Gun Review: CAI M74, Quality, Affordable, and Beautiful!

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CAI is now producing a splendid AK74 clone that they have dubbed the M74 Sporter, and I asked our great editor Phil White if I could review one. Let me tell you, we deal with a lot of companies here at The Firearm Blog, but CAI is really on the ball when it comes to reviewing one of their products. A single email sent by Phil to the manufacturer results in a gun at my FFL, with accessories and all kinds of cool ancillary stuff in about 4 or 5 days! To me this speaks well of their organization as far as the administrative side goes, and to me that is an indicator of a good company overall, and there I must give them some serious credit. That being said, I was very excited to have to opportunity to test their AK74.

The M74 Sporter is built on a surplus excellent Bulgarian parts kit (many hold the Bulgarian kits to be among the best out there) and it just looks great. The original furniture is retained (not sure what parts they used for 922r compliance aside from the trigger group, receiver, and barrel but this gun looks fantastic!) as well as most other components. The gun came with the original muzzle brake and bayonet too, which is just awesome! The Bakelite bayonet really adds some charm and I would love to have one just because I think it looks neat. Also after some reading, the Bulgarian “Circle 10″ magazines seem to be held in high regard by the AK community and they definitely work well in the rifle, as did all other mags tested.

I got to the range on a chilly afternoon and set the target up at 100 yards to get a feel for the accuracy. As usual I shot five groups of five shots.

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The trigger on the M74 is a single hook Tapco group that breaks extremely well and I was pleasantly surprised by the light trigger pull of the rifle.

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After the accuracy test I walked up and inspected the target. All five groups were consistent 3 to 3.5 inch patterns, which is about what I have come to expect of an AK with iron sights in my hands. I am a good shot with traditional western peep sights and rabbit ears, but I have never been too good with the notch and post sight on the AK platform. That said, I am sure with a scope rail and an optic I could have shot better groups with this rifle. Regardless, a 3 inch group with iron sights and surplus 5.45 ammo is definitely minute of man and I was satisfied with that.

After the brief accuracy test it was time to beat on this thing with some rapid fire. Luckily I brought out a 45 round RPK magazine and really cranked some rounds out, then tossed in another loaded mag to really get the gun nice and hot!

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The gun throws the spent casings very far to about 2:00, which is away from other shooters. I was also really working the trigger and trying to get a nice “brass rainbow” going:

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All in all I fired about 300 rounds through the gun, and it performed as I expect AK variants to: flawlessly. Recoil is also virtually non-existent due to the low caliber 5.45×39 round and the M74’s extremely effective muzzle brake. I also found the furniture to be comfy and I like the bulge in the front handguard as it gives the shooter a bit more material to grab on to.

After I got back to my shop, I stripped the M74 down to get a look at how dirty the internals were. Of course I did not fire as many rounds as I did in the VZ2008 test, but I like to see how clean guns run anyways:

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Isn’t that bayonet awesome? It also has a built in can and bottle opener!

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Really the piston is the only part of the gun that had much residue on it, and the inside of the receiver was especially clean:

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So the M74 is a great rifle at a great price. I also saw that JG Sales has them for $569 which makes this rifle a real bargain, especially considering that 5.45×39 ammunition is very affordable. If you are either a die hard AK guy or just someone looking for a nice gun to begin your collection with, in my opinion you cannot go wrong with the M74. Here is something interesting too; I have a 5.45×39 AK made by Arsenal, specifically an SGL 31-61 and if you were to ask me why the Arsenal cost me $830 and this gun is almost $300 less, I would not really have a great answer aside from the fact that the Arsenal uses all new parts and is a real “Russian” gun… but who really cares if you are just buying a shooter? Had I known about these back then or had the opportunity to buy one of these, it would have been a no-brainer!

Anyways, onto my bullet points:

The Good:

  • Great price
  • Cheap ammunition
  • Great looking AK
  • Great trigger
  • Low recoil
  • Very fun to shoot!

The Bad:

  • Not the most accurate AK I have ever shot, but I am not sure if I can entirely blame the gun
  • The 1,080 round cans of 5.45×39 are a little harder to find now, but even new ammo is affordable

The Ugly:

  • Big builders like CAI have had some trouble with things like canted sights in the past. While the one I got was free of issues, try to look one over before you buy if at all possible.

So that’s that. This gun is a great option if you are in the market for a fun semi-automatic rifle that shoots affordable ammo, and with Christmas around the corner I may just have to buy one for myself!

 


Alex C.

