Identifying & Collecting the 7.62×39 AK-47/AKM Magazine

The Chinese Norinco Corporation also attempted to make a more politically correct semi-auto AK for the US market called the NHM91.  They put a rivet in the rifle’s receiver, just behind the magazine well, that would only allow the insertion of a special 5-round mag with a milled cutout in its rear catch.  This rivet was not required by any US import restriction or law, and most rifle owners simply ground it down so any AK mag would fit.

The NHM91 5 Round is an easy mag to pick out.  It has just three vertical ribs, has the rectangular milled cutout on top of the rear catch, lacks a spine, is blued, and has the Chinese stepped follower.  Interestingly; none of these that I have examined have “China” stamped on the floorplate.

In the early 1960s the Chinese developed a select fire carbine that combined features of both the AK and SKS, and was adopted by their military as the Type 63.  Although little known in the West, it was made in large quantities by several factories.  It was fed by a detachable 20-round mag clearly developed from the AK’s mag, but featured a special projection at the rear of the follower.  This projection travels within a channel built into the rear of the mag, and activates the Type 63’s bolt hold open mechanism when the mag is empty.  For some reason, probably due to the BHO mechanism, the stepped follower is reversed on a Type 63 mag – the depression from which the last round is fed is on the left side.  Because of this, the witness holes, indicating when 10 and 20-rounds are loaded into a Type 63 mag, are also reversed to the rear left side.  These Type 63 mags were not designed for use in full-auto AKs as they lack a milled clearance for the AK’s disconnector on the upper right side feed lip reinforcement plate.  However, these mags work just fine in semi-auto AKs, but will block the bolt from closing after the last round is fired.

An impressive little collection can be made up solely of Type 63 mags.  At least five steel versions, and one black plastic version have been identified.  The steel mags are centered around three basic body stamping types – two vertical ribs with one horizontal rib at bottom (2+1), two vertical ribs with two horizontal ribs at bottom (2+2), and a very large star interrupting two vertical ribs with two horizontal ribs at the bottom.  All three body types were made with the normal feed lip re-enforcement plates (as on a traditional AK mag), but the last two types were also made with just ribs stamped to reinforce the feed lips (similar to the Chinese All-Stamped mag).

North Korea
North Korea began manufacturing the AK-47 during the late 1950s as the Type 58.  Little is known about their mags as they have never been directly imported to this country.  The few 30-round mags that have made it here are clearly copies of the Chinese Sino-Soviet mag right down to the finish applied to them, and I have little doubt that they were manufactured with Chinese tooling and assistance.  These can be identified by the North Korean arsenal’s mark of a five-pointed star within a circle stamped on the mags spine.

20-round magazines (from left): Chinese AK, Chinese Type 63 2+2, Chinese Type 63 2+2 Stamped Lips, Hungarian, Pro-Mag Coyote Tan.

Yugoslavia
Yugoslavia’s first AK, the M64, had a couple of unique features.  They were built with a grenade launcher, and a last shot bolt hold open (BHO) mechanism.  A notch cut into the upper left side of the M64 mag activated the rifle’s BHO mechanism with its follower, and a button on the left side of the receiver would release the bolt after a fresh mag was inserted.  While the M64 corrected the AKs often criticized lack of a BHO feature; it also created a greater problem in that normal AK mags could not be used in it.  This limited foreign sales, and created possible internal supply issues.

The Yugoslavian M70 AK solved these issues in a simple way by making the mag the BHO mechanism by itself.  The Yugoslavian’s just omitted two small bumps on the inside of the mag that stops the follower from traveling all the way up.  In an empty M70 mag the follower is only stopped by the feed lips.  A bolt returning, after the last round has been fired, will be stopped by the specially designed and strengthened follower that now blocks it.  Using a Yugoslavian M70 mag in any other AK will also cause the action to remain open after the last round is fired.  I believe that earlier M64 mags were upgraded to this latter pattern by simply replacing the follower with the newer type.

The Yugoslavian M64/M70 mag is easily distinguished from all other AK mags.  Their blued bodies lacks the short horizontal ribs that wrap around the bottom rear of the magazine, as found on all ribbed mags but some Chinese, and the two remaining long horizontal ribs stop well short of the magazine’s front (unlike on the Chinese mag).  The M64 mag will also have its unique notch on the upper left side.

