Reader Texan asks:
In line with your previous article (Best AR-15 for First Time Black Rifle Owners), what is a good AK-47 for the first time AK-er?
The AK-47 system is the most popular firearm ever produced no matter what metric you use. Firearms produced, worldwide ownership, countries that issue it to their troops — Mozambique even has it prominently displayed on its flag. As with any popular firearm, many different configurations have been developed to fill different roles, but for a first time buyer the choice is obvious. Before we get to that, let’s talk a little bit about the design and history of the AK-47.
The original design for the AK-47 was as a replacement for the main battle rifle of the Soviet Union. They wanted something with the portability and rate of fire of a PPS-43, but “stopping power” and penetration comparable to the Mosin Nagant m1891/30. Intermediate steps like the SVT-40 and the SKS proved useful in combat, but the predominantly wood construction and relatively intricate machining required for such guns made production on a large scale problematic.
The AK-47, designed mostly by a team led by Mikhail Kalashnikov (but integrating parts from other competing designs as well), was the ideal weapon for the Soviet Union. The simple metal receiver and parts meant that they could be turned out in great numbers and required fewer raw materials than previous weapons, the operation was so simple that Ukrainian peasants could be quickly trained on its use, and the extended 30-round magazines (something only seen in machine guns to this point) meant the soldier could be more effective for longer periods of time. An improved version, the AKM, used a stamped instead of a milled receiver and became the most widely produced firearm ever.
The original design, using the 7.62x39mm round, was built in a vast number of different designs and by many different arsenals behind the Iron Curtain. Variants included the RPK (heavy barrel and bipod for machine gun use), AKMS (folding stock for airborne troops), and the AKS (for use in armored vehicles).
After the Vietnam conflict the Soviet powers that be got it into their heads that a .22 caliber projectile was the way to go, seeing the space and weight saving benefits as well as wanting to go with the “modern” trend of firearms development. The AK-47 was redesigned to accept a new cartridge, the 5.45x39mm round, and became known as the AK-74. This “improved” AK would be the weapon of choice for decades to come, a lighter weapon with less recoil and one which was easier to control in fully automatic fire.
In reality, there are two “best” AK pattern rifles because there are two major calibers. For those who want an AK because of the enjoyable recoil of the 7.62x39mm round (or its penetration capability) there’s an AK-47 variant, and for someone who wants a fun shooter with cheap ammo that will last a lifetime there’s a 5.45x39mm AK-74 variant. Unfortunately (or fortunately?) the popularity of the AK pattern firearm has meant a massive increase in importation of different kinds and one specific model designation won’t be valid for more than a few weeks (while it’s in stock). So instead, I’m going to list off the features that a first time AK buyer should look for, no matter what caliber their heart desires.
- Fixed full stock. This is probably the most important feature new AK buyers will want. Some AKs come with folding or swinging stocks to make them more useful to troopers in confined spaces, but it makes getting a cheek weld impossible and makes the gun feel terrible. If you really want an underfolding AK stock go for it, but just realize that you might regret it later.
- Stamped receiver. Some people prefer milled receivers (machined from a single block of material) but for a first time buyer the weight and cost savings of a stamped receiver outweigh the benefits of a milled receiver. I’m not saying that if you find one for a great price you shouldn’t buy it, instead I’m suggesting you focus your search on the more popular stamped variety.
- Threaded muzzle. The vast majority of AK pattern rifles came from the factory with some form of threaded muzzle so they could take muzzle brakes and other fun things. Some rifles, like the WASR-10, have a nut “permanently” welded to cover these threads, but that can be removed with a Dremmel. In fact, it may actually be harder to find an AK without a muzzle device. Anyway, I recommend you have one.
- Side accessory rail. The AK series rifle often has a funky looking mount on the left side of the receiver. This was designed to allow shooters to quickly add or remove optics from the rifle, including all manner of scopes and red dot sights. The Soviet equivalent of the AR’s top rail.
Any AK is better than no AK, but of the AKs I’ve fired I have four solid recommendations.
- GP 1975. This gun, made by CAI and pictured at the top of the article, is a mostly American manufactured version of the AK-47 in 7.62x39mm. It works great, and it’s currently running about $420 (cheaper than the imports).
- Romanian AK-MV / WASR-10. The Romanian imported AK pattern rifles in 7.62x39mm have historically been of superb quality and low price. The ones my friends have purchased have had the muzzle threads covered by a nut, but that was easy to remove. $450.
- Arsenal SSGL31. This Russian made AK-74 pattern rifle in 5.45x39mm has proven to be of excellent quality and beautiful as well. Which is great, because the price tag of $800ish is a little steep. Just make sure you’re 922(r) compliant.
- Polish Tantal AK-74. There have been some issues with the barrels being of the wrong caliber (5.56 not 5.45), so make sure to check your targets for keyholing. CAI (who assembles them) has been very good about replacing defective guns. It does have a wire folding stock, but at $410 I could live with it.
Almost any gun store sells AKs, but the cheapest place I’ve found is Classicarms.us (praise Jesus). The website is right out of 1999 but the deals are great and the products have been top notch.
If you have a topic you want to see covered in a future “Ask Foghorn” segment, email firstname.lastname@example.org.