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If you were asked to name the most unbiased reviewer on the planet, whom would you choose? We asked ourselves the same question and concluded none of the people, living or dead, would probably make it. When it comes to impartiality, there is only one truly objective reviewer: Time. Time can’t be bribed and doesn’t care about the trends. It eventually puts everything in its place, and everyone eventually receives all the glory or scorn that is due. The AK rifle belongs to the group that passed Time’s rigorous tests. It’s estimated that in 2004, around 20% of all rifles worldwide were AK variants. That staggering figure didn’t appear out of nowhere. This platform has been around for nearly 75 years, and there’s been plenty of time to see what it’s capable of. In this guide, we won’t be showering the AK platform with praise. Instead, we’ll simply guide you through the main aspects of choosing an AK rifle so that you could make your own deductions.
Table of Contents
Decide on the AK Generation
Choose the Caliber
Receiver: Milled or Stamped
Country of Origin
Is Chrome-lined Barrel a Must?
Consider Furniture Options
Now then, there are several generations, as we called them, of AK rifles. All the models on the list were overseen by Kalashnikov himself. For that reason, you can expect the same level of performance from each of the AKs, even though they are all slightly different. While they are discussed in chronological order, there were other models between them, but those will be left out of the spotlight for today.
The AK-47, the most recognizable of the series, was designed in Soviet Russia over seven decades ago and remains a favorite among gun enthusiasts worldwide. Its gas-operated system and 7.62x39mm chambering make it an incredibly reliable and versatile choice. It is also available in a wide range of configurations, from classic wood stock to side folding and collapsible stocks. The AK-47 is sometimes used as an umbrella term instead of just AK, which is somewhat erroneous. With that being said, the AK-47 was the beginning of it all, so such a substitution is explainable.
The AK-47 was a great rifle, but it had its drawbacks. To make up for them, Kalashnikov made some changes to the classic design. Thus the AKM model appeared. The AKM replaced the original milled receiver of the AK-47 with a new stamped-steel receiver, resulting in the rifle becoming lighter, more affordable, and production becoming more efficient. It had some other functional and cosmetic changes like an improved gas system, a new slanted muzzle brake and a ribbed receiver cover.
Then there was the AK-74, an altered version of the already improved AKM. The most notable change was the caliber: the rifle is chambered for the smaller and lighter 5.45x39mm cartridge. To accommodate a different cartridge, minor changes were made to all the internal parts. Among the more notable alterations are a different magazine receiver, redesigned front sights and a thinned bolt. This model also featured more plastic elements than the previous versions.
Finally, there is the AK-103 that made a return to the classic 7.62x39mm cartridge. This was one of the last models overseen by Kalashnikov himself. The rifle features a longer barrel than the AK-74 and has a muzzle brake that further reduces the recoil and makes it easier to control the gun during firing.
The question of choosing a model is not about finding the most reliable one. As we’ve mentioned before, the whole AK family is known for its reliability. It has more to do with your preferences and what you are looking for in a rifle. The AK-74 is the only model to be chambered in 5.45x39mm. This is not the most popular caliber, so procuring ammo, while not impossible, will be more complicated. The AKM rifle features a lighter receiver, which can be both a help and a hindrance, depending on whether you need increased stability or a lighter profile.
The choice of caliber is not as extensive as some might want it to be. However, one of the appeals of the AK series is the very caliber that was designed specifically for these rifles. The 7.62x39mm cartridge is still the most widely used caliber for AK rifles today and for good reason. It offers excellent performance for short to medium-range engagements.
Another popular caliber for AK rifles is the 5.45x39mm. The cartridge was developed in the 1970s by the Soviet Union as a replacement for the 7.62x39mm cartridge. It is smaller and lighter and performs accordingly. However, it doesn’t have 7.62×39’s popularity and is harder to procure.
For those who prefer a larger caliber, the 7.62x54mmR cartridge might be a good option. This cartridge is used in the Dragunov sniper rifle and offers excellent long-range performance. It is also capable of taking down large game animals so if you are a hunter with a particular liking for the AK series, there is a model that might pique your interest.
It would have been strange if, after having been on the American market for quite some time, the AK didn’t accommodate any of the local calibers. The adaptation took place, even if not in large volume. You can find AK rifles chambered in such popular calibers as 5.56×45 NATO and 9mm Luger
The stamped receiver was the first big change to the AK-47 design. Such receivers were easier and cheaper to produce on a mass scale. However, it was for a reason that the original design featured milled receivers. Now that you can choose freely between the two, it’s worth knowing their differences.
Milled receivers are machined from solid blocks of steel which makes them thicker and heavier than their stamped counterparts. These boast greater durability, as they are less likely to bend or warp under pressure. However, their weight can be a drawback for those who prefer a lighter firearm. On the other hand, milled receivers increase the stability of a rifle and make recoil a lesser problem.
