAK-47 for around $780 shortly after the Covid-induced shortage started. Nowadays it’s more common to see these in the $850-$950 range which is an incredibly competitive market with the Zastava m70 ZPAP and PSA’s GF5 currently dominating this price tier.

Features

Out of the box, the RAK-47 CL doesn’t really bolster any mind-blowing specs. It’s an entry-level AK pattern rifle with a stamped receiver, 16.25″ 4150 nitride barrel, black oxide finish and now boasts a forged trunnion after Riley Defense was put on blast for the weak cast trunnions in earlier models.

It does however have a notched safety selector that enables you to hold the bolt and charging handle back. This is more commonly an upgrade from Krebs Customs.

Out of the box the RAK-47 C-L includes a single 30-round polymer magazine. The C-L stands for “Classic Laminate” as it’s a barebones classic AK with laminate wood furniture which, admittedly, is a very attractive bright-red. More on that later.

Specs

  • Laminate wood buttstock, upper and lower hand guards and plastic polymer grip.
  • Black oxide finish
  • Fully Heat-Treated, Mil-spec stamped Receiver
  • 4150 Nitride Barrel (16.25” length), 14×1 LH thread
  • FORGED Trunion, bolt and carrier
  • Machined scope mount side rail
  • Front and rear sight (both adjustable)
  • Bolt hold open Safety Lever
  • Bayonet Lug
  • Cleaning Rod
  • Extended magazine release
  • Magazine Capacity: 30
  • Semi-automatic closed-bolt action
  • Caliber: 7.62 x 39 mm
  • Range: 350 yds (effective), 1000 yds (Max)

How Did the RAK-47 Perform?

A few brave souls in the AK community have come to defend the RAK-47. The forged trunnion seems to fix the headspace issue and the general consensus is that reliability has improved by leaps and bounds. I can attest to this as I’ve put 2,000 rounds through it using magazines from MagPul, XTS, and even surplus Korean and Croatian mags with zero failures.

While generally not uncommon to AKs, the RAK-47 was comically over-gassed, launching casings 20-30 yards away.

I’m not huge on accuracy tests in my reviews unless you’re diving deep into the precision shooting world. In reality, most modern firearms will be way more accurate than you are. This wasn’t my experience with the RAK-47. A few months ago I reviewed the Zastava M70 ZPAP and included footage slapping steel silhouettes at 277 yards with no problem using irons. I struggled to consistently make contact with targets at 200 yards with the RAK-47.

Two shooters struggled to consistently hit silhouettes at 200 yards with the RAK-47.

Okay, that’s weird. Maybe I was off that day. Well, I was lucky enough to be filming with Josh Greenough, co-owner of Apostles Firearms Academy, and he gave it a try. Josh is admittedly a much better shooter than I am and even he had problems hitting at 200 yards with the RAK-47. This is disappointing considering this is something I can do all day with my decades-old Yugo SKS. 200 yards is just at the cusp of intermediate-range in my book.

Knowing the historical baggage around headspacing, I was diligent to check this every 400 rounds. It’s still not uncommon for folks to report a no-go signal at the 700-1,000 round mark. It appears my RAK-47 is an exception and never signaled a no-go so I’m relieved that Riley Defense seems to have this sorted out, at least in my sample size of one.

Ergonomically, it’s an AK. If you’ve ever shot one, you’ll know how this feels against your shoulder. It’s tons of fun. The safety lever is surprisingly easy to engage and I was able to manipulate it from ‘safe’ to ‘fire’ using my index finger without any trouble.

The rifle’s laminate wood furniture is incredibly eye-catching. It contrasts nicely against the rifle’s black oxide finish but unfortunately, it’s prone to marring. I usually shoot two times per week and I don’t own any safe queens. As a precaution to prevent myself from indulging in any hoarding tendencies, I have a simple rule: If I don’t shoot one of my firearms within a one-year period I have to sell or trade it. I don’t baby my guns.

The RAK-47’s black oxide finish does not hold up well. Marring is very evident in the footage I’ve captured as well as in the included images. The laminate wood furniture looks great but it feels incredibly cheap. The finish on my rifle looks like it’s been thru a lot more than I’ve put it through in my 2,000+ round review.

