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The Most Reliable Semi-Automatic Rifle You Can Buy?

Image source: wikimedia

Image source: wikimedia

I remember the day I first saw her. There I was in a large crowd amongst merchants peddling me the latest and greatest inventions and innovations, and that’s when I saw her. She was rather plain, almost homely in appearance, but I had fallen head over heels. And I left that day with her in my arms. Truth be told, I had arrived at the gun show in pursuit of a Colt AR-15, and left with my Ugly Duckling. A Romanian parts kit built AK-47.

Since that day, almost 10 years ago, I have never stopped using the AK platform rifle. I have fired thousands upon thousands of rounds, purposely tortured rifles, and compared them to just about everything else on the market. There is no other long arm I would ever want to carry during the apocalypse.

After thousands of rounds, none of my AK platform rifles have suffered a failure to feed, jam or even a misfire. That just doesn’t happen with an AR-15. Yes, accuracy is in the hands of an AR platform firearm, but reliability goes to the AK. To be honest, accuracy is not bad at all. It is not nearly the “Communist Blunderbuss” that many shooters crack it up to be. I can easily achieve 1-3 inch groups at 100 yards, and 3-4 inches at 200 yards. Perfectly able to bring down deer-sized game.

When I first joined the ranks of AK owners, there were not all that many of us compared to AR-15 and M1A owners. I would show up at the shooting range and when I pulled out my AK I would receive some very curious looks.

In the 1990s, and early 2000s, almost every AK platform rifle was an import. The most common rifles at this time by far were the Norinco and Polytech rifles that were produced in Communist China. As opposed to just about everything else made in China, they were extremely well-built with 1.5mm receivers, chrome-lined barrels, and excellent workmanship. Other common rifles were several different models of Romanian AKs — the most popular by far being the WASR 10 – and there were a few Egyptian MAADIs. There were other European imports, too. One thing for sure: There was no such thing as an American-made AK. That, though, has changed.

Made in ‘Merica

Arsenal in Las Vegas, Nevada, was really just about the first truly American-made AK. Arsenal both imported rifles and built new production rifles at their new state-of-the-art facility. Quality was and still is extremely high. Most other American AK producers purchased de-milled former Communist weapons in parts kits and reassembled them in semi-automatic-only variants for US civilian use. For many years the quality of these thrown-together parts guns was either really great, or criminally horrible.

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Not so with Arsenal. Every AK that rolls off their line was and is new production. Cold hammer forged chrome lined barrels are standard, as are properly riveted receivers and aligned sights. Rifles are offered with either a stamped receiver, or forged receiver (whatever floats your boat). Chamberings include the venerable 7.62x39mm, the 5.45x39mm, and the US 5.56x45mm. With Arsenal you will pay around $1,000, or slightly north thereof, but you will have a rifle that your great grandson will pass down.

AK-47Century Arms, for many years, was the company that produced guns that were ugly and cheap, but that never seemed to die. It became a well-known fact that Century took the cheap way around things and installed barrels chambered in 5.56x45mm on a rifle chambered for the Russian 5.45x39mm. The results were bad. Very bad. Combine that with horrible customer service and warranty, and Century Arms rightly incurred the wrath of many AK shooters around the nation.

I think Century Arms took a hint starting around 2012, because all of a sudden they stopped producing junk. Century overhauled their company and started keeping a close eye on quality, and the firearms community noticed.

The first change was to their famous WASR 10 — famous for being functional, and looking as if a preschool class had built it. Suddenly a rifle known for shoddy workmanship started to have decent stocks, proper riveting, properly widened magwell, and no more canted sights. The quality of the new WASR 10, especially after 2012, is simply outstanding. The rifle has a stamped receiver, and a hammer-forged chrome lined barrel. The price is great too: around $550. The price and quality now make it a great and affordable AK, and one that enables someone to get into the platform quickly.

