By Chris A. Choat
While tramping the aisles of the 1998 SHOT SHOW in Las Vegas this year, I came across a very nice looking AK style hunting rifle. The metal finish was almost “pretty” and it had very nice looking walnut furniture. I was at the ZDF Import/Export Inc. booth and upon closer inspection I discovered, lo and behold, the gun was chambered in .308! Welllll, there was something new and different at the SHOT SHOW. After a verbal rundown of the gun from the guys at ZDF and some quick photos, I arranged for a test and evaluation as soon as the rifles were ready to be shipped. A few months later I received a call from ZDF President Alex Robinson telling me the rifles were indeed ready to ship and that I should have mine in a few days. Several days later the U.P.S. truck delivered one of the first VEPR .308 rifles to my door.
A little background is in order here. The VEPR .308 Hunter is an AK style rifle manufactured in Russia by the Vyatskie Polyany Machine Building. The word “VEPR” is a type of Russian wild bore. The VEPR .308 rifle was designed from the magazine up as a hunting rifle, not a so-called assault rifle that was glossed over to look like a hunting rifle. It was also designed with accuracy in mind, but more on that later. In fact, the VEPR is even legal for Russian civilians to own. There is no full-auto version of this gun. The VEPR was the only one of the 59 rifles on the temporary import ban list that was not affected by the permanent import ban. Unless the powers that be (read that Clinton, by executive order) change their minds, the VEPR can still be obtained.
As I said before, the rifle is a nice looking gun. While it still shows its Avtomat Kalashnikova lineage, the fit and finish is nothing like your typical AK. All metal surfaces in the gun have a satin black oxide finish. It is non-reflecting but still exhibits a slight gloss. The rifles wooden forearm and thumbhole buttstock are made from Turkish Walnut. The wood does not have a lot of figure but is still a lot nicer looking that other AK type furniture. The monte-carlo style buttstock sports a medium density black rubber recoil pad. Wood to metal fit is very well done. Both the forearm and the pistol grip feature hand-cut checkering. The bottom of the grip sports a black grip cap. Sling swivels are installed front and rear. A black leather sling is included as part of the package. While on the subject of looks, one thing you notice when you first look at this rifle is the lack of visible spot welds. ZDF worked closely with the Russian manufacturer to assure that the rifle looks top notch and doesn’t show weld or machine marks. While the rifle does utilize a stamped steel receiver, the finish is nice enough that it resembles a milled receiver. Overall the gun sort of reminds me of the M-76 sniper rifle except it has a thumbhole buttstock.
The gun’s sights consist of an adjustable front post that is protected by ears typical of most AK style sights. It is set into a post that is pinned to the barrel about 1/2 inch back from the muzzle. The rather broad post is adjustable for elevation by screwing it up or down. the post rides in a cylinder that can be punch drifted side to side for windage. The rear sight is the same one that is found on most of the RPK’s. It is not only elevation adjustable but can also be adjusted for windage. The only difference is that the RPK sight is adjustable to 1000 meters and the VEPR only has markings out to 300 meters. Both windage and elevation adjustments on the rear sight can be done without tools and lock in place after they are set. Surprisingly, I found that the open sights work pretty well at distances out to about 150 yards.
The VEPR also features a scope mount rail that is riveted to the left side of the receiver. The milled rail mates very nicely to the scope mount that is included with the rifle. The mount is quick detachable by means of a throw lever that actuates a cam that locks the mount to the rifle’s rail. Rings are included with the mount and are 26mm with 1 inch inserts for U.S. scopes. In my tests I found that the mount held zero after being removed and re-attached.
Internally the rifles parts resemble your standard AK parts but will not interchange. This requirement was per ATF regulations. Internal springs are all the braided kind including the bolt’s recoil spring. The VEPR operates in the standard AK fashion, it is gas operated and magazine fed. Gas is bled from a port in the barrel into a gas tube positioned above the barrel. The gas impinges in a piston connected to the guns bolt carrier driving it rearward. As it moves to the rear the bolt rotates and unlocks from the barrel extension. The bolt then continues rearward extracting the spent shell casing. The bolts recoil spring slows the bolt and then returns to battery picking up a loaded round on the way.
