I have a deep appreciation for the AK platform. Kalashnikovs are probably my favorite modern rifles to shoot, customize, and pick apart. I certainly can’t claim to be an expert, but in the past several years I like to think I’ve learned a lot through my [mis]adventures with a number of different AKs.

Part of the gun-learnin’ I’ve been subject to (whether I liked it or not) consisted of correcting misconceptions I had about AKs and what they’re capable of. Inspired by a recent thread on a subreddit dedicated to the AK platform, I decided to collect five of what I feel are the most common falsehoods about Kalashnikovs and address them in one place.

1. American-made = better than

Many gun owners consider American and Western European guns to be superior to their Eastern European and Asian counterparts. When it comes to AKs, that’s simply not true.

American-made AK rifles—meaning guns that use American-made “important bits” like receivers, bolt carrier groups, and barrels—tend to, well, suck. Many of those parts have been reverse engineered from their foreign originals, and the results leave a bit to be desired. When you combine poorly-made parts with lazy builds and lax quality control, you end up with a pretty crappy gun. Unfortunately, many American AKs are exactly that.

Broadly speaking, foreign-made AKs are superior to their American counterparts. Seen here is a Serbian NPAP DF, which only uses a small number of American parts. Image by Matt Korovesis.
Broadly speaking, foreign-made AKs are superior to their American counterparts. Seen here is a Serbian NPAP DF, which only uses a small number of American parts. The receiver, bolt, bolt carrier, and barrel are all made overseas. Image by Matt Korovesis.

Many of the countries in Eastern Europe and Asia that produce AKs do so using original AK tooling provided to them by the Soviet Union—or had extensive state-run enterprises dedicated to working out the kinks in their own clones. Experienced AK enthusiasts and gunsmiths almost always recommend foreign-made (or mostly-foreign-made, as some American parts are necessary in unneutered, new production AKs to ensure they’re 922(r) compliant) guns over their American counterparts.

American AKs as a whole have made significant strides toward being on par with their foreign cousins (as is illustrated by the differences between Century Arms International’s C39 first and second iterations and DDI’s offerings) and certain American AK parts manufacturers do great work, but there’s still a ways to go.

In the meantime, if you want a good AK, buy foreign.

2. AKs are inaccurate

I could probably write an extensive essay deconstructing this misconception alone, but I’ll try to keep it brief.

In general, AKs are held to be less “mechanically accurate” than ARs. I can’t speak to the validity of that claim, but I can comment on what I’ve experienced at the range with Kalashnikovs.

The author's shot some surprisingly tight groups with his Zastava M77. Image by Matt Korovesis.
The author’s shot some surprisingly tight groups with his Zastava M77. Image by Matt Korovesis.

A well-made AK with affordable ammo can generally shoot a little less accurately (we’re talking an inch of difference at 100 yards at most) than a comparable AR. A high-end AK with great ammo can produce shot groups that might surprise AK detractors.

Is an AK you grab off the rack going to punch holes as tightly as an AR? Probably not, but you also have to consider practical accuracy when you’re comparing AKs and ARs. Tim from Military Arms Channel sums up my opinion on this debate very well in the following video:

A lot of the shade thrown at AKs for their supposed inaccuracy has much to do with the ammo most commonly used in such guns. You won’t often find an AK owner shooting Winchester PDX1 Defender loads out of their NPAP or WASR, but you’ll sure find piles of Wolf and Silver Bear casings all around them.

As AKs in a wider variety of calibers become more available, the myth of the AK’s inherent inaccuracy further dissipates. Owners of Vepr rifles chambered in .308 often report sub-MOA groups at 100 yards, and I’ve shot 1.5-inch groups at 100 yards with my .308 Zastava M77 using affordable ammo.

I don’t expect to see competitors with AKs winning 3-gun events any time soon, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not capable of putting holes where they need to be.

3. 5.45x39mm sucks, and the surplus ammo ban ruined AK-74s

One of the most common criticisms directed at AK-74-pattern guns is that 5.45x39mm is an underperforming round. That’s simply wrong—it’s a perfectly capable cartridge.

The Soviet-designed 5.45 round is not as flat-shooting as 5.56, to be sure. However, it still has an advantage over 7.62x39mm and many other common .30-caliber rifle cartridges in that capacity. Further, from a terminal ballistics perspective, even surplus 5.45 FMJ is capable of extensive tissue damage to targets. Just like 5.56, 5.45 is very light-recoiling and pleasant to shoot—even in short-barreled carbines (I think that everyone should have a chance to shoot a select-fire AKS-74U at least once in their life—it’s incredibly fun).

