Interesting Indeed

posted on February 26, 2016
Darren Parker

This feature appears in the March ’16 issue of NRA America’s 1st Freedom, one of the official journals of the National Rifle Association. 

“Only accurate rifles are interesting,” U.S. Army Col. and American Rifleman contributor Townsend Whelen once opined. As a famous cartridge designer, rifleman of considerable note and former commander of the Frankford Arsenal, he knew a thing or … 20. 

With the good colonel’s wisdom in mind, we therefore take our risks early rather than often, and propose to invoke Whelen’s well-known accuracy observation and the 7.62x39 Russian cartridge in the same breath. 

And pause. 

The Aimpoint Micro T2 and a charging handle on the left—where it belongs—are both great on the M10X. [Photo credit: Darren Parker]

By now, you have retrieved your America’s 1st Freedom (having indignantly flung it cross the room) or, less severely provoked, simply recovered. Either way, we’re grateful for your indulgence, and now pledge some compensation: All our evidence says the M10X “Elite” Carbine (M+M Industries of Northglenn, Colo.) is a rifle that makes sense of that seeming nonsense. 

We’re mindful that our photography might make this suggestion seem even more rash, but the imagery doesn’t deceive: The “Elite” is indeed a long-stroke, piston-driven carbine on a roughly Kalashnikov pattern. To appearances, it is yet another of the same sort of rifle that brought the Russian shorty .30 cartridge simultaneous worldwide recognition for reliability, in conjunction with a decidedly lackluster reputation for accuracy. 

Fans of the AK, we hope, haven’t now given their magazine a second ride across the den, but even they agree that variations among dozens of worldwide examples over more than 60 years have had an impact on the up-and-down reputation of the rifle and cartridge pairing. Mike Meier, CEO and design chief at M+M, told America’s 1st Freedom this is where the journey to the M10X began. 

“I started out just to create an American-made, American-quality AK,” Meier told us, “but realized there was quite a bit of room for improvement. We could make things simpler, better, stronger by replacing cheap but intensive labor with superior materials, engineering and manufacturing techniques. But by the time we got to the end of that process, there wasn’t much AK left.”I started out just to create an American-made, American-quality AK, but realized there was quite a bit of room for improvement.

He has a point: The real AK guys won’t have much trouble seeing what Meier means. It’s a little tricky, in fact, to know where to start, so we give it to you in nautical fashion—stem to stern.

The front end of the rifle takes the form of an intricate and propriety brake/comp. Eight ports sit behind a four-prong cage. The barrel itself is a free-floating 16.5-inch (4140 steel) number with 1-in-9.25 twist rate, and finished in black nitride. 

Moving toward the action, more differences pile up. The most obvious—easily, to our eye—is the one-piece handguard/dust cover assembly. The original AK and many modern versions use multiple pieces here—wood in some places, steel in others, interrupted by the rear sight. 

In a huge step forward, these components are now replaced by a single anodized, aircraft-grade aluminum part giving the M10X a “monolithic” appearance, though it isn’t a truly monolithic upper. Below, on the sides, and forward of the action, this configuration provides Magpul® M-Lok slots to hard-mount accessories; above, there’s an uninterrupted 18-inch Picatinny rail for optics. A short stretch of Picatinny just in front of the action at 6 o’clock gives a fallback bipod location—not quite ideal, perhaps, but far better than nothing. 

The M+M mag release is standard on the Elite, and kept every mag we tried running smoothly. [Photo credit: Darren Parker]

A truly distinctive—and fairly rotten—original AK feature disappears from the right side of the M10X receiver/lower—the selector cum safety cum dust guard. This odd mechanism was certainly chosen for efficiency in the original, and, in that sense it may have been brilliant: It had multiple modalities both inside and outside of the rifle, and—like everything else—it worked. 

But in terms of making the Kalashnikov any sort of “rifleman’s rifle,” it could hardly have been worse. As a safety, it was nigh unto impossible to activate with the rifle in a firing position. As a selector, it went first to full-automatic in military versions of the rifle (half down), and then to semi-automatic. We guess this “banjo” activation (an aggressive sweep of the hand from top to bottom) was meant to make the choice of round-burning fully automatic entirely conscious, but the size and shape still left a lot to be desired. As a dustcover (and action lock—you could not unload a chambered round without taking the safety off), “Er, why?” is all we can say. 

The M+M wisely junks it all, giving you a conventional, ambidextrous, short throw, two-position lever. Maybe on the right, you’ll still find the action/charging handle too, but this constitutes one of our favorite steps forward: The charger can live on either side of the rifle.

The bottom of the receiver has a generous trigger guard; extremely comfortable “M+M” marqued, rubberized grip (suspiciously like the excellent Hogue); and the M+M magazine release lever. This last is an earlier M+M claim to fame and is available to retrofit existing AKs. It improves every aspect of magazine manipulation in our view, dumping the famous but decidedly unstealthy “click” when a magazine is seated.As we contemplate the M+M M10X “Elite,” we’re possessed of the peculiar luxury that the coin may actually have landed on edge.

