Mosins for $79.95 ,SKS’s for $170, AK’s for under $500… yeah those days are gone. With the changing political climate, there is a possibility of them coming back, but as of right now, the cheap surplus/com bloc guns are a thing of the past… and that’s not a bad thing.
Look, I love the old, (formerly) cheap guns, but more often than not, they were a crutch, just as the cheap AR15’s are now a crutch. As an introduction and entry into military sporting and combat arms, the cheaper imported weapons were invaluable. They work(ed) and work(ed) well. Reliable, combat accurate, and more importantly, combat proven. No the Century rebuilt AK’s aren’t exactly the same standard or quality as the Russian or Chinese made offerings (damn if that isn’t a hard sentence to write), but they weren’t total crap either. I always thought AK snobs were weird people. With the affordable guns that worked, came a real negative though; people bought a very inexpensive gun, maybe grabbed some bottom dollar ammo and mags and said, “Great, I’m a shooter now!” Invariably they then bought some Tapco products to ‘upgrade’ and accessorize – here’s a hint, an AK does not need a rubber buffer pad at the back of the receiver, and you’re never going to accurize one of these guns – but then they called it good.
I’ve written about this before; people buy the cheap stuff as an introduction, and then stall out and never truly upgrade to the next platform. Well now, with the lack of ‘cheap’ soviet surplus weapons out there and the plethora of ‘cheap’ AR15’s now available, in a sense, the market is forcing people to upgrade. Am I saying the cheap AR15 is better? Heck no, it is an upgrade in a very real sense though. What it does is force people to learn about shooting and the mechanics of their tools. A hand held vice is no longer your sight adjuster and Cheaper than Dirt or the Sportsman’s Guide is no longer your source for parts.
The cheapest of AR15’s needs to be built from parts kit and its really not all that hard to do. Building your own gun forces you to learn about it. You don’t learn much when you buy some big block of a bolt action M38 where the most you have to research about is how to bake cosmoline out of the bolt in your oven or how to chuck up a cleaning rod and pad with some metal polish on it in your drill to clean up the chamber a bit so you don’t need a hammer to work the bolt after firing anymore.
Even cheap AR’s teach you about the math of sight adjustments. If you’re paying attention, it teaches you about proper stock length, and balance of where to place your sling… and how to use a sling. The AR is so customizable that people have many, many more opportunities to add or change to quality parts in their guns and see how those changes actually effect usability, accuracy, and sometimes even reliability.
I have a few cheap ARs that have done well over the years at the range. They started with bottom dollar parts and over time and use, were changed and modified all over the board. Big name 1:8 twist barrel, high dollar bolts and carriers, springs that didn’t come from a no-name overseas manufacturer, one melonite coated piston kit… do they equal a Daniel Defense after all that? No, and I wouldn’t take them into an urban combat setting expecting them to act like they did.
Yes I separate what platform I would take in an urban versus a rural environment…and if I was vehicle mounted or on foot, or on my own or with a team… I study a lot and think a lot, whatever, moving on.
Like a high end pistol with a quality red dot sight properly mounted on it, I’m not going to pretend that what I have is equal to what professional grade offerings can do. My stuff needs tweaking, I have to plan for extra batteries or a parts failure… but I honestly think that makes me a better all around shooter to be going through those steps instead of just selling a car to fund an Knights SR15 that I’d never have to look at the internals of, and that’s what I like about not having the com bloc guns so readily available anymore; it increases the legitimacy and culture of today’s shooters.
If a guy were to ask me what direction to go, having never owned anything other than a 10/22, or maybe a pump action shotgun, I would say to wait for a holiday sale and start building up an AR15. I would also yell as loudly as possible to KEEP IT SIMPLE! Your first five parts orders had better not contain a forward vertical grip, a flashlight, or a red dot sight. You need iron sights (fixed front, fold-able rear will be allowed), a sling, and a simple way to mount the sling. Do not fall down the rabbit hole of sling mounts necessitating quick detach points which then mean you need a new buttstock with a QD mount or a new foreend to bolt a QD mount to… Keep it simple!
Grab some magazines; no, no LBE or plate carrier is necessary with those mags. You get some mags, some cheap sub .35 cents per round brass cased ammo – the one place I am a snob is no steel case in my AR’s (other than 5.45 surplus in my RECCE although that is a whole different animal), and targets. Not cardboard boxes from your last amazon order, or an old wood pallet, but actual targets you can see where you are actually hitting and can make the necessary measured adjustments. You shoot and learn and if you do even one mag dump, no one is going to take you seriously and you should feel bad. That is where this newest generation of shooters should be starting… and then get yourself an AK and go carry it in the woods like a real man.