Back in the Cold War, times were simpler. If you were a Western-aligned nation, your troops generally used a Western-designed battle rifle or assault rifle chambered in 7.62x51mm NATO or 5.56x45mm NATO. If you were an Eastern-aligned nation, your soldiery likely carried a Soviet-designed rifle in 7.62x39mm or 5.45x39mm. There were a few firearms that tried to combine the best aspects of both worlds, but most quickly faded into obscurity. The 7.62x39mm HK 32, made by Heckler & Koch of Germany in the ‘60s, was one such gun. Luckily, for those of us still interested in what might have been, PTR Industries of Aynor, South Carolina has resurrected the design with their PTR 32 rifle and pistol.
The HK 32 was Heckler & Koch’s foray into the world of Soviet intermediate calibers. It was produced in small numbers in the late 1960s and early 1970s; R Blake Stevens’ Full Circle: A Treatise on Roller Locking states that only 700 were made for unnamed German authorities (presumably for clandestine work) and that limited quantities were also delivered to Tanzanian and Qatari buyers. Sources seem split on whether the firearms offered by HK fed from standard AK-pattern or proprietary “AK-ish” magazines. With regard to form and function, the rifle was effectively a 7.62x39mm version of the popular roller-delayed blowback (colloquially referred to as simply “roller-lock”) G3 rifle in 7.62x51mm NATO.
The PTR 32 is a 7.62x39mm derivative of the PTR 91, PTR Industries’ well-known version of the G3/HK 91. The 32 feeds from standard AK-pattern magazines. The company offered first-generation PTR 32s several years ago and introduced the second generation of the design to the market in early 2015. Eager to try out one of the East-West mashups, I purchased a second-generation PTR 32 KFR from Atlantic Firearms in February 2015. Its specs are as follows:
- Overall length: 39 inches
- Barrel length: 16 inches
- Barrel: Match-grade, tapered
- Weight unloaded: 9.5 pounds
- Price: $1,099
The rifle sports a slim, black polymer handguard; a non-folding polymer stock; and a black powdercoat finish. It is compatible with all standard G3/HK 91-pattern furniture. A Picatinny top rail is welded to the top of the receiver with ample space for modern optics. Standard HK drum-and-post sights are also provided. Early versions of the second-generation rifle were made with HK-pattern 15x1mm muzzle threads, while rifles made after January 1, 2016 have 5/8×24 inch threads. PTR 32s are supplied with a single polymer magazine from the factory.
First rifle, first impressions, first shots
I was incredibly excited to get my PTR 32 to the range immediately after I picked it up from my FFL. I’ve always been a huge fan of the roller-delayed blowback action, but I dislike .308 and most pistol-caliber HK clones are out of my price range. I looked forward to comparing the 32 with my stable of AK-pattern rifles.
One of the first things you’ll note after picking up a PTR 32 rifle is that, despite being chambered in an intermediate caliber, it’s got some substantial battle rifle heft. On paper it’s heavier than your standard AK or AR-15, and you can feel that when you pick it up. As you start to pile on accessories and optics, the rifle will start to hang a bit heavier from your shoulder–which is something to keep in mind if you plan on kitting it out.
My rifle’s action was smooth and performing the “HK slap” was as satisfying as ever. The gun’s trigger is a bit heavy (it broke around 8.5 pounds in my testing) but not unbearable. One of the first things I purchased to customize the gun was an aftermarket trigger pack, which brought the pull weight down to about 4.5 to five pounds.
While my initial impressions of the rifle and its build quality were excellent, my first trip to the range with the PTR 32 wasn’t a good one. I experienced numerous failures to feed, extract, and eject. PTR claims that the 32s should work with a majority of surplus and new-production 7.62x39mm AK magazines, but my rifle choked regardless of which type of magazine it was feeding from. The issues occurred with a variety of brass- and steel-cased ammunition.
After my first range trip, I reached out to PTR and described my issues. Their staff promptly responded and suggested an in-depth cleaning of the chamber. Unfortunately, that did not resolve any of the issues. I then sent the rifle back to PTR. The company replaced the bolt locking piece and returned it to me. The failures persisted, however. Ultimately, PTR was unable to exactly diagnose what was wrong with my first rifle and sent me a replacement.
