AK-47 guide beginner buying
via Wikimedia Commons
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The AK platform is the most popular semi-automatic rifle (and fully-automatic rifle) pretty much of the entire last century. Say what you want, but more have been made than any other platform of rifle. The M1 Garand had its day after 30 years and the AR platform comes close. But the Kalashnikov is more widely distributed than almost any other firearm.

For the person looking for a semi-auto rifle, AK pattern rifles are almost as widely available as AR-15 rifles. Aftermarket support is almost as good. The selection of available rifles and ammunition is up there, too.

Just as with buying an AR-platform rifle these days, it’s a buyer’s market. A plethora of AK-47-style rifles, SBRs and AK pistols is there for the buying, so it’s really up to you to determine what you want from a rifle and how much you want to pay for it.

Some folks just want one they can pop off a few rounds at the range with, and that’s fine. Some want something that will see a little more strenuous use. That much will be up to you, but let’s run down some of the rifle’s features you need to know about. This isn’t so much a buyer’s guide in terms of individual makes and models, but more about some general features of the AK-47 platform.

First, let’s talk about the receiver. The standard for the AK-47 a stamped receiver, which literally stamped out of sheet metal. This simplicity of construction makes the standard Avtomat Kalashnikova (Kalashnikov’s automatic rifle) rifle easy and cheap to produce.]

A milled receiver is milled (machined) from solid metal stock.

AK receiver, Image: Ptkfgs [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons
The first AK-47s were milled, but production stalled and adoption was slow until the introduction of the AKM, an improved model with a stamped receiver. The AK-74 that replaced it in the 70s was likewise stamped. However, the SVD Dragunov sniper rifle, which is based upon the AK’s operating system, has always been milled.

An AK with a stamped receiver will have looser tolerances than one with a milled receiver. Tighter tolerances in a rifle (or any gun) will contribute to greater accuracy (less space, less gas is bled off, etc.) though not exponentially so, but also requires a bit more frequent care for the utmost in reliable operation.

Courtesy Palmetto State Armory

The typical AKs in gun stores and online are usually stamped receivers. Sometimes they’re made overseas and imported, sometimes the parts are imported but assembled stateside (Century Arms and Arsenal, for instance) and sometimes they’re made entirely in the USA, such as in the case of DDI’s guns.

For most people’s purposes (punching paper) it’s not going to make much of a difference whether their receiver is milled or stamped. If competition or medium range hunting is also on the table, then milled could be better for the utmost in accuracy.

Where will your first AK come from? They have been made in many countries, but most of the AKs you’re likely to find will be of eastern European origin. Romanian AKs are heavily present in the market, with Bulgarian, Russian and American-made AKs also being fairly widely available.

Common Romanian examples include the WASR-10. Arsenal Inc’s USA-assembled rifles are often of Bulgarian origin such as their SAM line. Authentic Russian AK-47s can be hard to source, as Kalashnikov Concern was sanctioned by the federal government after the invasion of the Ukraine. Kalashnikov Concern’s subsidiaries include Baikal, Izhmash and Saiga.

Kalashnikov USA’s KS-12 shotgun, image courtesy Kalashnikov USA

Kalashnikov USA – which is not related to the Russian Kalashnikov Concern – is now making Saiga-style shotguns stateside (above).

You also might find the odd gun made in China or Egypt.

American-made AKs include Century Arms’ C39v2 and others. Again, some USA-made AK rifles are merely assembled here with parts sourced elsewhere – such as the Yugo/NPAP AK-47; the parts are made by Zastava in Serbia – and others are made from the ground-up here. It all depends on who you buy it from.

WASR-10 rifle, Image: Ashinn11 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
The most affordable makes/models will likely be Eastern European imports, though some of the USA-made rifles are plenty affordable too.

Next, as to the barrel…look for chrome-lined ones. Chrome-lined barrels stand up well to abuse, but the real reason you want to is because of the ammunition. When many buy a bunch of 7.62x39mm ammunition for their AK, they tend to get the cheap surplus stuff. Former Soviet bloc ammunition is made with corrosive primers. You either need to clean your gun immaculately and right after every shooting session or get a chrome-lined barrel to hedge against it.

The good news: you don’t even need to buy a high-priced AK to get one with a chrome lined barrel Even some of the budget guns have them.

