Shooting the Norinco QBZ/Type 97 NSR

Today it’s time to take the Norinco QBZ-97 – aka Type 97 NSR – out to the range for some shooting! This is the Canadian semiautomatic-only legal version of China’s new military rifle, and it is chambered for the 5.56mm NATO cartridge (the Chinese military models use their 5.8x42mm cartridge).

Overall, the Type 97 is an acceptable rifle in all ways, but an excellent rifle in none. Its controls are functional but slow, and its trigger leaves a lot to be desired. The sights in particular are begging for improvement, in my opinion – the rear apertures are just too small to use easily. That said, the rifle did run just fine throughout the day, I was able to make most of my hits, and it is a remarkably low-cost option (especially in Canada).

Thanks to Daniel and Colin for arranging this opportunity for me to take a look at the rifle!


  1. It seems to me that there are a lot of modern rifles that are “almost there”, but not quite, and that’s something I don’t get. Getting access to everything modern as an armsdesigner/producer can’t be that difficult, so stealing/be inspired by your competitor must be easy. Why then am I still looking at bullpups that are ambi for a part and not as a whole?

  2. PS: hey Europe, look at our 5 shot future, thanks to EU leadership that can’t see the difference between muslim criminals and sport shooters.

        • Not a very nice way to refer to Ian’s remarkably restrained approach to moderating these fora.

          ‘This is Pot for Kettle, send color state, over.’
          ‘Kettle calling Pot, we are condition Black, how copy?’

  3. Great time-lapse video into the dynamics of the firing cycle. If it was the first time I saw this king of footage I would risk a bet on how many rounds before the contraption shakes itself apart.

    I am eagerly awaiting for a slow-motion view of the Steyr AUG – which by the way is readily converted for left-handed shooters. The only extra hardware needed is a mirror-image bolt (opposite side for the extractor) and the cost was $80 – in 1984.

  4. Good shooting and lovely range! I am also glad that my own experience regarding accuracy was dispersed. The ejection is strong and so the chance Ian took to offer the other cheek is admirable. (I measured the piston size and found it to be at 12mm little on large side, gas ports at 2-2.5mm, not unusual for this calibre)

    Of course we have this unfortunate mag release modification to suit the local magazines, original version is far more practical. Well, perhaps the QBZs reputation was saved. But, I’d definitely go for the one with optical rail on it, even with that extra cost.

    • How do you want the magazine release to work? For that matter, do you prefer rocking magazines into the well or just sticking them straight into the well?

      • In absence of having the original Chinese rifle in my hand I found this picture which should explain it:
        There is also somewhere another picture showing how massive are feed lips on it. Anyway, it is very different than what you see on Cdn model.

        It looks to me that it is slipped in without much of rocking although some fore-aft clearance must be present. The latch may be accessed by either hand.
        I probably gather thunder for what I say now (not from you but some others) but I do it anyway. I consider the type of catch as used on AR15 fundamentally wrong and for more than one reason. I know someone can point me to Stg43/44 and say “take a look”, but I do not take it. I was trained on vz.58 and consider that catch as superior to anything I have seen. AKs and QBZs are very similar – simple, rugged and ambidextrous.

        Actually, to be completely frank I’d say (and it may be I saw it somewhere, maybe on Kel-tech b-pup) the best for this type of rifle would be catch in front; that wat you could reach it without searching in your armpit.

      • This is also good picture:

        Just for comparison. What they did later on QBZ03 (conventional layout) is again little different and I call it “big march” – completely different thinking in span of just couple of years. That also supports the notion that end user (troops) were NOT happy with b-pup.
        I do not think they would be upset with me with for my critical remarks at all because they knew it too soon and well enough.

        Still back to what I said in initial remarks about action/ bolt carrier assembly. It is visually finicky and fragile with machining shortcuts. But I do not want to guess on strength and durability – I believe it is there.

        • It’s also possible that the QBZ-95 was even originally intended just for fully mechanized troops with IFVs, whereas the other troops continued to use the Type 81. The QBZ-03 was then developed to eventually replace the Type 81.