PTR 32 round two
When I got my hands on my second PTR 32, I was slightly deflated. Most all people I had spoken with online had indicated that their rifles had no problems feeding from nearly all types of magazines and rarely ran into failures. I wondered whether I just ended up with a lemon.
I’m happy to say that my second PTR 32 wasn’t plagued by the same issues as my first rifle. However, while the second rifle functioned flawlessly with Magpul AK PMAGs (with and without steel reinforcements), it still did not play nice with any of the steel or “bakelite” surplus magazines I used–those mags still resulted in failures to feed. While this was somewhat bothersome, I was happy to have figured out one variety of magazine that worked.
With a functioning rifle in my possession, my testing began in earnest.
Of recoil and range time
One of the most notable things about the PTR 32 is its unique recoil impulse. The bolt carrier assembly travels back and forth in the receiver with a cathartic ker-chunk after each round leaves the muzzle. It’s hard to describe exactly how this feels. The closest thing that comes to mind is how you can feel the heavy bolt of an open-bolt Uzi slamming forward and back when you pull the trigger (though the PTR 32 fires from a closed bolt so the comparison is not exact).
Despite the very “tangible” action, the gun hardly moves during off-hand shooting. The rifle’s weight and the light-recoiling 7.62x39mm cartridge both contribute to this. It is much more pleasant to shoot than its .308 relatives and seems to have less felt recoil than a generic 7.62x39mm AK.
For accuracy testing, I attached a Hi-Lux CMR AK762 1-4x24mm scope to the rifle using a Burris PEPR mount. Due to the low comb of the stock, I ended up with more of a chinweld than a cheekweld. It was still easy to obtain a comfortable and repeatable sight picture nonetheless.
Using a sandbag shooting rest, I zeroed the scope on the rifle and sent several five-shot groups of Golden Tiger 124-grain FMJBT downrange. The results were quite pleasing. Out of 10 groups, the average group size was about 1.7 inches. That makes it the most accurate “production” 7.62x39mm autoloader I’ve ever shot.
Other steel-cased ammunition like Wolf and Silver Bear produced slightly less tight average groups (2.3 and 2.1 inches, respectively), but still noticeably better than they typically group out of budget AKs.
|Round||Average five-shot group at 100 yards (inches)|
|Golden Tiger 124-grain FMJBT||1.7|
|Wolf 123-grain FMJ||2.3|
|Silver Bear 123-grain FMJ||2.1|
My second rifle now has approximately 1,500 rounds through it. I have not run into any issues when using Magpul AK PMAGs (in addition to the more common 30-rounders, 20- and 10-round PMAGs also functioned just fine). Most steel and “bakelite” surplus magazines produced failures to feed or simply failed to seat and lock properly in the magazine well.
The PTR 32 breaks down like almost all other roller locks. After clearing it, two retaining pins can be pulled from the buttstock assembly. The rifle can then be separated into three main components: the buttstock and recoil spring, the lower receiver, and the upper receiver and bolt assembly. After breaking it down, the gun and its action are very easy to clean–a feature it shares with AK-pattern rifles.
The PTR 32 is a blend of the insatiable hunger of the commercial American firearms market (which is always searching for something novel) and a Cold War curiosity. It is without a doubt the most accurate 7.62x39mm production autoloader I’ve ever shot and the overall quality of the gun is excellent. However, the rifle’s considerable mass and its incompatibility with a number of common AK magazines are significant drawbacks. Its price is roughly comparable with that of a milled-receiver AK rifle, such as the Arsenal SAM7, and is quite fair.
Ultimately, I’m happy I bought a PTR 32, despite the hiccups with my first rifle. I’d be hesitant to recommend it as a first “black rifle,” but it is an ideal addition to a robust collection of roller locks or Kalashnikovs. It will always be fun to pull out of the safe for a weekend range trip, and its reliability and simplicity mean it can be treasured for many years to come.
Images by Matt Korovesis