Another feature to know about is the muzzle brake. The AKM variant added a slight extension to the barrel, the iconic slant-cut muzzle brake. This helps counter muzzle climb during rapid fire, a known peccadillo of AK-pattern rifles. While not as uncontrollable as many American soldiers found the M14 to be – the 7.62x39mm round is basically a rimless .30-30 though with a bit less power – it’s still a handful.

Armémuseum (The Swedish Army Museum) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Some guns will have the classic crowned barrel, others will have the slant-cut and still others will have a full muzzle brake. While they are useful features in rapid fire, they also make a lot of racket. It sort of depends on what you want; some people don’t care for them. I’d opt for the slant-cut. You get the muzzle brake and it has the vintage AK look.

Some rifles wear the typical wood furniture – stock, pistol grip and fore-end – and others come with polymer furniture. Again, it depends on who you’re buying from. Just like the AR, you can customize an AK rifle within an inch of its life. Every single part can be sourced from an aftermarket maker in the US or elsewhere; from the bolt carrier and charging handle to furniture, sights and so on. Railed models can easily be fitted with a red dot or other optic, and so very much more.

But be aware that AKs tend to be less standardized than AR platform rifles. AK’s aren’t as plug-and-play and aftermarket parts may take some work to run on your rifle.

If you’re planning on installing optics, a good move is to buy a rifle with a railed upper receiver. That way, the work is easy. However, there is a workaround if you don’t; get a fore-end with a rail on top and you can install a red dot or a scout scope if so desired. Otherwise, you’ll have to content yourself with the steel front sight and rear sight.

Another aspect to be aware of concerns the magazines. Since so many different companies make and sell these rifles, some will not accept all AK magazines from all manufacturers. Some will, some won’t, but that’s not entirely unheard of when it comes to other semi-automatic rifles or pistols, for that matter.

Now, a couple of things you should know before you get into AKs.

First, the trigger is known for being on the heavy side. The magazine release is often awkward at first and the safety lever is known for being a bit stiff. These are some features that some people owners upgrade, as parts are available from plenty of aftermarket suppliers such as Krebs and others who offer solutions.

Ammunition, as mentioned, will have corrosive primers if you buy inexpensive bulk surplus Eastern bloc ammo. Good, clean, wholesome American ammunition won’t have this problem, but will cost you more…though some cheap import ammo (Tul, for instance) is sold with non-corrosive primers.

With all that said, the AK-47 is a very viable semi-automatic rifle platform, whether your purpose is home defense, punching paper, or hunting with appropriate ammunition. It’s also a great choice for a trunk or SHTF rifle.

What do you think though? Is there anything else the interested newbie should know about buying their first AK? Finally accepted that pineapple DOES go on pizza? Sound off in the comments!

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    • Uh, we Kalashnikov connoisseurs refer to the charisma of the AK-47 as “commie chic”.

  1. Pssst…caption from the second pic “A milled receiver is milled (machined) from solid metal stock.” is not a milled receiver. Good example of a WASR though.

  2. Arsenal SAM series or Molot Vepr (the FM AK-47 imported by the FIME group). Everything else is shit, especially US made guns. For mags, either Circle 10 or Russian Bakelite. Expensive? You betcha. Will last a lifetime? You betcha. Bet your life on them? You betcha.

    • I’d add the Galil to the list – in either old or as the new ‘ace’, but you will pay for it…

  3. Don’t give give a hoot what people think or say about AKs If you want a battle rifle, the AK is the way to go. No you won’t be putting rounds in the same hole consistently at a 100 yards but they are easily effective at that range and beyond. If you want a 100 yard tack driver, buy something else.
    That’s why my first battle rifles was a Galil ARM .308 and my next was an Arsenal SAM7R and yes Mark, Circle 10s are NICE. I have a number of 30 round and two 40 round Circle 10 mags plus the Circle 10 bayonet and a bunch of surplus metal mags.

    Face it, AKs are a lot of fun to shoot.

