The days of plentiful and low-cost imported AKs are most likely coming to an end. The AK has proven an easy mark for politicians looking for gun-control credentials due to import restrictions being easier to levy than pushing new legislation through Congress. Any visit to your favorite gun shop will reinforce this statement by the dearth of AKs on the shelves. While there is no doubt that the AR-15 is the popular favorite for the U.S. consumer, the AK has notably grown in popularity thanks to its reputation for reliability and ruggedness.
The rising tide of AK-47 popularity in the U.S. is hard to refute and is not going to be stemmed any time soon, though access to AK rifles is a growing concern. The increasing amount of performance-enhancing accessories coming available only heightens and encourages the popularity of the AK. This re-appraisal of the AK platform is leading to interesting developments, leaving the once-accepted AK credo of being a basic weapon worthy only of open sights in the dust. One company responding to this desire for enhanced and upgraded AK variants (along with traditional models) is I.O. Inc., with its Hellhound tactical AK chambered in 7.62x39mm.
In response to the challenges facing the AK consumer, I.O. became an AK manufacturer. This was not an easy process considering the requisite investment of resources in terms of capital and experienced personnel. Following a great deal of hard work, I.O. now manufacturers a line of Kalashnikov rifles here in the United States. The Hellhound Tactical AK is an excellent example of what I.O. has to offer utilizing their previous experience in the import business.
The Hellhound Tactical is very much a contemporary AK in terms of utilizing modern forend rail systems combined with East German-style rear stocks and pistol grips that are also found on another I.O. offering, the STG-2000. The modern influence of a rifle featuring railed handguards in order to accept the mounting of accessories, such as optics, lights, lasers and a vertical forward grip is evident in the Hellhound Tactical. Some may find accessorizing the AK an act of heresy, but many more will take advantage of the capability offered by the railed handguards. I.O. uses a U.S.-made, pressed-sheet-metal receiver made using Polish factory blueprints with their AK rifles. The action is traditional Kalashnikov with a standard European rivet pattern. Mounted to the left side of the receiver is a typical AK side rail for mounting day and night optics. I.O. is building its own synthetic 30-round magazines, with two provided with the Hellhound Tactical.
A TAPCO G2 trigger is used with the Hellhound, as is a U.S.-made, 1-in-9.5-inch twist rate, 16.2-inch chrome-moly barrel. I.O. decided to go with a combination front sight/gas block in lieu of more typical separate AK gas-block/front-sight arrangement. A standard AK tangent rear sight is used. A Phantom flash suppressor is affixed to the Hellhound’s barrel. The Hellhound’s metal parts are finished in a satin black coating. While the Hellhound Tactical is not going to win awards for being a period-specific recreation, users will find it offers what the AK is known for in terms of “hell and back” reliability. Overall length of the Hellhound Tactical AK is 36.5 inches and it weighs approximately 7 pounds.
The Hellhound builds on the basic strengths of not only the Kalashnikov platform, but also the merits of its chambering. Combining simple construction and operation with rugged reliability, the Hellhound is designed to deliver when it counts. Lessons rediscovered in Iraq and Afghanistan about terminal ballistics are enhancing 7.62x39mm AK credentials. Capable 7.62x39mm loads ranging from 122-grain, 154-grain, full metal jacket, hollow point, and soft point perform very similar to the .30-30 in terms of ballistic performance. The Kalashnikov long-stroke, gas-piston operating system is a benchmark in terms of reliability for other actions. A key component in the AK design is the looser tolerances in its moving parts, giving it more latitude to function when dirty from field conditions or when hot and grimy after firing numerous rounds over extended amounts of time. This translates into reduced sensitivity to debris in the action and ultimately lower maintenance requirements to keep it functioning.
Accessories & Sights
After a quick verification of the I.O. Inc. Hellhound Tactical’s 25-yard sight zero, range evaluation commenced with a function test involving firing several magazines in rapid succession at various steel man-shaped targets and vehicles that dot the range where I do my testing. While not unique, this is a good way to establish a baseline for reliability. Let’s face it, if a Kalashnikov-type weapon does not have pristine reliability, its major attribute is nullified. I made sure different types of AK-47 magazines were used to further root out if any manufacturing quirks existing in the I.O. rifle. Metal and polymer 30-round magazines of various manufacturers performed fine with no issues inserting, removing or feeding the
Hellhound Tactical. A more comprehensive 100-yard sight zero confirmation took place after functionality was established. This helps to confirm that the front sight base and the rear sight are aligned correctly.
I decided to mount a Sig Sauer STS -081 Mini Red Dot sight on the forward rail as I have found the Sig Sauer Mini Red Dot worthy of consideration based on use with various rifles. Red-dot sights offer the capability to engage multiple targets in rapid sequence compared to open sights. Age may be catching up to me, as the single-focus plane with the red dot is easier to shoot accurately than coordinating front and rear sights. The Sig Sauer sight withstood the recoil and heat generated by repeatedly long strings of fire.