Stamped receivers, on the other hand, are made of thin metal sheets that are stamped and folded into shape. This makes them lighter and more affordable than milled receivers. While they may not be as durable as their counterparts, their lifespan is by no means short. Stamped receivers are also cheaper to produce. Taking into account the trend for increasing prices of AK rifles, this trait makes them more affordable.
While both receivers are functional and reliable, your choice ultimately boils down to personal preference. If you prioritize durability and don’t mind a heavier firearm (and have money to get one), a milled receiver may be the best option. If, on the other hand, you prefer a lighter firearm and don’t want to overpay, then a stamped receiver is the way to go.
The import of Russian-made AKs was banned back in 2014. Even though it was the rifle’s cradle, it wasn’t the only country to produce them. As of now, the two major sources for the AK rifle market are the USA and Eastern Europe. The major American importers and manufacturers of AK rifles include Century Arms, Kalashnikov USA and Arsenal. The market of domestically produced AK guns has been growing in the last few years, which cannot but reassure connoisseurs of this rifle family. With that being said, imports from Romania, Bulgaria and Poland are equally worthy of your attention.
The answer to this question lies in the type of ammo you are planning to use. If you use ammunition with corrosive primers, which are common in some surplus Eastern-European-made cartridges, then a chrome-lined barrel is a must. The chrome lining helps prevent corrosion and wear from these primers and is generally sturdier than regular ones.
However, if you plan to use American-made ammo, the regular barrel will suffice. American-made ammo doesn’t use corrosive primers, so there’s less need for the added protection of a chrome-lined barrel. Such ammo will cost you more, but some importers, like TulAmmo, work with ammo with non-corrosive primers.
Traditional AK rifles featured wooden stocks, but with time, more polymer elements made their way onto the rifle. Today, you are free to choose from polymer and wooden furniture. This is how they are different.
Aesthetically pleasing: The traditional wooden furniture gives your AK rifle an authentic and classic look that many gun enthusiasts prefer.
Durable: Wooden furniture is durable and can last a long time if taken care of.
Good grip: Wood has a natural texture and grip, providing a solid hold on the gun even in adverse conditions.
Heavy: Wood is more substantial than most modern polymers, and heavy furniture can bog you down on long treks into the field.
Susceptible to weather changes: Wood can warp, crack or expand with changes in weather or humidity.
Lightweight: Polymer furniture is significantly lighter than wooden furniture, making it ideal for people who want to move fast or carry their rifles for long periods.
Affordable: Polymer furniture is generally less expensive than wooden furniture and does not require maintenance or refinishing.
Weather-resistant: Polymer furniture is resistant to weather changes, so you do not have to worry about changes in humidity affecting the accuracy of your rifle.
Aesthetics: Polymer furniture can appear cheap and not as authentic as wooden furniture in some AK rifle models.
Durability: Polymer furniture can be prone to wear and tear, and may not last as long as durable wooden furniture.
As you can see, the AK rifle family is quite varied. There is a wide array of options to choose from and many models worthy of your attention. The AK family of rifles cannot compete with the customizability of an AR-15, yet there is no scarcity of aftermarket options for literally every gun part and accessory. Be it a time-tested classic AK-47 or its descendant AK-103, you can expect standard-setting reliability, given you can properly maintain your firearm.
Which is better: AR-15 or AK?
We won’t be taking sides in this debate and saying that the AK series is superior, even if this article is dedicated to it. Both rifles have their strong and weak sides. AR-15 is known as the most customizable rifle on Earth, and AK can’t compete with it in modularity. The AR-15 parts market is also more universalized than AK’s. On the other hand, AK rifles are known for their high tolerance regardless of the environment and dependability few other rifles can boast. It is also chambered in more powerful calibers than the AR-15, so you can expect a greater punch from that one.
How reliable are AK rifles compared to other rifles?
AK rifles are highly reliable and have gained a reputation for being especially rugged. The reliability of AK rifles is also aided by their gas-operated action and simple design, which makes maintenance low-cost and easy to do in the field.
What kind of ammunition can be used in an AK rifle?
AK ammo is not restricted to types like Full Metal Jacket or Soft Point. All the regular varieties of ammunition apply to AK ammo to the same extent. The only restriction you might come across is the caliber. More often than not, AKs are chambered in 7.62x39mm, but there are numerous exceptions to that rule.
Are AK rifles legal in the US?
Original AK rifles, which were used in many armed conflicts, were fully-automatic firearms. Those are not legal to use by civilians. But even original rifles had a semi-automatic mode. All AKs you find on this page are completely legal to buy and own, as they are semi-automatic rifles.