    • I have a question that someone here can almost certainly answer. I’m not very knowledgeable about AKs from a marksmanship standpoint, not owning one myself. I’m curious if there is something inherent to the AK design that makes it less accurate than other comparable rifles as stated in the comment above? For example, I do own a Mini-14, and am aware that certain aspects of its design contributed to reduced accuracy, at least in earlier models. Some of these were improved, but others are inherent to the design and philosophy of the gun and its purpose. Curious about the same kind of thing for the AK…

      • One of the prime reason is the the design and loose tolerances. That’s why they work forever even when dirty. Watch a video and watch one being fired in slow motion and watch that thing twist and contort. That’s probably the main reason they are not a tack driver and why the milled are supposedly more accurate or slightly better. The original AKs were all milled but that proved not to be cost effective and was more labor intensive which gave way to the stamped and folded design.
        They are plenty accurate for a battle rifle, but they are not a sniper rifle. They are a tool for a specific purpose and are the most successful weapon systems in all history.

        • Loose tolerances aren’t the issue. Russian made guns are actually made to tight tolerances. And AKs really aren’t anything special when it comes to reliability.

          The main issue is barrel quality, ammo quality. After that there are factors that will come into play. But those two are the biggest.

      • A lot of shitty combloc barrels and equally shitty ammunition is the primary culprit.
        With a quality US made barrel and ammunition, my AKs run just as precise as my service M16A2s and M4s.

        • Well stated. With good quality ammo, I can hit a 6″ steel plate at 100 yards all day and that’s good enough for me. With cheapo steel ammo, I can still hit, but not always every shot. AK’s are accurate.

      • As JWTaylor said. Most of these accuracy comparisons are some budget bottom of the barrel WASR shooting cheap surplus ammo against a built up AR that cost 3 times as much shooting decent commercial ammo.

        Take a standard Russian military issue AK74M vs a standard Colt M4. Shooting quality commercial ammo I’ll bet you both groups will look the same. About 2-3ish MOA, good enough for army work.

        Flip it around a bit. Take a Krebs custom shooting handloads up against a $400 budget build AR shooting some Wolf bullcrap and see which shoots better.

        The AR15’s supposed accuracy advantage is nothing but western capitalist propaganda. Don’t fall for it comrade……or else.

        To those whose panties are currently twisting up. I just bought my first AR. Can’t wait to try it. A basic DelTon, A2 upper, 16″ A1 profile carbine barrel. Simple, classic, and handy.
        Not looking for a sniper rifle to storm the DMZ with.
        Just a nice plinker.

        • Not an AR fan, but…….if you limit yourself to factory irons I believe the AR has easier sights to use. Just my opinion but that could contribute to slightly better accuracy at the 300 yard mark.

          Personally, I like the sks. Or the N0.4 Lee Enfield.

        • Something worth mentioning is that the standards for a US army rifle aren’t really “that” high in terms of accuracy. Think about this, if you have someone doing their part at say 400 yards they have roughly a 15″ wide area they’re trying to hit if the person is facing towards or against them. That means you could have a gun nearing 4 MOA and land a round on target if you’ve got decent skills to back it up. Obviously tighter is better in that regard but still.

          What surprises me is almost the opposite. 3MOA from a gun that like you said having a not so great barrel shooting rifle ammo that costs about as much as 9mm isn’t really horrible if you think about it some.

      • The biggest issue is lousy sights and sight placement. Replace the factory leaf sight on the gas block with a peep sight on the back of the receiver like the Valmet M76 and your groups will tighten up considerably.

      • Glad to see so many here pointing out that the real “problem” of AK inaccuracy is that “AK inaccuracy” was always mostly a myth. The accuracy tends to shift like all guns with the grade of the weapon but nothing about the AK design was particularly inaccurate at all. The fellow pointing out that given non-lined barrels made on old machinery and extremely cheap ammo, they shoot extremely well, is dead on. I remember reading years ago in “We Were Soldiers Once, And Young” (the book, not the movie, which is also good, but the book is fantastic) that during the battle of Ia Drang those doing casualty tabulations found that a disproportionate number of American servicemen had been hit in the same place, with very accurate shot placement: most had been hit square in the middle of the neck. During that battle, at the start of Vietnam, the AK outperformed the US service rifle, though our servicemen were victorious. It was always more American myth that they were Communist claptrap junk. It was common to hear that line even into early 1990s.

  4. Winchester model 1894, 1950’s vintage, in .30-30. Far superior on all counts.

    And yeah, pretty sure the receiver is milled.

