Another key part of the AK rifle that begs for improvement is the handguard. Formerly just a wood shell to protect the hand of a soldier from the heat generated by the barrel and gasblock/gastube, the modern AK has been outfitted with aluminum and polymer forearms that serve the same purpose but add the modularity of mounted accessories. Aluminum still contracts heat though as well as adding weight, leaving polymer a popular option for upgrading a stock rifle.
Just like the Zhukov-S stock
, the Zhukov handguard sets the bar for quality, durability and overall badasssery
in its category. The extended length it adds to the support hand is a much needed, and wasn't available unless you paid a very costly and custom aluminum rail. It's pretty well known that a longer support hand grip improves freehanded rifle accuracy and the ability to transition between targets, and the extended length of the Zhukov really transforms the AK into a completely different rifle with improved functionality. Now the forearm can be braced against or ontop of a barrier or shooter's rest which was lacking support before, and its M-LOK slots let you customize where accessories are mounted without additional weight and clutter of unused rail space. Also just like the other Magpul AK products, the Zhukov handguard is available be in all the colors of the tactical rainbow to match your other gear.
Installing the Zhukov is more involved than the standard MOE AK handguard because of the provided clamps that support the structure entirely. MAKE SURE your barrel is wide enough FIRST as it would be a huge bummer to make this permanent modification and your barrel profile was too narrow for the Zhukov's clamps (between 16.75-18.25 millimeters) and your barrel should be at least 13" long for obvious reasons. If you own an AKM or other AK variant that has a factory handguard retaining cap / forward sling mount, you're going to have to permanently remove it prior to beginning the installation. This calls for some commitment on the users part, as you're hosed for most handguards after cutting the cap off. Also, there may be some minor additional fitting required due to the wide range of tolerances of typical AK's. Yugo users need not apply - the Zhukov is not compatible.
After removing the factory or existing hanguard and the gastube, its a smart idea to wrap some duct tape around the barrel underneath and surrounding the handguard retaining cap (assuming you have one that needs to be removed) The tape will help keep that retaining cap from spinning or sliding up and down the barrel, and also help add a small protective layer if you are using a Dremel or other cutting wheel. If you aren't comfortable with the power tool, take it to a gunsmith and they should be able to cut it off easily without much expense to you. If you are removing it yourself, I would highly recommend taking it slow, and not trying to cut completely through the metal of the cap. Stop just shy of a thirty second of an inch and use a flathead screwdriver in the cut channel to pry/twist the halves apart. This will keep you from cutting too deep and marring your barrel. Once its gone, unplug the Dremel and put it away, and enjoy a a cold beverage because that was the worst part.
Now for the easy steps, just remove the heatshield from the polymer outershell, align it below the barrel and insert each of the pair of screws up through the metal and bottom clamp half (the unthreaded half) and loosely tighten into the top half. Next you slide the polymer part back onto the heatshield in the correct orientation, while keeping the clamps loosely tightened. This will help you align the complete hanguard to its most rearward position where the rear screw holes align, and ensuring theres a even gap between the upper lips of the handguard and the gasblock. Alternate tightening each screw to ensure a consistent and level tightening force on each clamp, and then you're set! Just twist off the old gasblock cover and twist on the new polymer part, reinstall and check for function. Поздравляю товарищ (Congrats comrade!)
If you're wondering how the heck you are supposed to add your flashlight, laser, bipod, sling mount, foregrip, bottle opener, and other completely necessary doodads, welcome to the M-LOK side of the fence. We have cake, and even let MOE rail users hang out. So if you've invested in MOE rail sections for previous AR-15 handguards, they are still compatible. You are more likely to find M-LOK rail sections and mounting accessories now on store shelves in the same cardboard and plastic bag packaging that you're used to seeing. Unlike keymod, M-LOK is arguably more secure in mounting, and less expensive and soon to be more prevalent in my opinion.
In case you are partial to modifying your rifle or still want to utilize your AKM's sling loop, or keep that under-mounted cleaning rod, the MOE AK hanguard is for you. It still has M-LOK slots, comes in colors and has an integral heatshield, but is more of a direct replacement for the existing hanguard. I was personally bummed their wasn't any accommodation for the cleaning rod built into the design of the bottom clamps, but its not a tragic loss. Besides, AK's don't need to be cleaned!
Firearms Insider Reviews – 8 Key Points
Claim to Fame: The Magpul Zhukov Handguard casts aside traditional AK forearm shortcomings and offers an extended option for modern shooting techniques.
Target Market: AK variant owners with standard length barrels
FNBs (Features & Benefits of this product):
- Extended length provides large gripping surface / more real estate for mounting accessories
- Mounts to most AK-47/AKM/AK-74 rifles with barrels between 16.75 - 18.25mm diameter (minimum 13" length)
- Full length hard anodized aluminum chassis provides for flex-free mounting and heat shielding
- M-LOK slots at the three, six, and nine o'clock position
- Includes replacement polymer top cover
- Compatible with UltiMAK Optics Mount top cover
What other aesthetic options or finishes are available?: Black, Stealth Gray, FDE, Ranger Green, and Plum
What others are saying?:
"I love this hand guard. It was very easy to install. The heat shield does a great job of keeping your hands from getting too warm. It works well with all the M-Lok accessories. It fitted perfect with my Ultimak gas tube as well. I couldn't be happier with the purchase." Brownells User Review
"You better really want the Magpul ZHUKOV because you are going to be stuck with it. I don't see this as a problem with its features, however you should be aware that the gas block sling mount loop and factory handguard retainer cover must be ground off your AK. Yep, this means you are not going backward from an upgrade perspective at any point in the future. The Magpul ZHUKOV hand guard covers the sling mount point, so even if you do a fairly ugly job, no one will see it. This also means that the ZHUKOV is not a "drop in upgrade", but something easy if you know how to run a hacksaw and file or Dremel well. The main advantage of this barrel clamped configuration is that the handguard is never shifting or moving. One of the reasons some will opt for the ZHUKOV hand guard over the MOE version is that this version is designed to be "more" compatible with various milled receivers since the hand guard is not reliant on a slot in the receiver and handguard retain for stability and is instead just clamped to the barrel. I love what Magpul has done to overhaul the AK47/AK74 rifles from top to bottom to keep the AK current even after all these years." Major Pandemic Review
I need it now! Availability: Brownells or local gun shops
- Fairly easy to install (handguard retainer needs to be removed)
- Longer forearm= more room for accessory rails, better forward positioning of lights
- Compatible with railed gastubes, ie: UltiMAK
- Design ties well with Zhukov or MOE stock and MOE AK grip
- No allowance for cleaning rod
- No interface with receiver for level mounting (you have to eyeball it when tightening)
Score: 8.0 Great
For FFL services I choose Promised Land Firearms in Toulon, IL.
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