The Norinco Type 86S Bullpup AK
I’m going to take some of you younger guys on a little trip through time, and if you are an older guy (over 50), but you got started a little late as a gun enthusiast, then this should be interesting to you as well. Back in the 1970s, there were only a couple of options to get your hands on an AK47. First, you could purchase a rare, select-fire, transferable, amnesty-registered Vietnam “bring back” from the handful of Class 3 dealers like J. Curtis Earl (whose machine-gun catalogs were advertised in every issue of Guns & Ammo magazine), or you could ask your local gun shop to order you a Valmet M62S, which was a semi-auto Finnish version of the ’47, which began showing up in the United States in the late 1960s (see Leroy Thompson’s article on the M62S in Firearms News’ 2018 Retro Edition, Issue 13).
Being absolutely fascinated with guns at a young age, the AK47 was a bit of a mystery because of its rarity. Sure, we would see them occasionally in movies and in books about war and firearms, but seeing a real one on display at a large gun show was a treat. Back then, there was no shortage of Vietnam vets in their late 20s telling stories about picking up AKs and how reliable they were. And there were the stories that were BS, such as, “Yeah, my brother was in ‘Nam and his M16 jammed a lot, but the great thing about the AK47 he picked up is that it could also shoot M16 ammo.” I must have heard that one at least three times over a ten-year period — all from different people.
When I first got my young hands on a Valmet M62S back around 1980, I remember the excitement and mystery behind the 7.62x39 cartridge, which was vastly different from the .223 rounds I got for my Colt AR-15 SP1 and Mini-14. I just loved the M62S’ “Swiss-cheese” handguards, bicycle-grip-style grip, and butterfly-tube stock, and I must have bothered the clerks at Miller’s Rod & Gun in Struthers, Ohio, a dozen times when I asked my mom to drive me over or when I rode my moped there. The price was high – about $700 — compared to a Colt AR-15, which sold for about $400 at the time.
Then there was the ammo problem. Even if I could beg to get it as a birthday or Christmas gift and scrounge some money to assist with the buy, the only ammo I knew of was made by Lapua, and it was $1 per round. I would never get to shoot it! One dollar per round was a lot of money then, as minimum wage was about $3.00 an hour (some people worked for less), and in today’s money, that’s about $3.20 per round! So, my dream of owning an AK rifle remained a dream. Then in 1982, my hopes were reborn! The Egyptian-made Maadi AKM appeared on the rack of Miller’s, and I drooled over the closest thing to a Russian AK available, with its beautiful glossy brown/blackish brown striped laminated wood, gloss-black finish, ribbed top cover, and Soviet-style plastic AK47 grip. I wanted it, but…that damn ammo is still over $20 for a box of 20!
Then, everything changed around 1986. Chinese AKs from Norinco and Poly-Tech (as well as from a couple other factories) began to pour in, along with 1,000-round cases of 7.62x39 for only $50. That’s the year I made my move and bought my first one, a Polytech underfolder with folding-spike bayonet, and it came with a sling, three 30-round magazines, manual, and a cleaning kit — all for about $250 wholesale. Three magazines? Guns don’t come with three magazines! No quarry mines in eastern Ohio or western Pennsylvania were safe from me and my AK.
When I opened my retail store, International Exotic Arms, in 1988, I decided to attend the 1989 SHOT Show in Dallas, Texas, and while I was there, I visited Nornico, Poly Tech, China Sports, and other AK manufacturers. The year 1989, introduced many new AK-type models, like the Type 81S rifle, Type 81MGS rifle (an RPK-version of the Type 81), and the Type 86S AK Bullpup. As you can see from the photo included, the Type 86S was prominently displayed at the China Sports booth (my friend took that photo of me at the show against NSSF rules at the time!).
After the “assault weapons” import ban was railroaded through by Republican President George “No New Gun Laws” Bush in the first quarter of 1989, very few of these newer models made it in.
After closing the retail end of my gun business in 1991 (thanks, George Bush the 1st), I had purchased a handful of Chinese AKs for myself and enjoyed shooting them — even enjoyed shooting some of the thumbhole stock versions. In 1993, a gun dealer friend of mine offered me a Type 86S new in the box. You can imagine my excitement over this “Holy Grail” of AKs, and of course, I bought it. I hadn’t seen one in four years and had no hopes of ever seeing one again, let alone owning one, and now it was mine! All mine!