    • enuf, I believe you. A 94 will serve most people’s defenseive needs without alarming the rabbit people. Although, it doesn’t have the panache of the Winchester, I prefer a Marlin. Easier to mount ghost ring sights. Recently bought a mint Texan 18″. Now that hunting season is over I’m going to slick up the action and change out the sights. It will then be my truck rifle.

  5. It’s too bad the kits have dried up in some aspects or become almost as expensive as complete guns these days. I’ve built quite a few AK pattern rifles. I have three more in the works.

    • Agree with the MAK90. Chinese AKs are high quality. Surprised no body has mentioned the ALG AK trigger yet, so much better than stock. Also, if you are ever tempted to buy an IO inc. AK, punch yourself in the nuts until the urge goes away.

  6. I have a flat here that I need to smoosh up into an AK. One of these days. Gotta get a parts kit too I guess, but I’ve been buying other stuff instead. Maybe I’ll do it after I get another build or two done.

  7. “The AK platform is the most popular semi-automatic rifle (and fully-automatic rifle) pretty much of the entire last century. Say what you want, but more have been made than any other platform of rifle.”

    Let’s put things into perspective. I’m quite familiar with AKs, having carried them on two different private security contracts in Iraq, and I still own one so don’t think that I don’t see their good points. But there are so many AKs around because for decades the Soviet Union made tens of thousands of them to equip their conscripts and dumped them into every Third World cesspool on the planet as a way to arm their “allies” and destabilize various governments, not because they are some miracle uber gun. They work most of the time, but I have seen them fail. Should everyone own one . . . ? Sure, if they have extra money to spend. They are a historic icon of military weapons and loads of fun to shoot.

  8. I have one of those “odd” Egyptian Maadi Aks. They were made on Russian tooling, so the internals are great. The finish? I finished the rifle with the original paint style- Ace hardware appliance enamel. The finish on the wood looks like it was done with a rake. The steel “crutch” side folder was switched out for a wooden stock, and I have a Ultimak gas tube rail with a red dot. Great rifle. After that, I made a milled yugo underfolder, and I have all the parts (and receiver) for a Galil. My number of AKs equals my number of ARs now, and I couldn’t be happier.

    Great rifles.

  9. Historically, the first examples were stamped receivers but there were issues with the receivers cracking so they changed to the milled design until the stamped receiver design and production were refined as the later AKM.

    The reason we in the West thought the milled receivers came first us because they were the first models exported. The original stamped receiver guns were mostly used within the USSR and in Soviet units garrisoned in countries close the Soviet Union.

  10. Where is anyone finding corrosive Soviet ammo as mentioned in the article? I’ve been shooting my ak since the mid 80s and never ran across corrosive ak ammo. I got one of those cheap Chinese aks with that folding stock.

    • There’s surplus Yugo ammo that is corrosive. It shows up for sale every once in a while.

  11. A stamped receiver is only cheap to produce in huge quantities and per unit cost. The initial investment in the machinery is insane. Hence the delay in American companies signing on to produce US-made AKs when they’re still available from overseas at reasonable prices.

  12. The Kregs AK I use as a Ranch Rifle (with Krebs rail) runs just under an inch @110 yards with steel cased ammo. I have a keeper, but it took 3 by other makers (experience) to get here.

  13. I heard a guy point out something very perceptive one day. The AK came to town in 1947, a very long time ago. For the longest time, Americans were biased against it as Soviet junk. Well, what did we do? We took our service rifle, and extended the magazine to 30. Then we shortened the barrel. Eventually we made it in .300 Blackout. All that really happened is that it took us 60 extra years to reinvent the AK, lol.

  14. What a lazy article. Basically makes it sound like you can grab just about any AK on the market and be good to go. Which is far from the truth. Anyone who knows much about them knows that AK quality is very hit and miss right now.

    Most of the budget friendly builds are of (sometimes dangerously) low quality. Good foreign imports are more expensive and less common than they used to be and most American companies seem incapable of making a reasonably priced reliable AK. WASR rifles are one of the few remaining exceptions where, they may not be pretty, but at least they’ll work.

    It’s a buyers market right now for decent quality AR rifles, the same cannot be said for AKs.

    • The golden age of cheap, high quality AK imports is long gone. Before it were the SKSs and Mausers.