The black oxide finish and wood laminate furniture are prone to marring (See Butt Stock and Receiver)

What You Should Buy Instead

Look I’m a sucker for the underdog. I wanted the RAK-47 to blow me away and I wanted to sing its praises as the best entry-level AK pattern rifle on the market. But after a year and a half of use and over 2,000 rounds thru it… the truth is, the RAK-47 is punching well under its weight once you consider the price relative to its features.

I’m happy to contribute my experience to the evolution of the RAK-47’s design and I do believe that Riley has made some good improvements over the Gen 1 model of this rifle but I can’t recommend this rifle in good faith knowing there are far superior AK pattern rifles on the market at a better price point, or for just a little bit more money.

The Palmetto State Armory GF3 AK can commonly be had for $799 which is about what I paid for the RAK-47 and about $100 less than what the RAK-47 currently retails for. The GF3 can regularly be found for closer to $650-$700 on sale even in the current climate. Interestingly, the PSA GF3 was also once a hated American-made AK pattern rifle but PSA has made substantial improvements over the years and it’s now held to be an adequate entry-level AK.

Riley Defense seems to have ironed out the early kinks in the RAK-47 but at $800-$900, there are simply better options available.

Moving up in price, If you’re willing to pay a little more, the Zastava m70 ZPAP is an objectively better rifle that I also own. It’s made by an established manufacturer that offers a chrome-lined barrel for just a few hundred dollars more coming in at around $1,000.

All in all, it seems the critical failure points that have plagued the RAK-47 have been addressed but accuracy and cosmetic finish remain an issue. If this were a $500 rifle, I’d be more inclined to give it a green light but if you’re pricing a rifle at one of the most competitive price tiers ($800-$900) you’ve got to come with more than this.

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About the author: CitizenHush is the Bob Ross of 2A Twitter. A Virginian by birth but Texan by the Grace of God, Mr. Hush enjoys firearms and firearm technology.Dislikes include: Strong opinions on Cast Iron skillets, politicians, and Brass Goblins. When he’s not blasting feral hogs in Central Texas, you can find him either on the range or living his best life as a suburban ranch hand.

{ 27 comments… add one }
  • Samson October 31, 2021, 8:34 am

    I have a Riley Defense MFT and it’s motherfreaking SOLID son…. has been absolutely nothing but great. Do I purposefully try to break it? No, I think that’s basically mental illness unless you’re just independently wealthy. But would I use it to defend my family and myself in event of a emergency… absolutely. It’s great.

  • Burpher Furpacker October 20, 2021, 10:20 pm

    @ the man – Norinco AKMs are top notch rifles, arguably among the best of the type.

    Putting Norinco AKs down says that you know NOTHING about AKMs

  • Leo October 9, 2021, 5:06 am

    The most hated is anything made by Century Arms and IO.

  • CitizenHush October 8, 2021, 7:10 pm

    Thank you for your comment! I wrote the article and at the time of the writing a few weeks ago, the GF3 was around $700 still. I just checked again and they have GF3’s in stock starting at $699 right now still.

  • Slim October 1, 2021, 6:54 pm

    PSA GK3 or what ever it goes by a see almost daily in their email blast I signed up for at a GRAND for BLEMISHED versions because they THINK forged trunnions and barrels on beat up AK is a reality. Fact is a grand which is the cost and well over that for the non blemished model so this guy should of checked prices before making recommendations. Good review though and glad he chose to do this particular AK since Classic Firearms has it every week over and over for sale and seems to be the only AK they can reliably get. If a rifle is no good after a few thousand rounds and has become known for this it should be cut from manufacturing since how would you know it’s a garbage rifle unless you buy it? GOOD RELEVANT post!

    • CitizenHush October 8, 2021, 7:09 pm

      Thank you for your comment! I wrote the article and at the time of the writing a few weeks ago, the GF3 was around $700 still. I just checked again and they have GF3’s in stock starting at $699 right now still.

  • Steve in Detroit October 1, 2021, 9:10 am

    Only good cheaper AK is a parts kit gun built using a former Warsaw Pact or red china carrier, bolt and front trunnion. A original barrel is a premium.

  • The man October 1, 2021, 7:47 am

    Even at 500.00 that is way to much….sadly the Chinese Norincos are better than this junk Riley is putting out…..I would stay far away.

    • Metal Arts November 25, 2021, 3:07 pm

      Wrong. The new, improved Zastava, Riley, and PSA AK-47’s are good, reliable guns for the price.

