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.
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.
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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.