The Two-Day “Thunder Ranch” AK Build Class

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Have you ever surfed the net, or thumbed through a gun magazine and seen an advertisement that sucked you in? So, read about a two-day AK Builders class from Rifle Dynamics and thought it would be great to attend this. After all, I’m a huge fan of the AK. Plus, as a bonus, these are Rifle Dynamics “Thunder Ranch” Edition pistols built on MB47-1913 milled receivers from Sharps Bros.

Rifle Dynamics: First Impressions

If you’re not familiar with Rifle Dynamics, they are one of the top AKM builders in the U.S. If not the world. So, I couldn’t pass up this opportunity.

When I arrived, a couple of the staff introduced themselves and pointed me to my seat. I grounded my gear next to my assigned seat and started looking around. In front of me was a large, clear plastic tub with two smaller tubs (parts) inside and a toolbox next to it.

The room is pure AKM history. Specifically in the form of firearms dating back to the German Sturmgewehr 44(STG-44) to the modern-day AK-47 and AK-74. While not technically related to the STG-44, one can still clearly see the inspiration for the AK-47.

The back wall, next to where I was sitting, was a wall full of Rifle Dynamics custom guns. It was complete with some crazy creative AKs.

Before long, other students began pouring in. There was a father and son present, as well as a husband and wife. In addition, several buddies took the class together, and some other solos like me. It was a mixture of ages and people from all over these great states.

As I was admiring all of the cool toys on the walls, I started talking with a gentleman whom I mistakenly thought was one of my fellow students. It turns out it was the owner and CEO of Rifle Dynamics, Mark Flinn. That’s how down-to-earth he is—a quiet and humble guy.

When I asked him if he was one of the students in the class, he politely smiled and said that he was actually the owner of Rifle Dynamics.

Class is In

The class began with an introduction of the staff: James, Jeromy, Austin, Eric, Titus, Nicole and Mr. Mark Flinn. Then, the student’s introduction was followed by a detailed history of the AK.

The staff passed around each rifle on the wall, including the coveted STG-44. Then, they all introduced themselves and began instructing us on how we were going to build our own AK pistol.

The catch for this was we weren’t building from the “normal” stamped sheet metal AK receiver. We were using the new MB47-1913 milled receivers from Sharps Bros.

Sharps For Success

Sharps Bros. makes custom AR-15 receivers such as the Jack, Warthog, Overthrow, Hellbreaker, and its new Livewire. These receivers are milled from a solid block of 7075-T6 Aluminum and are seriously stout. I bought a Jack shortly after it was released and still favor it today.

A solid block of steel (bottom), and the beautifully milled Sharps Bros MB47-1913 AK receiver (top).
A solid block of steel (bottom), and the beautifully milled Sharps Bros MB47-1913 AK receiver (top).

Sharps Bros. is literally the only company on the market to offer a 1913 Picatinny Rail integrated into the rear of a milled AK receiver. The MB47 receiver is patterned after the original Bulgarian milled receivers.

According to the folks at Sharps, “Each 1.8-pound receiver is machined from a solid 15-pound block of U.S.-sourced 4140 steel, then heat-treated to an RC41 hardness. Barrel journal is reamed to 0.9065 post heat treat for absolute perfection.”

If you’ve ever used a Sharps Bros. receiver for a build, then you will know that they make some of the nicest receivers out there. Having the name Rifle Dynamics stamped into the side of the Sharps Bros. MB47-1913 milled AK-47 receiver is perfect for the foundation of a great AK.

Rifle Dynamics’ Bin Of Parts

We began opening the clear plastic cases. They conveniently had the name and part number on the lid above the space where the parts were housed. RD staff would then tell us which part to grab first. Next, we would line up at one of the few presses and work with RD staff on pushing in rivets, trunnions, barrels, and so on.

Rifle Dynamics staff member Titus helps the author properly press a pin into place in building this custom AK pistol.

They meticulously inspected each and every AK receiver after each part was added. The attention to detail with the RD staff was extremely impressive. They are clearly the experts in their field.

The staff told us that they went ahead and pre-inspected everything. And they even put a couple of small parts in place on the receivers. This made it easier for us to build our AKs.

Based upon this foundation, we built perhaps the coolest AK pistol that I’ve ever seen. And this was all done on day one of the two-day course!

The author installing a custom rail.

