Review: Galil ACE GAP39SB-Backpack Sized 7.62×39 Firepower

    IWI’s Galil ACE series of firearms was highly anticipated by many throughout the firearms world.  A series of unfortunate events with the introduction of the platform to the US market most cruelly resulted in pistols being recalled due to noncompliance of regulations.  Though elusive for a long time, pistols and rifles are now in regular supply, and I was nicely surprised to find examples of both while stopping by one of my favorite brick and mortar gun stores.  The Galil ACE GAP39SB was designed to be a more controllable version of the GAP39II pistol, yet is just as compact due to the folding nature of its brace.  Chambered in the affordable and widely available 7.62×39 and using AK47 magazines, the GAP39SB is as close as the US civilian market can get to the compact Galil ACE 31 carbine without NFA paperwork.

    Basic Stats:

    Caliber 7.62x39mm

    Action Semi-auto

    Operating System Closed rotating bolt, long stroke gas piston

    Magazine Type MAGPUL MOE AK/AKM PMAG

    Magazine Capacity 30 rounds

    Barrel Material Cold hammer forged, CrMoV, chrome lined

    Barrel Length 8.3″

    Overall Length 26.75″

    Weight 6.5 lbs w/out Magazine

    Rifling Right Hand, 1:9.45 inch twist

    Brace Color Black

    Sights Adjustable with Tritium front post and 2-dot Tritium rear aperture.

    Restricted States Not available for sale in CA or MA. Magazine capacity restrictions may apply in other states.

    Optional Equipment N/A

    MSRP – $1,849

    First Impressions:

    The GAP39SB comes in a pretty plain cardboard box with manuals, a Magpul magazine, and sight adjustment tool.  Racking the left side charging handle, the action charged very smoothly.  The sliding dust cover on the left side rocked down and up smoothly as well.  The left and right side safeties, connected by a linkage, clicked on and off smoothly and positively, and did not obstruct my firing grip in any way.  The left side safety is the easier of the two to operate.  The railed top cover and gas tube were locked solidly in place.  The two stage trigger breaks and resets crisply.  The first stage on my example is 1lb 6oz and the second stage 3lb 10oz.  It’s pretty nice for a military rifle.  The front rail covers had a bit of play, and annoyingly click back and forth when gripped.  Breakdown and cleaning were even easier than a standard AK, being that the gas block does not have to be released by a lever.  The operating spring does have a buffer affixed to the rear.   The folding brace tube is rock solid when locked out, and locks and unlocks without too much effort.  The overall length is 26.75″, for those of you who might want to attach certain accessories.

    Range Results:

    While firing the GAP39SB offhand was a ton of fun, testing the potential accuracy off the bench was a bit awkward.  The best position I could find was to use a rolled up shooting mat as a front support from the bench, supporting the rear of the stabilizing brace with a bag.  I attached a 1.5-5x Leupold scope to the top rail in order to ascertain 100y accuracy.  When initially attempting to fire 5 shot groups, I noticed the GAB39SB had a real tendency to bounce up and to the left, no matter how much I loaded the weight of the gun forward onto the mat.  This was more due to the shortened AK type operating system hitting the rear of the receiver cover and my having to use a chin weld than to movement at the muzzle.  I then attached my Gemtech Sandstorm Suppressor to the muzzle, which is threaded 5/8×24 for easy attachment of western muzzle accessories.  This counterbalanced the weight quite nicely over the bag, and made shooting for groups a lot easier.

    Ready to test at 100 yards

    I tested the GAP39 SB with loads from Cor-Bon, Tulammo, Fiocchi, Wolf, Winchester, and Herter’s.  The 8.3″, 1/9.45 twist barrel grouped most loads into the 2-2.5MOA range at 100y.  The best group was from Cor-Bon’s 125gr JHP load, 1.87MOA with a 1MOA horizontal spread.  TulAmmo’s 124gr HP, did slightly worse at 1.96MOA.  This is a cheap and plentiful load that I plan on using most of the time in the GAP39SB, The worst performer was Herter’s International Select 122gr HP, at 4.4 MOA.  It should be noted that point of impact shifted dramatically between loads.  TulAmmo printed higher than Cor-Bon by 3MOA for example.  The GAP39SB is definitely a platform that is sensitive to different ammo.  Though not as accurate as other stabilizing brace fitted pistols that I’ve fired in 5.56 and .300BL, the GAP39SB is plenty accurate for a pistol.  Moving on from paper, I fired shots at the 150, 200, 300, and 500yard steel plates.  First round hits were achieved on all plates once I figured out the correct stadia to hold on.

    The best group of the day, 1.87MOA from Cor-Bon

    After confirming long range accuracy, I configured the GAP39SB with no suppressor and a Vortex red dot optic.  In this configuration, the pistol will fit easily into a standard size backpack with room to spare, even with a 30 round magazine inserted.  Before mounting the dot, I zeroed the iron sights.  There are tritium inserts in both the front and rear iron sights for night/low light use.   The GAP39SB has the same 300 and 500 yard rear apertures as the Galil rifle.  A consequence of it being configured at those ranges is that one has to rotate the front sight for elevation quite a bit out of the front sight base in order to zero at 100 yards.  IWI does provide a nice tool to adjust the front and rear sights, however.  Acquiring and engaging targets using the irons was feasible out to 300 yards and became rather more difficult after that given the short distance between front and rear sights.  They were, however, a lot more useful than most sights on other short 7.62×39 platforms such as the AKSU series.   I have fired semi and full auto compact AK’s in 5.45 and 7.62×39, and I can say for sure that the GAP39SB is the most practical and easy to keep on target of all those variants.

    Fits easily into…

    A standard sized backpack

    the provided sight adjustment tool

     

    After mounting and zeroing the red dot, I fired a series of drills at paper targets at 25 and 50 yards, and steel targets out to 300 yards.  Hits were easy to get with the pistol held offhand with the sling fully extended out to 200, but 300 yards required a little more finesse.  Rapid fire offhand magazine dumps at 50 yards at a rate of 180rpm stayed within a 3.5 inch spread.  An aimed string of shots at the same distance, 10 rounds in 10 seconds, printed a .8MOA group.  I then ran the pistol through a jungle lane a few times and found that it was very easy to bring it up on target quickly and get accurate shots off.

    Much more natural in this configuration

    The pistol can fire with the brace folded, though it is a bit awkward to do so.  When the brace is extended, and either attached to one’s forearm or otherwise used as a support, the brace can twist on the tube a little too easily, sometimes twisting or rotating noticeably under recoil.  A better interface such as grip tape between brace and tube is needed before serious use.

    Velocity Variations

    For those of you who might wonder what velocity and kinetic energy one might be sacrificing due to the short barrel, I chrono’d the GAP39SB alongside a GAR1639 (16in barrel 7.62×39) rifle for comparison.  Results are as follows, energy in ft-lbs:

    GAP39SB

    • Fiocchi 123gr FMJ: muzzle velocity 2120fps, Ke muzzle:1211
    • Tulammo 124gr HP: muzzle velocity 2134fps, Ke muzzle: 1224

    GAR1639

    • Fiocchi 123gr FMJ: muzzle velocity 2415fs, Ke muzzle:1603
    • Tulammo 124gr HP: muzzle velocity 2439fps, Ke muzzle: 1666

    On the Trail and in the Dark

    Hung on a single point bungee sling from the rear loop, the pistol’s 8lb 13oz weight (with loaded 30-round magazine and red dot) never got tiresome as I took it on a few short hikes.  I did not find that the left side charging handle or any other part of the pistol dug into my sides, and the muzzle was easy to keep under control and pointed in a safe direction.

    The muzzle has a timing nut to help orient any muzzle devices one might put on

    The standard birdcage flash hider did not do such a good job of hiding muzzle flash.  Sometimes even in bright sunlight, my sight picture would be occluded by a fireball.  The deep shade of the jungle lane only exacerbated matters, and a session at dusk was like a fireworks show. Gunpowder residue also visibly covered my forearms at the end of each range day with the GAP39SB.  Being that the muzzle has a 5/8×24 thread pitch, however, it’s easy to find a good brake or flash hider to suit one’s needs.

     

    Riding the Rails

    Broken down to check if the sight rails will return to zero. And to cool down after 200 rounds.

    The top rail of the GAP39SB is in two pieces.  The portion from the dust cover to the gas tube is held in place by the rear takedown button, the back of the receiver, and an extrusion that fits into the gas tube.  It is affixed to the dust cover via screws.  The gas tube has rails that fit into cuts on top of the trunnion, and the front of the tube fits over an extension from the front sight gas block.  This all seems like it would have potential for zero shift after each disassembly and cleaning.  I am glad to report that it was not so.  The iron, telescopic, and red dot sights all returned to zero after reassembly.  The railed lower handguard, however, had some issues. Normally covered by the somewhat portly sliding rail covers, the tri-rail and heat shield underneath it became loose after a 100 round bumpfired string of fire.  The front screw had come loose, and should definitely be loctited ASAP by any user of this firearm.  I really do not like the plastic rails, which were smoldering after those 100 rounds.  Thankfully, the good people over at RS-Regulate are brewing up a slick M-Lok hand guard for Galil ACE rifles and pistols.

    The offending handguard and screw.

    But is it Reliable?

    To be considered more than a range toy, a firearm has to demonstrate a largely infallible degree of reliability.  A PDW, truck gun or bug-out-bag gun has to be ready to take abuse, dirt, a potentially high round count, and still be a reliable tool with which to defend one’s life or fill the pot.  Tested with Promag Magpul and Yugo magazines, including some dropped in fine dirt, mine tailings and water, the GAP39SB chugged along reliably through 1000 rounds without cleaning and without a single failure to feed, fire, or eject.  I could not get it to have a single instance of hammer follow, either when pulling the trigger as fast as I could or bump-firing while held at a variety of angles.  The finish on the metal parts does scratch somewhat easily, but that’s not something I worry too much about on a “working gun”.  Barring some of the worst scenarios in MAC’s or AKOU’s torture tests, this pistol will fire when you need it to.

    1000+rounds suppressed and unsuppressed? No cleaning, no problem!

    A Word on Magazines

    Being a pistol, the GAP39SB is not subject to the same 922r concerns as the rifle.  The pistol’s stabilizing brace is also made in the USA by SB tactical.  One negative, however:  the Galil ACE series has a magwell that will not accommodate wide magazines.  Only thinner magazines will fit properly.  Good for those that have Magpul AK mags, not so good for those who have US Palm mags.

     Final Thoughts:

    The GAP39SB is a very viable truck gun.  It is compact, reasonably accurate, and 100% reliable, has good factory night sights, and a solid system for mounting optics.  It does have some shortcomings, such as its muzzle brake, tube to brace fit, and plastic handguard, but they are fixed easily enough.  For those who have significant stocks of 7.62×39 ammunition and appropriate magazines, it represents a very economical and fast way to have a short barreled AK variant.  This is with upgrades such as a better sight radius, ability to mount optics, left hand charging, and a side folding brace all from the factory.  Though less accurate than some other rifle-caliber pistols I have, I will have no qualms using this pistol as a truck-gun or hiking companion in the future.

    A “brace” of pistols…

    Pros:

    • 100% reliable
    • Accuracy was good for a pistol with stabilizing brace, exceptional for a short AK variant.
    • Night sights come stock
    • Good trigger
    • Optic mount holds and returns to zero
    • Works well with cheap ammo
    • Extremely compact with solid folding mechanism
    • Works with most cheap surplus mags
    • Ambi safety, left side charging

    Cons

    • Not as accurate as some .300Blackout or 5.56 Pistols with PSB
    • Proprietary tube and PSB that is a little too loose on the tube
    • Plastic fore-end and rail covers aren’t great
    • Can’t take mags that are too wide for magwell
    • Grip is not interchangeable

    Thanks to Aaron Hughston Shooting School for range time and logistical support.

    Rusty S.

    Having always had a passion for firearms, Rusty S. has had experience in gunsmithing, firearms retail, hunting, competitive shooting, range construction, as an IDPA certified range safety officer and a certified instructor. He has received military, law enforcement, and private training in the use of firearms. He is fortunate enough to have access to class 3 weaponry as well.


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