Now the WASR 10 is mostly built overseas and finished here in the states, so we can’t fully count that as an American AK. However, it does go to show the reader the improvement of Century at their base line rifle. Two new models made by Century are the RAS47 and C39 V2. Both rifles are fully built in the US. Both feature excellent nitrited barrels which will last just as long as a chrome lined barrel (anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what they are talking about). Both rifles are built well to high standards. The RAS47 has a stamped receiver, and the C 39, a forged. You’ll pay around $640 for the RAS47 and $700 for the C39.

IO Inc. was another company with a horrible reputation. At first, IO started out with a promising future. Based originally in North Carolina, they were one of the first companies to start producing a 100 percent US-made AKM. However, starting around 2010, they went downhill very quickly. After much research, it was soon learned the problems arose from the employees of the company. Horrible customer service, manufacturing and other problem almost shut that company down.

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To be honest, had I owned IO, I would have thrown in the towel. Uli Wiegand, the owner of IO, did not do that. To his credit, he stuck it out. He closed up shop completely in North Carolina and moved all of his equipment to a new manufacturing facility on Florida’s space coast. IO hired all new staff and trained them before opening back up in 2013.

Today, the products offered by IO are very well built. I was quite shocked when I saw their new AKS. Nitrited Barrels, all American parts, and plenty of options have really made this rifle a great addition to the American AK family. Reliability is excellent, and so is accuracy. These are some of the most accurate AKs I have seen at their price point. And just what is their price point? Around $500 to $550 for a M247 model in either synthetic or wood stock.

DDI happens to be one of my favorites right now. Based out of Knoxville, Tennessee, this is a fairly new company. DDI has taken some pretty nifty technological leaps ahead of the other companies out there. This is seen with their use of a fenocite barrel. Just what on earth is fenocite, you ask? Well to put it simply, it is a chemical and gas process that hardens the steel to around 70 on the Rockwell scale of hardness. It is just as hard as chrome, and believed to last 1/3 longer.  Time will tell. But the rifles built by DDI are beautiful, reliable and reasonable priced. I would almost say they have the same quality as a higher priced Arsenal. You, too, can put a DDI AK in your gun safe for around $700.

The Future

Well, if God in his mercy grants us a wee bit more time before hard times come, there are other AKs about to be American made. Because of the Obama Administrations’ embargo against all Russian firearms, many AK producers are now forced to look to our shores for production. The Russian Weapons Company is about to start production of Russian pattern AKs in the US. Palmetto State Armory, which for years has built quality AR-15 and AR-10 platform rifles, has now joined the AK-producing world. Their firearms are of high quality, and I trust Palmetto State. A Palmetto AK sells for around $650-750.

In closing, if you are looking for a semi-automatic sporting rifle (if you call these assault rifles, I will reach through my computer screen and slap you!) to add to your preps or gun safe, you should consider one of these AKs. You will have a reliable platform that you can count on to function in the worst conditions, and a rifle that can supply meat to your table and security for your loved ones should ever the need arise.

Do you believe the AK-47 is the most reliable semi-auto sporting rifle? Share your thoughts in the section below:

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14 comments

  1. BS, the AK is JUNK! This guy doesn’t know what he is talking about. Anemic cartridge, junk stamped pot metal, mods are difficult at best, no caliber options like the AR platform, accessories almost non-existent, inaccurate. I don’t know why anyone would buy one of these soviet era garbage rifles. Then there is this beauty:

    The Most Reliable Semi-Automatic Rifle You Can Buy?

    Written by: Zach Dunn Self Defense 0 Print This Article Print This Article
    Image source: wikimedia

    Image source: wikimedia

    I remember the day I first saw her. There I was in a large crowd amongst merchants peddling me the latest and greatest inventions and innovations, and that’s when I saw her. She was rather plain, almost homely in appearance, but I had fallen head over heels. And I left that day with her in my arms. Truth be told, I had arrived at the gun show in pursuit of a Colt AR-15, and left with my Ugly Duckling. A Romanian parts kit built AK-47.

    Since that day, almost 10 years ago, I have never stopped using the AK platform rifle. I have fired thousands upon thousands of rounds, purposely tortured rifles, and compared them to just about everything else on the market. There is no other long arm I would ever want to carry during the apocalypse.

    “After thousands of rounds, none of my AK platform rifles have suffered a failure to feed, jam or even a misfire. That just doesn’t happen with an AR-15.”

