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.
The BATF strikes again. You could get this surplus ammo very cheaply (like 15 cents a round), but those days are over. Like much surplus ammo, it has a mild steel core and like most rifle rounds, it will burn right through a bullet poof vest. Since there are now pistol versions of this firearm that also fire the 5.45x39, the BATF has determined that this type of ammo may no longer be imported. The soft lead core stuff is now becoming more plentiful and costs about the same as it's big brother, the 7.62x39.
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.