Range Day Fun

Day two of the Rifle Dynamics AK Pistol Build Class was just as much fun as the first. We all met up at RD HQ and took our preassigned seats. What was cool about the range day portion of the class was that it was also a “plus one” day. So, you could bring your significant other.

My wife knows almost nothing about the AK, so this was a really neat experience for her. She’s a very quick study, as she tends to be the smarter one in the house.

We all caravanned to Pro Gun in Boulder City, Nevada, to enjoy the great desert outdoors and do some shooting. A nice treat was seeing Clint and Heidi Smith and some staff from Thunder Ranch camping out at the range.

No matter how bad I hurt from my career spent in service to God, country, and community, it all gets put at the back of my mind when I see a 73-year-old Clint Smith in a full kit with trauma plates walking the range.

That man is one of the most hardcore warfighters that our country has ever produced. And as it turns out, he and RD’s Mark Flinn, are good friends. That’s when I found out that Thunder Ranch was teaching an AK class for the following two days.

Running Our New Rifle Dynamics AKs

The class all grabbed our AKs from the range table, took our positions on the firing line, and then proceeded to sight them in with the expertise of the RD staff. Next, we dumped an entire mag through these new AK pistols.

We had some time to empty a few more mags and run a quick pre-established course there at Pro Gun. James from RD instructed this quick course and saw that everyone had fun and ran their new AKs proficiently.

James, staff from Rifle Dynamics, gives instruction to a couple of students prior to test firing their new AK pistols that they recently built.

Rifle Dynamics AK Show And Tell

Rifle Dynamics brought out a bunch of their toys for us to play with. My wife and I both were able to shoot a beautiful custom under folding AK with a “giggle switch.”

It was a custom Paratrooper RPK cut to 13.5 inches and tricked out as much as one can trick out an AK. Titus, from RD, was there to help guide students on how to properly fire this beast safely.

Then, the staff from RD asked a gentleman named Mark from Pro Gun to bring out the belt feds. A few students had made their own 25-round linked belts in class the previous day.

The big surprise was when the RD staff handed my wife a 100-round linked belt of ammo in 7.62x54R. I was smiling ear to ear while my wife sat behind the trigger of a Russian PKM belt-fed machine gun.

The author was smiling ear to ear while his wife sat behind the trigger of a Russian PKM belt-fed machine gun.

Winding Down

At the end of the range day, we all headed back to RD HQ for a “debrief” of sorts before being released into the wild upon completion of the class. They gave everyone a Rifle Dynamics Certificate showing that we built our very own AKs.

Then something cool happened. Not only did they pass out a survey, but they also spoke one-on-one with everyone as we paid for any extras from their shop. There was absolutely zero pressure. They just wanted an honest opinion, and they told me that it helps them make the class better for everyone.

I try hard to find something negative to balance everything out and be completely fair and impartial. This was one of those situations where, no matter how hard I tried, I could not find a reasonable suggestion to make the class better.

Many of the students, myself included, were staying the additional two days for the Thunder Ranch AK Urban Rifle class. What was truly neat is that we really put these guns through their paces. Then, we all took them back to the RD shop and handed them in.

The next step in the process is the RD staff will take them back and clean, paint, and prep them to be mailed out to the students’ respective FFL holders.

This is the finished product that the author built in class. The custom paint job was done by Rifle Dynamics upon completion of the Thunder Ranch class.

So, not only have students gotten to drive these things pretty hard, but they are receiving a beautifully finished Thunder Ranch Edition Sharps Bros. MB47 1913 receiver-based AK that they built themselves at Rifle Dynamics.

Final Impressions

Rifle Dynamics is like a small, close-knit family with Mark Flinn at the helm. The entire staff was the epitome of humble professionals. All I can tell you based on my experience in this two-day AK Builders Class is that Rifle Dynamics is one of the top-tier builders of AKs in the world and that the staff is as professional as it gets.

If you want to gain more knowledge while having the satisfaction of building your very own AK, you have to check out the build classes offered by Rifle Dynamics. If you do, you won’t regret it.

For more information, please visit RifleDynamics.com.

This article first appeared in the July-August 2022 issue of Tactical Life magazine. Get your copy today at OutdoorGroupStore.com.

The author shooting through the bottom of a barricade during a Thunder Ranch class in Las Vegas.

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