Examination of Yugo M70 mags coming out of the former Yugoslavia shows two distinct variants.  The two mags are quickly differentiated by the shape of the witness hole in their back – round or triangular.  Very notable differences in the follower and front catch will also be seen as well as less distinctive differences in just about every other part.  The general better condition of the Triangular Witness-Hole M70 Mags, along with the fact that the earlier M64 mags have round holes, has led to the probable conclusion that they are of newer manufacture.  The lack of any transitional mags, between the two types, would also seem to indicate production at two different factories.

There has been some speculation that the triangular witness-hole M70 mags were made in Iraq, and provided as aid to the Muslim forces of Bosnia.  However; I have yet to hear of a triangular witness-hole mag being found in Iraq.  Most likely the triangular M70 mags were simply made at a second plant in Yugoslavia set up to meet the demands of the Yugoslavian civil wars.

No short 5-round sporting type mags were produced by the Yugoslavian factory for commercial sales in the US.  Post ‘89 Ban rifles, sold by Mitchell Arms, came with full size 30-round mags that were simply blocked to accept only 5 rounds.

Bosnia
In 2006, in a large shipment of AK mags from the now dissolved country of Yugoslavia, came two newly discovered, but clearly related, 30-round mags produced in what is now Bosnia.  These mags were made so that the bolt would be blocked by the follower after the last round is fired and were probably made under less than desirable conditions for the cutoff Bosnian forces.  They are crudely stamped and welded, and poorly finished with what appears to be gray phosphate.  Quality control clearly suffered on these as a few of my mags are too wide to insert into my Chinese made AKs.  Disassembly of one will also show that the plant making them relied on bent flat-springs instead of the traditional coil spring.  These mags show both the ingenuity of the manufacturer, and the desperation to arm the fledgling Bosnian forces.

Both Bosnian mags are essentially the same having only one wide outward facing vertical rib running down the side.  The only real difference is the inclusion of a large stamped “fleur-de-lis” symbol on the bottom sides of one of the mags.  The fleur-de-lis has special meaning to the Bosnian people, and is included on their national flag.  This symbol is also used by the Boyscout organization and this has led to this mag being referred to by collectors as the “Bosnian Boyscout mag.”  The mag without the fleur-de-lis symbol is simply called the “Bosnian Single Rib.”

The so called “Bosnian Two-Rib” steel mag was also unknown in the US until the above 2006 shipment.  However, there is still some very reasonable speculation that these may actually be of Croatian origin.  They appear to be what they are claimed to be: a rushed expedient mag manufactured for an army cutoff from outside supply.  Most have a hastily applied blued finish, but a few also appear to have an equally poor phosphate finish.  These mags generally have rather poorly made followers, floorplates, and keepers.  There are two types of followers, unique to this mag, that are often poorly welded; one of which appears too short in length.  The floorplates generally are poorly fitted and will often wobble side-to-side on the magazine.  The keepers often are over-sized thus making disassembly of the mag difficult.  Many of these also have a letter (W, X, etc.) and a number (2, 3, 5, 6, etc.) stamped on the bottom rear of the mag.

There has been some speculation that the Bosnian Two-Rib was designed as a bolt hold-open mag because it lacks the normal dimples on its inside that prevent a follower from traveling all the way up.  Pulling an AK’s bolt backwards and releasing it on an empty mag will usually result in the bolt being stopped by the follower.  However, when firing the last round in a mag, the greater returning force of the bolt invariably pushes the follower down so that the action will close.  The traditional rounded end of the follower’s bulge allows this to happen and also generally results in damage to the follower over time.  The reasons for making a mag in such a way, other than to simplify production, escapes me.

United States
In order to convert an imported rifle to a banned configuration, or build such a rifle from an imported parts kit, a certain number of U.S. made parts must be used.  A U.S. made mag is an easy way to provide three such compliance parts – the mag body, the follower, and the floorplate. This fact has spurred the U.S. development and production of AK mags.

