There are quite a few good deals to be had in the firearms world nowadays. There’s a glut of AR-pattern rifles and parts available at affordable prices, owed to the fact that many panic-buyers are still attempting to offset their overspending, and that manufacturers are ramping up production to meet demand.
Being able to build a good AR-15 for about $700 is well and good for the general shooting public, but what about those of us who like our guns to be a bit more unique—and supply a bigger bang? Luckily, for those of us whose tastes are a bit more unconventional, Century International Arms (CIA) began offering the affordable-but-well-made Zastava Arms PAP M77 PS rifle in .308 Winchester last year. The M77 has flown under the radar of many shooters, and this economical blaster deserves a lot more attention than it’s garnered so far.
Zastava Arms has been in the arms-making business for over a century, and they know their stuff. American collectors and shooters would certainly recognize their offerings, though not necessarily the name behind them. Zastava is the manufacturer of firearms like the M70 AK series and its derivatives, and Mauser pattern bolt-action rifles (such as the M85 “Mini Mauser,” reviewed by OutdoorHub’s Dick Jones here). Zastava also made the M59 SKS-pattern rifle, which many military surplus enthusiasts have experience with.
Side note: The guns made by Zastava are often referred to as “Yugos,” shorthand for Yugoslavia. In the early 1990s, when Yugoslavia broke apart into a number of states, Zastava remained operational within the new territory of the Republic of Serbia. The term is antiquated, most likely introduced when Zastava-made firearms and AK parts kits were first imported to the United States decades ago—but it’s persisted. Google around for aftermarket AK accessories and you’ll be sure to run into “Yugo pattern” stocks, handguards, and the like. If you want to customize an M77 PS, look for “Yugo” stuff.
The PAP M77 PS is a semiautomatic AK-pattern rifle made by Zastava Arms of Serbia and imported by CIA. It is a “sporting” variant of the M77 B1 assault rifle, complete with a polymer thumbhole stock and welded muzzle nut that covers 14x1mm threads. Internally, it’s just a beefed-up long-stroke AK gas piston action. It also features a three-position adjustable gas block.
Before going any further, here are some tech specs on the Zastava M77:
- Caliber: .308 Winchester
- Overall length: 40.55 inches
- Barrel length: 19.7 inches
- Twist rate: 1:12 inches (an assumption—the M77 B1 is listed as having a 1:12-inch twist on Zastava’s site)
- Unloaded weight: 8.6 pounds
- Magazine capacity: ships with one 10-round, double-stack mag
- Price: was available for $550 at time of acquisition, as of July 16, 2014 MSRP is $649.95
The M77 first caught my eye when I was searching for modern AKs in battle rifle calibers like .308 and 7.62x54mmR. The Russian-made Vepr series was appealing, but carried prices of $800 or more. I found the Zastava M77 listed on Classic Firearms’ website shortly before SHOT Show this year, and I was immediately intrigued. It was listed for $550—a significant difference from the Veprs’ tags. I made a mental note to check one out in person as soon as I could.
Spurred on by that interest, I stopped by CIA’s booth at Media Day at the Range and got my hands on an M77. After sending two mags’ worth of lead downrange, I was sold. I got back in touch with their media relations team shortly after returning home, and soon had a Zastava M77 waiting for me at my FFL, ready for testing.
After picking up the PAP M77, my first inclination was to convert it to something closer to its M77 B1 “milspec” form. However, I decided it’d be prudent to test out the PAP M77 in a more vanilla flavor, first with iron sights and then with an affordable scope and mount. My intent was to determine whether the M77, scoped or not, was worth its bargain price tag.
First, it’s worth noting the PAP M77 PS’ major differences from most other AK-platform rifles.
It features a stamped, 1.5mm thick slant-cut receiver, which means that the rearmost part of the gun’s receiver sports a diagonal cut. Most other AKs have what are referred to as flat-back or straight-cut receivers, which are (intuitively enough) receivers that terminate in a straight, boxy shape. The M77’s thumbhole Monte Carlo-style stock is made to mate properly with its slant-cut receiver, and slightly complicates finding an aftermarket stock that will fit. There are options, but most AK stocks simply won’t fly with the M77 without custom work.
Next, the M77’s recoil spring assembly is retained by a small pin manipulated using a button on the rear-left area of the receiver. To field strip or disassemble the gun, one depresses the retainer button and pushes the recoil cam forward toward the muzzle. After releasing the cam and button, the assembly will be “locked” forward and the dust cover can be quickly and neatly removed. To reassemble, simply reverse the process. This dust cover retainer is apparently a feature of Yugoslavian/Serbian guns, and I have to admit that the first time I field stripped the M77, I was wowed by the feature’s simplicity and utility. It makes removing and attaching the dust cover, a process that can sometimes be cumbersome with other AKs, incredibly quick and easy.