      These days you’re looking at an Arsenal or Galil to guarantee AK parts and build quality, and at that price point you can find a couple dozen premium ARs in whatever caliber and muddy girl camo pattern you want.

  15. Scope mounting options for AKs are indeed limited, and the stock leaf sights are cursed by their artificially short sight radius. Leaf sights can be highly accurate for target shooting (like the Mauser 98) but aperture sights are better for combat because they give a longer radius and they don’t block out the bottom half of your target.

    If you want a scope on your AK you have two choices. You can mount a red dot on an Ultimak gas-tube rail, or you can get an AK with a side scope rail and mount any red dot or small-ish scope there. I’ve done both, and I think I preferred a big red dot mounted forward on the Ultimak.

    Don’t mount any scope on a railed dust cover, unless it physically screws into the receiver, because ordinary spring-loaded dust covers don’t attach securely enough to the receiver.

    • There is also sabrewerks with the pic mount. Think I’m going that route in future with a 1-4 lpvo. Already have a 1.25-4 accupoint sitting in the safe I’m going to use. Currently using an aimpoint micro/trijicon rmr and eotech 553 on my setups. From a 1 moa dot to 3.25. All make quick work and consistent hits at over 300 yards if I do my part. When people say Aks are not accurate I laugh to myself and think of the steel music mine make at mid range distance with ease.

  16. Rookie Question of the Week: If one wanted to build an AK, how difficult would that be compared to, say, building an AR?

    (I’ve never built either, but I’m told AR’s are one of the easiest platforms to build).

    • You’ll need a machine shop (or a very good garage shop). And specialty tooling. ARs are pretty simple to build, but from what I’ve seen, AKs simply aren’t. Different designs for different purposes, the AR was designed to be more modular and thus repairable (in keeping with typical US practices), the AK to be cheap and reliable (but harder to take apart and replace some parts).

    • https://youtu.be/Te4-3b39sUY
      Ive built many, AR’s are legos, AK’s are not lol. It takes a lot more time and a lot more tools and jigs for an AK, you dont have to have some of the jigs but the ak builder rivet tool is a must have. Its not worth it unless you plan to build multiple rifles

  17. Arsenal/vepr/saiga/wasr/build it, thats the ONLY way to go, npaps are ok but dont have any barrel treatments and a batch went out with too hard receivers, psa’s are forged and nitrided but a little unproven, but probably fine, anything manufactured by century is not money well spent, for the price of a century manufactured weapon you could get a new wasr or for a little more a new/used saiga or slr107. Im sure KUSA will be good to once they actually start making riffles. Rob Ski the patron saint of ak’s is your best resource for videos.

  18. The one thing that is not a myth is that AK’s are a jihadi weapon and the AR is the one used by Patriots. (Think III% and Oathkeepers) When the engineered destruction of this country reaches the point of SHTF one look at your ass sporting an AK means I will assume you are foe not friend.

    • That is a gross over-generalization of the facts, and a disturbing set of ROE you developed for yourself.

    • I asked around, and yup, congratulations. You won dumbest shit posted on the internet for today.
      All over the world right now, American service members are training our partners and allies, with AKs.

    • All the guys saying, “I will assume you are a foe… ,” etc. are the ones who will be dead or incarcerated within the first few weeks. We have real-world examples of SHTF situations and how they have played out. It doesn’t devolve quite like the Youtube preppers are always claiming. The first thing people need is stability and law and order and they will begin organizing for it right away. Any doofus who is designating people as “the foe” will probably last as long as one of his current Call of Duty play sessions. Also, anyone who thinks guns are the most important part of SHTF scenarios has already betrayed himself as a dipshit. The last thing you should seek out is small arms combat, because your likelihood of being injured in it, no matter how skilled you imagine you are, is extremely high. And the guys who are actually dangerous will be coming for your nice weapons after hunting deer with their longbow, sneaking about with their crossbow, and finishing you off in your sleep with cattle tranquilizer.

  19. AK’s are overpriced now. My bulgarian arsenal AK was $300 and is 3 MOA. That was great but I am not paying 1200 for a good arsenal gun now. Good ammo is more expensive for the AK than the AR now too, that is the other problem with them.

    • Overall there is quite a bit of wrong information in this article. The best advise I would give is to do a fair amount of reading before you buy and don’t get suckered in by a low price tag.

