Here at Pew Pew Tactical, we’ve never made a secret of our love for the AR-15 platform.
We’ve talked about how to build one, how to feed one, how to clean one, and…well, basically everything you need to know about one.
That said, its not the only shockingly popular rifle platform out there.
There is another, a dark power risen from the East that has also participated in just as many wars and conflicts, precipitated just as many threats of divorce from angry spouses, and captured the hearts of just as many gun enthusiasts the world over.
It’s the peanut butter to the AR-15’s chocolate, the red lightsaber to the AR’s blue. Its the weapon of choice for movie bad guys (and real-world ones in many places), and is the only contender to the AR-15 platform’s title as “Most Popular Gun In The World”.
I’m talking of course about Kalashnikov’s finest, the AK-47.
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The AK-47 is, no question, an absolute beast. A snarling, defiant beast that has been the driver of revolution and conflict from Cuba to Korea, and its storied history is as legendary as any in the world of firearms.
It’s easy to see why the AK-47, and its smaller-bore cousin the AK-74, remain so popular, given this lineage of rugged dependability and reliability. But beast though it may be, it still has to eat.
And that’s what we’re going to go over today: Just what to do you shoot out of that AK, anyway?
There are a number of 7.62x39mm (the AK’s primary flavor) options available around the world, and even at American retailers, there are so many that it can be difficult to choose.
We’ve sorted the best ones out of the masses, tested them, and come up with some instructions for picking the best of the best for your needs.
Whether you’re looking to take your AK hunting (and incredibly viable notion, no matter what certain politicians may say), to the range, or to your secret survival bunker in the desert, there’s an option out there for you.
And I guess that’s probably enough of me running my mouth, let’s get to it.
Obviously, we have to talk about the AK-47 a little bit more. This gives me a chance to run my mouth about one of my favorite firearms, but it also gives you, dear reader, a little bit of important background about the AK you either just bought, or are thinking about buying.
Design work began in earnest on the AK-47 in 1945, but it’s notional beginnings actually came a few years earlier, in 1941.
A young Russian soldier, recuperating from a shoulder wound, spoke to one of his fellows in a hospital room about the powerful automatic rifles wielded by German forces on the Eastern Front, and lamented the lack of an answering weapon on the Russian side of the trenches.
In particular, they knew the realities of the situation: Many German soldiers had an automatic or self-loading weapon, whereas only one in three Russian soldiers had rifles at all, and the ones that did wielded the outdated bolt-action Mosin Nagant.
That young Russian soldier would go on to design the Avtomat Kalashnikova or Kalashnikov’s Automatic.
While it would be several years from that hushed hospital room conversation before the first AK-47 was issued to another young Russian soldier to fight in another war, Kalashnikov would eventually go on to be one of the most prolific and commemorated weapon designers in the world.
And the rifle bearing his name would go on to find its footing among the most legendary designs ever.
That legendary reputation for reliability and firepower would go on to spur the development of the AR-10, AR-15, and all of their spawn…which of course is a large part of the reason many of us got into firearms, and is even a huge chunk of why this site exists.
And whatever the AK-47 may be, especially to those who have faced its withering fire on the world’s battlefields, Kalashnikov was just a soldier trying to keep his fellow soldiers alive…
It’s hard to fault a man, a patriot if not one we typically list among our patriotic idols, for wanting to keep their friends and loved ones safe.
In fact, until his death Kalashnikov maintained a sadness over the AK’s adoption by terrorist forces and other similar groups around the world (he often stated that the AK-47 was meant to defend those who otherwise couldn’t defend themselves, and wasn’t meant for offense), but also a fierce pride in the rifle’s reputation for reliability and usefulness.
Yeah. It’s hard to find fault with the weapon’s creator, no matter what the AK-47 has been used for since its inception.
This, of course, begs the question: what do you want from your AK-47?
The Many Uses of the AK-47
These days, the AK-47 isn’t just a weapon of war.
It is found all over the world in the hands of regular civilians (okay, mostly in the US, but that’s just because we have an excess of freedom where firearms are concerned) and though you’re most likely to find the semi-automatic version, it’s still the same ‘ole reliable beast as the original.
The AK-47 and it’s venerable 7.62x39mm round can be used for hunting, target practice, plinking, competition, and even home/ self-defense.
Whatever you’re looking to do with your rifle, you should match your ammo to your purpose if you want best results.
And if you don’t have an AK yet…or want an upgrade…check out our Best AK-47 Buyer’s Guide.
How to Choose 7.62x39mm Ammo
AK-47 ammo is available for every purpose you can imagine, from hunting to target shooting to home defense. You’ll have no trouble finding a myriad of 7.62x39mm options that will meet your needs…so much so that your chief problem is likely going to be which one of those options is the best for your gun and for your intended purpose.
I’ll get to my preferred loadings in a minute, but I want you to understand why these options are my favorites, and what you should know about picking out ammo for yourself. Like I always say, give a man ammo and he’ll shoot for a day, teach a man to choose ammo, and he’ll blow all his money on it. Or something like that.
For the absolute best results, it’s important to understand a little bit about the ammo made for the rifle as a whole. Particularly, the differences between AK-47 ammo and the 5.56/.223 ammo you might be more familiar with.
There is, in fact, a wide difference between the operation of the AK-47 and the AR-15 and most other Western center-fire rifles, both in how they operate and what their overall design goals are. If you want the most out of your likely expensive investment, it’s important to take this into account when choosing ammo.
So what was the AK-47 design goal? Be cheap, reliable, easy to use, and rugged as all hell. Sounds simple, right?
Well, there are some things you need to be aware of.
Understanding AK-47 Ammo
One of the key differences between most AK ammo and the 5.56 you’re probably used to is the prevalence of steel-cased ammo.
