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January 20, 2012

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Andrew L. Butts Firearms Evals
with Andrew L. Butts

SHOT Show 2012: Bulgarian M-16 mags imported by Elk River Tool and Die

Polymer magazines for the M-16 family of rifles are hardly new. Early attempts such as the Canadian Thermold and the Israeli Orlite have been around for more than twenty years. Despite some advantages in dent resistance, these early magazines suffered from certain flaws such as a relatively low melting point — Canadian soldiers were known to refer to the Thermolds as Thermelts — and easily cracked feed lips.

Then, about a decade ago, Magpul rewrote the book on polymer magazines with the introduction of its PMAG. The PMAG has an enviable reputation for great durability, tolerance to dirt, sand, and mud, as well as having a low cost. Given these excellent characteristics, many U.S. makers have been playing catch-up, some with more success than others.

But not all M-16 magazine innovations are made in America. During my visit to SHOT Show 2012, I was given a Bulgarian M-16 magazine that’s being imported by Elk River Tool and Die in Montana. Elk River is best known for AK gunsmithing, and has been importing rifle parts from Bulgaria for some time. Given the company’s ties with the Bulgarian firearms industry, it seems only logical that Elk River would look at expanding into other areas of the firearms market.

Polymer Shell Over Steel Insert
The magazine I received is the standard 30-round capacity but they are also available in 40-round capacity. The magazine is very sturdy in construction and is ribbed along the sides to aid in pulling the magazine from a pouch. The magazine’s base plate slides over the bottom of the magazine tube and is retained by the spring-loaded base plate. The magazine is easily disassembled for maintenance.

What sets the Bulgarian magazine apart from most of its U.S. counterparts is the magazine body. Rather than being constructed entirely of polymer, the Bulgarian magazine is actually a rigid polymer shell covering a steel insert. This is reminiscent of the Israeli Orlite but the Bulgarian magazine uses a much sturdier cage rather than the steel mesh used in the Orlite. This steel insert extends from the top of the magazine down about halfway along the tube’s length. The magazine body has a witness hole at the bottom that shows when the mag is loaded to full capacity.

The follower and floorplate are unique to the Bulgarian magazine and are not interchangeable with those from a standard USGI magazine. The non-tilt follower and long narrow spring show a strong AK design influence with the follower’s anti-tilt skirts along the sides of the follower rather than at the front and back. The magazine is a true 30-round capacity, meaning that the magazine is easily seated in a rifle. No need to download to twenty-eight or twenty-nine rounds.

Only time will tell if the new Bulgarian magazine can meet the high benchmark set by Magpul’s PMAG. But I think the new offering from Elk River Tool and Die is off to a good start.

About the author

Andrew Butts has served as a soldier in the Army National Guard and also served as a correctional officer in Montana, and is currently with a federal law enforcement agency. Butts currently holds an Expert classification in IDPA and an A classification in USPSA in both Limited and Single Stack Divisions.

Contact Andrew Butts





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