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The AR-15 Vs. The AK-74: Two Rifle Legends Do Battle

Image source: YouTube

Image source: YouTube

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.

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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.

AK-74

AK-74

AK-74

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.

AR-15

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.

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AR-15 legal

AR-15

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:

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19 comments

  1. Im thinking you mean AK-47.

    • He does mean AK-74, did you read the article? Personally, I have an AK in .223. best of both worlds, ultra reliable and easy to find ammo. With mag adapter to take plentiful AR magazines.

      • Now that is smart. An AK platform chambered in 5.56 and modified to take AR p-mags. You’d loose about 1″ moa at 300 yards but you’d be in the fight much more reliably in all other regards. Throw a Texas Weapons System Dogleg Rail on one and you’ve got most ar’s beat in weight/balance with a red dot. Thanks for the ideas brother!

  2. My error, I read further down and see what I missed.

  3. There is an AK74. There is also an AK47. The rifle shown in the picture is an SVD or a PSL.

  4. i was never much of a ar15 person , but in my younger days iv seen what the 7,62×39 can do from a sks we was getting 785 yards open sights resting off a fence post with the sks first round was 30ft low we was shooting a grill gas tank, by adjusting the to aiming 1ft above it was dead on clean shots . back in my younger days i could pop a empty shot gun slug box up in the air with a shot from off the ground and hit it in the air with second shoot with a mak90 at 100 yards Open Sight but my vision is 20/13,

  5. also seen a ak47 shoot Through | 1/4 inch steel at 40 yards in and seen the out side jacket fly back and cut the guy behind me

  6. I like the ar-15 for its remarkable accuracy and customization options. But I like the ak-47/74 because you can fill it with cake everywhere (like every nook and cranny) accept the chamber and it will still shoot almost like normal.

  7. I like both, but my choice would be a different rifle, M1A for me, better terminal ballistics than either the 5.56 or 5.45, almost as reliable as the AK, plentiful ammo due to military and police use and a common hunting caliber, and accurate as all get out. Only drawback is its heavy… And if that is a real problem lift some weights lol. Just my .02

    • M1A almost as reliable as an AK? How about not even close to as reliable as an AK. That external oprod is its critical vulnerability. Toss your M1A in the mud and see for yourself. I do love my Scout Squad but it’s not as reliable as my AK.

  8. I own both. A Sig M400 in FDE and a Romanian AK-74. I really enjoy both but I am no shakes with a riffle so accuracy has not been critical. As reliability goes, most contend the AK is superior and I tend to agree. I like ready access to compatible parts for the AR. Just my thought, for what its worth.

  9. Mahatma Muhjesbude

    I can always tell writers and people who don’t know jack about AKs or ARs and have never had any real or extensive combat firefight experience. They always intransigently insist upon maintaining the delusion that AKs are more ‘reliable’ than ARs.

    They don’t even consider the ‘in your face’ logic that if AR’s were not superior to AKs the Russians would not be trying to make them so that they compare more to the AR’s, Bwaaaaaahahahahahhaaha!

    Or why every chance they get, one of those jumpin jihadists fighting in the middle East will throw down their AK and pick up an AR-15 if they can.

    And I haven’t even mentioned the weakest part of an AK platform, which is one of the strongest assets of the AR system. Especially in hot and heavy action.

    With the proper upgrades, I I know people who have average AR’s that NEVER jam or malfunction because they can’t jam unless you have bad ammo or magazines. You wouldn’t want to put any AKs against these bad dogs because you’d lose a lot of money on the bets!

    But that’s better than losing your life carrying an inferior weapon, like so many of the enemy in Nam and Irag did.

    • TheSouthernNationalist

      Lol, get some dirt on it (the AR) and see what happens.

    • You’re a moron and just throwing around untrue facts to make yourself sound smart. I am a combat vet and think the AK is a better rife for a war time situation. We found a rusty AK in a field in Iraq so kicked the rusted bolt open and then shot it. The damn thing went off with out a hiccup and really surprised me. An AR is cool but try to use some British 556 ammo and it turns into nothing more then a paperweight. I will say while I was in Iraq every situation I was put in the AK would worked just fine if not better in a urban environment.

  10. TheSouthernNationalist

    I too like the way the AR-15 looks its a beautiful weapon.
    However, in the real world combat situation where dirt, grime, sweat, and blood can clog up that pretty AR-15, the AK-47 takes a licking and keeps on ticking.

    The AK-47 is damn near unstoppable, it can be dropped in the mud and still fire, try that with an AR-15 and see what happens.

    I’ll stick with my AK-47 as my battle rifle.

  11. After carrying an M4 for nearly 7 years daily and shooting it on the regular I still have a love for both my 47 and 74 that exceeds my feelings towards an AR-15 style of weapon. I have done live fire exercises with both and while on duty with the M4 versus off duty with an AK (at civilian training centers) I have seen more AR’s fail us compared to an AK.

    I have witnessed many ARs stop for the duration of a firefight. All the while the AK may hiccup but after immeadiate actions she was back at it spitting rounds down range.

    In the end if it was a “doomsday prepper” type of day I’d walk into the sunset with my AK-74.

    Now that they offer one in 5.56 I couldn’t be happier. Truly the best of both worlds. Can’t wait to put mine into action.

  12. I own an AR in 5.56 , 7.62×39 and an AK74 my favorite is the AK74 for no particular reason . I am looking for a nice 5.45 x 39 upper to enjoy my AR even more I believe this would be the best of both worlds . The 5.45 uppers are hard to find and over priced but I am in no hurry ! Both are great platforms and a part of our cold War era heritage.

  13. If we could put an AK with a short-stroke system (essentially and AK-12) and put in an AR shell, we would have the best rifle in the world.

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