Testing the Century Arms Thunder Ranch BFT47v2

by Tommy Grant

While not as old, big, or well known as Gunsite Academy, Thunder Ranch is a highly respected peer in private firearms training, formally founded by USMC Vietnam War infantry and law enforcement veteran Clint Smith in 1993. Century Arms and Smith cooperated to economically upgrade Century’s all-American BFT47 as a modern self-defense platform. The objective was to enhance shootability and dependability in extreme conditions and stay in the mid-priced AK range. With this goal, the BFT47 was an ideal starting point for the Century Arms Thunder Ranch BFT47v2. 

Century Arms Thunder Ranch BFT47v2 

Century Arms has paid its dues as a manufacturer of AK-platform rifles, and the BFT47v2 features the combined lessons learned over many years and AK variants. In the BFT47v2, they appear to have built a really heavy-duty rifle. The barrel is 4150 chrome-moly steel with a profile on the thicker side of military barrels and the standard left-hand, 14x1mm, threaded muzzle. The trunnion is substantially more robust, with bulged sides like those used on the RPK light machine gun. It is forged from 4140 alloy steel. The “BFT” in the name stands for “Bulged Front Trunnion.” The heat-treated bolt is also 4140, but cut from billet rather than forged. The sheet metal receiver is a hefty 1.5mm thick, again like the RPK. The typical AK platform, military or civilian, uses sheet steel only 1mm thick.

Among its enhancements, the rifle is equipped with Century’s single-stage, double-hook RAK 1 trigger, a longer and T-shaped magazine release that is easier to actuate by virtue of better thumb access and greater surface area, and a safety that moves easily enough to be actuated with the fingertip without breaking your shooting grip. The safety is also cut with a notch allowing it to serve as a manual bolt hold open. When fully withdrawn, the charging handle can be captured in the safety notch for an open bolt, rather than closed bolt, safety.

Because of the ease with which the safety moves, I don’t recommended that the bolt hold open feature be relied upon for safe carry of the rifle with a loaded magazine inserted. It can be bumped off safe, release the bolt, and chamber a round. Save this feature for the bench during range cease fires and inspecting the chamber area. 

Military Hardware

The BFT47v2 also features the standard military iron sights graduated to 800 meters, standard COMBLOC military optics rail riveted to the receiver’s left side, gas block-mounted bayonet lug, and a steel cleaning rod; the latter prone to misuse by untrained soldiers, but better than no cleaning rod at all and useful to remove cases stuck in the chamber. 

A special 14x1mm left-hand threaded American military-style M2 birdcage flash suppressor on the BFT47v2.

The Thunder Range BFT47v2 is actually the second Thunder Ranch/Century Arms collaborative AK platform and differs from the standard BFT47 in several notable ways. This version is coated in a weather resistant OD Green Cerakote, has Magpul MOE M-LOK lower forend and MOE, A-frame, fixed buttstock with storage compartment under the comb, mounting holes for left and right QD sling attachment sockets, a slot for conventional sling attachment, and a rubber buttpad. The comb height of this stock raises by 0.25-inch, 0.50-inch, or 0.75-inch by adding a check riser which makes it ideal for optics use. The risers cost about $15 and are available from Brownells.com if you can’t find them locally.

Instead of the typical AK slant compensator on the muzzle, the Thunder Ranch has a special 14x1mm left-hand threaded American military-style M2 birdcage flash suppressor. In addition to reducing muzzle flash that can reveal you position to an enemy, the M2 also reduces the amount of dust kicked up by the muzzle blast when firing prone. It always seemed to me that the solid bottom of the A2 birdcage also acted in the manner of compensator by directed gas upward and sideways, but not downward, and thus helped to control muzzle rise to some degree.

The Thunder Ranch BFT47v2 features an excellent rail for optics.

Optics-Ready AK

Perhaps the most welcome enhancement on the Thunder Ranch BFT47v2 is the solid, Ultimak Rail/gas tube that provides 6.5 inches of Picatinny Rail for easily mounting optics on the bore line with a minimum of weight and added bulk. While you could remove the Ultimak Rail/gas tube, I wouldn’t advise it unless you had a compelling need to clean the gas passageway through the gas block and barrel. Made from a sizable hunk of 6061-T6 aluminum and anodized for wear resistance, this unit does double duty as a heat-sink helping to keep the optics from overheating in rapid fire. I had neither select-fire capability nor enough ammo to see how warm the optics might get under sustained full-auto shooting, but I’m sure they would be in no danger under normal recreational or competition use. 

After the general heavy-duty character of this rifle, the thing I liked most was the Ultimak Rail/gas tube feature. It allowed me to mount red dot sight as easily as I would on an AR platform. For practical self-defense, even that “s— hits the fan” scenario, a rifle like this sees use mostly within 100 yards. Durable sights offering fast target acquisition like an EOTech holographic sight or a sealed red dot like SIG’s ROMEO4T remain preferred over those offering greater precision. A long-eye-relief telescopic sight works on the Ultimak rail. But I find the minimal magnification for longer-range shots not worth the extra bulk and delicacy.

Thunder Ranch BFT47v2 receiver.

Value-Packed AK Package

Cerakote finishes on AK rifle run around $500 per job. Add in about $250 worth of quality aftermarket parts plus an ergonomic US Palm pistol grip and waffle magazine, and the Thunder Ranch BFT47v2 is a very good value if the upgrades appeal to your sensibilities.

I found the rifle shot well. The two-stage trigger pull was very good for an AK, requiring only five pounds of pull and noticeably less travel through the second stage which created a prompt and predictable break. Five shot groups fired from the bench averaged between two and three minutes of angle at 100 yards with iron sights. At 8 pounds, it’s half a pound heavier than the standard BFT47. The extra weight and Magpul buttstock seemed to reduce felt recoil too.  Military-pattern AKs, with their little narrow steel buttplates, are abusive. The BFT47 was pleasant to shoot. Unless you are an infantryman, trading a little extra weight for shootablity is likely going to be a positive selling point. For more information visit CenturyArms.com.

The Magpul stock provides a storage compartment, a welcome feature.

Century Arms Thunder Ranch BFT47v2 Specs

  • Caliber: 7.62 x 39mm
  • Operation: Gas operated, long-stroke piston, semi-automatic
  • Barrel: 16.25 inches
  • Overall Length:  28.25 inches with stock collapsed
  • Overall Weight empty: 8 pounds (empty)
  • Magazine capacity:  30-round US Palm waffle magazine w/ Thunder Ranch logo 
  • Controls: Enlarged magazine release, fingertip-actuated safety lever
  • Trigger: 2-stage, 4.75-5-pound pull
  • Sights: Military 800m iron, military optics rail, Ultimak Picatinny rail gas tube
  • Finish: OD Cerakote
  • Stock: Fixed Magpul MOE buttstock and MOE M-LOK lower forend
  • Accessories: Thunder Ranch sling
  • MSRP: $999
Bayonet attachment on the Thunder Ranch BFT47v2.

Accuracy Results

Load Velocity Best Group
Double Tap Rifle Defense 125-grain FJM 2,182 1.87
Hornady American Gunner 123-grain HP 2,278 1.66
Hornady Black 123-grain SST 2,292 3.30

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