Which Gun Should I Buy: AR-15 or AK-47?

I’m in the market for a carbine. Don’t need it. I’ve got a perfectly serviceable Remington 870 Wingmaster shotgun in .12 gauge that handles the home defense chores just fine, thank you. I’m the proud owner of a 1911 semi-auto .45 ACP that shoots just dandy. I’ve got access to my dad’s .38 special wheel-gun, should the mood strike me. And yet I’d like to own a carbine. Maybe do some plinking. Target practice. Whatever. When I set my sights on something, I do my homework. I want to know the pros and cons of a given model. In my initial research, two weapons have jumped to the fore: the AR-15 and the AK-47. Once I narrowed my choice down to these two models, my research veered sharply into the realm of the kind of religious zealotry normally reserved for discussing Macs versus PCs. Or Jesus vs. Allah.

For [both of] the uninitiated, Don Gammill Jr.’s series on the AR-15 is coming down the pike. Suffice it to say, the AR-15 is the civilian version of the military’s M-16. Most commonly chambered in .223, the AR-15′s available in a variety of calibers, all the way down to the .22 LR. The AR-15 is to rifles what the Jeep is to SUVs, the 1911 is to handguns: a jack of all trades you can customize any way you like.

The AK-47 was originally designed by Mikhail Kalishnikov back in ’47 (Automatik Kalishnikov 1947) and quickly became the workhorse of the Soviet military, and all their satellite states. Since replaced with first the AKM and then the AK-74, the AK-47, chambered in 7.62mm, is something akin to the Creative Commons licensed version of a rifle. It’s used all of the world, because it’s cheap to manufacture and requires very basic maintenance. There are millions and millions of them in active service around the globe.

The AR was designed to emphasize versatility. Originally created as a replacement for the the AR-10, both of which were originally designed by Eugene Stoner for ArmaLite (the “A” in AR-15). Early AR-15s/M-16s (the fully-auto version of the AR-15) had a bad rap in Vietnam, where they were first deployed. Early units acquired a reputation for jamming, fouling and malfunctioning at the most inopportune of times (i.e. “when your life depended on it.”)

Design modifications fixed those problems. But the design is still perceived to be more likely to foul and less likely to run under adverse conditions than the AK-47. On the other hand, a clean and fully-functional AR-15 is a highly accurate weapon. And fans report that it’s as reliable as any other rifle.

By contrast, the AK-47 was designed to be dragged through the muck and mire and still retain it’s ability to shoot. By reducing their design tolerances—a polite way of saying choosing cheap and fast over good)— Kalishnikov was able to render a weapon that was more reliable under adverse conditions. Accuracy was sacrificed—the principle rap against the AK.

As far as the battle for the customizing market, the AR wins, hands down. You can purchase laser sights, ring sights, lights, foregrips, folding stocks, uppers in a variety of calibers—everything but a coffeemaker for the AR-15. (And I’m not convinced that some enterprising aftermarket manufacturer hasn’t begun work on one.) While you can get a variety of add-ons for the AK, the choice of AR mods makes Mustangs look like Bugattis.

The AR-15 features a receiver made from machined aluminum. The AK is made from pressed metal. Most AKs you can buy are used or NOS (new, old stock – i.e.: surplus). Most AR-15s are new. You’ll pay a little more (on average) for the typical AR-15 than you will for most AK-47s, by maybe $400 to $500. Both are currently in fairly robust supply, following a shortage of ARs after the last Presidential election.

I’m leaning toward the AR-15, but I’m not ready to make that leap. A little range time should sort that right out. Of course, any help from TTAG’s armed intelligentsia would be most appreciated.


About Brad Kozak

Brad Kozak is an iconoclastic, curmudgeonly graphic designer/marketer/writer/musician/advertiser/conservative creative guy. In 2007, he completed a gradual transition from a conservative semi-pacifist to a proactive, armed citizen, willing to exercise his Second Amendment rights to protect his family and property. His idea of “gun control” is hitting where he aims.

19 Responses to Which Gun Should I Buy: AR-15 or AK-47?

  1. avatarMartin Albright says:

    Don't buy it, build it. You can build an AR and save a few bucks (read: About $150) over buying one off the shelf. You can also save quite a bit on tax if you mail order. You can also build exactly what you want. More than a few web sites on the internet will point you in the right direction.

    AKs used to have the market cornered on "cheap ammo" which was a point in their favor – but then two things happened: The AR market exploded, and the Russians (and others) got smart and started cranking out 5.56×45 (a/k/a .223 Remington) by the boatload and shipping it over here.

  2. avatarBrett says:

    Hi Brad,

    After going through your exact same motions, I would up purchasing both. Why? Why not? There are amazing deals to be had on an AK. Moreover, the AR platform can be fully customized to be a beautiful tack driver. My suggestion is an inexpensive AK (WASR10) and a fully-tricked out AR. That is the route I chose. Then you can have more fun at the range playing with two different platforms and learning their ideosyncracies.

    Start off slow with the AR and definitely go with Martin's suggestion of building it yourself and saving some money. What you will learn will be priceless.

    • avatardubbs says:

      Brett, good answer! Have a frankenstein AR carbine( bcm upper with govt profile chromed barrel) on delton lower tricked out with PSA lpk and Magpul furniture! To me , my AR is my prima donna. My knock around is my saiga IZ132-it took me an hour to “convert” it to truer AK comfiguration and its 922r correct.

