Most people have ARs that they do not know how to keep running long term. If folks will not get the training needed to keep the AR reliable, then they would be far better off with an AK variant rifle or carbine. I have both. My handloaded 5.56×45 ammunition using Hornady 55 grain FMJ bullets with 23.4 grains of IMR 3031 powder is right at 1 minute of angle (MOA), and 2,900 feet per second (fps) out of a 16-inch barrel. I would have used a soft point, but the FMJ was all that was available for the trade made to acquire it. BTW, Varget is not the only powder that produces accurate loads in 5.56.
While I appreciate the fact that “only accurate rifles are interesting”, I am also interested in the superior knockdown power, or ability to quickly incapacitate, and the simple manual of arms of the AK-47 variant rifles that are well suited for the untrained masses, that are most folks. I am still concerned that the first four AR-15, and one AR-10 rifles that I handled all failed with in the first few rounds. This is because the untrained owners handed me their AR’s that were not properly maintained. I did manage to clean and lubricate three of theses rifle for their owners. Unfortunately, all but one of the rifles was put back in storage, and the owner never learned. One of the owners was a combat vet who failed to lubricate the rifle properly. Another rifle needed the chamber honed, and better springs. That rifle was brand new from the factory and yet it still failed. Fortunately, my experience with AK rifles has been far more positive. Not only are these rifles reliable when not properly maintained, but they are simple to use, and are much more potent than 5.56 rifles within the range most combat occur–150 yards or less– if the correct ammunition is used. In this article, I will explain briefly why.
Because 7.62×39 FMJ ammunition lacks the velocity and energy of 7.62mm NATO, it has earned a reputation for wounding. 5.56mm NATO also deserves that same reputation. Fortunately, there are now inexpensive and reliable expanding bullets made for 7.62×39 that are game-changers.
7.62x39mm Ammo Options
I’ve been an advocate of fragmenting ammunition that uses the 8M3 bullet for well over a decade. It deserves wider recognition. In the 1990s is was used in Sapsan brand ammunition. More recently it was sold in the Wolf Military Classic line. Eventually, the magazine Guns and Ammo did a cover story on AK-47 ammunition choices and used ammunition with the 8M3 bullet in a side by side test with Lapua, and Winchester 124 grain soft point ammunition. It recommended the 8M3 as a strong third choice. They were impressed. Had current choices from Wolf and Tula been available at the time of the article, I believe they would have been even more impressed.
Not mentioned by most of 8M3 bullet advocates is that its effectiveness decreases past 50 yards, and has little effect as a fragmenting bullet beyond 75 yards. But it is very effective where it is most needed, inside of 50 yards when MV (muzzle velocity) is around 2,350 fps. A 20-inch barrel adds about 100 fps. Confirm this ammunition’s effective range in your rifle simply by shooting jugs filled with water as these explode when the bullet fragments. The effect is surprising as opposed to the usual and underwhelming results of FMJ that simply punches two holes in jugs of water, which then leaks out. Interestingly when the 8M3 bullet hit windshields and hard barriers, it does penetrate before it fragments. However, shots beyond 50 to 75 yards should use Wolf, or Tulammo’s 124-grain soft points, or 154 grain soft points, if Winchester and other manufactures of 7.62 x 39 soft point ammunition is too expensive. It usually is four times more expensive, but it is better designed and generally higher quality. The brass is reloadable, yet it is not more accurate. The Tula 154 grain SP is probably the most accurate ammo out of most AKs, and hits hardest. Inside of 25 yards, this ammunition will expand in water to .6 inches in diameter. In a ballistic gelatin test a measured maximum expansion to be .6 inches at a minimum to .75 inches maximum. This is more than adequate, and better expansion that the Hornady 160 FTX bullet used in their .30-30 soft point ammunition.
The 154-grain soft point bullet is popular with hog and deer hunters because it works reliably. However, velocity is only just 2,177 fps out of 16” barrels as measured during ballistic gelatin test (1). It could be that expansion might be greater, and initiated earlier, and be more effective at extended ranges using the 124-grain version, as it has a muzzle velocity closer to 2,400 fps, or about 150 to 200 fps faster. However, the trajectory is similar out to about 200 to 300 yards, as the 154-grain bullet has a higher ballistic coefficient and retains energy, whereas the lighter and faster 124-grain sheds velocity sooner. The 154-grain, or the 124-grain AK-47 bullets also tends not to be deflected by brush as much, as compared to 5.56 that will typically tend to deflect and tumble. As a rule, the heavier and slower the bullet, the less deflection occurs. Therefore the 154 grain would be my choice for wooded environments as it could travel through concealment used by attackers.
Inexpensive and Plentiful
The 154-grain is not only inexpensive at 25 to 30 cents per round, but it may still be available for purchase during the current run on ammunition. Wolf or Tula brand in 154 grain or 124 grain soft point would be my first and second choice, and the 8M3 bullet as found in the Wolf Military Classic line, would be my third choice. If none of those are available, then my fourth choice would be the Yugo M67 ammunition, but note that tests have shown that it yaws early in flight. Not only does the 154 grain SP bullet expand reliably, but it also penetrates deeply and would be a better all-around choice as a hunting bullet than the 124-grain soft point. To completely incapacitate an assailant would likely require several hits with either 7.62×39 FMJ, or 5.56 NATO, whereas fewer, if not only one hit would be required if using soft point ammunition. I would not feel the need to double tap with this ammunition and could conserve my limited supply. I might contend that within 200 yards, that it would be nearly as effective as 7.62mm NATO (.308 Winchester) that uses a 147 grain FMJ bullet. In any case, it is a game-changer that has gone mostly under-appreciated.
Your First Carbine
If you have not yet purchased a rifle, or need more ammunition, then I suggest an AK-47 variant and currently produced Wolf, or Tulammo brand soft point ammunition as the best defense combination for the least amount of money. This is the least expensive ammunition and is most effective, and that means that more training can be done for the same money. A more accurate and popular rifle that one can not maintain properly, or cannot afford to shoot often, will not be as useful as a rifle one is thoroughly practiced with and is an AK variant. Also if one cannot afford soft point ammunition, then that same rifle will be less effective in typical combat ranges. Where 5.56 NATO shines is that more ammo can be carried, and it is twice as accurate, and that can make a decisive advantage when shots are beyond 200 yards.
I own both ARs and AKs. My AR is set up with day and night scope, and is capable of 400-yard shots. The AK is for close range as it will stop the fight much faster than the AR, and faster yet if expanding ammunition is used. I believe in using different tools for different jobs. I strongly recommend AK’s because, over the years, I’ve put several AKM rifles through real-world tests and believe it is indeed the most reliable magazine-fed semi-auto rifle for austere environments, and for those who know little about how to maintain a rifle. They can run without lubrication. In contrast, the AR must be well lubricated to operate. I’ve heard that the new line of AKMs at Palmetto State Armory are outstanding. Choose wisely.
In summary, in ascending order of effectiveness, here are my preferences:
- The Yugo M67 with brass cases is my fourth choice.
- The elusive and often difficult to identify 8M3 cartridge as sold in Wolf Military Classic ammunition that is my third choice.
- My number two choice: Tulammo, 124-grain soft point.
- And my number one choice: Tulammo Brand 7.62×39 154-grain soft point ammunition.
Currently the price is only .26 cents a round at SGammo.com
For Further Research
A Texas Hog Hunter’s endorsement of Tulammo’s 154-grain soft point as a reliable hunting bullet.
7.62×39 Accuracy: Tul Ammo 122 grain versus 154-grain
Generally speaking, the rifle used in the video for this testing would be more accurate than most AKM type rifles. From my own personal testing, I would expect to see a 4 to 5 inch group from most AKM’s using Tula 154 grain soft point ammunition. Other AKM rifles might perform better, or worse. From all the accuracy testing done using 7 different AKM rifles, I could not produce better than 5 to 6 inch groups off a bench shooting with iron sights using the typical varieties of 122 to 124 grain ammunition. The 8M3 bullet in both Sapsan and Wolf Military Classic offerings were no more accurate than standard Russian or Chinese ammunition. I suspect that most AKM rifles would have 1 inch or tighter groups with the Tula 154-grain ammunition. Some SKS rifles would be more accurate than other SKS rifles, that are generally more accurate than the AK-47 variants. I have heard that 2 to 4 MOA is possible in some SKS rifles.
Some links, for comparative purposes:
- Ballistic gelatin tests of 7.62×39, soft point, and FMJ ammunition.
123 grain SP, Brass Fetcher.
- HD Slow motion 7.62x39mm Wolf 124gr FMJ (Brass Fetcher)
Ballistic Gellatin tests of other Common Caliber soft point and full metal jacket ammunition as
performed by the YouTube channel, Brass Fetcher:
- .30-06 Springfield Federal 150gr Power-Shok JSP
- .30-30 Winchester Hornady 160gr LEVERevolution FTX slow motion ballistic gelatin
- 7.62x51mm M80 147gr FMJ ballistic gelatin slow motion
- 5.56x45mm NATO M855 slow motion ballistic gelatin
- M193 55gr FMJ 5.56mm vs. ballistic gelatin
(1) Ballistic Gelatin test performed by the YouTube channel, The Chopping Block.
7.62x39mm gel test: 154 gr TulAmmo soft point