In my opinion, the two finest intermediate fighting rifle carbine calibers readily available today are the 5.56mm and the 7.62x39mm. While some would clamor to add the 7.62x51mm/.308 Winchester and 6.8 SPC to the list, I would argue that there is a good reason that most first-world countries have drifted away from the full-size battle rifles chambered in 7.62x51mm/.308 Winchester, as the rifles and ammunition are significantly heavier and bulkier. The 6.8 SPC is still something of an exotic and not easily available caliber, despite its attributes.
It is well known that the AR-15 and AK-47/AKM camps frequently spar as to which is the superior weapon. AR-15 fans cite ergonomics, low recoil, intrinsic accuracy, user-friendly controls, and the ability to add modifications to the point that the weapon looks like a Transformer robot. AK-47 acolytes take the opposite tack and laud the penetration of the 7.62x39mm round, as well as the legendary durability and reliability of the 60-year-old weapon system. I have met numerous AK-47 owners who took immense pride in the fact that their particular rifle looked like it had just been retrieved from a summer stay in a saltwater marsh.
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Personally, I have come to appreciate both and am pleased to be able to select two different tools for two different jobs. As time goes on, I tend to spend more time with the AK-47 just because I have become so much more adept at handling it, but I must admit that I occasionally long for AR-15 features such as a thumb safety, a bolt that is capable of being readily manipulated with either hand, and a rear aperture sight. Maybe some day my prayers will be answered.
Surprise, surprise, surprise! My prayers have indeed been answered—like 35 years ago.
During the Six-Day War in 1967, the FN/FAL rifles deployed by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) came under significant criticism. Many soldiers in the IDF perceived the FN/FAL as being too long and heavy to readily carry and employ, and apparently the tolerances of this proven battle rifle were often too tight to function 100% of the time due to the fine sands and dust present in the Arabian desert. However, the AK-47 assault rifles used by the Arab infantry functioned like, well, AK-47 assault rifles. That is, their very design ensured that the weapons worked under circumstances that would cause most other weapons to gag and choke.
Close-up of Elite Galil’s receiver displays the small thumb safety lever located on the left side of the receiver, as well as the rear aperture sight mounted on the dust cover.
After the end of this war, the IDF decided to replace the FN/FAL with a new assault rifle built around the American 5.56x45mm round. The Israeli Galil, based in part on the Valmet RK.62 assault rifle (an AK-47 clone), was selected as the successor to the FN/FAL in the early 1970s, but never saw much action afterwards, probably because Israel had by then started to obtain large numbers of M16 rifles at what were probably below market prices. It is my understanding that significant numbers of Galil rifles were exported to Africa, Asia and South America, where the inherent reliability and robustness of the AK-47 design proved it to be a very capable assault rifle that would work in a variety of hostile environments. Galil assault rifles have seen action in various skirmishes and were reportedly used to some degree in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon.
What advantages, if any, does the Galil design possess over the tried-and-true AK-47? If you remember my earlier whining for certain AR-15 features such as a thumb safety, a bolt that is capable of being readily manipulated with either hand, and a rear aperture sight combined with the AK-47 gas piston system, then you basically have a Galil. Originally available in two calibers, 5.56mm and 7.62x51mm, and four configurations, the Galil featured a machined steel receiver that was similar to, but of moderately different shape, than the AK-47. All Galils were manufactured with the following features:
- Small safety switch on left side of receiver that can be manipulated with the thumb in addition to the conventional safety-selector switch on the right of the receiver.
- Extension to the cocking handle that protrudes upward and slightly over the top of the receiver, permitting easy bolt manipulation with either hand.
- Rear aperture sight mounted directly on the upper receiver top cover, complemented by folding night sights
- Fully adjustable hooded front sight mounted directly to the gas block.
Elite Firearms owner Dave Michener poses with civilian-legal version of Elite Galil ARM.
The Israeli Galil rifles used proprietary magazines, and my research indicates that the 5.56mm variations held 35 or 50 rounds, and the 7.62x51mm versions held 25 rounds.
Realistically, the chances of my being involved in an environment so harsh that my AR-15 will let me down are not high, and the 5.56mm round is my first choice for home defense or entry work due to the violent fragmentation that certain various hollow-point rounds exhibit.
What I really like about AK-47 rifles are the penetrating properties of the round itself. The 7.62x39mm round will do a job on automobile glass and sheet metal that is way beyond what the 5.56mm is capable of. The only problem I can see is that there are no Galils available that are chambered for the 7.62x39mm round. While Israel did produce a limited number of Galils in 7.62x39mm, very few saw the light of day due to their desire to standardize on the 5.56mm round.
I guess it is no surprise to a few readers that I am wrong again. There are a number of firearm manufacturers producing Galil-like semiautomatic rifles in 7.62x39mm. It is my highly biased opinion that the finest Galil imposter in the world is manufactured in Hurst, Texas, smack-dab between Dallas and Fort Worth.
Elite Galil AR shows its fine lines. Folding stock is rock-solid and seems capable of withstanding serious abuse. Rifle rests on author’s Eagle Industries’ AK-47 chest pouch.
Dave Michener owns Elite Firearms, and his Elite Galil AR 7.62x39mm version possesses a quality, fit and finish that are head and shoulders above those of its Israeli predecessor. Even better, it still retains the original’s propensity for reliability and durability. In short, there is virtually no apparent downside—other than having to explain to the wife why you absolutely need another rifle.