In fact, the heat generated from long strings of fire is why I prefer to install a vertical forward grip (VFG), as is facilitated with the Hellhound’s railed forend. I.O. produces its own VFG, of which one was included with the rifle. When a rifle’s handguard is smoking after taking abuse that the AK is famous for and staying operational, a VFG is perfect for keeping your hand away from the barrel. (As most who handle high-volume capable weapons know, good gloves are another essential piece of gear.) One note here is the importance of mounting the VFG as forward as comfortable so as not to impede magazine changes. The vertical forward grip aided in weapon manipulation and did not cause any issues with magazine changes during range visits with the Hellhound Tactical.
Many find a vertical forward grip as an aid to off-shoulder transitions and other types of improvised shooting positions. The increased leverage offered by a VFG allows more control over the weapon across a variety of uses. Of course, one is not a prisoner to an installed VFG and one’s hand can float if necessary, as well. Users are encouraged to verify and train with all equipment before committing to use.
An interesting side project involved with testing the Hellhound Tactical was the use of the U.S.-made, I.O. AK magazine. I.O. has created a 30-round AK-47 magazine created from “space age” polymer material. The I.O. magazines are made in the well-known and respected Bulgarian waffle-style pattern. The I.O. magazines will fit into all AK rifles. The I.O. magazines were complemented by a Mayflower Research 7.62 hybrid chest rig. The Mayflower 7.62 hybrid rig is a low-profile, secure platform for three AK magazines and offers pouches for a myriad of other items at the discretion of the user. The Mayflower chest rig is made in the U.S. The chest rig can be worn over hard or soft body armor and is built to military specifications.
In conjunction with the Mayflower chest rig mentioned above, I also utilized a High Speed Gear (HSG) patrol belt (featuring their TACO magazine pouches) during range evaluation of the I.O. Hellhound Tactical. Many train and operate with multiple calibers either by choice or necessity. Others are tasked with training different weapon systems as part of their job description. The logistics of maintaining different belt systems or switching magazine pouches on one belt repeatedly is daunting. Imagine having to accommodate AR magazines one day, AK-47 magazines the next, AR-10/SR-25 magazines another training evolution, or AK-74 magazines during another time and so forth. You get the point. Just as important in any transition between gear systems is making sure nothing affects magazine draw-stroke muscle memory, pistol presentation or obtaining medical equipment. Accessing gear must remain seamless with no hitches caused due to different feel or location of pouches. HSG’s TACO magazine pouch was developed with this set of circumstances in mind.
The HSG TACO is adjustable to many different magazine dimensions, including being able to accommodate Saiga 12 gauge magazines. The HSG TACO eliminates the need for different gear per weapon magazine used and just as importantly keeps your items in familiar instinctual locations. HSG offers various styles of TACOs, including single rifle and pistol magazine pouches, double-stack rifle magazine pouches and combination rifle and pistol magazine pouches. The HSG TACOs are not confined solely to patrol-belt use and can be fitted to most equipment carriers thanks to the use of its MALICE attachment method. MALICE clips are HSG’s way of adopting their TACO pouches to ALICE and MOLLE gear systems.
After I tested the Hellhound Tactical for functionality, I took advantage of the Hellhound’s forward rail and mounted a Leupold 2.5x IER Scout scope to aid in accuracy testing. The Hellhound’s rail is perfect for adding optics due to its rock-steady nature that won’t allow a shifting zero once a scope is sighted in.
The Wolf Ammunition, Tula and Silver Bear 122-grain and 124-grain loads hovered in the 3-inch range in terms of accuracy. Three-inch groups at 100 yards strikes me as more than acceptable for an AK. Surprisingly, the forward-mounted Sig Sauer red-dot sight produced only slightly larger groups in terms of accuracy considering it is a non-magnified optic. The Sig red dot was left on the Hellhound for the majority of testing.
Range tests consisted of completing numerous runs on a carbine course previously set up for a law enforcement competition. Several clusters of IPSC-style man targets were engaged from various firing positions. Multiple shots were fired at each target with a magazine change mandated before leaving cover. The various stages consisted of three different styles of barricade, with one including coming through an operable doorframe. Time was stopped by engaging two steel man-targets placed approximately 125 yards downrange. I find testing any rifle in this format helps highlight any strengths or weaknesses in handling or weapon manipulation.
While not as subtle or tame as an AR-15 or AK-74, the I.O. Hellhound Tactical’s muzzle blast and recoil was not prohibitive or excessive, allowing for fast double and triple taps on selected targets, especially at CQB distances. The Sig Sauer red-dot sight assisted in engaging targets at close distances, with the red dot easy to pick up rapidly. The Sig Sauer sight also allowed for more than enough accuracy out to a couple hundred yards, as the red dot superimposed an aim point over the target while not totally obscuring the target with the dot’s size.
The I.O. Hellhound Tactical AK proved reliable at the range and handled as expected as an AK. The STG-pattern buttstock and pistol grip combined with railed handguard are worthy features. Yes, there are other more expensive accessories available, but the fact is the Hellhound Tactical works fine with what it is equipped with, featuring typical AK reliability and firepower. The I.O. Hellhound Tactical proved itself worthy of being labeled an AK with all the connotations this implies. Put in simpler terms, the Hellhound Tactical AK can be thought of as a great-handling, 30-round-detachable-magazine semi-automatic offering legitimate means for users to add accessories as they see fit—not to mention ultra reliable and firing a cartridge that features .30 caliber ballistic performance. This is potent firepower.
For more information on I.O. Inc., visit ioinc.us or call 321-499-3819.