Correcting 5 Common Misconceptions about AK Rifles
Matt Korovesis 01.15.15
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.
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.
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).
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.
Using modern optics in modern mounts lets shooters wring the maximum performance out of their rifles and learn exactly what they’re capable of.
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.
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.