As said before, the rifle is magazine fed. The magazines were made especially for this gun and will not interchange with other guns. Also the rifle will not accept magazines from other guns. This was also a specification of the ATF regulations allowing the rifle into the country. The magazines used in the VEPR are made from a fiberglass reinforced composite. They are black and their finish texture and color matches the rifle. They have removable floorplates to allow disassembly and cleaning. The magazines are available in either 5-round or 10-round capacities. One of each size is included with each gun. The magazine release is standard AK and magazines are inserted and removed in the same way.
As the rifle was designed for hunting and improved accuracy, I headed to the range with great expectations. I took along an assortment of hunting loads as well as some military ammo and some match loadings. On my first range visit I fired the gun using the open sights as I didn’t have a scope mounted and bore sighted and it was late in the day. Firing from the excellent Midway Deluxe Front Rest I started with some Winchester 180 grain Silvertips. Firing a five shot string produced a “group” of about 10 inches on the target. Needless to say, I was not impressed with this. But, the broad front sight post covered about half of the target at 100 yards. More five shot strings produced about equal results. I knew that a scope was in order. A few days later with a Leupold 3X9 Vari-X II mounted to the rifle I again headed for the range. The VEPR features a hammered forged chrome-lined barrel. I figured this alone should make the gun shoot well. This time with the scope mounted and a clear view of my target I again repeated the five shot groups.
The scope helped but I still wasn’t getting any groups to brag about. I then switched to some 175 grain Sierra Boat Tail Hollow point Match reloads. This load will produce 5-shot one hole, 100 yard groups out of my Remington PSS Police bolt action rifle. Shots with this load yielded groups in the 3 inch range. I also tried some of the excellent 168 grain BTHP Match loaded by Lex Bush at Rafter Seven Ammunition Company. This too produced groups similar to the Sierra loads. I realized that this is not a bolt-action heavy barrel match rifle but I still thought that it should shoot better than that.
Then the light came on. It seemed that the loads with the lighter bullets were producing tighter groups. Digging through my ammo I found some Norinco 147 grain FMJ. Yes, the copper washed stuff that you used to buy for about $5.00 a box. More targets were hung and more shots fired. Groups shrank to 1.89 inches for 5 shots. I later fired my best group with this same ammo. It measured .950 center to center for 5 shots. Not bad for an AK style gun. A call to ZDF confirmed that the twist rate in the ZEPR’s barrel was 1 in 12 instead of 1 in 10 as are most of the barrels in U.S. made .308’s. This is the only thing that I can come up with as to why the VEPR shoots the lighter 147 grain military loading far better that it shoots the heavier Match ammo.
The VEPR is a pleasant shooting rifle. Recoil is stiff but not unpleasant. This can be attributed to its 8.5 lb. weight, good recoil pad and stock design. The trigger is like most military triggers. It has a long take-up but breaks clean and crisp with hardly any overtravel. Trigger pull on my test rifle broke right at 4 lbs. The gun is typical of the AK design in that function is absolutely flawless. In all my testing, which included several hundred rounds of various types of ammo, it fed, ejected and otherwise functioned without a hitch. Ejection is positive with empty cases being thrown forward and to the right about 10 feet. The guns 23.5 inch barrel produced velocities of 2503 with the match ammo. The VEPR comes in two versions; the rifle with a 23.5 inch barrel and a carbine with 20.5 inch tube.
The VEPR is no tack-driving rifle, but it was not designed to be. It was designed to be a very reliable, durable hunting rifle. To this end it fills all requirements. Its accuracy is good enough for most hunting applications and you would be hard pressed to find a semi-auto .308 with the reliability of this rifle. The gun is not cheap. It will retail for around the $850.00 mark. But when you take into consideration that the rifle comes complete with 2-magazines, scope mount, sling and cleaning kit, it’s a bargain. Not to mention it looks great and it may be the last of this type of gun to come to our shores. Try one, I think you’ll be pleased.
Imported exclusively by:
ZDF Import/Export, Inc.
2975 South 300 West
Salt Lake City, Utah 84115
Rafter Seven Ammunition Company
62 South Highway 23
Dighton, KS 67839
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V2N1 (October 1998)