Alex is a Senior Writer for The Firearm Blog who was born and raised in Texas with years of experience in hunting, shooting competitions, and general collecting. A degree in History from Baylor University has contributed to his love of both early and modern firearms technology, but Alex is most fond of machine guns and other NFA toys. Alex also owns a firearm manufacturing business licensed to produce title I and II weapons.
You can reach Alex at [email protected].


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  • John

    If i recall correctly, the canted sights were technically not directly CAI’s problem but rather a quality control issue traced back to Romanian manufacturers.

    • Dilby

      I had a CAI yugo M70 with canted sights. After squatting in my jumpsuit for a good 45 minutes, problem solved with rubber mallet.

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      Yes, I’ve noticed that CAI’s QA / QC issues, or lack thereof, seem to be directly related to whichever factory or facility is contracted to assemble a given firearm type on their behalf. This probably accounts for the disparity in quality of several of their offerings ; some are very,very good, while others are problematic. The impression I am getting is that specific facilities, such as the Canadian assembly shops, tend to consistently produce the former.

  • Mike N.

    Isn’t Arsenal also Bulgarian?

  • J.T.

    What about the barrel? Is it chrome lined or not? A non-chromed barrel is a deal-killer for a lot of people.

    • Tommy

      It does not have a chrome lined barrel. But if you clean it after each range visit it shouldn’t be an issue. And I agree on it being a deal breaker. Almost was for me. But I couldn’t pass up the deal.

      • Anders Albertsson

        It’s not about ease of cleaning- it’s about premature throat erosion and the barrel just wearing out at a highly accelerated rate compared to a hammer-forged, chrome lined barrel.

        • DiverEngrSL17K

          Good point, Anders! The quality of the barrel steel, chrome-lined or otherwise, is also a long-term factor in the equation. For those of us who tend to look at a weapon from the standpoint of hard, long-term battlefield usage and abuse, the answer is obvious — high-quality chrome-lined barrels and chambers are the only way to go. But, for the civilian operator, a good-quality barrel and chamber, even if not chrome-lined, will usually be more than adequate, especially when cost-effectiveness and budgetary considerations are factored in.

          • Anders Albertsson

            “Civilian Operator”

          • DiverEngrSL17K

            My reference was simply to an average private gun owner or enthusiast, rather than military or LE. I know that “civilian operator” can be used in the context of a military-level private contractor or similar professional. Sorry, I should have clarified that.

  • Mother Lover

    Here’s my Bottom Line review since I own one:
    It looks like an AK
    It shoots like an AK
    It’s as reliable as an AK
    It does NOT have a chrome lined barrel
    It does NOT keyhole

    • Anders Albertsson

      No chrome on a 5.45 is bad ju-ju- you will probably get keyholing within 8K rounds as the barrel will just wear out rapidly.

      • Suburban

        That, and all the inexpensive surplus 5.45mm ammo is corrosive.

      • Aliel The Heretic

        If you don’t clean it, yeah.

        Know a veteran who fought in the battle of Fallujah and works as a gun smith now. Asked him that same question, and he said chrome lined just makes it easier to clean, and unless your operating a machine gun and dishing out 30K rounds in a single firefight, you should be good to go.

        Just remember this. Before you clean with gun solvents, spray the whole thing down with windex. The Amonia and water with neutralize the salts in the corrosive ammo.

        • Jmann

          The weak base ammonia (NH3) does not dissolve the salt deposits. The water within the Windex solution disassociates the salt into ions since salt is a strong electrolyte in an aqueous solution. This is a common misconception. All you need is hot water really. The Windex is pointless.

          • Aliel The Heretic

            That makes the most sense.

            I later found out that the “key-holing” issues some AK74’s were having had less to do with the design and more to do with a damaged or poorly formed rifling crown.

      • Robert Kalani Foxworthy

        its a two sided sword crome when it corrodes does so even worse . also two peice barrels are less accurate then a barrel single type of metal.

    • Robert Kalani Foxworthy

      key holing isnt a bad thing against soft non armored targets, I rather it spin on contact and put a 60 cal in some thing then a 20 cal going straight through.

  • wetcorps

    The bayonet is, indeed, awesome.

  • Jeff Smith

    I bought a Century WASR under folder back in 2011. The complaint I’ve had is that the receiver has visible tool marks. Other than that, the gun is fantastic. The Tapco trigger is actually pretty amazing and the gun is accurate enough for me to put all my hits on a 1’x1′ steel target while standing at 100 yards.

    • Jeff Smith

      Oh, another complaint, it came with that hideous black plastic furniture that Century was using for a while. I got a very nice wood set for about $50 and the gun looks amazing now.

  • Chatterbot

    Century has a reputation for hand-selecting the best examples to give to reviewers. The problem is that unlike many other manufacturers, CAI’s best and CAI’s average can be worlds apart.

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

      The VZ2008 they sent me for testing was more rough than the ones I bought. Most of the guns we test from any manufacturer are test mules that get sent to everyone for review, so if anything test samples are generally pretty beat up.

      • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

        I can certainly verify that. Almost all companies pull rifles off the line and keep them held back for authors to use. They get some heavy use and at times not the best care so to say they hand pick them wouldn’t be a fair statement.
        I’ve heard that Internet rumor for some time but I honestly believe it is nothing more than a rumor.

  • Lance

    AK-74 is the best AK version out there in my opinion.One of the best rifles around is the AK-74 and you cannot go wrong having one.

  • RocketScientist

    Anyone have any idea how these compare to the Waffen Works 74’s? been eyeing one of those for awhile.

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      Hi, RocketScientist :

      I am not in a position to compare this CAI AK-74 with the Waffen Werks AK-74, but I can provide some information that may nevertheless be of some use.

      I have a Waffen Werks AK-74 built on a new ( as in unissued ) surplus Bulgarian parts kit and have to say that it is easily one of the best AK-74’s I have come across. I had a chance to compare it in detail with an Arsenal version and found very little difference in quality and functionality between the two. In the end, the differences as mentioned were essentially as follows :

      1. The Arsenal has very tight tolerances and fit-up — almost too tight. It takes a while to break it in. The WW has tolerances and fit-up that are just right from the get-go — not too tight, just snug with no excess play.

      2. The Arsenal has the advantage of having an original, cold-hammer forged chrome-lined barrel — there are none better, period. The WW has a chrome-lined, high-quality U.S.-made barrel. It is quite likely that the vast majority of users will never reach the point of wearing out the WW barrel, let alone the Arsenal barrel.

      3. Both rifles exhibit a very high degree of fit, finish and attention to detail that should satisfy almost anyone, even the pickiest aficionados.

      4. The Arsenal commands a significantly higher price than the WW. You will have to decide how cost-effective they are relative to your budget and preferences before choosing in the light of the above-mentioned essential differences. If you want the very best, bar none, and regardless of price, the Arsenal is the best choice. If you are looking at the most cost-effective option, the Waffen Werks is probably the way to go. Either way, you cannot go wrong. I would personally be completely satisfied with either gun as my ultimate, go-to SHTF rifle, among a few others.

      IMPORTANT NOTE : The WW AK-74 I purchased was obtained when Waffen Werks had their original manufacturing and gunsmithing crew on board, and before they gained the popularity they now enjoy. This may account for the impeccable quality of the AK-74 I have. Since then, I have heard and read from more than one source that they have lost part of that original personnel pool ( and their attendant expertise ) while sales have gone through the roof, resulting in slightly-reduced quality. Fortunately, that QA /QC problem seems to be confined mostly to relatively minor issues, such as roughly-finished rear sights, small gaps in the fit-up between the wooden buttstocks and receivers, etc. However, such apparently minor glitches do add up, and can be a source of annoyance. If you are prepared to live with these anomalies, or have no problem addressing them on your own with a little work, it should still not be a huge issue, especially given the price point and the practical functionality of the WW weapon. As a matter of course, the WW AK-74 does come already equipped with the TAPCO G2 trigger group installed, which is a nice add-on.

      It has been a few months since this personnel transition at the Waffen Werks shop occurred, so there is still hope that the replacement crew at WW will have since learned from their experiences and will be able to re-establish the original quality levels over time.

      Hope this helps you out a little.

      • GuidoFL

        Are you up to date on WW issues since they stopped using No Dac Spud receivers and went with their own ?

        • DiverEngrSL17K

          From what I’ve seen, the early WW receivers were well-made and had no quality issues. Mine is one such receiver, and it is properly fitted and works perfectly. However, the later WW AK-74’s, which were built after they became more popular, seem to have minor but annoying fit-up issues. The quality may not be what it was due to the loss of some of their more experienced personnel as well as the pressures of keeping up with increased demand.

          Maybe someone else can shed more light on these glitches and address them for us as I don’t own a late-model ( recent production ) version for direct comparison.

  • schizuki

    I’ve got a Yugo SKS and I replaced the notch rear sight with a Williams peep. When you take out the peep insert and just leave the ring, the ring almost perfectly covers the front sight hood. Has anybody tried a similar set-up on an AK? I’m curious if it’s as effective as on the SKS.

  • Esh325

    Sample to sample, the Century rifles won’t be nearly as good as the real Russian and Bulgarian rifles.

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      True, but I think as far as the average civilian user is concerned, the CAI offering would probably be more than adequate and still good value for money ( assuming the reports I have read are true and correct ).

  • DiverEngrSL17K

    Alex C. brought up some salient points in his article, such as the use of high-quality Bulgarian Circle 10 magazines, the bayonet, the effective muzzle brake and the OEM hand guard. I have personally found the original-style wooden hand guard of the AK-74 ( any variant ) to be the most ergonomic and comfortable hand guard of any type on any rifle that I can think of. It fits me perfectly and falls to hand in a completely natural and intuitive fashion. It doesn’t have the obvious tactical and utilitarian advantages of a railed synthetic ( polymer ) or metal hand guard, but I have yet to find any that can match this wooden hand guard for sheer comfort and fit. The hard wood from which it is made is also extremely durable and tough as nails, and then some ( at least on my Waffen Werks AK-74 ).

  • Tim B.

    If you believe a CAI AK74 is the cream of the crop, then you truly have little actual knowledge about or experience with AK’s….

    • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Alex C.

      I am not a big AK guy. I have owned 5 or 6 over the years but by now I only have a pair of Arsenals that sit in the back of my safe (sgl 21 and a 31). I just thought this was a nice rifle at a good price point.

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      Hi, Tim B. :

      I understand where you’re coming from. However, I don’t think Alex C. actually thinks that the CAI AK-74 is the cream of the crop — we all know it isn’t — but he does have a point in stating it’s obvious good features and value for money. In the end, the CAI offering is still a pretty decent AK-74 for most users and their needs. Having said that, I would definitely lean towards a good Arsenal, Krebs or early Waffen Werks AK-74, but that’s just my personal preference.

  • Sable

    This may have just sold me on an ak74.

  • big daddy

    No chrome on the barrel = no sale for me. If I were using it in a military situation well you get what they give you to fight. If I have to pay for something there are a few things I feel are important to have in a weapon like this and a chrome lined or treated barrel is a necessity. It’s not only about barrel wear it about the chamber too.

    • DiverEngrSL17K

      Agreed. As far as I’m concerned, any modern Mil-spec or military-type rifle should have a chrome-lined barrel and chamber, period. The CAI AK-74 is a very good offering for the money for the serious civilian user. I might be wrong ( please correct me if I am ), but as far as I can tell, the CAI gun does not have a chrome-lined barrel — and this is a let-down in my book, but not for the reasons others have mentioned. My take on this subject is that, being ex-military, I tend to look at any weapon from the standpoint of extremely hard, long-term battlefield usage and functionality, which means that chrome-lined bores are essential for durability under sustained abuse. What this also means is that the vast majority of civilian — or even military — users are unlikely to experience serious problems with non-chromed barrels, as long as those barrels are made to an adequate quality standard.

      As far as I can tell, previous keyholing issues have had less to do with average long-term barrel wear than with improper rifling and barrel machining tolerances, all else being equal.

      • Bill

        World War II and Korea were fought with numerous rifles and MG’s that did not have chrome-lined barrels or chambers: M1 Garands, M1/M2 Carbines, BAR’s, 98k Mausers, StG-44s, No. 4 Enfields and Mosin-Nagants among others. The warring nations seemed to get excellent service through the heaviest, most protracted fighting of the 20th century. That’s not to say some sort of hardened surface for barrel and chamber isn’t desirable. But to say such treatments are “essential” flies in the face of established historical facts.

        • DiverEngrSL17K

          Hi, Bill :

          It might actually surprise you, but I am of the “old school”, and that I largely agree with you ; to that end, I am also quite aware that previous major conflicts were fought without the benefit of chrome-lined barrels, and that as long as the troops involved practiced adequate maintenance procedures, excessive wear and corrosion were rarely an issue. As one key example, witness the many surplus Mosin-Nagant M91/30 rifles available on the surplus market today that still exhibit excellent barrel condition, even though many saw hard front-line service in the hands of conscripts using standard 7.62mm x 54R corrosive ball ammunition ( I have several in my collection, among others ).

          My point in saying that chrome lining is “essential” does not fly in the face of established historical facts — rather, it is a recognition that the circumstances of the modern battlefield, the firearms and ammunition involved, and their usage have changed since that time. Taking these changes into account, and allowing for the standards one might expect of the average modern soldier and the variety of demanding conditions he, or she, is expected to fight under, chrome lining has become a new standard for ensuring increased battlefield reliability under much higher levels of sustained abuse.

          Still, it’s good to hear from someone of the “old school”, anyway!

          • Robert Kalani Foxworthy

            chrome lined are a hair less accurate than soild one peice metal. Chrome also will corrode and even worse then carbon steal. Personaly I say iridium plate it. :-)

  • Marcus

    Once upon a time, I had CAI AK-74 variant. A Tantal to be exact. Bought it brand new from Dunham’s in January 2010. It had some wonderful “features”, such as an oversized .224 diameter non-chromed bore that you could count on to keyhole every time you pull the trigger. This bore would also rust terribly, regardless of how well it was cleaned and oiled (been shooting corrosive surplus for years, so I’m intimately familiar with the cleaning process).

    I tried to take it up with CAI to see if they would fix/replace/do anything about it, and after a long, tiresome exchange with their “customer service” department which included sending multiple pictures of the rifle with a number of targets that were riddled with hundreds of sideways bullet holes, I was politely told to get bent, and that it wasn’t their problem.

    I wasn’t demanding a new rifle, or a prompt barrel replacement. I didn’t demand anything at all. Really, I would have been happy with ANY attempt by them to right their ridiculous mistake of putting the wrong damn barrel on my rifle, which I bought brand new from a reputable national retailer, but instead I was shooed away and told to deal with it.

    As many of you already know, this wasn’t an isolated incident either. An entire production run was fitted with these oversized, junk barrels. After that experience, I will never give them another cent. I don’t understand how a company can get away with absolving themselves of any responsibility for selling a defective product.

    If anyone is thinking about getting one of these M74 rifles, don’t. CAI doesn’t give a flying rat’s last f*** about their customers.

    • Robert Kalani Foxworthy

      I had one of their blugurian it shot like a dream. But it barrel was the right diameter.
      it was very acurate as far as practicality. Low recoil. I also cleaned the riffle many times before I ever fired it. it was broke in in about 200 rounds if that. I wish I would of lapped the barrel.

  • allannon

    How does this compare to the Zastava O-PAP?

    AKs are at least as confusing for a newbie, regarding manufacturer quality and general features, as ARs. @.@

    • RobGR

      The O-PAPs are built at the ZASTAVA Arsenal in Serbia (former Yugoslavia) and imported by CAI. CAI then makes them 922r compliant and sells them. They therefore have a factory receiver and barrel. The O-PAPs are also chambered in 7.62x39mm, probably 1lb heavier, unfinished wood furniture (easy to do your own finish), and also have non-chromelined barrels.

      CAI 74s are built from parts kits, have US barrels and US receivers. If the “gunsmith”, I use the term loosely for Century, is competent, you may have a great shooter and not have to deal with warranty issues. CAI really stands by their product, their warranty is for one year and starts from the day they built the firearm, yeah, not from the day you purchase it! It’s groundbreaking CS as usual, just like their QC. Back to the 74 though. An AK74 is chambered in 5.45x39mm, surplus is plentiful but corrosive, so wash that baby out with boiling hot water. Do not use windex on a non-chromelined barrel, ammonia is not advised, take it from Krieger barrels if you think otherwise. You can get plenty of noncorrosive 7.62×39, but not many options when it comes to 5.45×39.

      I recommend the O-PAP. Hell, I recommend both (47 & 74), as long as they are shooters, you’ll have fun.

      • Justice

        CAI’s warranty, CS and QC is spotty at best. Read Marcus’s bad experience in the comments above.
        Yes, I’ve owned a Century AK before–a WASR10/63 GP. Not the nicest rifle but it did shoot ok. I won’t praise CAI for “standing by their product”.
        As far as the OPAP, I recommend it also if you are looking for an AK47 variant.

  • Raoul O’Shaugnessy

    “Quality affordable and beautiful” and “CAI” in the same sentence?

    Quality, Affordable, and Beautiful
    Quality, Affordable, and Beautiful
    Quality, Affordable, and Beautiful
    Quality, Affordable, and Beautiful

  • GuidoFL

    The true selling price point on this rifle will be $499. at $599. most will pass for a rifle w/chrome lined barrel. But the Circle 10 mag $30. and bake bayo $40. are great teasers as is the very nice furniture. With a lined barrel I’d take a chance with CAI quality issues.

  • Guido FL

    I picked up one of these August 2014 for $479. + $18 shipping. This is by far the best value purchase of a AK I’ve ever made since 2001. No key holing, sights are straight, groups are tight, very tight. I was going to buy another but got a great deal on a Vepr which I just had to have.