By Todd Burgreen
Sometimes the simplest ideas are the best ideas. The AK Lightning Bolt from Colorado Shooting Sports is one such idea.
The AK Kalashnikov-series of rifles are renowned for simplicity, reliability and ruggedness. One of the most common complaints heard about the ergonomics of the AK is the bolt handle situated on the right side of the rifle. This is portrayed as causing difficulty in working the bolt handle efficiently during reloads or malfunction drills with the off-hand, if a right handed shooter, while attempting to keep the rifle shouldered and on target; thus necessitating the rifle and shooter’s attention to be brought off target to work the action. Many will claim this is splitting hairs considering the number of AK’s produced and their battlefield record.
In fact, a manual of arms does exist to address reloads and malfunctions. Simply reach under the rifle’s receiver with the left hand and work the bolt handle. Another method commonly seen is to cant the AK with the bolt handle pointed downward and work the bolt with left-hand. Still yet another method, one most commonly associated with inexperienced AK shooters is to shift the rifle to the left hand and work the bolt with right hand. The first method draws criticism as being awkward. The predominance of the AR-15/M16 system has a lot to do with this sentiment. It is probably more an issue of acclimation and training versus awkwardness. Food for thought regarding this is that the legendary M1 Garand had the bolt handle on the right side as do all bolt-action rifles designed for use with military services. The other two methods listed draw criticism due to removing both rifle and user’s focus off-target when reloading a rifle or performing malfunction drills. Whether or not you subscribe to this way of thinking or not, a new product has been introduced by Colorado Shooting Sports, which offers a solution to the AK’s right handed bolt.
The AK Lightning Bolt moves the bolt handle to the left side of the rifle. A user’s existing bolt is placed inside the new bolt carrier featuring a left-handed bolt handle. A re-configured new top cover plate is provided as well to accommodate the left sided bolt. The new top plate design has the added benefit of increasing ventilation in the receiver area due to the raceway added for the left handed bolt.
An AK Lightning Bolt for the 5.45×39 chambering was tested in three different AK74 rifles for this review: the Polish Tantal, Romanian SAR-2, and Bulgarian. The AK Lightning Bolt is available for AK47 (all variants), AK74 (all variants), AK Krinkov models (all variants), Galils, Valmets, Saiga rifles and shotguns, RPKs, and even VZ58s. One note here is that currently Colorado Shooting Sports only stocks full-size AK47 and AK74 Lightning Bolts. For the other variants, you will need to send in your existing bolt carrier and top cover for conversion. Colorado Shooting Sports can even offer bolt handles on both sides of the bolt carrier if the customer desires true ambidextrous capability.
The Lighting Bolt takes advantage of the AK’s simplicity. It is truly a drop in modification. A rifle’s existing springs are used and headspacing is not an issue due to the AK headspacing off the bolt and not the bolt carrier. Range experience with the Lightning Bolt was positive. As mentioned above, three different rifles were used. The Lightning Bolt did have an issue with the Polish Tantal in reliably cycling the action. The Tantal eventually came around after the prescribed break-in period. The Romanian and Bulgarian rifles operated without any issues from the first round. Colorado Shooting Sports does advise that up to 30-60 rounds may need to be fired to ensure all parts mate for smooth operation due to the high temperature coating used on the bolt carrier.
Once reliability was tested by firing multiple magazines downrange, reload drills were performed. This is where the true benefit of the Lightning Bolt lies. After a few magazine changes, it was decided to line up two shooters with two AKs: one with the Lightning Bolt installed, and the other without. There is no doubt the Lightning Bolt makes magazine changes and bolt manipulations faster than a standard configured AK. Users more familiar with AR manipulations will definitely benefit from the Lightning Bolt install. The Lightning Bolt could possibly affect the use of a left side folding stock or scope mount. This needs to be considered before purchasing. Colorado Shooting Sports does offer a one year warranty against manufacturer defects. Their website should be consulted as it contains links to different videos featuring the Lightning Bolt in action that will answer many questions for someone considering the Lightning Bolt.
Some may think that the Lightning Bolt fixes a problem with the AK that does not really exist. Some will think that the Lightning Bolt is the cure to what ails the AK from performing to its full potential. As with most firearm accessories, it is up to the individual to decide.
Colorado Shooting Sports Dept. SAR 1846 Frontier Road Greeley, CO 80634 (970) 381-8188 www.coloradoshootingsports.com
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V13N2 (November 2009)|