The AK platform is the most popular semi-automatic rifle (and fully-automatic rifle) pretty much of the entire last century. Say what you want, but more have been made than any other platform of rifle. The M1 Garand had its day after 30 years and the AR platform comes close. But the Kalashnikov is more widely distributed than almost any other firearm.
For the person looking for a semi-auto rifle, AK pattern rifles are almost as widely available as AR-15 rifles. Aftermarket support is almost as good. The selection of available rifles and ammunition is up there, too.
Just as with buying an AR-platform rifle these days, it’s a buyer’s market. A plethora of AK-47-style rifles, SBRs and AK pistols is there for the buying, so it’s really up to you to determine what you want from a rifle and how much you want to pay for it.
Some folks just want one they can pop off a few rounds at the range with, and that’s fine. Some want something that will see a little more strenuous use. That much will be up to you, but let’s run down some of the rifle’s features you need to know about. This isn’t so much a buyer’s guide in terms of individual makes and models, but more about some general features of the AK-47 platform.
First, let’s talk about the receiver. The standard for the AK-47 a stamped receiver, which literally stamped out of sheet metal. This simplicity of construction makes the standard Avtomat Kalashnikova (Kalashnikov’s automatic rifle) rifle easy and cheap to produce.]
A milled receiver is milled (machined) from solid metal stock.
The first AK-47s were milled, but production stalled and adoption was slow until the introduction of the AKM, an improved model with a stamped receiver. The AK-74 that replaced it in the 70s was likewise stamped. However, the SVD Dragunov sniper rifle, which is based upon the AK’s operating system, has always been milled.
An AK with a stamped receiver will have looser tolerances than one with a milled receiver. Tighter tolerances in a rifle (or any gun) will contribute to greater accuracy (less space, less gas is bled off, etc.) though not exponentially so, but also requires a bit more frequent care for the utmost in reliable operation.
The typical AKs in gun stores and online are usually stamped receivers. Sometimes they’re made overseas and imported, sometimes the parts are imported but assembled stateside (Century Arms and Arsenal, for instance) and sometimes they’re made entirely in the USA, such as in the case of DDI’s guns.
For most people’s purposes (punching paper) it’s not going to make much of a difference whether their receiver is milled or stamped. If competition or medium range hunting is also on the table, then milled could be better for the utmost in accuracy.
Where will your first AK come from? They have been made in many countries, but most of the AKs you’re likely to find will be of eastern European origin. Romanian AKs are heavily present in the market, with Bulgarian, Russian and American-made AKs also being fairly widely available.
Common Romanian examples include the WASR-10. Arsenal Inc’s USA-assembled rifles are often of Bulgarian origin such as their SAM line. Authentic Russian AK-47s can be hard to source, as Kalashnikov Concern was sanctioned by the federal government after the invasion of the Ukraine. Kalashnikov Concern’s subsidiaries include Baikal, Izhmash and Saiga.
Kalashnikov USA – which is not related to the Russian Kalashnikov Concern – is now making Saiga-style shotguns stateside (above).
You also might find the odd gun made in China or Egypt.
American-made AKs include Century Arms’ C39v2 and others. Again, some USA-made AK rifles are merely assembled here with parts sourced elsewhere – such as the Yugo/NPAP AK-47; the parts are made by Zastava in Serbia – and others are made from the ground-up here. It all depends on who you buy it from.
The most affordable makes/models will likely be Eastern European imports, though some of the USA-made rifles are plenty affordable too.
Next, as to the barrel…look for chrome-lined ones. Chrome-lined barrels stand up well to abuse, but the real reason you want to is because of the ammunition. When many buy a bunch of 7.62x39mm ammunition for their AK, they tend to get the cheap surplus stuff. Former Soviet bloc ammunition is made with corrosive primers. You either need to clean your gun immaculately and right after every shooting session or get a chrome-lined barrel to hedge against it.
The good news: you don’t even need to buy a high-priced AK to get one with a chrome lined barrel Even some of the budget guns have them.
Another feature to know about is the muzzle brake. The AKM variant added a slight extension to the barrel, the iconic slant-cut muzzle brake. This helps counter muzzle climb during rapid fire, a known peccadillo of AK-pattern rifles. While not as uncontrollable as many American soldiers found the M14 to be – the 7.62x39mm round is basically a rimless .30-30 though with a bit less power – it’s still a handful.
Some guns will have the classic crowned barrel, others will have the slant-cut and still others will have a full muzzle brake. While they are useful features in rapid fire, they also make a lot of racket. It sort of depends on what you want; some people don’t care for them. I’d opt for the slant-cut. You get the muzzle brake and it has the vintage AK look.
Some rifles wear the typical wood furniture – stock, pistol grip and fore-end – and others come with polymer furniture. Again, it depends on who you’re buying from. Just like the AR, you can customize an AK rifle within an inch of its life. Every single part can be sourced from an aftermarket maker in the US or elsewhere; from the bolt carrier and charging handle to furniture, sights and so on. Railed models can easily be fitted with a red dot or other optic, and so very much more.
But be aware that AKs tend to be less standardized than AR platform rifles. AK’s aren’t as plug-and-play and aftermarket parts may take some work to run on your rifle.
If you’re planning on installing optics, a good move is to buy a rifle with a railed upper receiver. That way, the work is easy. However, there is a workaround if you don’t; get a fore-end with a rail on top and you can install a red dot or a scout scope if so desired. Otherwise, you’ll have to content yourself with the steel front sight and rear sight.
Another aspect to be aware of concerns the magazines. Since so many different companies make and sell these rifles, some will not accept all AK magazines from all manufacturers. Some will, some won’t, but that’s not entirely unheard of when it comes to other semi-automatic rifles or pistols, for that matter.
Now, a couple of things you should know before you get into AKs.
First, the trigger is known for being on the heavy side. The magazine release is often awkward at first and the safety lever is known for being a bit stiff. These are some features that some people owners upgrade, as parts are available from plenty of aftermarket suppliers such as Krebs and others who offer solutions.
Ammunition, as mentioned, will have corrosive primers if you buy inexpensive bulk surplus Eastern bloc ammo. Good, clean, wholesome American ammunition won’t have this problem, but will cost you more…though some cheap import ammo (Tul, for instance) is sold with non-corrosive primers.
With all that said, the AK-47 is a very viable semi-automatic rifle platform, whether your purpose is home defense, punching paper, or hunting with appropriate ammunition. It’s also a great choice for a trunk or SHTF rifle.
What do you think though? Is there anything else the interested newbie should know about buying their first AK? Finally accepted that pineapple DOES go on pizza? Sound off in the comments!