Green Ops Defensive Kalashnikov AAR

The first really expensive guns I ever bought was a Galil SAR SBR that was built by the fine gentlemen “TennGalil” over at Hillbilly Firearms . The full build cost me about $2000, which, in retrospect, I suppose doesn’t sound like a lot compared to what higher-end AKs cost now.

Despite it being a rather amazing piece of kit, I barely ever shoot it anymore. There’s not a lot of room in the competition world for an iron-sighted AK if you care about really competitive. Thus, I was quite enthused about Green Ops offering their newer Defensive Kalasknikov class You can read on for my impressions.

Disclaimers of Sources of Bias: I received a slight discount ($36) as a returning student and AAR writer. I am also one of the admins on their Facebook alumni group, which is more of a job than a perk, but I suppose has some influence on my perspective.

Class Title: Defensive Kalashnikov Class

Class Description:

This 8 hour class covers the basic defensive use of the Kalashnikov (AK-47/74 platform 7.62/5.45/5.56). It will begin with the fundamentals of marksmanship and move into more advanced drills. Students will improve their AK handling skills with a strong emphasis on executing the fundamentals correctly, and efficiently applying the correct amount of urgency into your gun handling and shooting as required for defensive firearms.  Students will improve their AK handling skills with a strong emphasis on the fundamentals. 

From the website.

Cost: $240, but I only paid $204. Very reasonable price for a full day of class.

Round Count: Listed round count was 400. I’d say we burned through 250 or so. You could dial it up or down as you wanted.

Instructors: Brian Christian (lead instructor), Julian Akistan, Luke DeBruhl, and Fred Moore. You can find their bios on the Green Ops bios page. They have a very nice mix of military, law enforcement, and competition experience, and I felt like they leveraged that in a positive way during the class. But most importantly, they’re good instructors. They could all easily demo what they taught, and they had the patience and humor needed to walk people through what could have otherwise been frustrating moments.

Location/Date: The class was held at the Stone Quarry range in Culpeper, VA, from 8AM to about 4:30PM on Sunday 8/29/2021. It’s some privately owned land with a backstop that is an old quarry face. It’s a huge backstop, which is great, but has a tendency to toss chips of stone back at you once in a while. There are some various tables and benches, along with a pair of porta-potties.

Weather: It was very humid outside, but temperatures were reasonable (75-85). The heavily overcast skies did a LOT to avoid heat casualties. Some very light rain came down a couple times, but essentially evaporated shortly after hitting us/the ground. It was not “great weather”, but I’ve shot in far worse.

The ground was a bit muddy, but the instructors tried their best to keep us out of the worst of it.

Equipment Details: I ran two rifles at class. The support gear for both was a Bladetech belt with an HSGI taco attached by a First Spear Missing Link.

In the morning (and the patch qual drill), I used my M+M M10-545 Romanian AK-74-alike. This was modded with Magpul furniture, a TWS Dogleg rail (gen2), and a PFI Action-4 reflex sight. The PFI is getting on in age, but it held up well enough. I may replace it eventually with an MRO or similar sight that’s low to the rail. I used exclusively 7N6 ammo with this gun. Despite the humidity, I did not see any rust when I cleaned it after class.

In the afternoon, I switched over to my Galil SAR SBR. This is an almost perfect clone of the military version, including the appropriate parts kit and engravings. The only significant difference (besides being semi-auto-only) is the use of a 1:7 twist barrel. Ammo was whatever random steel-cased 5.56 I had lying around.

Reliability on the Galil was flawless, probably because it was so overgassed it was flinging brass literally 15 feet away to the side. The M10-545 had one double feed and one stovepipe. I had not lubed the M10 at all before class, so I guess that could have been the reason. I also saw one odd keyhole from the 7N6, but it didn’t seem to be an ongoing issue.

Preparation Drills: I had been shooting steel weekly (sometimes more than weekly) on a timer for the past few months, so I was probably as dialed in as I’ll ever be.

