Eight Letters Re: The Usefulness of the AK-47 as a Survival Rifle

In reply to the 20 Aug 09 letter on the AK series rifles, I feel I should add my experiences. I recently returned from Afghanistan where I worked as a security contractor. When I got there our guard force was armed with the AK but many of the rifles were in poor condition. An initial inspection showed at least 30% of them weren’t worth having and the initial range training proved things to be much worse. I won’t bore you with the details but in the end we had to go through 56 rifles to find 19 that would pass muster for the static guards. Even then we had to be very generous in the standards we would accept. Ultimately we were forced to accept any rifle that functioned properly (safe, full auto and semi auto), could hold a group no larger than 3 inches at 25 yards (yep, that bad) and could adjust the sights to the point where 3 of the 5 round group would hit the 3 inch center of our locally produced zero target.

I say this to stress that maintenance is still vitally important to ensuring the proper function of the rifle. Much of the so called evidence of the durability of the AK is anecdotal evidence. [Colonel] Hackworth’s book About Face: Odyssey of an American Warrior mentions pulling a rifle out of the mud and it running through a full magazine without fail and some tout that as the ultimate accomplishment of small arms. What is not covered is if the rifle could hit a man sized target when it did so. Ultimately making noise is no guarantee of success, stopping people is and that is best done by actually hitting the target. You can not abuse and/or ignore a rifle, even the AK, and expect it to function indefinitely.

There are also questions as to the wound ballistics of the 7.62×39 ammunition. Trauma surgeons in Vietnam said that ‘clinical experience showed many wounds from the weapon (AK-47) resemble those of much lower velocity handguns’. Just being a .30 caliber round does not make it somehow superior. Once again going back to our Vietnam era surgeons they tell us the 5.56 round of the day were far worse to the health and well being of people hit by them. This does not always have meaning to the survivor as we are not limited to the military loadings. Zak Smith has an informative article on maximizing the potential of the 7.62×39 but it is no longer on his site, I believe it has been included in a recent compilation book on the AK. For those who have the AK as their go to gun and who can load for it it is probably worth reading. There are tradeoffs to be made with any decision and while the wound ballistics (both science and the surgeons who treated the wounds tell us) may not be the most impressive my experience shows me they do a number on cars while still allowing the shooter to stay on target through a long burst.

The AK is a fully capable choice if the shooter understands the limitations of the gun and cartridge. Unfortunately I think far too many people allow emotion to take over and they shut out logic and the repeatable results of scientific testing. While on leave from Afghanistan I attended a training course where I used the AK and I learned a lot. Many of it’s limitations can be countered with decent training and hands on experience and while I now have a more favorable view of the gun but it still isn’t my first choice.

One last note, the Saiga can be adapted to use the cheaper surplus magazines with just a little time and effort so I don’t view that as a reason not to get the Saiga over the WASR. Converting to the military configuration is far more complex but still relatively simple for anyone reasonably handy. That information is easy to find online so I won’t add to the length of this note to cover it. Most parts that you find commercially available in the US can be used on either the WASR or the Saiga (and the Saiga is a better- built gun). Ultimately it will cost a little more than the WASR if you convert it to the military configuration so cost may yet be the deciding factor for some. – Jake (No longer vacationing in Kabul)

Thanks for posting the well balanced piece on the AK and it’s potential and pitfalls. The chief shortcoming I find in the AK is indeed the public perception and Pavlovian reaction to it’s distinctive profile and reputation.

On the plus side, and not mentioned in the piece, if you live in the heavily wooded and brushy South, the AK is the perfect rifle for the 40 to 100 yard shots you are likely to see. The AK is very easy to sling or carry in the thick woods.

Also, it doubles as a great Whitetail gun in the kind of country some of us live in and I’ve had good results using it in tree stands.

Two to four MOA is about right in the accuracy department.

Thanks, and God’s peace, – Palmetto

Hey Jim,
I was happy to see the AK getting a nice write up on your blog the other day. I have trained with the AK for a number of years now and really appreciate not only how durable it is, but also how easy it is to teach others to use and maintain.

Maybe I am just lucky, but out of the score of AK’s that I have used all but 2 (Built by a questionable shop) where very combat accurate! Many folks get hung up on their gear being super accurate when they can’t even come close to utilizing even the tenth part of that accuracy in the field.

From someone who spends at least some part of most days out and about with a long gun as a truck/farm/ranch gun the AK has many attractive qualities and I find it complimenting my .30-30 very well when I want to be better armed and don’t have to worry about keeping a low profile.

As far as running the AK learn to run it as an AK don’t try to run it as an AR, FAL, M1A or any other system! Yea there is cross over, but many of the things I have heard folks “complain” about are things that when used properly either don’t matter or are advantages when run as an AK should be run.

Don’t think of the AK as a poor alternative for those who can not afford better! It is a easy to live with system that most anyone can learn to shoot and maintain in short order. I have many other choices and I find the AK to be a very useful tool that many would find a valuable addition to their tool box!

There are some good AK schools out there that can teach you how an AK should be run! Go out and get the knowledge while you can.

You and your family continue to be in our prayers! – SD in West Virginia

The article about AK type rifles had some great points about the usefulness of the AK platform. I personally believe that the AK is preferable to the AR for most people. I do find myself in the minority of people that isn’t true for however. Those of us with military or law enforcement backgrounds that have spent years training with the AR have to relearn several concepts to run the AK as well as we already run an AR. In the civilian world it would take me years to unlearn the AR basics, so I sadly traded my AK rifles for other supplies.

