You’re left-handed and you want a modern semi-auto carbine suited to hunting and self defense. What are your options?
You could take the custom build route – Start with an expensive, non-standard AR-15 lower with an ambidextrous bolt and magazine releases. Then add a more expensive left-handed upper or right hand side charging upper. You’ll want an expensive ambidextrous charging handle and an ambidextrous safety selector, too. Now you have a pretty nice left-handed AR-15, but for considerably more than the cost of a basic right-handed AR-15. Not a bad route to go.
Or you can buy a tactical carbine that, as designed, is already set up for the left-handed shooter.
This, of course, would be the Czech Small Arms Sa vz.58. How can a rifle designed in the 1950s be a modern left-handed semi-auto rifle?
In many ways, the vz.58 is a pretty modern design. You see it in the way the action works, the rifle’s light weight and excellent ergonomics, its short-stroke piston system, and legendary reliability. All are advantages that we look for in modern fighting carbines. The Czechs, as usual, were ahead of their time in firearm design and production.
However, some things about the vz.58 show its 1950s heritage. At the time, armies were transitioning from bolt-action rifles to semi-auto or select-fire rifles. In the vz.58 design certain assumptions were carried over from bolt actions. For example, right handed bolt and safety manipulation. Magazine releases designs were generally very different than what is commonly used in today’s gun designs.
While comparatively better in these regards than most of its contemporary rifles, the vz.58 requires a right handed shooter to slightly modify their modern rifle manipulation methods. Fortunately for right-handers these modified techniques work well, and the rifle is as easy to manipulate using modern fighting methods as it was with 1950s methods.
But a funny thing happened. As modern rifle manipulation techniques evolved, the vz.58 controls became perfectly suited to left-handed use.
Skilled shooters today generally prefer to manipulate the charging handle with the support hand. Newer fighting carbine designs incorporate a left-side charging handle for right handed shooters. The right-side charging handle on the vz.58 is perfect for left-handed shooters to manipulate with the support hand.
The selector on the vz.58 is placed on the right side of the weapon. Some right-handed shooters add an aftermarket ambidextrous safety, while others simply manipulate the safety with the firing finger. Both methods work well, but for the left-handed shooter the vz.58 selector lever is positioned ideally for operation by the firing-hand thumb.
The vz.58 magazine release is a paddle located in front of the trigger guard, behind the magazine well. Offset to the left side, it is pushed forward to release the magazine. A right-handed shooter generally presses the magazine release with the left thumb while grasping the magazine. An aftermarket release can be installed that extends the paddle to the right for manipulation by a right-handed shooter’s trigger finger. But the left handed using a bone stock vz.58 simply presses mag release forward with the trigger finger, a move quite similar to how modern magazine release are manipulated.
Ejection is mostly up and forward. Left handed shooters love this! No one likes hot brass in their face or down their shirt.
The vz.58 is a well-made, reliable firearm with an excellent and available magazine system. Its light weight and perfect balance give it excellent ergonomics and the short-stroke piston supplies reliable function with a pleasant recoil impulse. Magazine changes are easy and it also loads easily and quickly from stripper clips.
The vz.58 is available in both 7.62×39 mm and 5.56 mm (capable of using AR-15 magazines), in carbine or pistol configuration. Since the weapon remains in current combat use by Czech forces, it is supported with a full range of modern accessories.
If I were a left-handed shooter looking for a left-handed semi-auto carbine, the Sa vz.58 would be my choice.