    This proves the author has no clue and I would trust a thing he claims. Perhaps he has never heard of Travis Haley, Bob Costa, Jerry Miculek, The Military Channel and literally hundreds of others who have doen real world tests on both these rifles and determined the AR is far superior.

    Zach, you have no idea what you are talking about!

    • Bill thank you for your kind words and thoughtful response.

      Wow, where to begin. Bill, I have fired thousand and thousands of rounds from both platforms. Accuracy is in the hands of the AR. You simply do not see the AK at Camp Perry. For the competition shooter, the AR is the go to rifle. The US military has always valued marksmanship and accuracy, and the M4 and to a lesser extent now, the M16A2/A3/A4 favors US Military small arms doctrine.

      Travis Haley, being a retired Marine will always hold the AR/M4 platform as superior to the AK. He’s halfway right, as the M4 fits the USMC much better than a AKM would.

      Jerry Miculek has to be my favorite competition/speed shooter. Again, competition shooters simply don’t choose AKs for their race guns. The tolerances are too loose and the accuracy is just not there. So of course Jerry would also favor the AR platform.

      Discovery Communication’s Military Channel says the AR is superior? You don’t say?

      With the amount of time I have spent on the range both as a shooter and as an instructor I have seen just about anything happen with a firearm. I’ve seen M1 Garands with feeding issues, stove piped Glocks and 1911s, scopes fly off a bolt gun because somebody didn’t take the time to properly mount it, and I have spent countless hours around both the AR and AK.

      While reliability is high with an AR, I have seen them with FTF and FTE issues. I have seen what happens to a few ARs when you feed them a regular diet of steel cased. Again not every AR, but enough.

      I have seen one AK have feeding issues. It was not my rifle, and the owner had bought a lemon. After he returned it for a new rifle, he never had any issues. I have shot brass, steel, wolf, Tul Ammo, Romanian, Bulgarian, dirty com bloc Russian and Yugo ammunition out of the AKM and the ’74 platforms and never had an issue. Not once. So when it comes to the rifle that I will carry during bad times, I will sling that piece of stamped sheet metal, polymer and barrel over my shoulder.

      An AK chambered in 7.62x39mm can also take game up to and including an Elk. you won’t see a 5.56 do that (though a AR-10 in .308 could!).

      But I won’t judge you for choosing the AR. If you have trained with that rifle, know it as intimately as you possibly can than that is the rifle for you. I would trust a Colt, Armalite, S&W and Palmetto State AR almost as much as I would an AK. Not quite.

    • Perhaps Bill should take some time and actually fire both a few cases of ammunition through both the AR and AK before rudely and arrogantly expressing his opinion. I think the author has shown himself a Gentleman, and that he truly does know what he is talking about. Personal Experience trumps what you watch on cable TV. Great Article!

    • Mahatma Muhjesbude

      Bill and Zack are correct. I carried an AK in Combat off and on when my CAR-15 got ‘wounded’ in action or we were short on ammo, and have combat and police experience with all top platforms and after all is said and done, Nam myths notwithstanding, I have to say that nothing, again, NOTHING is better, or more reliable, than a well set up AR-15 carbine platform. for combat, survival, precision shooting AND anything else.. Especially when you consider ALL factors. Get an upgraded boron coated BCG with the ‘accu-bolt’ and improved extractor, optimal firing pin, and good mags and you’ll go broke running out of ammo or get dog tired before it ever even get close to jamming.

      That’s why the new M-18 SOG compact carbine awarded to Danial Defense represents the epitome of combat rifles. and that’s why every middle East combatant tosses his AK in the sand as soon as they can find an AR to replace it.

      As far as Rick’a opinion here, Over the decades I’ve actually had real time combat experience with both platforms, as well as several others, and have tactical training and experience and instructor level competition with just about everything else categorized as ‘small arms’; and along with MOST other pro military and spec operators, i join them in the profound conclusion that nothing beats the modern well built AR-15 when it comes down to the nitty gritty.

      Especially currently, with the advancement of DIY kits and parts, you can put a decent one together for almost less than a so-called ‘good’ AK.

