We here at 248 are huge fans of the AR platform be it a 15,22,10 and so on. In fact we have been accused of not giving the AK its due. Since I am no expert on the AK platform we invited Keith the opportunity to share some of his knowledge on the topic.
While I had no intent of owning an AK before this article the idea of having one in reserve is becoming more attractive. See for yourself and decide if you agree with Keith’s synopsis.
Meme’s aside ladies and gents, I am serious. The modern Kalashnikov series of rifles made both foreign and domestically are some of the most versatile platforms on the market today. Though General Kalashnikov is no longer with us (old news I know) his addition to the modern rifles of today still stands among the very best, even 67 years later.
Putting aside all the technological fascination with modularity that is oh so popular in today’s innovate gun culture we’re going to talk about picking a do it all tool under a series of very real world limitations that we might face if we needed a rifle today, as in now. Under these limiting factors the AK shines through. Objectively speaking, it’s good at a great many tasks, and exceptional at one very critical one, reliability.
We’re going to explore getting the most bang for your buck (lame pun absolutely intended) in not only a financial sense, but in a minimalist functional sense and a physical limitations sense also.
So why does the AK excel so much when we’re limited in one or more ways? Simple…
Simple to operate
Simple to maintain
Inexpensive to maintain, own, and operate
Let me explain why I purchased mine. It is my oldest rifle, my least expensive rifle (with the exception of my .22), and was purchased with the mindset of it being my only rifle, maybe even my only firearm.
Simple to Operate
The controls on the AK platform are straight forward. It has a massive safety selector lever, a trigger, charging handle, magazine catch, and notch and post sights. That’s about it.
The safety cannot be mistaken for anything but. It blocks function in both the trigger mechanism and the action cycling. It also acts as a dust cover of sorts to keep the action and trigger housing clean inside the receiver, not that the rifle is dirt sensitive in the least.
The charging handle is on the right side of the rifle. It’s a reciprocating design, meaning it moves back and forth as the action cycles during firing.
In fact the charging handle is one piece with the bolt carrier. Simple
This almost crude design of charging handle placement stems from the rifle’s development, and flies in the face of most modern designs in which even a reciprocating charging handle is usually a separate piece (see SCAR, Sig 556/556xi). The charging handle’s placement is in contrast to modern firearm manipulation technique as well, emphasis being put on doing things with the support hand and not the shooting hand. This was not, however, the technique of the time when the rifle was fielded. This was due to what the AK (and other modern rifles) was replacing.
The Mosin-Nagant rifle is a classic from WWII era, designed and fielded in 1891 it is still in service today in corners of the world, and is a huge hit on the US surplus market.
It’s a conventional right hand side bolt manual manipulation rifle. The soldiers of Russia and the Soviet States trained on it as such, so to keep training consistent the AK was designed for right side manipulation by the shooting hand. This basic technique is still taught today in foundational use of the AK in nations who carry it as their service rifle. It is very easy to learn.
Personally I prefer the second technique, despite not seeing the chamber. It requires much less movement of the rifle and keeps the rifle at the same angle I change the magazine at. It’s also the same angle I change pistol magazines at.
Consistency and simplicity keep learning curves short and training more cost effective.
The sights are also intuitively simple.
Put the front post in the V notch and squeeze the trigger. They aren’t as precise as peep rifle sights and the 1000m setting is very optimistic about the rifle’s capabilities but they certainly get the job done and are a bit faster on target than the peep sight, an advantage on many levels where time is a factor.
All in all this is a quick platform to gain proficiency with, nothing fancy on it, not even last round bolt hold open. (I don’t count the magazines that hold the action open, not part of the rifle and not useful in my experience). Everything you absolutely need and nothing you don’t.
More factors in the AKs favor include mild recoil (especially with muzzle device, AK74 style) and an incredibly effective round out to 250m (7.62x39mm) that will cover just about any use you would need. Hunting, defense, target shooting, etc., there is not an absolute need for a longer distance or a larger round from a minimalist do it all rifle (wanting more capabilities is an entirely different thing, we’re talking about basic checks in the boxes of necessity).
The Russians studied and concluded after WWII that they didn’t need beyond 300m capability from a service rifle, this holds true today, engagements are closer more often than not and defensively speaking they can be at wall to wall distances or less the majority of the time. If we’re using a rifle to defend our home, it is close quarters my friends.
AKs today are chambered in 5 popular and relatively inexpensive calibers. We will focus on 7.62x39mm, the original Soviet M43 round, but they also come in 5.45x39mm (AK74), 5.56x45mm (.223 Rem, ARs), 7.62x51mm (.308 WIN, M14/M1A), and 7.62x54R (Mosin-Nagant, Dragonuv). The AK pattern rifles in the corresponding calibers have basic capabilities along the lines of other semi-autos in the corresponding caliber. You will not find an AK at a Camp Perry match, however.
Keeping ourselves on the 7.62x39mm keeps us on our goal of maximum economy on our rifle effectiveness. It compares favorably to the 30-30 cartridge popular in hunting for decades in nearly every performance aspect. Those are definitely capabilities we can work with to produce results. We’ll cover some more advantages of the cartridge in a bit.
