Back when our current war heated up in the Middle East, alternative chamberings for the AR-15/M16 family on a mass-production scale were pretty much a pipe dream. While trailblazers like JD Jones (SSK Industries) were quietly developing functional new AR cartridges for discreet customers, most small-frame AR shooters were mired in making .223 Rem./5.56 NATO work for all purposes. We live in a far-different world today, as demand from military, law enforcement and citizen shooters has pushed the industry to offer a continually growing number of AR chamberings and configurations. The 7.62x39 mm chambering is one of the alternative calibers that fits well into AR-15-size firearms and continues to rise in popularity. The cartridge is accurate in several factory expanding and FMJ loads and enjoys an abundant supply of ammunition in most places where sporting and duty firearms exist. Silver Shadow of Israel—licensing McKay Enterprises in Minnesota—provides the newest 7.62x39-chambered AR to hit our shores in the form of the Gilboa M43 carbine.
Magazine type has been one of the sticking points with 7.62x39 mm in the AR platform—purpose-built, AR-15-style mags in a standard AR lower or AK-family magazines in a dedicated lower. Each approach has its pros and cons, and examples of both have trickled into the market. Considering that Silver Shadow hails from a nation surrounded on all sides by AK-toting hostiles trying to kill them daily, the option of an AK-magazine compatible lower receiver for the Gilboa M43 is absolutely no surprise.
A 16-inch-barreled carbine is currently offered in the U.S., but Silver Shadow’s international website advertises 7-, 11- and 14.5-inch options, too. A 7-inch pistol variant is scheduled to come to our shores next, and the company also offers custom barrel lengths. The chrome-lined, M4-contour barrel on my Gilboa M43 test gun was set up with a carbine-length, direct-impingement gas system. A beefy, rail-topped, steel gas block is secured by two through-bolts. This attachment method is far more secure than the tiny setscrews used in most low-profile AR gas blocks today. The regulator sits in front of a 7.25-inch, KeyMod freefloat tube that has a key-slotted anti-rotation interface with the upper, HK416-style. Another pair of through-bolts tightens the fore-end around the barrel nut, with two setscrews at 6-o’clock providing further incentive for the fore-end to remain in place. It is a very secure setup.
The Gilboa M43 carbine’s muzzle is fronted with a ported brake that has aggressive teeth on the front face. No sights were included with my test gun, but the gas block’s 1.9-inch top rail makes mounting steel or aluminum sights an easy task. A full-length freefloat top rail provides additional real estate for optics and/or ancillary devices. The rest of the upper is standard for a flattop, small-frame AR, but the lower departs in a couple of key areas. The magazine well is cut at a sharp angle for AK mags and there is no bolt hold-open device on the left side of the rifle. A wide, paddle-style ambidextrous magazine release is located inside the front edge of an extended trigger guard. The M43 uses standard AR furniture, so finding what you like is easy. My test rifle was outfitted with a mil-spec-diameter Magpul CTR collapsible stock and MOE pistol grip.
A full-length bolt carrier resides inside the Gilboa M43, along with an H1 buffer and a barrel extension with a single, wide feed ramp to aid feeding of the stubby 7.62x39 mm cartridges. The trigger pull on my test rifle measured a reasonable 5.75 pounds and had all the grittiness we have come to expect (and hate) in mil-spec triggers. While the M43 is designed for AK mags, I found it was picky in this department. I tried several of my steel AK 30-round magazines—some commercial, others from far-away places—and none of them were usable. None of my steel mags would engage the rocker-style magazine lock. This issue is not unique to the Gilboa. Every AR/AK hybrid I have tested required the matching of specific mags to guns. Polymer models seem to be the best fit across the board. I stuck to the polymer, 30-round magazine supplied with this test rifle and had no troubles with it.
Range time proved to be an all-around pleasant experience. The Gilboa M43 may not have turned in sniper-quality groups, but considering the creepy trigger and the fact that I was shooting prone/supported over a long magazine, it shot very well. Two U.S.-made hunting loads and one Russian FMJ load were used, and each turned in respectable results. In fact, the Gilboa’s overall group averages bested every AR/AK hybrid I have previously tested. The muzzle brake’s 12-port arrangement effectively reduces muzzle climb during recoil, no doubt helping both my accuracy testing and rapid strings. I did learn (the hard way) that the slim fore-end blends a bit too seamlessly into the contours of the steel gas block. Knuckleheads like me will find it easy to slide the support hand forward onto the hot gas block when doing active things with this rifle.
I fired a total of 125 rounds through the Gilboa M43. The only trouble came from three (of 55) rounds of Golden Tiger FMJ, which had primers that would not detonate on the first strike. After waiting an appropriate amount of time for safety, each of them fired on the second strike. This is a common problem with this ammunition. Every firearm in which I have tried it fails to fire it to differing degrees. The Gilboa did better than most. It is accurate for FMJ, so I keep trying. No feeding problems were encountered with any of the tested loads, and I found the light carbine handled well in all shooting positions. The addition of a quality trigger would make a big difference in this gun’s “shootability” and would be clearly reflected downrange. It is obviously intended to be a fighting rifle, and if you have a good supply of properly-fitted magazines, it should serve that purpose well.
Were I to choose one AK-mag-compatible AR over all others, the Gilboa M43 carbine would be it. I haven’t tried everything on the market, but this is the best of the ones I have used. I would have been happy to have one in my hands overseas in my former life.