Michener established Elite Firearms in 1998 and has been on the cutting edge of semiautomatic rifle and quality gun parts innovation ever since. He got his start in California, where he specialized in refurbishing and refinishing firearms in his own small machine shop, and has been a certified gunsmith for 19 years. Dave believes that the Galil rifle platform is superior to other AK-style rifles, and decided to take advantage of the 5.56mm Galil parts kits that became available in late 2006 by modifying existing 5.56mm Galil parts and U.S.-made receivers in order to create what is essentially a civilian-legal Valmet Rk.62 clone.
Everything about the Elite Galil AR is finely machined, user-friendly and even more important, convenient. The Elite Galil AR uses standard AK-47 trigger components, magazines and drums, which make it easy to maintain and shoot. A closer inspection is even more telling. Dave first removes any and all finishes, parkerizes all metal surfaces, and then puts icing on the cake by applying a final Duracote finish, which provides a nice blend of esthetics and function.
The Elite Galil AR contains a modified Bulgarian 7.62x39mm AK bolt with spring-loaded firing pin, custom feed ramp and fully chromed 16-inch barrel with a 1:7 twist. Since Dave carefully headspaces each rifle with closer tolerances than standard AK-style firearms, the end result is a rifle that can outshoot its owner with boring regularity.
There is just something about handling an Elite Galil AR for the first time that is positively medieval. Not only is there a feeling of having a piece of history in your hands, there is the indescribable sensation of knowing that you have some serious weaponry at your disposal. First impressions are always important, and mine were that herein lies an absolutely beautiful rifle with zero apparent cosmetic flaws that looks like it could lay some serious lead downrange. Everything is butter-smooth—from the ambidextrous safety to the robust bolt to the trigger. Snapping the Elite Galil to the shoulder delivers a shot of confidence that it would take very little effort to acquire a sight picture through the generous rear aperture, wipe off the safety, and make that first fight-winning hit in much less time than it takes to read this sentence. In short, I was smitten.
However, how many of us have driven off the showroom floor or home after that first date only to later have our hopes and dreams dashed? I wish that I could say that it has never happened to me, but that would comprise a major falsehood. So I took an Elite Galil AR loaner and some Wolf Military Classic ammo and headed for the range.
I look for three things in a fighting carbine:
- Compactness and light weight are big with me. If I constantly want to put the rifle down, or find it difficult to quickly employ it out of a vehicle or use it during an entry and subsequent secondary search, then that constitutes a big negative. The Elite Galil AR is nicely balanced, and at eight pounds, recoil is a non-issue. I probably need to go on record and say that if this rifle were a pound heavier, it would be too heavy for me to want to carry all day. But it is not, and I found it relatively easy to tote.
- A carbine must be “shootable”. For me, that means that the controls are user-friendly, readily learned and that there are no impediments to field speed-shooting such as an unusable safety, poor trigger, or sights that are difficult to use quickly or in low light. The thumb safety took some getting used to, as it required a rearward motion to disengage, so shooters like myself who were weaned on AR-15s will probably find it awkward at first until they get used to the motion. The Tapco G2 trigger is a dream, and I found the sights strike a nice balance between speed and precision.
- Reasonable accuracy is necessary. My standards are actually pretty low, and I am happy with any defensive carbine that will deliver four MOA. In reality, 100 yards is a long way to be involved in a firefight in the States, and the chances are exceedingly high that most defensive carbines are going to be employed at distances inside of 25 yards. This suggests that at worst, assuming that I do my part, my round is going to impact within .75 inches of where I am aiming. A Winchester 123-grain JSP or Wolf Classic 124-grain JHP delivered anywhere close to upper mid-torso is more than likely going to end a lethal force encounter right then and there.
Fortunately, and there was never any doubt in Dave Michener’s mind, my range session coincided with my expectations. First thing, I established a zero and checked accuracy. The Wolf Classic 124-grain JHP responded with with a most satisfactory three-inch group, which may cause accuracy snobs to sneer until they find out my bench was nothing more than a backpack and the ground. To be honest, a younger shooter could probably have done a lot better as I am handicapped by my 54-year-old eyes. I followed this up by running the Elite Galil AR through a standards test that I use in my defensive carbine courses.
Please understand that I consider myself nothing more than a solid shooter, and I know this because I often shoot with people who possess not only superior reflexes, but also practice more than I do. This is my way of saying that the times in the table do not truly reflect how quickly the Elite Galil AR can make hits. The goal in all runs was to make hits in the A zone of an International Defensive Shooting Association target. A one-second penalty was added to all hits in the B zone, and the shooter must start each string in the Low Ready position with the safety engaged. My personal results are shown in the table.
Again, a more gifted and younger shooter than I could be expected to record superior times, but regardless, the Elite Galil AR proves it can deliver. This is especially true when one considers that I had never fired a Galil-type rifle before that day and basically ran only a handful of rounds through the Elite Galil AR before taking the test.
In summary, I think the Elite Galil is an ideal candidate for anyone wanting to add a superb fighting carbine to their inventory. It’s compact, handy, easy to run and capable of awesome penetration and destruction in 7.62x39mm mode. It is literally a piece of art not unlike that seen in high-dollar custom 1911 pistols.
Fellow deputy Hany Mahmoud has been stricken by the allure of this seductive vixen and seen fit to dispose of a few firearms in his own kennel in order to make a home for one. I, for one, have resisted her charms because I have chosen instead to add to my arsenal a significant number of fine AK-47s—also manufactured, converted or improved by Elite Firearms whiz-kid Dave Michener. But that is another story.
411 W. Bedford-Euless Rd.
Hurst, TX 76053
940 Biltmore Drive
Fenton, MO 63026