Yugoslavian/ Serbia AK History
When shopping for your next AK pattern rifle, you will more than likely run into a variety of Yugoslavian variants. The former Yugoslavian AK’s have been around since the early 1970’s and have cemented their place as an excellent example of a quality rifle for both military and sporting purposes. Variants of the Zastava M70, N-PAP and O-PAP rifles are found on many gun store shelves across the country. There are several reasons that make this a desirable addition to your collection, and a few reasons that this might not be the rifle for you.
The Yugoslavian military began looking into an AK pattern rifle of their own in the late 1950s, and they toyed with several ideas that were considered to be improvements upon the original design. One relatively common example is the M64 with a traditional milled receiver that featured many of these experimental upgrades. Some of these improvements trialed were changes to the charging handles, a bolt hold open feature, and attachment points for grenade launchers. While most of these features were considered improvements, the M70 did not become fully fielded until 1970 with both fixed stock and folding stock versions making their way into service.
The final selection of the M70 did omit many of the improvements that were tested for cost savings, as shown through the use of a pressed barrel which varies from the original design that included a threaded design for manufacturing. The milled receiver of the original AK47 was also changed for the cheaper stamped receivers, though a thicker than usual (0.9 mm) sheet metal was used. Eventually this was replaced by an even thicker 1.5 mm stamped receiver in the JNA version of the AK. The thicker receivers are immediately noticed when handling a Serbian/Yugoslavian AK as they have a premium feel to the receiver.
A couple of improved design features were kept. Illuminated sights first phosphorus coating that was later improved with tritium, were used and can be found on many modern production versions of the M70. A notched selector switch is also found on a large number of Yugo AKs to hold the bolt open when the rifle is on safe.
The PAP variants of Zastava rifles were designed to be compliant is US import laws. Many versions of the PAP exist in a variety of configurations. There are versions like the M92 that is imported as a pistol, there are versions that are chambered in common US cartridges such as .380 Win and .223 Rem, and there are more traditional versions that will be more reminiscent of the AKM design. All variants of the PAP feature thick stamped steel receivers that will vary from 1mm to 1.5mm. For this reason, many buyers will be inclined to choose a PAP over other commercially available AK pattern rifles.
The M70, and variants, are currently in use by militaries and police forces in over 20 countries. Most current service is in the Middle East, the Balkans countries, and Africa. Historically, the Zastava rifles were obviously used in Yugoslavia, and maybe more interestingly, by mercenaries hailing from Zaire in the Congo. If you travel to any of the three countries that make up the former Yugoslavia, Serbia, Croatian, or Bosnia and Herzegovina, you will find plenty of modern examples of Zastava rifles in military and police use.
How to Identify a Yugo/Serbian AK
The front sight on Zastava rifles have a robust front sight post, and many examples will have the illuminated sight that is not common on many AK variants. There are three different styles of iron sights that have been used; yours may have a luminous sticker, a luminous paint, or a tritium vial used for illumination. Stamped versions of most Yugo rifles will have a leaf sight that is meant for use with an attached grenade launcher that is attached to the gas block, even if the gas block is missing you should be able to identify the dimples milled into the gas block meant to hold the sight in either the up or down position.
Referring to the markings on the front sight base or trunnion can be a bit of a fool’s errand when attempting to identify a Yugo rifle as the marking change wildly from year to year, though the trunnion will generally have markings referring to the model (usually M70 A#).
The bolts on stamped versions of Zastava rifles will have pronounced lightening cuts. Stamped variants also have a heavy duty 1.5mm thick dust cover. The pistol grip is very identifiable as all variants with an original grip will have horizontal cuts milled into the grip to provide traction. Butt stocks on the stamped versions of the Yugo are attached by a bolt from the inside of the receiver and lack the tang on top for attachment that is commonly found on many other AK pattern rifles, however the milled models do have the tang on top and bottom of the rear of the receiver for attachment.
The wood furniture on a Zastava rifle can vary widely in color, but the most common species of wood used is Elm. Markings for the safety selector lever will be marked with “U,” “J,” and “R” for the Safe, Auto, and Semi positions. These marking may be stamped or engraved.
And of course, the heavy stamped receiver is the most obvious give away of the Zastava rifles.
Why This Might Not be the Rifle for You
While the Yugo AK is a well made, reliable, and robust example of an AK pattern rifle, there are a couple of reasons you might want to avoid one for yourself. Yugos have a famously poor aftermarket, mostly due to their heavy receivers. There are a lot of great AK accessories that you might want to use to upgrade the furniture or sighting system that are just not going to fit on a Zastava rifle. Another reason you might not want this rifle is if you prefer a lighter weight AK. The thick and premium feeling receiver will add weight and when compared to other stamped AK variants you will find the overall weight to be noticeable.
The Serbian/Yugo variants of the AK pattern rifle are a high quality version that will serve you as a functional piece of history if you choose to own of them. While the aftermarket components are not as common as some other AKs, the “rifle is fine” crowd need not be bothered by this detail. One of the great details in a Zastava made AK is that the original manufacture is still in operation and continues to produce PAP and military rifles to this day.