          The PLA is a very big army by any standards and it still has a lot of units that are basically motorized (not mechanized) infantry and ride to battle in very basic APCs such as the Type 63. For such use the compactness of the individual soldier’s rifle is less important.

  5. As I understand it the demand for ambidextrous shooting came from a US Army specification, which made all the companies that wanted to bid for the potential contract develop adaptable rifles . Is that correct?

    Ian’s point about this rifle being usable on a right hander’s weak side is surely more relevant to the real world! than demanding a gun to be changeable so left handers can shot on their natural side? Is there any battle rifle the can be changed from fully right to left handed firing in a few seconds? If there isn’t then the ability to fire around either right or left handed corners is surely much more useful than left handers having to train less?

  6. Left to right is most easily accomplished with the Beretta 5.56mm rifle, ARX. There are any number of other issues with it, however.

    Left to right can be done with the AUG, albeit not very rapidly.

    I’ve got a non “battle rifle” sub-carbine from Beretta that can be converted fairly rapidly, but unfortunately for the south paw, not every control can be…

    Some rifles and carbines that should work OK for lefties simply do not… I’m looking at you M1 carbine! The Chinese, or the Canadians, might put a flange of some kind on the rear of the ejection port to further save the southpaw’s teeth…

    I sure like my Chinese Type 56 SKS, that is certain!

  7. Hi Ian,
    May I suggest an alternative way to swap magazines using your left hand?
    Keep your right hand on the pistol grip while reaching for the magazine with your left hand. Wrap three fingers and a thumb around the magazine and press the magazine release with your left index finger. ….. try to picture holding a pistol in your left hand while trying to shoot yourself in the right shoulder.

    I will only briefly mention a peculiarity in Canadian gun laws: rifles are only allowed 5-round magazines but pistols are allowed 10-round magazines. Canadian gun stores sell hundreds more AR-15 pistol magazines than AR-15 pistols. You do the math …….
    Similarly, .50 calibre Beowolf magazines fit into Type 97 rifles. Guess how many 5.56mm rounds you can load into a Beowolf 5-round magazine?
    Remember that inserting a 10-round magazine into a rifle is a sin in Canada.

    On the subject of magazines, most STANAG metal magazines fit into Type 97, but plastic magazines need a few minutes sanding to fit quickly.
    As for sights, aftermarket “flat top” upper hand guards are sold in Canada. FT uppers include Picatinny rails that are compatible with most western optics.
    Similarly, aftermarket Type 95A lower hand guards are available with the safety switch above the trigger, on the left side.
    Finally, Norinco also sells a 12 guage shotgun version in Canada. It has the early Type 95 trigger guard. I only fired a few rounds through a Notinco bullpup shotgun, but it jammed a couple of times.

    Speaking of jamming, a few Type 97 owners have had problems with bullets striking the rear face of the barrel and getting jammed too deep into cases. The solution involves grinding a shallower angle to ease feeding.

  8. The operating/cocking rod seems to “bounce” a lot during the firing cycle. This would indicate that the rifle is set up “loose”, probably to ensure functioning under adverse conditions, which is good. However, that virtually open-topped receiver with that huge slot for the rod and cocking handle seems made to order to dump half the landscape into the action.

    While the forward-right ejection was fairly consistent, I saw at least one empty bounce off the shooter’s shoulder and another one go up and back. This is probably going to be an aggravation for even right-handed shooters.

    The relative ineffectiveness of the iron sights would indicate that the rifle is intended to be used mainly with optical sights, like the SA80 and G36. It’s worth noting that a search for images of this or the later QBZ03 rifle shows they almost always have at least a low-power optical sight mounted in PLA service. I expect one of the first “add-ons” for this rifle will be an attachment for its optical sight rail with a U.S. pattern accessory or “Picatinny” rail on top for optical sight mounting.

    As the rifle stands, however, a “flat-top” version like most modern AR-15s is not practical due to the cocking handle location. A major redesign of the upper receiver would be necessary to put an optical sight lower relative to the boreline.