Scot Hoskisson of RS Regulate shoulders a custom AK carbine in 5.45x39mm. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, 5.45 is a perfectly capable round. Image by Matt Korovesis.
Scot Hoskisson of RS Regulate shoulders a custom AK carbine in 5.45x39mm. Despite what you may have read elsewhere, 5.45 is a perfectly capable round. Image by Matt Korovesis.

Criticism of 5.45 seems to have come to a head with the ban of surplus 5.45. Last spring the ATF decided to arbitrarily deem Russian-made 7N6 5.45, which had been a mainstay of many American AK-74 owners’ ammo piles, armor-piercing ammunition that could be used in a handgun. Such a classification prevents said AK-74 ammo from being legally imported for commercial sale, and 7N6 that had been lingering on retailers’ shelves dried up almost overnight.

Many doomsayers came out of the woodwork claiming that the 7N6 ban was the death rattle of AK-74s in the United States, and scores of -74s showed up on GunBroker soon after. While it’s true that a healthy portion of American AK-74 shooters relied on 7N6 to feed their guns, it’s not the only type of 5.45x39mm available here.

New-production, non-corrosive 5.45 sells for as low as 20 to 25 cents a round (AIM Surplus recently had a deal for 1,000 rounds of Wolf 5.45 for $200 shipped) and its import isn’t likely to be cut off. In addition, Hornady makes an excellent 60-grain 5.45 load tipped with a V-MAX bullet. It’s great for varmints. Hornady’s 5.45 can be found for 38 to 40 cents per round.

So while there isn’t likely to be an equivalent of 77-grain OTM in the 5.45 world anytime soon, an AK-74 owner still has plenty of good and affordable AK-74 ammo options to choose from.

4. You can’t easily mount good optics on an AK

While American AKs still leave a lot to be desired, American AK accessory manufacturers have far outpaced their foreign counterparts. American-made AK optics mounts in particular are excellent, and have helped revolutionize how Kalashnikovs are perceived. Mounting a scope or red dot sight to an AK is no longer a labor-intensive chore, nor reliant upon obsolete Soviet optics.

AKs equipped with side rails can be equipped with mounts like Midwest Industries’ MI-AKSM or the more modular RS Regulate AK-300 series. The side-rail-deprived can swap out their upper handguard for an UltiMAK rail, which clamps to the barrel underneath the lower handguard and is perfect for compact reflex sights.

There are many accessories available for mounting optics on AKs. Seen here is an NPAP DF outfitted with an UltiMAK rail. Image by Matt Korovesis.
An NPAP DF outfitted with an UltiMAK rail and Primary Arms MD-ADS. Image by Matt Korovesis.

Using modern optics in modern mounts lets shooters wring the maximum performance out of their rifles and learn exactly what they’re capable of.

The RS Regulate AK-300 series is another excellent optic mount available for AKs. Image by Matt Keeler.
The RS Regulate AK-300 series is another excellent optic mount available for AKs. Image by Matt Keeler.

5. AR stocks on AKs suck, and you should feel bad for having one

I’m not one to advocate for changing something on a gun that isn’t broken, but for many shooters, AK stocks just don’t feel right. They’re either too short, too low, or downright uncomfortable. AR-pattern stocks with adjustable lengths of pull and modular cheek risers can work well on AKs—when done right.

AR stocks, like the Magpul PRS on this Vepr, can actually be quite handy. Image by Matt Korovesis.
AR stocks, like the Magpul PRS on this Vepr, can actually be quite handy on AKs. Image by Matt Korovesis.

I definitely wouldn’t argue that every solid, skeletonized, and side-folding AK stock should be replaced with an M4-style collapsing stock. I prefer the AK-74M solid polymer stock over all other types. That said, having used AKs with AR stocks that don’t look and feel like they were installed by a drunk corgi armed with a screwdriver and a hammer, I can appreciate their value. Further, on larger-caliber, DMR-style AKs like the Vepr seen throughout this article, adjustable AR stocks are a tremendous boon. As a side note, I’m very excited to test out Magpul’s new AK stocks that will be coming to market this year.

What are some myths about the AK that you’re sick of hearing? Let me know in the comments. If you’re interested in learning more about AKs, YouTube channels like Military Arms Channel and AK Operators Union are a great place to start.