I am by no means saying the other calibers are inferior or not useful. In some roles they outperform the 7.62x39mm by a wide margin, but for overall utility in covering as many bases as possible in the best possible manner for our ‘one and only’ rifle, it makes sense to use 7.62x39mm.
So in conclusion, our limitations being training time and/or accessibility, the AK maximizes what time we can take by being very simple to operate and use. There are the barest essentials to make it run and we can focus on mastering the manipulation of those to put our rounds where the need to go. The moderate and fairly well mitigated recoil is another plus making the AK an exceptionally user-friendly rifle.
Simple to Maintain
Oh look, 5 parts, just one more than a Glock pistol for the very basic breakdown. We can flip one more lever to take the gas tube off and with a few minutes more work the handguards come off also without much effort. But to keep the gun running we don’t need to go further than this in our take down. Then a rag, some cleaner, and a .30 caliber bore snake is more than enough to keep it functional. Oh and the parts are big, huge even by some standards and really are hard to damage or lose (See AR15 firing pin retainer pin, little bastard)
Having gone on a joint training mission to Africa, the soldiers we were operating beside had high opinion of their AK rifles. When asked what their maintenance and repair schedules were like with the guns they all gave a similar response, “Why, what maintenance?” The AKs were like Bic lighters, run them until they fall apart then get a new one. Not to say they didn’t clean them or know how to take the rifle apart, but compared to the nearly surgically precise cleaning we did with M16’s and M4’s (which doesn’t last a second in fine sand by the way) what they required to keep the guns running was nothing.
Just looking for ammo as I type this, both Hollow Point and FMJ are available starting at $.21 per shot add in shipping and you’re probably looking at about a quarter for every round you send down range. The much more versatile soft point comes in at $.23 per shot before shipping and the exceptional Hornady SST is $.66 a round.
Feeding an AK in 7.62×39 is about as economical as it gets for the performance factor (30-30, in contrast, starts at $.70 as I write this and goes up on the wallet trauma from there). Even with Hornady’s SST three $20’s and a $10 get you 3 full magazines of ammo (two 30 round magazines and a 40 rounder)
Speaking of magazines, decent quality magazines of both the polymer and steel variety can be acquired for about $9 on up. Tapco and Magpul full polymer magazines (both brands have worked very well for me) are going for around $14. The steel reinforced magazines like the US Palm start around $30. All of these are fairly easy to find at the moment.
And what might getting an AK into your hands cost?
Starting for about $600 you can put a Romanian, Egyptian, or Yugoslavian import that has been 922r’d (put back into a more classic AK look using American made parts to be compliant with US law) and you can go all the way up to $1900 with something like a Krebs Custom build.
KV13 Rifle from Krebs, $1,850
On a side note I do find it odd that certain persons in our community find it perfectly normal to drop around $2,100 on a piston AR like an LWRCi but look at a quality AK at $1,000 and decry the price as gouging. This theory seems to surmount in the conclusion that a tuned action, trigger, hammer forged chrome lined barrel and bore, upgraded handguards, upgraded stock, and high quality sights somehow magically become much less expensive when shaped like a Kalashnikov rifle.
To get a mass-produced item of decent quality you’ll pay $600, to get a well-built and much more attention to detail oriented product you must, as with just about anything, invest more. This is not to say that you see a WASR 10/63 rifle for $550 and one for $900 that the $900 rifle is clearly better. Buyer awareness will find you a fair price but you cannot expect a firearm to cost less than the quality put into it is worth just because it is an AK. If I were to list all the features of one of these high quality rifles, minus the fact it was an AK or from an AK manufacturer, it would read very much like an FN SCAR, Bushmaster ACR, or any of the new 21st century rifle designs that usually sit closer to $2,000 than $1,000.
As a personal observation quality AK’s tend to be less expensive than their AR counterparts, but only by a margin of 20% give or take.
I’m a fan of K-VAR and Arsenal’s SGL21 line of AK rifles and they run about $1,000 MSRP. In my opinion, an equivalent AR would probably be a Daniel Defense, or a very basic Noveske like the Recce (currently list at $1,730 MSRP)
It is comparing apples to oranges, the rifles are different enough that side by side serves only to show that both guns run well and operate differently. Let the AR vs. AK internet war rage on!
I chose a different path.
I’m going to let Tim Harmsen of Military Arms Channel take this one.
A number of others of Youtube fame have similarly abused their AK rifles and for the most part the gun doesn’t care. The better quality of the rifle, the more reliable it is. Duh?
That’s not to say they’re infallible, far from it. I’ve had stoppages with mine, usually due to ammo (soft point doesn’t feed as easily) or a very cheap and out of specification magazine (combined with the soft point ammo). Those two items combined caused two stoppages for me on my personal rifle. I tossed the magazine and used a properly spec’d one and it fed the rest of my rounds fine.
And those two stoppages with that magazine were the only two I’ve had… in over 5,000 rounds (which in itself is amazing, I shoot cheap ammo, usually one fails to fire now and then, but not with the 7.62×39)
So my friends, I bought my AK several years ago with the goal in mind of it fulfilling every niche I needed from a rifle because I couldn’t afford multiple guns. It was my hunting rifle, my target rifle, my fun gun at the range, my teaching assistant, and my “bump in the night” gun.
It still is my number one fighting rifle, the one I will move to with my bedside handgun to resist whoever has chosen so poorly to attack me or my family.