    The overall impression I have is that this rifle was mainly intended to replace an SMG rather than a full-on infantry rifle. In such a role, its limitations in purely rifle-type shooting would be less relevant. It would be used for roughly-aimed suppressive fire at ranges under 100 meters, on full-auto, and for that it would probably be “pointed” more than it would actually be “aimed”. This might be considered an insight into PLA tactical doctrines.



  9. The law of unintended consequences in action. A five round mag law simply improves reload speed and probably saves on wasted ammo. It does present the problem that since there’s no give in a 30 round mag pinned to five loading one with the bolt forward will be more difficult than it should be.

    • This 5 round mag capacity stipulated by gun law is a royal BS. I once in 1990s bought vz.52/57 and was happy with the purchase since I paid very reasonable price $200. Consequently and “to make sure” as proverbial rule teaches, went to police to check its legality. Officer on site measured only barrel length with verdict : fully unrestricted. No one was bothered with 10rd mag hen. Now I am afraid to take it to range. I suppose I could if I destroyed its historical value and busted magazine to suit the law. I am certainly not going to do that and have it just like keepsake instead.

      • If a pop rivet in a witness hole suffices a plug glued in the bottom should be enough to pass the very, very remote chance of inspection.

  10. The major reason to allow a person to shoot long guns on the left shoulder is you really want to be using your dominant eye. Not all right-handers are right eye dominant, just as not all left-handers are left eye dominant. The dominant eye is the one the brain wants to use to point at things. With handguns, one can simply tilt the head to line up the sights with the appropriate eye. Not so with a long gun.

    Most people can train their off-hand to run the gun, but that normally doesn’t work too well when it come to eyes.

    I’m told that helicopter pilots with the helmet mounted eyesight have to be right eye dominant to use it correctly. There are no left eye versions, as they are very expensive targeting systems. Had a friend who designed one back in the early 90’s, and he said the optical design was a real challenge, and they weren’t interested in trying to do a mirror image system, as the military wasn’t willing to fund it, or stock it. It was part of the helmet, not an add-on.

    • You are bringing valuable point to discussion. My own situation was similar as you describe: right-handed with predominant LEFT eye which was also the better one btw. But hold it right there: it has changed. I had pupil replacement operation in RIGHT eye and now my pre-dominant eye is the right one. There was no reach into nerves behind the eye.

      There is easy check – you form triangle with thumbs and index fingers of both hands. Look at an object some 10-20m ahead of you with both eyes open. When you alternately close one eye and see the same image as with both eyes, that is your pre-dominant eye. So it appears it is more that just ‘hard-wiring in your brain.

      • I’m a southpaw with a dominant right eye. So the fact that most weapons more advanced than crossbows are designed for right-handers has never bothered me much.

        Interestingly, the old single-action revolvers like the Colts and lever-action rifles like the Winchesters are more easily manipulated during reloading if you’re left handed, as the loading operations are mainly a right-handed evolution. The left gets to hold on to the thing while the right does the complicated bit.

        I’ve yet to see a Western movie or TV show that explored just what a not-so-obvious but very real advantage this must have given a sinestrous shootist in the frontier era.

        Even The Left-Handed Gun (1958) missed it. Probably because in actuality, the Kid was a right-hander;



        • Paul Newman used to be my favored actor; what a character!
          Did he really play left-handed in that movie, or he genuinely was?

        • Crossbows are probably ambidextrous only because there is really nothing in their design that would require favoring the right hand.

          As for revolvers, I have for a long time found it funny how most people think that the “standard” way of opening a swing-out cylinder to the left is more natural for a right-handed person and the “French” way (in the Mle 1892) is the odd way. In reality it appears to be a matter of convention.

          Even when loading a swing-out cylinder revolver the operation requiring the most fine motor control is inserting the cartridges in the chambers, unless you use a speed loader, which most people back in the day did not use. So, for a right-handed person using the right hand for loading is as inherently appropriate as it is with loading gate revolvers, even though it requires switching the gun to the left hand. Of course everybody soon got used to the cylinders swinging left and that became the “normal” way.

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