So You Want to Run a Kalashnikov?
The AK is the most iconic and widely recognized firearm in the world. Developed by the Soviets in the aftermath of World War II, the AK was designed to be a reliable and rugged weapon that could be produced quickly and inexpensively on a mass scale. Today, the AK remains one of the most popular rifles in the world, and is often cited for its durability, simplicity, and versatility. But does all that mean it's the right rifle for you? In this post, we'll go over things to consider when contemplating using a Kalashnikov as a go-to rifle.
Reliability and Durability
One of the main selling points of the AK platform is its legendary reliability. The AK was designed to be able to function in a wide range of conditions, from arctic cold to desert heat, and to require minimal maintenance to keep running. A few key design features that help with this reliability are as follows:
The AK's overall simple design. Just a few moving parts and less stuff like springs and gas rings that need to be replaced.
A robust long-stroke gas piston system that is able to cycle reliably through dirt and debris.
Over gassing (on purpose) to slam that big heavy bolt carrier to the rear and send that spent case to the moon.
The aggressive tapered case of the 7.62x39 (and 5.45x39). This taper means that the cartridge has plenty of space between its body and the chamber walls until it is fully seated, allowing for a smooth and easy insertion process. Additionally, when the extractor pulls the cartridge from the chamber, there is minimal resistance, even when the gun is subjected to high round counts and extreme environmental conditions.
All that being said, now adays there is a lot of very reliable rifles to choose from. Simply put, I think what separates the AK is the level of low/no maintenance required to keep it running in the field.
While the AK is not generally known for its precision or long-range accuracy, it is still a capable and effective rifle for most practical purposes. I believe much of the Kalashnikovs bad reputation for accuracy actually comes from the ammunition. When it comes to AR15s and 5.56x45, cheap Russian steel case is generally considered the lowest quality ammo you can get and that accounts for basically all of the AK ammo on the market.
AKs in the US are most commonly chambered in 7.62x39 so that's what we'll be going over. The 7.62x39 is relatively affordable and widely available. When political stuff gets spicy and people start panic buying ammo, the 7.62x39 historically hovers around the same price and generally stays on the shelves. Only recently with the war in Ukraine has the price climbed to be about the same as cheap 5.56.
Most loadings of 7.62x39 go transonic around the 500 yard mark. As it passes back through the sound barrier, the bullets trajectory will become unpredictable so I wouldn't expect to make repeatable impacts beyond that. However... holdovers past 300 yards begin to get pretty big so that's probably a more realistic expectation for making repeatable, predictable impacts. Can hits be made beyond these ranges? absolutely, but with the low ammo quality and most guys likely sporting a red dot I believe that's going to be the exception. So in short, inside of 300 yards (where most engagements take place) it's a great option with acceptable accuracy, good terminal performance and barrier penetration.
The weight of an AK loadout is something you should think about as well. A pretty standard loadout these days is 7 mags total. A loaded steel AK mag weighs about 1.13 lbs for a total ammo weight of 7.91 lbs for 7 mags. A loaded Pmag with 55gr 5.56 weighs 1lb on the dot meaning you can carry 8 mags for about the same weight. So if you're carrying less than 7 mags it's pretty negligible but something to consider.
Accessories and Modifications
While the AK platform has historically been associated with relatively limited aftermarket support compared to other popular rifles like the AR-15, now adays there's a ton of accessories and modifications available for those looking to customize their rifle.
One of the most important considerations when choosing AK accessories is weight, particularly at the front end of the rifle. The Ak is already a little nose heavy and adding excessive weight can negatively affect the rifle's balance. Sometimes you need lasers, lights and suppressors and you can't avoid a bunch of extra weight. That being said, when choosing stuff to throw on your AK try to opt for the lighter weight options if you can.
Heat is another big one, the Ak is known for getting pretty hot up front. Mounting systems with railed gass tubes like the Ultimak (pictured below), Sureshot USA MK1, SLR, Troy etc... will get especially toasty so gloves are a must.
There hasn't been nearly as much development in nylon gear designed for AK magazines as there has been for AR-15 magazines. However, in recent years, some companies (like ours) have started to address this issue by developing chest rigs and placards, that can accommodate AK magazines. In some cases, you can make AR pouches work but it's usually not optimal. Most AR mag pouches don't have enough space built in to accommodate the locking lugs on AK mags. Those locking lugs will hang up on everything and the sharp metal edges can cause undue wear and tear on pouches that are too tight. If you need nylon gear for your AK mags here are a couple of things we make that could fit your needs.
X39 Mag Shingle (Works plate carriers)
VOLK (Works with plate carriers or as a chest rig)