However, there was one AK that I loved. It was, in fact, a Saiga. It had taken a trip to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma to Tromix Lead Delivery Systems. It was reworked into a conventional AK platform with a side folder stock. It was the most accurate and reliable of the AK rifles I’ve owned or shot. The process isn’t overly difficult, you can find do it yourself instructions in several different locations. It takes just a basic amount of skill and some basic tools and the Saiga can be reworked into the conventional format with pistol grip that easily accepts surplus magazines. – JB

I agree with the author on most points and would add that the rifle and it’s ammunition are common in these parts. I would disagree about it’s accuracy and find most of the variants of the rifle can only be expected to shoot 5-6″ groups. Although this might seem lousy, I believe it would good enough for snap shooting within 150 yards. Given heavily wooded terrain, I might expect most encounters would be less than 100 yards. Using silhouettes, my groups with the AR-15 during training were not significantly better. Zeroing the AK properly by centering the pattern it sprays is important. Saying the AK ‘groups’ is generous. Many more shots than the 3 to 5 rounds required for a much more accurate rifle are needed to find it’s pattern. Zeroing it’s pattern can be a frustrating process, yet it proves to be worthwhile.

Perhaps another little known secret is the fragmenting 8M3 bullet found on Wolf’s Military Classic ammunition and famed Sapsan brand. A recent Guns and Ammo publication featured the AK and it’s ammunition. This is the next best in performance to [American commercial] soft point ammunition. A less expensive alternative isn’t found. Try it on a gallon sized milk jug filled with water and the difference between FMJ and the 8M3 is instantly noticeable. Ballistic gelatin shows 3 inches of penetration before it violently fragments and penetrates about 14 inches. – E. L.

I agree with the article on the AK. When the boy king was elected I was forced by circumstances to get a battle rifle and couldn’t find a decent AK in my area that was worth having, so I ended up with a shorty AR. I’m back to thinking of an AK for my third rifle, after my that and my SKS.

For those folks who don’t know much about the Kalashnikov, I encourage them to go to Gabe Suarez’s forum. He has several subforums about the AK and has also written several books on the gun. He also offers training classes through Suarez International as well as DVDs on various AK related subjects. Gabe also offers AK parts and furniture through his forum store.

Folks on warrior talk are also willing to answer questions from people wanting to learn the AK too. They are good people and like to help get people up and ready for whatever is coming in the future. – LK in West Virginia


I’ve been reading your site for a while now and want to thank you very much for it. The post regarding AK 47s was interesting and useful. I’ll add my two Lincoln’s worth.

The Primary accuracy problem inherent with AKs (and with SKSs) is not so much internal, it’s the short sight radius. There is now a relatively cheap fix for this. Tech Sights (tech-sights.com) now sells an aperture sight for both. It’s a vast improvement over the factory sight. It also fits the Saiga. I’ve got one on an SKS (I had Williams [sight] on it before) and I really like it. The only drawback to it is that it now takes a screwdriver to strip the rifle.

I’m an Instructor In Training with Appleseed, and we regularly have folks who shoot Rifleman with AKs (Expert on the Army Qualification Test).

During the mid-1980s to early-1990s, I spent a fair amount of time in a few garden spots in Africa (involved in the aid business) and occasionally toted a rifle. It was invariably an AK, unless I was lucky enough to find an FN. My favorites were the South Africans and the Galil.

Thanks for the work you’re doing. God Bless. And our prayers go out for the Memsahib. – Capt. G. in Texas


Mr. Rawles,
I’m writing in regard to the article ZM wrote about the usefulness of the AK-47 as a survival weapon. In his article he sings the praises of the M4/AR15 over the AK due to the inherent accuracy of the M4 over the AK. While he does note the AK platform is more dependable than the M4/AR15, I think he under estimates just how important that aspect is in the comparison of the two platforms.

Frankly, unless you’re a trained infantryman who has spent considerable time with the M4 and are prepared to clean the weapon numerous times a day, the M4 is one of the least ideal weapons to rely upon in a survival situation. On the other hand, the ruggedness and dependability of the AK, with adequate accuracy, is the ideal firearm for the survivalist who has more to worry about than cleaning his weapon numerous times a day.

Just how important is dependability? On March 23rd, 2003, a convoy of the 507th Maintenance was ambushed at Nasiriyah, Iraq. Aside from the fact that 11 American soldiers were killed and 6 taken POW, the US Army’s after action report found that every single American firearm had been rendered inoperable by the desert conditions. M2s, M4s, M16s, and the SAW-all of them were found to be nothing more than good-looking clubs during the battle. Of course, the Iraqi Kalashnikov didn’t have the problems the American firearms had, and they held the field after the remnants of the 507th high-tailed it out of Nasiriyah. There have been other noted incidents of M4s and SAWs failing in the desert conditions of Afghanistan and Iraq. One has to wonder how many Americans have paid the ultimate price over the last 40+ years dealing with such an unreliable weapon.

In conclusion, the M4/AR15 is a excellent range rifle or SWAT weapon, but unless you intend on cleaning the firearm numerous times a day, which is doubtful in a SHTF situation, it is best to go with an AK or other dependable rifle and take a pass on the finicky M4 platform. – Rusty in New Mexico