      Both are fun to shoot, and both are tough. My build was just $150 cheaper than the colt 6920 at the local gun shop, and it’ll easily run around a colt thanks to the bcm upper, and h2 buffer. My saiga has benched 3in groups on iron sights,so it’ll do as expected. Both are great pride of ownership guns to me!

  3. avatarMartin Albright says:

    I will offer myself up as the poster child for building your own AR. Honestly, I have zero mechanical skills so if I can do it, any primate with opposable thumbs can do it.

  4. avatarMartin Albright says:

    By the way, I don't know whether to be cheered up or disappointed by the fact that you didn't take this post as another opportunity to post the Hello Kitty AR-15.

  5. avatarRobert Farago says:

    I'm saving the Hello Kitty pics for a post on that very topic. 'Cause we don't have nearly enough articles on that gun.

  6. avatarBrett says:

    You should see the Barrett M82 Dora the Explorer edition…

  7. avatarTyler D. says:

    Everyone harps on the AK for being "inaccurate". All the ones I've shot I can hit a 4×4 steel plate at 100 yards with the iron sights just fine. They are surprisingly accurate.

    • avatarTyler D. says:

      4 inch x 4 inch.

    • avatarRobert Fure says:

      The AR fanboys need something to harp on the AK for. The only real differences you'll see in accuracy are further out in the 200 yard+ range.

      • avatardubbs says:

        Rob-its not about being a fanboy! Had my saiga rifle( the closest in my opinion to a civilian owned REAL kalashnikov) for years before my AR build.

        At 100 to 200 yrds, the accuracy issue is moot( neither is a sniper system) but the AR is lighter, less recoil( important when accuracy and follow up shots are required), and I have yet to hear about and AK platform( 7. 62 or 5.45) winning a 3 gun competition.

        Also, had a neighbor deployed in fallujah as a marine. He admired the combat versions of the akm and ak 74s he said his platoon would “collect” after a fight, but he would NEVER replace his M16A4 or an M4!

  8. avatarDS says:

    I like the AK myself. It throws a .30 caliber slug that will defeat most intermediate barriers better than 5.56/.223. I started out an AR fan but after a couple of tours in Afganistan I saw just how the AK got it's reputation! And for most civilian encounters or just plinking, the AK will do nicely.
    Also 7.62×39 is STILL cheaper than 5.56/.223! Just my 2cents.

  9. avataravenger says:

    AK 47 is designed to take a life on 100 yards. The caliber 7.62 is able to penetrate a concrete block, and steel core round can go through 0.5 inch steel plate. A full jacket round can go through 1/8 inch steel plate. This is not the case for caliber 5.45. The round stuck inside a concrete block and smashed in front of 1/8 inch steel plate. This caliber is deadly against people dressed in pajamas, but 7.62×39 hollow point makes a lot of damage, same as 5.45 caliber.
    I bought a Yugoslavian AK 47 with parts of Military Zastava, and receiver produced by Century and assembled in USA. Under folded stock is a must. The slant muzzle brake is for amateurs, and worsens the accuracy. I replaced it with a Bulgarian with 4 side windows; the flash can’t obscure the sight. Added a recoil buffer, and replaced the steel wire, with a steel plate at the trigger system. With open sight, front sight at 1, distance 100 yards, I group 20 rounds at 4 inches. You have to know how to support the stock, on your shoulder, how to handle your body by bones, not by muscles and more. A have 26 years experience in army with AK 47 and now, I can use the Yugo one, with the same accuracy. No mater, that is only semi auto, the strength of recoil system is for auto, and if you are fast, can fire up to 8 rounds in a second. Tula or Wolf rounds are cheap, but one in 100 rounds misfire. It is a good idea to load the magazine’s, 3 first rounds to fire, with Winchester 7.62×39. AK 47 is not for haunting. AK 47 is a self-defense weapon, to take a life on 3 to 100 yards in self-defense. I hope never to use it, but I prefer to die with my AK 47 in my hands.

  10. avatarAmericani Di Merda says:

    The ultimate evolution:

  11. avatarNairaoffer says:

    I still have much love for 47

  12. avatarRedRabbit says:

    The AR-15 was designed to “reach out” (300yds+) and wound the enemy, causing them to use/risk more soldiers in the retrieval of their wounded comrades. The AK-47 is designed to operate in adverse conditions and put d**ks in the dirt. Fast. Which it does.
    Both guns also come in pistol variants that are perfect for the home or vehicle. Neither is better since both do exactly what they’re designed to do. Go with the AR platform if you’re looking to trick it out, shoot in competition, or put a strangle hold on an foreign government. If you want to win a competition of “You vs Them”, get an AK.

    AR-15 = H3
    AK-47= Humvee

  13. avatarBrian says:

    Does anyone know anything about the American made AK company I.O. inc. Out of Florida? I want to know how they compare to eastern block AK’s.

  14. avatarSid says:

    Having built one of each over the past 6 months or so I suggest, build at least one of each! A man can never have too many guns. As for AK accuracy, I can consistently shoot 2″/3 shot groups at 100 yds with my AK’s open sights. Considering what it was designed to do that is impressive or at least it impressed me. If you are going to build only one I’d make it an AR. They’re easier to build (if you have a mill available), more versatile, have more options for customization and .223 is now available at the same cost as 7.62X39. Plus of course you can shoot multiple calibers on the same lower if you choose.

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