The back end of the “Elite” strikes an almost competitive pose, sporting a feature from a long-time adversary—an AR/MSR adjustable stock. Six-position joy, plus a “Kicklite” fitting. This last? Think of it as a shock absorber between the rifle and your shoulder.

This is where we get back to Col. Whelen. While we’d stop short of castigating every AK, we’ve never shot one we could appreciate on the colonel’s famous terms. Certainly Kalashnikov reliability—especially when horribly abused—was always admirable, but not at the cost of missing. And such missed shots are precisely where the M10X shatters the inaccurate AK stereotype.

Our range tests for the “Elite” began with the (fabulous) Aimpoint Micro T2. On the rifle in a jiffy due to a superb quick-release mount and riser, it did what Aimpoints always seem to do—allow us to shoot much better than we expect with a non-magnifying sight. On a low-ready, CQB drill (three MGM “BCC” silhouettes at 25, 30 and 35 yards), quality hits on each target came easily at around two and a half seconds, with a “fastest” well under two seconds. A five-shot drill on a USPSA metric target at 40 yards hovered in the middle threes. While the ballistics of the 7.62x39 make longer shots (to 200 yards) more challenging, the clarity of the Aimpoint kept us on a half-size silhouette routinely. 

Our next optic was the Millett DMS 1-6X. We’ve been fans of this 30 mm conventional tube and predecessors because they’ve proven tough, versatile and economical. Combined with the M10X, it also gave our best accuracy performance: With Hornady’s SST “Steel Case,” we shot several at or near sub-MOA groups, the best a .628-inch, three-shot group at 100 yards. (As we were dialing in, we had three of four go in a miniscule .138” cluster at 50 yards, an astonishing .144 MOA.The fourth was a called miss—bad trigger work on our part.) Dialed back to 1X and run with both eyes open, it wasn’t quite as fast as the Aimpoint, but with practice, who can say? It’s a grand combination that doesn’t break the bank, and promises to work well within the practical range of the 7.62x39 cartridge.

Just three things to remember about this .628-inch group: M10X, Hornady Steel Case SST and Millett DMS. [Photo credit: Darren Parker]

We put a higher magnification scope on the M10X, and performance remained superb, though we never did top that .628-inch group. At 200 yards, a steady stream of hits came with ease on our half-size silhouette: The main difficulty was resisting trigger press before the target was fully reset. The fine comp, comfortable ergonomics and good trigger had us ready to shoot again before the target re-presented.

On one side of the AK “coin,” it’s easy to see why adopters feel the way they do, and undeniable vindication attends Mikhail Kalashnikov’s design: That of long success. On the reverse, it’s impossible to fault Townsend Whelen’s contention either: Only accuracy puts bullets where they belong. As we contemplate the M+M M10X “Elite,” we’re possessed of the peculiar luxury that the coin may actually have landed on edge. Whether you call it an AK “hybrid” or groundbreaking original, we think it’s safe to say the American colonel would find the Russian lieutenant general’s rifle undeniably interesting, if only at long last. 

Nuts & Bolts

Cheap shots at the AK are about the worst way we can imagine to properly appreciate the advances of the M10X: For all the visual, and even considerable operational, similarities, they’re quite different rifles from quite different eras, designed to solve quite different challenges. That said, the similarities remain interesting, but details explain why o
ur experience with the “Elite” was such a happy one. 

Trigger – No way to put a good face on it, AK triggers traditionally fall between dreadful and merely ho-hum. Modern trigger upgrade kits have helped this greatly for existing rifles, but the M+M needs no such add. As promised, our trigger press was right at 4.2 pounds. After a brief accommodation period, there’s little question our good results derived from this more than any other thing, except possibly … 

Ammunition – We like shooting inexpensively as much as the next person, but there is a segment of AK fandom that have a deserved rep for liking to hammer away at, well, “area” targets. With 40 rounds of imported ammo available in the $16-$20 range, it’s understandable and fun. But our experience here was painful: The rifle shot faultlessly (and as you see, very accurately) with quality ammunition from Hornady, Winchester and others. But while malfunctions were small in number, each and every one occurred with the cheap ammo. Every attempt at precise shooting a la Col. Whelen was defeated (our best was ~2.35-inch, nearly four times worse than the Hornady SST Steel Case). The point is to stop expecting any firearm—vintage/authentic AK, hybrid upgrade or the fine M10X—to perform well with poor ammunition. 

“Modern” – We put this in quotes only because it captures several notions effectively, and may speak as much to the M+M mindset as to the company’s products. As Mike Meier told us, “Once we decided to build the best rifle we could, we examined features from any successful rifle.” 

We can only observe that it shows.


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