My Norinco Type 86S came with two 20-round magazines (of which I still have one left sealed in the wrapper), bayonet, sling, AK cleaning kit with plastic lubricant bottle, and manual. The 20-rounders were new to me, from what I remember, with the exception of some 20-round Hungarian magazines I saw a couple of years prior. It is obvious that the “bugle-like” carry handle was copied from the FAMAS rifle, as well as the front grip being copied directly from the original Steyr AUGs.
My friend who sold it to me didn’t have much info on the gun, except that he heard that the military select-fire versions of the Type 86S were designed for tank crews. I saw a photo of a select-fire post sample about 20 years ago, and it looked just like mine, with the exception that the selector had three settings instead of two and that the fire-control character markings where in Chinese instead of English. I have made inquiries with others within the industry regarding why this firearm was designed, and although the civilian export firearms market was very lucrative for the Chinese in the mid-late 1980s, I have a hard time believing that this design was made solely for the U.S. civilian market, as some sources state, especially since a select-fire version was produced. Possibly, the Type 86S was the grand-daddy to the current QBZ-95/Type 95 bullpups used by the Chinese military, introducing the Chinese military to a bullpup.
I would have called it a “Poor Man’s AUG,” but in 1993, anything semi-auto and military-styled that had been imported and was now banned from import couldn’t be called cheap. My gun dealer friend also told me that there were only 500 86S rifles imported (he even wrote that in marker on the box). My serial number is in the high-500 range, so that was believable, as some manufacturers start their serial numbers at 100, but most sources I’ve seen place the number imported at 1,500–2,000. Although I was well aware of its rarity and monetary value, I saw that it had real-use value. The balance of the rifle was perfect, and one-handed shooting and pointing was/is natural. The cartridge was powerful and reasonably accurate from 50–200 yards, and at the time, ammo was still plentiful and very cheap. AK magazines were everywhere and inexpensive, as were spare parts, although some parts would have to be modified to work in the 86S. Any parts that could not be modified from standard AKs could be fabricated for the 86S; that’s what machinist buddies are for.
I was attending a police academy at the time of the purchase and was practicing many shooting drills from inside a vehicle, house entries, and some distance shooting within an urban environment. Also, being an avid reader of survival magazines and books since the late ‘70s, I saw much value in the 86S as a survival gun or patrol rifle for certain environments. The Type 86S is a perfect weapon to have on the passenger seat while driving through a hostile environment, as picking it up from the driver’s seat with the right hand and getting it out of the driver’s side window is very easy to do, even in smaller vehicles. The Type 86S in your vehicle’s trunk with a half-dozen loaded magazines, and you have a powerful urban rifle. It would also make a great deer gun for those states, like West Virginia, that allow semi-auto rifle deer hunting and rifle cartridges with a shoulder (just pop in a five-round magazine) — 7.62x39 is really a perfect deer cartridge for 150 yards and under.
The overall length is a bit over 26 inches as compared to a standard AK at about 35 inches, yet it sports a barrel an inch and a quarter longer than most civilian M4 rifles, so you are not losing any barrel length with an 86S compared to a standard AK or any other traditionally styled rifle with 16-inch barrel. It’s compact and, with no folding or telescopic stocks to mess with, always ready. Firing on the move is also something easily accomplished, due to the short overall length and the much better balance from its bullpup design. Right-handed shooting around a wall on your left is super-comfortable, but, try the same thing with a wall or barrier on your right, shouldering left-handed, and be sure to keep your cheek toward the rear of the receiver, or you may be using your dental insurance! Brass is kicked out hard at one o’clock and lands about 24 feet away, so it’s something to be aware of when shooting.
Sight radius is pretty short at 9 inches, as compared to 15-¼ inches on the standard AK-type rifle I used for comparison. This does pose an issue with shooting accurately from any non-braced position. Sights are set at 100-, 200-, and 300-meter increments, with adjustments made by turning the sight-adjustment knob in either direction. My manual and one of the Type 86S brochures show a lever for sight adjustment with markings of “1,” “2,” and “3” on the rear of the carry handle (right side), but I have no other information as to when this version was incorporated (the front support of the carry handle is also a bit different than mine). I have seen photos of one other semi-auto version that does have the drum-elevation knob, but this one has a half-moon-shaped charging handle. For whatever reason, my sight markings are “3,” “4,” and “5,” even though all literature and manuals indicate that the sight adjustments are for 100, 200, and 300 meters (factory mistake?). Mine is right on at 100 meters when my rear sight is in the lowest setting, which is marked as “3.” Front sight post is AK-type and is adjustable for elevation and windage.
