LTC Joel Johnston (Ret), US Army Ordnance Corps
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Century Arms Polish AK-74 Tantal
A few years back, Century Arms began importing disassembled Polish AK-74 Tantal rifles. These were produced by the famous Radom factory and were built from 1989-1994. The Radom factory produced approximately 25,000 of these rifles. Due to BATF regulations, importers were no longer allowed to bring the barrel from the parts kit into the country and were forced to produce a USA barrel. You will hear the term "922r Compliant" and this is a BATF regulation that identifies 16 parts from AK type rifles and no more than 10 can be imported; thus 6 of them must be USA made. Normally, a builder would have a US receiver, pistol grip, muzzle brake, and the 3 fire control parts making the rifle legal in the USA. The foreign barrels were high quality, and most importantly, they were chrome plated making them practically indestructible. Unfortunately for the US shooter, these barrels are now banned from importation. However, Century Arms manufactured a 1-7 inch twist barrel and then a 1-10 inch twist barrel for these Tantal rifles. Shockingly, the internet was flooded with complaints of bullets key holing the target once the barrel got hot. This basically means that the bullet is unstable and instead of traveling like a well thrown spiraling football, it is tumbling in the air and going through the target sideways. Blind flash of the obvious; this is not good for accuracy. Some gun forums have posters claiming to have sent their rifles back to Century multiple times while others had no problems at all. Some of the dissatisfied customers stated that Century told them they were using too light of a bullet. All in all, it is a confusing issue making the prospective buyer unsure. That is all too bad because these parts kits are scarce considering there were only 25K built and I have always wanted one.
That was 2008. Now, Century claims to have worked the bugs out of the replacement barrel and I thought it was time to give it a chance. I bought a new production Tantal from Century. The new prefix on the serial number is TTL and it is in the 045XX range. I paid $449 for the AK-74. It looks well made with new condition hand guards and fresh parkerization. I did note that the numbered parts did not match. Checking for matching numbers when purchasing a parts kit is a cardinal rule for home builders. However, I trust that Century ensured everything was in order and properly head spaced. I did notice traces of the test fire on the magazine ramp and bolt head when I disassembled it. All in all, it is an impressive little rifle out of the box. It came with a manual, a bipod, a metal 30 round magazine, and a 30 round polymer magazine. I picked up two more magazines and a case of ammunition. I would imagine that may collectors would like to take cheap flights from Canada or other countries around the world to view or possibly fire these rifles.
One of the most attractive aspects of owning a AK-74 is the ammunition. It is high velocity and low price. In fact, I was able to buy an entire crate of the 5.45x39mm for $300 at the gun show. This consists of a wooden chest containing two cans of 1,080 rounds each and a large can opener. The bottom line is that you receive 2,160 rounds for $300 which makes the cost of shooting a mere 13.88 cents a round! Other than a 22LR, this is as cheap as it gets from store bought rounds. If you only buy one can of ammo, still try to get the can opener. These cans have a deep lip and can not be opened easily. Save the can opener for the next time around too! This ammo is readily available on the internet. Just search for 5.45x39mm and take your pick.
Disclaimer: Ol' Army Joel accepts no responsibility for accidents involving improper handling of firearms. Virtual Arms Room is no substitute for expertise and gun competence.