  • BW October 1, 2021, 7:42 am

    Whoa whoa, let’s pump the brakes. We can’t forget about I.O. Inc if we are talking about AK’s with issues. Mine went 50 rds then the bolt sheared in half lengthwise and ejected itself. Now they did make good on the lifetime warranty but I had to pay shipping and it took about 14mths just for them to send me a whole new rifle. Possibly to their credit this one has run fine so far.

    • CitizenHush October 1, 2021, 3:44 pm

      oh good call out haha- i wasnt brave enough to test an IO

  • Big Al 45 September 30, 2021, 1:39 pm

    My memory fails me, but I believe that one of the Great legends of Rifle Shooting (Jack O’Conner perhaps?)
    Once stated that “Only accurate rifles were interesting”.
    Gun Maker’s please make note.

  • Give Me Freedom September 29, 2021, 6:24 am

    As I get older my eyes are now limited to 100 yards of accuracy with iron sights. Almost all of my long guns use a red dot or a scope.

  • MidwestToad September 27, 2021, 9:30 pm

    I came here for some produce pics & I leave learning something new! Fantastic info, if I went Cold War maybe I’d pick one up. As a child of apple pie I just can’t let these haggard ugly troll hands touch an AK

  • Terry Nixon September 27, 2021, 5:37 pm

    When a company produces a firearm and it fails miserably, we the consumers expect them to fix the problems, not run from them. When they don’t they get a bad rap.

    Then when they put out a second firearm with accuracy issues, they retain the title.

    I am not sure if the market for AK’s is similar to that of AR’s, but every Tom Dick and Harry is now trying to produce them and all the gimmicks and accessories you can imagine. I’m sure there are going to be some “duds” in that line also.

  • ThatGnomeGuy September 27, 2021, 10:53 am

    DUDE! Where did you get that Snorlax onesy? That’s pretty spiff. Seriously.

  • Clint W. September 27, 2021, 8:40 am

    2 things I retrospectively regret, selling my ’68 Dodge Charger in 1976 for $400, when one with the exact same everything including color, but not in as good of shape, sold about 17 years later for $165,000 at a Barrett Jackson auction, and selling my Eastern European made underfolder for 250, the exact same price I paid for it for from SOG back in the day. Nobody wanted them back then it seems. Should of held on to both for a few more years.

  • Will September 27, 2021, 4:10 am

    Seriously… How hard do you have to try to screw up an AK???
    It’s sad when parts filtering down through barefoot illiterate goat-herders are more dependable than than the product of a state-of-the-art, American production facility.

    • Todd October 1, 2021, 4:19 am

      Will,
      I’m sure the goat humpers… I mean farmers, don’t do a lot of testing, reviews, and in-depth investigations into their pew-pews. I’ve seen a lot of combat footage from the last 20 years that shows a lot of goat and camel entrepreneurs working their collective butts off trying to clear a jam in their AKs! So maybe those weapons aren’t as foolproof as we like to portray them as?

      • Metal Arts November 25, 2021, 2:36 pm

        Guns of all kinds eventually have problems. The best thing about most AK-47’s is their ability to keep working in all kinds of geography, altitude, climate, weather, and dirty conditions. That’s why more AK’s are sold worldwide than any other gun.

  • Dean September 25, 2021, 8:48 am

    Now don’t having made the silly comment, this was an excellent read. It is good to see that they’re trying to make improvements to their products but it m also not surprised at the conclusions made at the end of the article. Thanks Hush!

  • Ian m. September 25, 2021, 7:49 am

    Yea, seems that the price just doesn’t match quality.

    I have a GF3 that I purchased last year, zero problems strait out of the box.

    For the price, I would agree, the PSA GF3 is by far the better purchase.

  • Ahe Blinkin September 25, 2021, 12:59 am

    Make AK touch pepeen 😉

  • David September 25, 2021, 12:01 am

    Cheesecake > pie

  • Turboblath4242 September 24, 2021, 11:59 pm

    Will it AK stuffed with craq and feet pics?

  • Deer September 24, 2021, 9:44 pm

    I’d say this is a fair amd well thought out review with the potential to help a lot of people, however Why were there no feet pictured in the review absolutely ridiculous how can I decide to buy or not buy a gun if I can’t see it operated by feet as well as hands?

  • AnonSidious September 24, 2021, 8:16 pm

    Zastava if you have the bread for it. But im going to stick with my, highpoint 9mm because it is the best thing ever. pew pew

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