For decades, a debate has raged in the firearms community. That debate can make decent folks crazy, and get normally kind shooters worked up into a seething rage. I have heard more cuss words uttered and more insults hurled during this firearm debate than any other.
The debate that keeps coming up is always the AR-15 versus the AK-47, and there seems to be no end in sight.
I have been a firearm instructor for over a decade now and have fired more rounds down range in that same time than many people do in a lifetime of shooting. As an outdoor and firearms writer, I spend my days writing about firearms, reading about firearms and testing firearms.
Personally, I believe that the best matchup for the debate is not the AR-15 versus the AK-47, but rather the AK-74 — the rifle the Soviets designed to counter the AR/M-16 series. The similarities between the 47 and 74 are great, and many parts are even interchangeable. The stock, magazine and muzzle device/compensator are about the only cosmetic differences you will see. It is the cartridge that separates these two.
The AK-47 shoots the World War II-era 7.62x39mm that the Russians designed in 1943. The AK-74 shoots the 5.45x39mm cartridge that performs very similar, if not slightly better to the 5.56x45mm NATO cartridge. This puts it very close in performance, ballistic-wise, to an AR-15. Let’s take a look at the AR-15 versus AK-74 from a practical point of view.
Nothing says “dasvidaniya” like the racking of an AK as intruders are busting down your front door. The pulling back and releasing of the charging handle of a Kalashnikov delivers a report not unlike a pump shotgun being brought into battery. From the moment you pick up a well-made AK you will feel how solid the rifle is. Just like the AK-47, the AK-74 utilizes the same long-stroke piston, a design feature Mikhail Kalashnikov borrowed from the American M1 Garand. The long-stroke piston offers a much cleaner and solid operating system than gas impingement. The rifle’s safety also doubles as a dust cover and does a very good job of keeping most debris clear from the internals.
The rifle breaks down in seconds, can be cleaned by a blind orangutan using a bit of shoelace and dirty motor oil and can be reassembled just as fast. In fact, in Russia they have competitions in schools to see how fast kids can break them down and reassemble. I kid you not, look it up on YouTube.
Shooting the AK-74 is smooth. Very smooth. With the muzzle compensator, there is no recoil whatsoever, and it feels like you are shooting a .22. In fact, if I pick up an AR right afterward I feel like it is a little snappier. No, I will not get 2-inch MOA at 300 yards, but I can still get 4-inch MOA. Plenty good enough.
Now that we’ve ticked off the AR club, I need to mention that iconic piece of aircraft grade aluminum, machined steel and barrel that has taken the top slot as America’s favorite rifle. I like the AR quite a lot, and it is my second choice of rifle behind an AK-74. An AR is a bit finicky about the different ammunition it likes to digest, much like that skinny, pimpled, awkward teenager who only eats fried chicken strips. Whereas the AK is a poor and hungry college kid who is fine with consuming cold pizza that has sat out all night. I feed my AR a steady diet of good brass ammo and have had only a few issues. Don’t shoot cheap steel ammo out of your rifle and you will be good to go.
Now, here is where the AR shines above the AK – it is more accurate. At 100 yards, I can get 1 ½ inch MOA and keep it at 2 inches out to 300. Not so much with the AK, unless I throw a really good optic on it.
Another way in which the AR shines is that you can customize the living daylights out of it. And some do, to the extreme, I think. That fancy combat optic you just installed? It’s great, but then you have to have an equally expensive magnifier. Then you need to have canted back-up sights to engage close in targets. How about a laser sight for other close-in targets if you get tired of the canted sights? The list goes on.
Reliability is good for the AR, and I have found it can be improved with the installation of a long-stroke piston system. With that, you have a rifle that is almost as reliable as the AK. You are never going to have a rifle with the loose tolerances of the AK in an AR. But then again, never would you get the groups out of an AK-74 that you will with an AR.
Conclusion: Both firearms are good options. The AK-74 offers better reliability, but its ammo can be harder to find. That, coupled with the import ban on cheap 7N6 ammunition, has led many domestic manufactures to stop AK-74 production and focus on the AK-47. Still, they can be found, as can ammunition.
An AR-15 has more aftermarket parts than the Ford Mustang. Ammunition is more expensive than the AKs, but is much easier to find. Plus, you shoot the same caliber as most law enforcement and the U.S. Military. Not that there are going to be piles and piles of ammunition lying around the second the stock market collapses (although Internet warriors like to think so). With an AR, you will have more accuracy, but not enough to make a huge difference inside 300 yards.
Which do you prefer – an AR-15 or an AK-74? Share your thoughts in the section below: