Two Rivers Arms: The American AK Manufacturer You’ve Never Heard Of
Century has the C39, Palmetto State Armory has the PSAK-47, DDI has their hammer forged line, and I.O. offers whatever Uli had for dinner last night. While scrolling through Atlantic Firearms it might seem as if the only thing these rifles share is their relation to the AKM rifle series, but after taking a step back it seems they all share one more common trait: all being plagued with production problems, quality control issues, and issues which lead to the perception that Americans cannot build quality AK-pattern rifles to save their lives. While this certainly holds true when we look at the broad spectrum, there are a handful of smaller AK companies out there who know what they’re doing. Even so, good manufacturers making classic AK rifles are few and far between. That being said, I seem to have struck gold when I happened upon Two Rivers Arms, a seemingly unknown company that produces not only high quality AKs, but go into specifics and details leaps and bounds above the competition.
What do I mean when I say that? Well, to answer that question you need only to look at TRA’s slogan: “Building what soldiers could not bring home”. TRA exists to build rifles to the specification of what soldiers saw on the battlefield but could not take home as a war trophy due to numerous laws regarding private property in wartime, as well as certain infringements upon what shall not be infringed. The founder of Two Rivers Arms, Lt. Col. Steve Russell, was frustrated that neither he nor his men could bring home firearms scavenged on the battlefield as had been a tradition of American soldiers in past generations. As a way to vent this frustration as well as fill that hole left when that tradition was squashed by the government, he and a dedicated group of colleagues spent countless hours researching the specifics of Iraqi AK variants in absurd depth so as to make the perfect rifle in both fit and function for soldiers returning home with an itch to scratch. The result is a rifle with faithfully recreated externals that doesn’t come with any of the drawbacks that might’ve surfaced had your rifle been churned out by some middle easterner who’s previous career choice was farming dirt.
To jump from the general overview to the specific viewpoint I’ll introduce my rifle: the PM md.63. Though not the first AK to make it into the hands of the Iraqi Army, they were popular among Iraqi soldiers who were issued them, and many terrorist cells in the region have a proclivity for them to this day. My rifle, however, did not receive the cosmetic treatments TRA is known for when fitting rifles for Iraqi specifications. Instead, my rifle is set to Yugoslav War specifications, which I find more attractive. The receiver, barrel, rivets, and even the Tapco G2 trigger have all been distressed to match the fit and finish of the parts kit it was built upon, which is an excellent alternative offered by TRA to their standard hot bluing process. The rivets, though not crushed perfectly, are better than other rifles I’ve owned, shot, and inspected in my travels. The receiver is properly marked and even has both a Y-stamp and a third selector notch for proper military aesthetics. Each piece of furniture on the rifle has a unique carving engraved by the previous owner, which would have been lost had TRA sanded down and refinished the wood to meet Iraqi specifications; another feature which they offer. Hell, the receiver of the rifle even bares the same serial that the rest of the rifle has worn since it’s fabrication in 1964. All in all, this rifle has no anachronistic idiosyncrasies that might be seen in a rifle built by someone or some company less dedicated to accuracy. Though AKs are not designed for their looks, it is a thing of beauty when everything is visually harmonious rather than jarringly dissimilar.
Beyond being a looker, the rifle is a shooter as well. Though I’ve not put any specific groupings on paper, I can say I’ve taken this rifle out to about 200m reliably, and that’s really all I’ve ever bothered to ask out of any AK variant, which surprisingly some have failed at. Though not through any fault of their own, this rifle’s bolt and carrier are particularly smooth due to their age, which means the action of this rifle really glides back into your shoulder, making it a little harsher to shoot than some newer, AKs with stiffer parts. Personally, I don’t believe the AKM has ever been historically noted as a smooth shooting rifle, so I don’t see this as a problem. Other than the couple of traits I’ve listed, this rifle isn’t particularly noteworthy when it comes to the range. I don’t see this as a bad thing, but if you’re looking for a rifle that will really knock your socks off when it comes to shooting it, I don’t believe you should look to Two Rivers Arms. They take a strong traditionalist stance to AKs; going so far as to have a facetious page on their website for “Tactical AK parts”. To me, this is exactly the stance they should be taken given the effort they’ve put into their builds to keep everything in it’s proper state. These rifles are meant to mock military AKs, not tactical “platforms” that you “run” at your local 3-gun match.
Beyond what I have experienced, TRA offers a whopping six other AK variants with the same level of detail placed into each model. Other variants they offer encompass the Zastava M70 “Tabuk” clone variants, the MPi-KM, and even the unique Tabuk Sniper Rifle AK which has placed puzzled looks on many faces in the years since it was first seen. Beyond this, they offer conversions for other AKs, such as the MAK 90, OPAP, NPAP, and Saiga sporting rifles, to their respective military variants. Going beyond the realm of AKs, they also offer custom work for other firearms and claim that their workers have a particular interest in WWI, WWII, Combloc, and modern military rifles. This means that even if they don’t produce something you want, they might be able to build it if you have the parts required.
To me it seems as if Two Rivers Arms seems to be a hidden gem on the American market. There is a lot of talk about their rifles in the back rooms of firearm forums that were last redesigned in the 1990s and still use PhotoBucket for pictures, but for some reason, word of this company or their firearms has never disseminated before a recent article was posted on The Firearm’s Blog almost a year ago. Though I personally contribute this to a vital lack of any advertisements or campaigns to promote their product, I cannot blame the CEO as he has had quite a lot on his plate other than this company, such as being a successful author and a currently-sitting Representative for the state of Oklahoma.
If I were to summarize this article, which I’m currently doing, I’d have to say that Two Rivers Arms is a company founded by warriors, for warriors. Their AKs, though not the most functionally impressive guns ever produced on Earth, are up there with the best of them when it comes functional representations of modern military history. They know what they’re doing gentlemen, and they don’t plan on stopping any time soon. Check them out on Facebook if you get the chance.