Author’s Previous Experience: Civilian with no military or LEO background. Have shot some competition, but no accomplishments worth bragging about. Training junkie since April 2018, and have averaged a class a month since then. I am OK with a carbine, pretty good with a pistol, and just average with a shotgun.

Class Demographics: The 22 student class was a good demographic mix, including a couple women. Skill levels were on the higher side in general; a couple people needed to get a bit squared away with their shooting at first, but the instructors were on the ball with that.

In terms of AK builds, they were just all over the place. Bulgarians, Romanians, Polish, even a Vz-58 – it was all there. Most people were running 7.62×39 guns, but a couple were using 5.56×45 and 5.45×39. Also saw a fair number of braced “pistols”, which I guess are more popular than I realized (despite being on the endangered list). Despite what you’ve heard about AKs being the ultimate in reliability, we saw consistent malfunction issues with a few of the rifles, and not all of them were magazine problems or American-made guns.

A few students had suppressors. None of them had baffle strikes. That was surprising.

TD1 (morning): The class started off with student and instructor introductions. The other students were much like myself in motivation – they had an AK, and thought it would be cool to learn how to use it more efficiently.

After introductions, Luke delivered the medical and safety brief. No big surprises, but I felt the medical plan was well organized, which is always comforting. There was also a brief discussion of the way the class would be run, namely two relays of eleven students.

Julian gave a very brief history of the AK platform. I would say this was one of the weaker points of the class, not necessarily because Julian got it wrong (albeit hearing that the AKM has a “rate limiter” drives me crazy), but that it was so perfunctory that I’m not sure what was accomplished. I think it might have been better to structure it in terms of AK recognition – an AK-47 has a milled receiver, here’s what that looks like; an AKM has a stamped receiver, here’s what that looks like and why it’s better/worse; and so on. Very little discussion was given of the ammo’s characteristics, either; students might have been interested in knowing that 5.45×39 is really ballistically superior to 5.56×45 in some ways. This isn’t a big deal, but it’s a potential area for improvement.

The first drill of the day was a zero confirmation exercise at 25 yards from the prone position. I assumed my M10 would have about a 50yd zero, and the drill confirmed that things had not shifted by much during the time it sat in my safe. (The Internet loves to beat up on the TWS Dogleg for supposed zero shift issues, but they’re fairly trivial if they exist at all.) I did notice that the combination of a darkened sun shade and a kill flash on my PFI Action-4 was a little too much, and removed them, which turned out to be a good thing for the rest of the day.

A couple students had some trouble zeroing; I don’t blame them, adjusting the windage on the AK front sight is pretty much a giant pain in the neck. The instructors spent the time that they needed to with them, and even took one gun to the side to work on it while the class continued. While I know that some students may have felt like this was overkill, having that good zero really sets them up for success for the rest of the course.

With our zeroes dialed in, we received some instruction on the basic operation of the AK, including ways to manipulate the AK safety efficiently. The Green Ops crew prefers the index and middle finger operation, which was a new one for me; I was used to using my thumb from the top of the safety lever, but I see how their way gives more positive control over the lever. I have to say that by the end of class, I would have killed to have a Krebs safety on my gun (or, gasp, the Galil thumb safety!). Going from a grip on the safety to the grip on your firing control slows you down a bit, and I think introduces a little more jostle to the gun than is optimal… but that’s the AK for you.

We put this safety manipulation technique into practice by doing some simple ready-up drills from the 10yd line. This was a nice way to ease into the day and get a feel for the recoil. 5.45×39 is a very pleasant round to shoot, especially out of a 16″ barrel gun, and the flash hider really cut down on the blast. There were times in the class where I think I would have preferred a more effective compensator… I may try an Lantac Dragon ASR 14×1 LH muzzle device with a jam nut and Rocksett and see if I get lucky on the barrel concentricity.

