Letter Re: JWR’s Opinion of Kalashnikov (AK) Action Rifles

What is your opinion on owning the AK variant rifle as a survival weapon? Though medium powered and limited in range to 300 yards, I feel that the simplicity of this weapon is a big plus (as well as magazine capacity, ammo prices/availability. Thanks, Jason, North Idaho

JWR Replies: I do like the AK action. They are very robust and designed to take a tremendous amount of abuse, as this YouTube video graphically illustrates.) The AKs chambered in the intermediate 7.62×39 cartridge are indeed are far less expensive than a FAL, M1A or HK91. But ballistically, this cartridge is insufficient for shooting beyond about 250 yards.The good news: You can have the best of both worlds by buying a Russian American Armory Saiga .308, for around $450. It has the robust AK action, yet it has the full power of 308 Winchester/7.62mm NATO. Magazines for the Saiga used to be a problem, since the largest that came from the factory were 10 rounds. But good quality 25 round magazines are now available, but at $35 each, still fairly expensive. (With the looming threat of another Federal “high capacity” magazine ban if the Democrats take the White House, you should buy at least 10 spare 25 round Saiga magazines! Folding stocks and many other accessories are also available. Saiga .308s have been on the market long enough that used ones are now available for under $400 each, on the private party market. (Available without a paper trail, if bought at a gun show, in most states.)

In today’s market, I consider the Saiga .308 the best choice of a battle rifle for someone with a moderate budget. Functionally, it is like owning a Valmet .308. (The Cadillac of Kalashnikovs), yet they are available at a “Chevy” price.

To recapitulate and to add a bit to what I’ve written in previous posts…

Here are my recommendations for battle rifle purchasing, depending on your budget:

Tight budget (students, pensioners, etc.): A .303, .or 8mm Mauser military surplus bolt action, such as an Enfield or Mauser M1893/M1898. These can often be found at gun shows, for under $200. BTW, the earlier-production Mausers are also classed as Federally exempt “antiques”, which can be bought across state lines with no FFL paperwork, is a nice plus.

Young wage earners: SKS carbine.

Older wage earners: Saiga .308 rifle.

Higher income, with some accrued savings: HK91 clone such as the Vector V-51 or JLD PTR-91.

Salaried professionals: L1A1/ FN-FAL clone, M1A, or a HK91 (factory original)

Top tax bracket professionals: Factory original pre-ban (Belgian) FN-FAL, Lithgow L1A1, Valmet M76 .308, Galil .308, a match grade M1A, or a HK91. If you can afford to, get the best optics available, including Trijicon ACOG scopes, and/or Gen. 3 Starlight scopes.

Regardless of your rifle choice, be sure to get the best training that you can afford! If someone is a newbie with just $1,000, I would recommend spending $500 on a rifle, and $500 on training–rather than buying a $1,000 rifle. For those readers on a budget, take advantage of the low cost Appleseed and WRSA training events. If you have more money, then go to one of the best schools such as Front Sight, Gunsite, or Thunder Ranch.

When budgeting for a firearm, remember that you are buying a long term bullet launching capability–not just the bullet launcher itself. That means buying: the rifle, plus magazines, plus ammunition, plus web gear, plus cleaning equipment, plus training, plus a few spare parts, plus perhaps some optics. Hence, a bargain-priced $800 used M1A .308 that you find at a gun show might eventually cost you $3,000 or more, once it is fully outfitted. If you can’t afford to buy the whole package, then be rational and buy a less expensive rifle!