      The AK was only cheap when all the communist countries first fell apart. At the time they either had piles of rifles they could demil for parts or a captive work force that would work for pennies on the dollar or both.

      The $300 AK while a great buy was never sustainable. That’s why a good AK like an Arsenal SLR107 side folder cost $1200 now.

      As others have said, if Century is actually producing the rifle it should be avoided (all their US production). If Century is only the importer it might be ok. Currently I’m not overly impressed with the WASR, especially for what they are going for now, but if the front sight isn’t canted then they are good to go. If you want a reasonably priced US made rifle, PSA seems to be doing ok with their new rifles.

      The AK Operators Union has a lot of good information on YouTube. The AKFiles is also a good place to check before buying.

  20. I beg to differ with the knee-jerk Century bashers. I have a C39v2 from ‘15 production that I’ve tweaked with some aftermarket internals (East German recoil spring assembly, bolt, bolt carrier/piston assembly) plus some minor gunsmithing, and it is a great rifle. It has a very good barrel, trigger group, and receiver.

    Current production Century rifles (February ‘18 or later) are perfectly good guns. Small Arms Defense Journal conducted an exhaustive test in January of ‘18 on both the milled received C39v2 and the stamped RAS47; the former did very well and even the latter was OK. If you personally don’t have experience with these rifles, I would recommend against just making assumptions about them based on Internet vids or forums. Both the RAS47 and the C39v2 have excellent 4150 chrome moly vanadium barrels, a machined 4140 bolt, and a very good trigger, plus the C39v2’s milled receiver is very tough. The current production models have their “Gen 2” recoil spring assembly (introduced in ‘18) , which is claimed to be up to combloc standards of durability. They’ve also addressed the “chiseling” issue of the sharp edge of the right receiver lug at the factory.

    But, it is definitely not a buyers market for AKs. A new C39v2 goes for about a grand these days, and you will spend a lot more for a new-in-box milled receiver Bulgarian Arsenal SAM7 (at least $1500; probably more). A good buy is a late model stamped Romanian WASR 10/63, which I’ve heard can be had for around $800.

    All I have seen available off the shelf in my area is Century RAS47s, and unless they are very recent production, I would stay away from those (and hold out for something a little better even if the RAS47 at the LGS is current production). To get a decent AK you will almost certainly have to order online and get it shipped to your LGS or an FFL holder.

    However, serviceable ammo is definitely cheaper for a 7.62x39mm AK, compared with 5.56 NATO for an AR platform. Russian steel case Tula is non-corrosive and can be had at Walmart for about $.25 a round; AKs eat this stuff just fine (Ruger Mini-30s, and Tula steel case 5.56 in ARs, not so much). If you must have brass, Sellier & Bellot is reasonably priced (and runs terrific in my AK, at least).

    If you’re thinking about an AK, the big advantages are simplicity, ease of maintenance, ruggedness/reliability, and a harder hitting round within 200 yards, and then there’s the added bonus of cheaper ammo if you don’t reload. But be prepared to spend a fair amount up front for a decent example; ARs are certainly a better deal nowadays in terms of the amount of rifle you can get for your money.

    That’s my two cents on this.

  21. Years ago,the lever action 30-30s were suggested,since they have”a lower political profile”vs”the black guns”.With the Hornady Leverevolution spitzer ammuniton[and projectles]their range has increased.Put decent receiver sight on them and they’ll be fast and accurate.Once I’m out of NY and if I ever get my NICS returnd??[5+years and still being jerked around by the FBI VA/WV]I’ll look for an AK. From what I’ve seen,I’ll take the metric FNFAL vs the M14/M1A.Early Mini 14[181 series]had faulty locking bolts-and Ruger never admitted that.They are capable of 2-3 mo.a. with some surplus ammo.Regrettably Ruger persists in using the idiotic smooth curved buttplate.Wish the Remington Nylon 66s came back-better trigger/sights/tang safety/ accuracy vs the 10/22 Rugers.

  22. Question:how is the ejection pattern of AKs?I’m a mandatory southpaw.I remember when the ARs didn’t have that triangular knob-I got my face fried from ejecting brass.
    re sights,I -think-that one can get receiver sights that replace the rear leaf sight.

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