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12 thoughts on “Correcting 5 Common Misconceptions about AK Rifles

  1. Interesting, I’ve always had great functionality and accuracy with 7.62X39 with iron sights. It’s dependability and accuracy in any environment including underwater, can’t be beat. I either missed that point in the article or it wasn’t emphasized enough. Many years ago I had a cheap Norinco. Back in the day, it came with 3 mags, a cleaning kit, rifle sling and bayonet. Out the door under $ 400.00 That thing was extremely fun to shoot and accurate. Not as accurate as the m14 but, a great bang for the buck.

  2. Thanks for the article. I have shot many AKs over the years including full auto & have had many of the above arguments with people that simply have no clue what the platform is like. My own collection is a number of Israeli AKs, also known as Galils. These come in 5.56 & 7.62 and are more dependable and just as accurate as my AR.

    1. Thanks for reading! I’d love to own one of the original Galils–not sure if these new ones IWI US is bringing in will quite do it for me.

      -Matt Korovesis

    2. I’ve fired several platforms in full auto as well. Despite platforms, and opinionated posters who call others clueless, the cheap version was still fun to shoot in 7.62×39

  3. I love the platform, it’s ease of use and reliability is unmatched. Now that I have my Bulgarian 74, I don’t think much about buying other rifles

    1. Or, as I recently read, “arrogance prevents the US armories from admitting the AR has too many pitfalls and troops actually prefer an AK”.

  4. AR-15 whiners come up with all kinds of false stuff but the truth is, AR-15’s poop where they eat, spraying gunk all over their own action with every shot.

  5. I have one of the better ($$$$) Arsenal Saiga models: SGL21-62. The effective range in the specs is 500m. I’ve had no problems with accuracy at 100-200 yards at all. Everyone who’s tried it loves it! It’s my first AK, and I’m really glad I went with a better make/model. Had to buy the butt-stock-stored tool kit, sling and optic side rail separately, but that wasn’t much.

  6. RE: #1, you failed to mention that “Russian-made ≠ better than.” Neither are the best AKs Russian-made, so I fail to see your point.

    RE: #2, you should have stopped at “I can’t speak to the validity of that claim.” It’s the only sentence in that section that bears any connection to reality.

    The section’s title promises a discussion on “inaccuracy” but devolves into anecdotes about “practical accuracy,” which amounts to bait-and-switch, from an objective discussion to a subjective one. Arguing the in subjective is little more than, at best, proselytizing.

    You didn’t correct a misconception, nor did you refute the claim in the title with objective fact, The AR platform unquestionably is more accurate than the AK platform. Period. End of story. For the simple reason that accuracy was one of Stoner’s key objectives, but it was a secondary (or even tertiary) consideration to Kalashnikov. I could argue with equal validity that the Greener harpoon gun has precisely the same level of “practical accuracy” an AI AX338, But what would be the point?

    RE: #s 4 & 5, putting optics and modern furniture on an AK is the same as dressing a hooker to look like your date for the Senior Prom, then taking her to your parents’ place for Easter lunch. Nothing fits, everyone is made to feel awkward, and all concerned would have had a more pleasant experience if you’d skipped all the pretense and used the available equipment as delivered.

    1. The Valmet rifles (M62, M71, M76, M78, Hunter/Petra) are actually quite a bit more accurate than the ordinary AR, they’re sub-moa rifles with appropriate ammunition (ie. Lapua FMJ, which they’re designed for), and they use the same Kalashnikov action as do all other AK’s (but with tighter tolerances).
      And Galil is on par with AR accuracy-wise.

      The main reason for the poor reputation of the AK series’ accuracy is poor quality ammo. You don’t see people often using quality brass with AK’s, just some steel cased bimetal jacketed instead.
      Also, one big reason is the quality of manufacture. The chromed barrels, or more accurately, the Soviet chroming process which doesn’t yield high quality barrels (with the exception of rare occasions), is also a contributing factor to the inaccurate reputation of the AK’s.

  7. personally i love my AK, it may be a cheap serbian model but it handles better than my ar. ive never had a malfunction on the ak and its pretty accurate too, while my AR is easily more accurate, itll double feed and i have even had the pins holding the trigger pop out, plus look at the diffence in the size of the bullet, i feel like the bad guys can get up after being hit by 556 while a 7.62 is just so massive in comparision that if they arent down and out after the first shot they dont want to get back up

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