A US manufacturer, National Magazine, has been producing metal AK mags since the ban was lifted.  Taking the Chinese All-Stamped as a model, they stamp out the tops separately and then weld mag bodies of various lengths to these.  Using this production model, they are able to produce mags in an incredible variety of capacities.  They produce mags in 10, 20, 30, 40, 50, 75, and even 100-round capacities.  As mentioned earlier; the end product strongly resembles a Chinese All-Stamped mag, but the use of a green plastic follower and the welded joining of the upper and lower halves clearly differentiates them.  No markings are found on these mags and they carry a glossy black enamel finish.  Unfortunately, my experiences with these mags have not been good and I can not recommend them.

When Pro-Mag first introduced its U.S. made polymer AK mags, they only made a 30-round black version.  These early mags had thin gauged 19 coil mag springs that were noticeable shorter than a Russian AG4 mag’s 22 coil mag spring.  Failure to feed properly was a common problem with these early mags.  Pro-Mag increased the gauge and length of latter springs, still with just 19 coil springs, on latter production mags and this has apparently solved feeding problems.  These mags are also sometimes found too long to fit in AKs, but the careful removal of a little material from the rear lug will solve this problem.  Construction is entirely of polymer except for the steel spring.

Bulgarian Arsenal 10 mark.

Pro-Mag significantly increased their offerings in 2007.  They now make Black, Coyote Tan, and O.D. Green mags with capacities of 5, 10, 20, and 30 rounds.  They also make clear and smoke colored transparent mags with a 30-round capacity.  “PRO MAG” is prominently molded into the bottom left side of the mag as well as the floorplate.  In a sign of the times, the company’s internet address is also molded into the floorplate.

An unexpected black synthetic 30-round mag from Thermold Design & Development showed up on the market in 2007.  These Thermold Mags are marked “Master Molder” on both the right side and floorplate, and carry the “Law & Gov’t Use Only” warning on the left side from the high capacity mag ban period.  They are made from a durable Nylon resin called Zytel and have three large horizontal ribs wrapping around both the sides and front of the mag.  A very prominent and strong floorplate sticks out on the bottom.  I would not consider them an “attractive” mag.  Thermold’s web site shows that it also offers a 10-round version of its Zytel mag, but I have been unable to find any distributors with them.

A quick examination reveals that they lack an anti-tilt follower.  Disassembly will show they use a spring not interchangeable with those from military AK mags.  On the plus side, the Zytel lugs look better designed, and more substantial, then those of a Pro Mag.  I have had no problem inserting these in any of my rifles, and so far functioning has been 100%.

Tapco introduced a U.S. made polymer 30-round mag in the fall of 2008.  These mags have a very distinctive ribbed pattern and an unusual flared-out bottom. “Tapco USA” is molded into the top left side of the mag, and the follower.  The steel floorplate, the only steel in the mag other than the spring, is also stamped “Tapco USA”.  “7.62x39mm” will be found molded into the upper right side.  Interestingly; a small date code, and a cage code number, are also molded into the mag.  They produce these colored in either black, dark earth, or olive drab.

I had no trouble inserting these Tapco mags into any of my AKs.  The lugs, although Polymer, appear strong and the follower is of an anti-tilt design.  It uses standard AK type springs, which actually appear to be stronger and longer then those found in many military mags.  Limited function testing showed 100% reliability.  These mags would appear to be an excellent choice for the shooter needing U.S. made mags.

Conclusion
What is left out there to be discovered?  Obviously there are some still unidentified types.  Hopefully, we will see some of the distinctive Rumanian 20-round mags carried by the dreaded “Securitate” in their compact AKMs from the 1989 Rumanian revolution.  Albania and Iran are reportedly making copies of the Chinese Spineless mag.  Iraq probably made a version of the Yugo M70 BHO mag, and some cut down 20-round mags.  Cuba is probably making mags that follow Russian patterns.  North Korea almost certainly has made changes to its 30-round AK mag over the years and its soldiers have clearly been seen with 20-round mags.  There is also no doubt that there are several other countries that are making, or have made, mags as well.

What are the best mags for the shooter?  It is hard to go wrong with any of the European Ribbed or Chinese steel types.  The Bulgarian Waffle and Soviet AG4 mags are excellent choices for those looking for military quality synthetic mags – but will cost you more.  I would also suggest finding some 20-round Hungarian or Chinese mags for shooting from a benchrest.  The shooter needing US made mags also has several good choices.

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