This seems like a good time to mention that the instructors demo’d every drill, and they did it competently. They were always on the line, coaching students, pointing out room for improvement, and so on. The ~5:1 student to instructor ratio was more like 2.5:1 on the line, so you were getting some personal attention. Sometimes, some people got more than others, but let’s face it: if you’re knocking out a drill with no problems, why should they stand there telling you you’re awesome? People with actual problems need their help.

Anyways, with safety manipulation skills ingrained, we worked on reloads next with accompanying 1 reload 1 drill. There’s a couple ways to AK reloads fast; you can grab the new mag and try to use your thumb to push the mag release and try to get the new mag out with a bit of a push… or you can just the new mag to smash the release and drop the old magazine simultaneously, which is the cool guy Instagram way of doing it. To be frank, neither of these techniques did much for me during the day because both of my guns had absurdly tight mag fitment. I was surprised the instructors didn’t consider this problem, but after a few desultory tries, I just sucked it up and ripped out the mag first before putting in the new one. I think with a lot of dry-fire practice I might be able to palm the new mag and still have enough hand left to deal with the old mag. I do think the methods taught had value, of course, and they did note that in a worst case scenario, one method taught by Special Forces was to pull the bolt all the way back with the firing hand and brace the gun against your shoulder like that while banging out a reload with your left hand; this apparently minimizes magazine fitment issues which are common in austere environments.

There was an explanation of the various types of malfunctions; these are almost entirely the same as AR malfunctions, but you can stomp the charging handle with your foot when mortaring for extra leverage if you get a shell stuck in there. Clever trick, and I heard it got used at least once that day to crack open an action that wasn’t quite responding to more gentle prodding.

The class sort of shifted into a more standard defensive carbine mode at this juncture; there were some transition drills and bill drills to help the students learn to master recoil and shooting with both eyes open. These weren’t super difficult drills for me; you were shooting at A-zones at 10 or 12 yards. I get that curriculum to be constrained in level 1 classes, so I really tried to put in some extra speed to add challenge.

This was followed by some drills practicing kneeling and squatting. Yes, you read that correctly: we did the Slav squat. It just wouldn’t be an AK class without it. I’m personally in the kneeling camp for stability reasons, but I feel like there’s times where I’d find the squat to be a little conducive to mobility.

We finished up the morning with some strong-to-support side transition drills. The Green Ops way is to move your support hand back, shift shoulders, put your primary hand on the handguard, and then put your support hand on the firing control. I was weirdly good at these maneuvers despite never practicing them at home. The Green Ops crew noted that these weren’t an everyday sort of thing to use, but had a lot of applicability to barrier drills.

We broke for lunch around 11:15AM. I got the impression that we were making pretty good time on the curriculum, I assume due to the relative expertise of most of the students.

TD1 (afternoon): We got back from lunch at 12:30PM. That was a longer lunch break than usual, but I didn’t mind a chance to eat, drink, and talk with acquaintances. I took the opportunity to switch out my M10 for my Galil.

The first drill after lunch was a lateral moving-and-shooting drill. This pulled together our transition drill with some movement technique. There were both right and left hand stations, which gave us some practice with engaging targets on either side of us. The difference between engaging from your strong side or your weak side is more substantial than it is with a pistol, and it was good to get some practice in. Even just walking is harder… perhaps something to practice more at home.

After that was an interesting laying down/sitting/kneeling/standing positional transition drill. I’ve done this before in a pistol class, but I don’t remember doing it in rifle class. The instructors were VERY careful to monitor student leg positions to make sure they didn’t shoot their feet from the laying down and sitting positions, which was typical of the safety-first approach that Green Ops took the entire day. While it’s maybe a little shameful to admit, I’m a big dude, and I just could not make it work from the laying down position. The instructors were nice about it and basically told those of us with that issue to skip it and move straight to seated.

This lead us into our final skills drill: barricades! We didn’t do any port work, but we did go around and on the barriers, including with the kneeling position. Distance to the steel was 25 yards, which is not very far, but kept you honest enough to make you use your sights. A lot of the emphasis was on leg position, since doing it the right way gives you flexibility and stability.

The long heavy Galil stock combined with poor sling point positioning resulted in my almost choking myself out on some transitions. I eventually just shrugged my sling off and ran the drill without it. People who get nostalgic about this stock and want to put it on their ACEs are crazy in my book. It looks nice, and it’s tough, but that’s about it.

The teaching portion of the class concluded with a short capstone drill where you started from on your back, shot your way back to a standing position, ran to the barricade, and then engaged again from cover. You did this starting from the left of the barricade and the right of another barricade, which gave you a little more practice running and gunning. This wasn’t a huge revelation as drills went, but it was a nice way to tie everything together, and gave a very small taste of what a multigun course of fire might entail.

After that, we ran the Green Ops Rifle Patch qual. You are realistically never going to nail the reload time of the qual with an AK unless you’re practicing those every day and have the right rifle, so the competition was perhaps more accuracy focused. The person with the fewest shots out of target would get the Green Ops “sword” patch. I finished 3 down, but one guy managed to pull off zero down. I wasn’t dissatisfied with my score given that I was using relatively unfamiliar (and uncompensated) rifles, but it’s incentive to get out there and practice more.

Class Debrief: Class ended with some brass policing (G-d bless all of you shooting brass-cased 7.62×39 for restocking me on that) and a debrief. The students sounded quite happy with the experience. The instructors talked a bit about the Green Ops way of doing things and future upcoming training opportunities.

Equipment Post-Class Thoughts: The Galil was a great rifle, and the thumb selector is such a huge improvement on the AK safety paradigm. Being able to effortlessly unsafe my rifle at the start of a drill absolutely saved me some time on the clock. Plus it didn’t eat my now-precious 5.45×39 and 7.62×39 stocks.

What I did discover, though, was that the Galil’s rear peep sight is way, way too small for fast action at the 25yd range. It was super accurate, but I just found that I was not getting the front sight to an acceptable position quickly enough compared to, say, a ghost ring on an AR-15 or 10/22.

The M10-545, rare reliability hiccups aside, was a nice enough rifle, but really needed an improved safety like the Krebs, and a better muzzle device. I’m also thinking the reflex sight on it is due for replacement; it turns out a decade of advancement has given me some better options.

Both guns had tight magwells; neither suffered from any heat issues that I could feel. AKs get hot, but decent heat shields under your handguards go a long ways in mitigating that. I did miss the ability to C-clamp the gun due to the low sights (M10) and exposed gas tube (Galil).

The First Spear Missing Links performed well enough; I don’t think they’re quite good enough for a double mag pouch, but they did the job for a single mag pouch just fine.

Conclusions: This class is level 1 defensive carbine with an AK spin. The instructors made no secret of that during the class, and the concept seems sound enough. I liked how they did their homework and presented the AK-based techniques flawlessly; some substantial prep work was clearly done by the instructors on their own time. As I’ve said before, the class syllabus is maybe half or less of what makes for a good shooting class; the instructors are generally the secret sauce that differentiates between a bad class, an OK class, and a great class. This was definitely a great class.

If the objective of the class was to make you love your AK, I don’t know that it succeeded for me; I felt like a lot of the class just highlighted what a pain in the neck a stock AKM / AK-74 is compared to a more modern rifle. But if the objective was to learn how to run your AK better, the class was a success for me. I found myself using the knuckles-to-handguard reloading index to nail more reliable reloads, and I definitely got better at shoulder transitions.

Given the news about the Russian ammo ban and resulting skyrocketing price of the usual AK ammo calibers, I’m not sure this class will be offered again next year. But if you see it – and you’ve got the ammo – I whole-heartedly recommend that you take it. You will learn something about how to run your AK just a little better, or maybe a LOT better, and it will probably bleed over into running all your rifles better.

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