The PAP M77 PS also features a fire selector with a cut to hold the bolt carrier’s charging handle back, an increasingly common aftermarket addition to many American AKs. The bolt, however, does not lock back on the 10-round magazines currently available from Century. The cut selector does make keeping a safe and clear chamber straightforward, though.
The Zastava M77’s receiver has an Eastern Bloc-style scope rail on its left side, though it is different from the rails more commonly encountered on AKs. It sits higher on the gun than other rails, and is slightly longer. It is designed to accept a Zastava-specific type of mount, but some other mounts available on the aftermarket will work. As explained below, I used an Arsenal SM-13 mount to pair a scope with the gun, and met with mixed success.
In contrast with most AKs currently sold in the United States, the M77 does not have a chrome-lined barrel. This was not a problem for me, as I didn’t plan on shooting any corrosive .308 through it, nor could I possibly ever afford to buy enough non-corrosive .308 to wear down the barrel. Being broke really can be blessing in disguise.
Apart from these notable differences, the rest of the PAP M77 PS is Kalashnikov through and through.
The rifle was in great overall condition as delivered to me, but it sported a few handling marks. Those concerned about their guns lacking an impeccable finish should avoid the PAP M77 PS. Mine showed signs of “test firing” at the very least, in addition to assorted scuffs. For someone like me who sought out the firearm as an economical battle rifle, this was not an issue—I’ll be putting some significant wear on it myself.
Having shot a wide variety of AKs (of both the sporting and “military” variety), I was surprised to find that the M77’s high stock comb actually produced a comfortable cheekweld with iron sights and scopes. That’s a rare quality for most AKs. I enjoyed the M77’s sporter stock so much that I almost hesitated to replace it with an ACE folding stock—almost.
During my first trip to the range with the Zastava M77, I sighted the rifle’s irons in at 100 yards and let fly. The rifle’s trigger breaks around the six- to 6.5-pound mark. There’s significant take-up before the break, but overall the trigger performed well enough. When I convert the rifle, I’ll be installing a lighter-pulling Tapco G2 trigger to hopefully tighten up shot groups.
Over irons, Wolf 148-grain .308 five-shot groups at 100 yards produced roughly three-inch groups on average—basically what I’ve come to expect from Russian commercial steel-cased ammo.
On a later range trip, I attached my Viper PST-equipped SM-13 mount to the gun. After three sighting-in groups, I sought out five-shot “performance” groups at 100 yards. With Federal American Eagle 7.62x51mm 168-grain OTM, I was able to get down to repeatable 1.5-inch groups over a three-group period. Unfortunately, after my third group, the SM-13 mount came loose due to a failure on my part to adequately tighten the mount’s QD lever using the mount’s castle nut. Following my user error with the SM-13, I fired a few more Wolf 148-grain groups over irons and again got five-shot groups that averaged about three inches. So far, at no point during my experience with the rifle (400 rounds over five months) have I experienced any reliability issues, as is to be expected with an AK-pattern gun.
|Manufacturer and type of bullet||Average group at 100 yards (inches)||Number of five-shot groups||Best group (inches)|
|Federal American Eagle 7.62x51mm 168-grain OTM||1.5||5||1.5|
|Wolf .308 148-grain FMJ||3||10||3|
Accuracy-wise, the PAP M77 PS performs as it should for an affordable semiautomatic .308 with plinking and premium ammo. I expect that with even better match-grade .308 and stable glass, I could tighten up my groups a bit further.
I wouldn’t call the rifle “beefy” in any sense of the word, but it handles the recoil of the .308 round with ease. A small-framed shooter, who couldn’t weigh more than 110 pounds and joined me on the firing line for one of my test trips, had no problem firing magazine after magazine through the M77—benched and off-hand.
The rifle shoulders well and doesn’t feel disproportionate, as some longer-barreled .30-caliber battle rifles often do. The sporter stock facilitates good cheekweld with optics or iron sights, and the pistol grip is fat and comfortable. No complaints can be levied against the M77 from an ergonomic standpoint.
I’m very impressed with everything the Zastava PAP M77 PS offers. You get the power of the .308 Winchester round in the reliable, familiar format of an affordable Kalashnikov, with good accuracy to boot. There’s even a wealth of non-permanent conversion opportunities available on the aftermarket, which I haven’t touched in this review—look for a follow-up article shortly. Simply put, the Zastava M77 is the most fun you can have in .308 for under $700. Anyone looking to enter the battle rifle field without breaking their bank would be remiss to pass on this gun.
Note added 7-16-2014: This article’s text has been updated to reflect that the MSRP of the rifle is $649.95, and that it ships with one 10-round magazine instead of two.
Images by Matt Korovesis and Matt Keeler