The bolt assembly is almost the same as a standard AK’s, except that the bolt handle base does sit in a hole milled out in a swelled area on the piston. The trigger is very good for any AK-type rifle, let alone a bullpup design, which needs to usually run a trigger bar from the trigger all the way back to the fire-control group. (I was the importer for Singapore Technologies for several years and have extensive experience with the SAR-21 bullpup rifle it manufactures, which has an exceptional trigger for a bullpup.) Instead of a trigger bar that pushes to actuate the hammer, the Type 86S utilizes a wire that pulls to actuate the hammer, and this silver wire runs along the right side of the receiver, just to the right of the magazine well, back to the fire-control group (see photo). Book of the AK47 Editor David Fortier enjoyed shooting my 86S at a machine-gun shoot we attended last year, and he was also very surprised by the trigger being so comfortable to squeeze.
Off to the range! Besides plinking, I never ran my Type 86S on paper since I bought it 25 years ago, so I asked my friend, JD Morris, who is a former Green Beret with many combat tours, to run the 86S through some moving and shooting drills, as well as shoot it off of a bench. But first, I started off with some shooting at 50 yards. My first group was shot with Tula 122-grain hollow points, and it wound up at 2-1⁄2" after taking my time on the bench. Firing from a standing position, the 86S does kick about the same as a standard AK, but the front grip in the vertical position, plus its compact size and balance, make you feel like you are more in control with it than with a standard AK-type rifle. I’m 6'2" with long arms, and the compact size does not feel too small to me at all.
I’m in my early 50s, and my eyes and iron sights don’t get along well. Blurry rear sight and semi-blurry front sight with clear distant target is what I see with eye glasses on. Without eye glasses, the rear sight is clear, the front sight is a little blurry, and the target? Well, let’s just say that without glasses, I’m not quite a near-sighted version of Mr. Magoo, but I need an optic to shoot well, and that brings up another topic — mounts and scopes for the 86S. I have seen some photos of select-fire versions of the 86S with a low-power scope and mount attached to the carry handle, but I have never seen one for sale or in any literature offered for the civilian version. If you have one for sale — call me!
JD is a few years older than me, but his eyes aren’t as bad as mine, so I asked him to do the 100-yard shooting (plus he’s a former Green Beret sniper). At 100 yards, JD also had some “old eyes” issues with the iron sights, but still managed to pull in some nice groups despite the 86S having that very short sight radius. Here are his results:
After we were done comparing notes about our 50s eye issues and how we take the middle of the front-sight blur and try to place it in the middle of the rear sight blur, we went on to new and exciting things, like discussing Close Quarter Combat (CQC) drills with the Type 86S. As stated earlier, balance is really great with this rifle because of its bullpup design, and JD found that raising the 86S from low ready to the shooting position was done without much effort and without any upper back strain. He also found the 86S to be very point-able and well suited for building entries and for clearing rooms as well as the narrowest of hallways. Need to take a 50-yard shot out of a second-story window after clearing a room? No problem. Transition from a close target to a distant target is very do-able.
Well, if you haven’t figured out, I am very fond of my rare AK and wanted to share the love over the years. I established Exotic Arms for Motion Pictures (ExoticArms.com) in 1991, and later placed my Type 86S in a handful of movies — many directors liked it because it was unique. It was just as reliable rigged for blanks as it is with live ammo — I cannot remember the rifle jamming, ever. This is very important, as when a director yells “cut” because of a jammed gun, you are talking hundreds of dollars, if not thousands, every time you have to reshoot an action scene with guns blazing (even more important in a real-life defensive scenario).
So, if you are an AK47 fan and want one of the rarest of the AKs (especially if you like bullpups), start looking for a Norinco Type 86S for sale, but I will warn you, I haven’t seen them for less than $2,500, and if you want it “new in box,” be ready to shell out at least $4,000. If that’s out of your price range, you can always look for one of those AK bullpup stock conversions — they are the next best thing. Maybe someone will bring this model back as a “Made in U.S.A.” firearm. You never know.
NORINCO TYPE 86S RIFLE Caliber: 7.62x39 Action: Semi-auto Barrel: 17.25 inches Overall: 26.26 inches Weight: 7 lbs. Sights: ADJ: 100, 200, 300 meters Capacity: All AK-type magazines Finish: Blue and matte blue Value: $2,500 – $4,000+