      I won’t bore all you armchair warriors with war stories but if you want to bet some serious cash, we can set up a ‘training day’ that will teach all you Anally retentive AK owners once an for all why a couple of serious flaws in the functional utility of the AK-47 made a lot of enemy combatants suffer fatal consequences from this mechanical defect inherent in AKs. (hint:it has nothing to do with accuracy) during real time hot and high speed CQB. Which is, by the way, the ultimate measurement of a personal combat weapon. I won’t elaborate here, because if you don’t know already then you shouldn’t be in the debate. Besides, i thoroughly enjoy the “oh shit’ look on you AK fanboys’ faces when this happens to you in the exercise! Right after my big LOL when i take your money.

      This problem cannot be ‘fixed’ by modification and is just a design flaw or ‘cost effectiveness omission’ because after all, the AK WAS designed to be built cheaply. (AKM milled receivers not applicable in general) And i’ve personally seen this inherent AK problem get the user (the other guy) killed in a firefight (I had an AR-15)

      As i’ve said, I’ve owned and shot them all, but i’m not a ‘fanboy’ of any particular platform. I just learned from reality experience which is the best. And that’s the one i prefer.

      “there’s no such thing as a ‘bad gun’, but some are certainly way better than most, and AK’s simply do not rise to that level…”

      It took a couple generations to wipe our asses of the 9mm v. 45 delusion. I hope it doesn’t take that long to wake up from this AK is better than an AR dream?!

      • Ok so what exactly is the fatal flaw in the AK that got it’s user killed? I’m open to feedback… I have AR’s and AK’s, and like them both almost equally, but for different reasons.

    • I retired as a Marine Colonel in 2010. I am an 0302 but have a few other secondary MOS’s. Bill and Mahatma are typical internet warriors who are either lying or out of date with their information. Let’s start with Bill. Bill, you are so antiquated and ignorant that it is painful to even read your comment. Your experience with even Vietnam Era AKs is ZERO. You, Sir, need to keep your mouth shut as you are a total idiot. Now, let’s talk about Mahatma. Mr. ‘Nam hero” is also clueless about modern AKs which have fixed the inherent shortcomings of a hot gas tube, poor quality control and inadequate iron sights of AKs. YES, to get an AK of the quality I build, you will spend TWICE as much as an AR. But, you will get better reliability (only a bit better), better knock down power, and better obstacle penetration at 200 yards and in with a MODERN AK-47 compared to an AR-15. In short, it is a better combat design…period. Mahatma’s “first hand” experience of a Vietnam Era AK fail can only be due to a hot gas tube. If he claims anything else, he is a liar. I have over 400 firearms in my collection and have a side business building and selling custom ARs and AKs. Let’s begin. IRT accuracy…the AR wins…almost EVERY time. Even a moderately price AR-15 will get you 2-3 MOA. Also, the AR is reliable 99% of the time unless you let it get VERY dirty. So, make no mistake, I LOVE ARs. Now…let’s talk about the inherent advantages of the AK. It is over gassed which causes more recoil than an AR. However, it is 99.8% reliable, EVEN WHEN DIRTY. With over 20,000 rounds fired from AK-47s, I have had EXACTLY 2 failures to fire and both were from the same WASR-10 which was used, ABUSED and HAD NEVER BEEN CLEANED…EVER. How about that hot gas tube? Well, that is not a problem with the MANY options NOW AVAILABLE to partially or fully shroud the gas tube. How about accuracy? A modern Arsenal, Saiga, Vepr or DDI will shoot between 1-4 MOA. If you are using a 7.62 Soviet beyond 200 yards I hope to come up against you after the apocalypse. That is NOT what the 7.62×39 is designed for. While the AK-74 (5.45×39) is a bit more accurate than the 7.62 and can reach out to similar distances of 5.56, there is not much benefit to that caliber over the 5.56 which is easier to find ammo for and is still a bit more accurate. What about those nasty iron sights on the AK-47? You NOW have the option of very nice rail mounted optics or and EVEN BETTER CHOICE of forward mounted picatinny-rail gas tube mounted red dots which allow tactical shooting vice precision shooting (if you don’t know the difference without googling it…you are in over your head in this conversation so have the wisdom to stay silent) So, let’s recap…both AR and AK= GOOOOOD!!!! Accuracy and performance past 200 yards = AR BETTER. Reliability, stopping power and penetration inside 200 yards = AK BETTER. Arguing against any of these facts will simply prove your ignorance.

