The AK-47 is something of an enigma. It’s the world’s most common tactical rifle even though its controls aren’t user-friendly. The AK’s magazine release is hard to operate when wearing gloves, “rocking and locking” its magazines takes practice, the gun’s safety is often stiff and its trigger can be just this side of atrocious. On the other hand, the AK is very reliable and its 7.62x39mm cartridge is a lot more effective against cover than the 5.56mm NATO. Marc Krebs of Krebs Custom Guns specializes in making the AK platform user-friendly, and his new “Speedload 2” (SL 2) rifle solves many of the AK’s problems and makes it a compact tactical rifle that is both easy to operate and fully-reliable.
Marc is a trained gunsmith who has been building custom firearms for the last 30 years. His current shop is located in Wauconda, Illinois, which is north of Chicago. Marc began specializing in customizing 1911s, and later began building high-quality AK-47s based on Saiga receivers from Izhmash. Marc builds the rifles to Russian quality standards and then adds his own parts to produce unique rifles that have good tactical accuracy and are very reliable.
When the Krebs SL 2 arrived for me at the Florida Gun Exchange, it attracted positive comments from the moment I removed it from its lockable black polymer case. Its precise fitting, clean lines and even matte black finish clearly indicate that its design and quality are definitely a cut above many other AKs. But this gun’s beauty isn’t just skin deep. It has a number of Krebs’ custom features that definitely enhance its tactical utility. Some of these features are optional on Krebs rifles. While some can be purchased separately and installed by a gunsmith, others are specific to the SL 2.
Standard Krebs aftermarket parts used on the SL 2 include a permanently attached, four-prong flash suppressor, a KeyMod UKFM forend and an Mk VI enhanced safety. In addition, the rifle has a Magpul pistol grip and magazine, a Krebs-modified TAPCO trigger set, a Vltor buttstock adapter and a Magpul CTR buttstock. Features specific to the Speedload 2 include a 14.5-inch barrel (measuring 16.25 inches with the permanently attached flash suppressor), a rounded, right-side operating handle, a left-side operating handle, a new magazine well indexing flange and an extended magazine release lever and magazine ejection spring. All of these features combine to make the Speedload 2 very easy to operate.
The SL 2 is quick to get on target and easy to keep ready. Its short, 0.311-inch-bored barrel and collapsible stock allow it to handle well when clearing or defending tight interior spaces like small rooms and hallways, even when wearing thick body armor. The KeyMod forend makes the gun lighter than it would be if it were equipped with a quad rail. This keeps the gun’s weight down to 7.5 pounds with an empty magazine and makes it less muzzle heavy than guns with rails.
A gun that’s a bit muzzle-heavy helps control muzzle rise, but one that has too much weight forward can be difficult to hold steady for precise bullet placement. This rifle is just right. The top of the handguard does have a Picatinny rail. This is important because it allowed me to place my EOTech sight far enough forward to elevate the muzzle enough to maintain a good cheekweld while looking through the sight with both eyes open. It is extremely fast to get on target. Of course, the rifle also has standard, low-mounted AK iron sights. They don’t co-witness with the EOTech, but the EOTech’s quick-release mount makes it very easy to dismount the sight and drop it in your coat pocket or backpack.
The SL 2’s size and weight make it handy, but its redesigned Krebs magazine well and customized operating controls make it very easy to operate, even when wearing gloves. The rifle draws its name from its new, lighter magazine well indexing flange, which makes it easy to line up the magazine for rapid reloading.
One of the problems with operating traditional AK-47s is getting a magazine lined up so it can be “rocked and locked” into place. This skill can be difficult to perform when the shooter is under stress and his/her fine motor coordination degrades due to large amounts of adrenalin into the bloodstream. To help, the new magazine well is spring-loaded. When the magazine release lever is pushed forward, the magazine is ejected clear of the rifle, making it unlikely that the operator will need to manually rock it forward and out of the gun.
The flange is not the only improvement. The right-side bolt operating handle has been rounded to fit the hand better. In addition, the SL 2 has a bolt operating handle on the left side of the receiver. Both bolt handles reciprocate, which prevents the use of the traditional AK scope rail on the left side of the receiver. This is not much of a problem, since the top rail on the rifle’s forend is large enough to mount a long eye-relief scope, if desired.
Other operating controls that enhance the usability of the SL 2 include a Krebs-modified TAPCO trigger set that provides a smooth, 6-pound trigger pull. In addition, the rifle has a Krebs Mk VI enhanced safety, which is much smoother to operate than the standard AK safety. The safety lever has a notch on its upper edge that allows the lever to be used to lock the bolt handle back.
The SL 2 also has a Krebs extended magazine release. Both the magazine release and safety can be operated by the trigger finger while the shooting hand remains firmly on the rifle’s pistol grip. Combined with the left-side bolt handle, these two features make it possible to operate all the SL 2’s controls without removing the shooting hand from the pistol grip.
The SL 2 was tested at the Volusia County Gun & Hunt Club and Flagler Gun and Archery Club with three types of ammunition. These included Federal’s 123-grain SP, Fiocchi’s 123-grain FMJ and Wolf’s Steel-Case 123-grain FMJ. Tests were conducted using an EOTech EXPS2 holographic weapon sight with a 1-MOA dot. Accuracy was measured at 100 yards and the Wolf ammo was also used to engage a silhouette target at 200 yards. Velocity was measured with a Shooting Chrony chronograph. Finally, a house-entry CQB drill was conducted to determine the SL 2’s handling in close quarters and from cover.
Accuracy results clearly indicated that the SL 2 was capable of good tactical accuracy when used with Wolf’s mil-spec, 123-grain, steel-cased FMJ, which is the load for which it was designed. It performed acceptably with the brass-cased Federal and Fiocchi loads at 100 yards, but the average groups shot by the steel-cased Wolf ammo were 33-percent tighter. Groups would have been tighter if I had used a scope, but an intended use of the SL2 would be in the shorter CQB-type ranges and distances, a place where a scope can be more of a hindrance than a help.
On the other hand, even a rifle designed around a CQB-engagement concept may sometimes be called on to take a shot beyond 100 yards. Therefore, I set out a silhouette target at 200 yards to see what the SL 2, EOTech and Wolf ammo could do. I aimed at the upper portion and five consecutive shots from the bench struck the target. Four were in the center mass and one landed slightly to the left, clearly indicating that the Speedload 2 and EOTech could successfully engage threats at a reasonable urban standoff distance.
Velocities were very good despite the SL 2’s short barrel. All loads produced velocities that were only between 50-100 feet per second (fps) slower than factory test barrels. Energy levels were between 1,382 to 1,508 foot-pounds.
For the CQB drill, I borrowed a range setup for a practical shooting match at the Volusia Club. Part of the stage involved a room-clearing exercise in which threat targets were set up at 4, 6 and 15 yards. It was a simple drill. Take out the target that’s visible when approaching the doorway; swing left and take out the second target as you pass the wall before entering, and then step through the doorway; swing right and take the target at 15 yards as it comes into view. All rounds quickly found their mark. There were no stoppages or failures to fire.
The Krebs SL 2 is a tactical rifle, pure and simple. As AKs go, it’s good looking, but its real beauty is its ruggedness and the simplicity and efficiency with which it gets the job done.
For more information on the SL 2, visit krebscustom.com or call 847-487-7776.