  2. LOL, Since you choose to bring up Travis Haley lets ask him why he had Jim Fuller at Rifle Dynamics build a custom AK for his own use. Or we could ask him why he owns at least 4 AK’s. Travis has been videoed using an AK for long range shooting (so much for inaccurate). What is amazing to me is most AR fanboys like to compare an AR with premium factory brass cased ammo against an AK with steel cased surplus ammo and the go on about the accuracy difference. While there is a difference, when you compare apples to apples you will find that difference isn’t very much and well within acceptable combat requirements. Stamped pot metal, now there is a statement that shows your level of ignorance of the AK. I’m guessing you consider the HK, Galil, etc all just more “pot metal” firearms. AK’s are available in 7.62×39, 5.45×39 and 5.56, how many more caliber options do you want? Bill in Il., just how many AK’s have you personally shot? I have 7 AK’s and 4 AR’s I’d take either into battle with confidence that they would perform equally well.

  3. The AK platform rifle has been and is in use
    By many of the 3rd world countries !
    It has been produced in practcaly every communist country there is !
    Probably more people have have been killed with the AK than any other rifle !

  4. The best one is the one you have, know how to use, practice with, and have plenty of ammo for. All the rest are irrelevant!

  5. I first encountered the AK in Vietnam in 1970…this was the time frame that the M-16 was fairly new and deadly…mostly to the American Soldier who carried it…because of their CONSTANT jamming and failing to fire.
    I ended up carrying and using the AK47 most of the time there and never had a issue with it though I put untold thousands of rounds through it thru 170 and 1971. It became my favorite combat arm and I can honestly say…unlike Bill from Il posting above…IT IS FAR FROM JUNK AND IT MAY NOT BE BULLS-EYE ACCURATE I CAN STILL HIT YOU AT 300+ YARDS AND I HAVE SEEM TRAVIS HALEY HIT TARGETS AT 500 YEARS WITH A BASIC AK!

    The years have passed and the new crop of AR-15s are light years ahead of those M-16 death traps, BUT having spent 17 years in Army Special Forces as a Light Weapons Specialist, I still prefer the AK47 over ANY AR15 and most of my friends both retired and active still feel the same way. If truth be told…and you have to go ask a recent combat vet as you won’t read about it in the news, but the current Ar15s and M-4s are not fairing so well in the Middle East…they need constant care in those areas… and the over all choice for carry among Special Ops troops is…the AK47. Oh, yeah…I own three, but not one AR can be found in my house! If you like the AR and shoot it well, then God bless you, but I will keep the AK as my go to when things get bad!

    • I agree with your analysis of the reliability of the AK platform.
      I carried an AR during my 20 years in uniform, and knew how to maintain it, to keep it functional, but I always worried about reliability, and the anemic round.
      Around my 14th year in uniform, I was able to acquire an Egyptian MAADI, and after a few minor modifications, had a MOA rifle that didn’t need constant maintenance, always functioned, and had a much harder hitting round!
      Of course, for ‘official’ functions, I had the AR with me, but in the field I put it in the case (or armory), and carried my MAADI (AK). Since this firearm wasn’t ‘on the books’, when I retired, this piece of equipment kind of ‘disappeared’ from the base!

  6. I’m sure there’s lots of high quality Aks out there but after a year in Iraq and seeing stocks handles and charging handles literally falling off them they make me nervous to even handle

    • Just out of curiosity, how does the charging handle fall off an ak. It’s part of the bolt and the bolt is a substantial piece of solid steel. If the bolt was falling out of it, the rifle must have been in constant use since the Reagan Administration lol!

  7. I’ll just stick with my 20-some year old ArmaLite AR 15…thank you very much.

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