Now, I’ve gone over the differences between steel and brass-cased ammo before, so I won’t rehash all that here, but there are some things that bear repeating.
First, steel-cased ammo is cheaper but is generally considered unfit for reloading, and it may expand in unpredictable ways, making it slightly less reliable overall unless you’re paying extra for more precision, in which case you might as well buy brass.
Now, the AK was of course designed to be fed cheaply and abused, so steel cases aren’t really an issue…in fact, they may actually run better.
This is because of the aggressive action and extractor on most all AK-pattern weapons. This aggressive action and extraction are perfect for ripping a stuck steel case out of the chamber, but it may actually be too effective when applied to brass cartridges, ripping up the softer metal and causing one hell of a malfunction.
That said, your AK may run brass without issue, and modern versions will very likely be just fine. Just be aware that service grade and older guns may be picky about casing types and you may at the very least get brass cases with ripped sidewalls.
This can actually make cheap, surplus ammo a good option or even the best option for your gun.
Boxer vs Berdan Primers …And Corrosive Ammo
Now, we can’t recommend surplus ammo without talking about the boxer vs berdan primer issue, and corrosive ammo in general.
Boxer and Berdan primers are the two main types of primers used in centerfire cartridges today. The primary difference between the two is that Boxer primers have a single flash hole to ignite the powder, and Berdan primers have two.
From a practical standpoint, reloading Berdan primers is a pain in the ass, especially here in the West as the tools and the primers themselves are hard to find. In general, we advise sticking to boxer primers for this reason.
There is another reason, however. Most, if not all, surplus berdan-primed rounds are corrosive.
When ignited, these older berdan-style primers leave behind potassium chloride and sodium chloride, the latter of which is essentially table salt.
These salts are alkalis and the react with hydrogen and oxygen in the air to form acids that will absolutely corrode your gun, AK, AR, Glock, whatever, and leave it rusted beyond belief. Just think about what salt water does to metal after a while and you’ll have a good idea.
Now, when we hear “corrosive” it might seem like it’s just easier to say “well, I just won’t use that in my gun”, and that’s perfectly fine. But, this type of surplus military ammo, while it is getting rarer, is cheaaaappp.
Like, $100 for 500-1000 rounds if you catch the right sale. That makes things a bit more appealing, but can it overcome the thought of a rusted gun?
Fortunately, simple cleaning can usually stave off these issues…provided you do so promptly after shooting. And the sooner the better. These salts actually break down in water, so a rinse in hot, soapy water can actually sort things right out.
If the thought of purposefully dunking your gun in a tub of water makes your skin crawl (as it does mine) there are a number of aqueous cleaning products like Hoppes #9 or Shooter’s Choice Aqua that will sort your issue right out without making you feel like you’re doing the dishes. Check out our guide to Cleaning Corrosive Ammo.
Best AK-47 Ammo
There’s really no one best AK-47 (7.62×39) round out there, so we have to look at the best for each category. These are:
- Target Shooting
Let’s start with…
The 7.62x39mm round fired by the AK-47 is ballistically very similar to the venerable 30-30 that has harvested many a whitetail over the years. This makes it a great hunting round, especially soft-point (SP) variants.
For hunting, I like Federal’s Power-Shok line in general, especially the 7.62x39mm SP version, which is a 123gr deer-slayer on par with the best in this category. I have harvested numerous whitetail with this round, fired from a trusty Yugo SKS, but performance will be the same in an AK-pattern gun.
For two-legged threats, I like Hornady SST.
Steel cased ammo, like AK’s tend to like best, plus a modern polymer tip that aids in retaining the bullet’s mass, barrier penetration, and expansion in soft-tissue.
I’d be lying if I said 7.62×39 would be my first or even my fifth choice for an accurate target round, especially fired from an AK as the looser manufacturing tolerances lead to an increase in reliability, but a decrease in accuracy.
That said, you can still get good results out of an AK, especially in closer ranges. I’ve actually seen a few at local 3Gun matches wielded by folks who placed relatively high.
So if you’re looking for accurate target performance I recommend Fiocchi’s Shooting Dynamics line of 7.62x39mm FMJs is a great mix of reasonable cost and highly consistent ammunition.
Finally, we have my preferred AK-47 use which good ole fashioned plinking. The AK-47 is a terror on the battlefield, but it’s also a terror when wielded against dirt clods, stumps, old boxes, and cans.
I have spent many an hour down in a nearby sandpit just shooting cans and the like, and I think, no disrespect to the great Kalashnikov, that this is just about the best possible use of the AK-47 today: turning money and gunpowder into smiles and noise.
For just ripping through a mag, or making Coke cans dance on a distant berm, I have a few recommendations.
First, Winchester White Box is available everywhere, and is brass-cased and probably the cheapest ammo at the store that can honestly say “Made in America” on the side. It’s like Waffle House.
WWB may not be the best thing, but it’s always there, and their 7.62×39 FMJ is as good as anything at the price point you’re likely to find.
Next, we have Bear Ammo’s Brown Bear line, which is a non-corrosive, Russian-made, steel-cased, lacquer-coated round in FMJ.
The lacquer coating makes it a little more expensive, and of course, you can’t reload it, but it feeds and extracts better than other steel cases, while still being cheap enough that you can dump a magazine into a berm without your wallet crying too much.
Finally, we have good ole Tula. Tulammo is almost all polymer-coated bi-metal cases, and their AK offerings are no different.
I keep a few hundred rounds of the FMJ stuff on hand for when I’ve had a bad week and want to really sling some lead at the range without worrying about what it’ll do to my bank account balance.
What’s your take on the most affordable AK ammo…do you go with commie ammo for commie guns?
The AK-47 is a monster of a rifle, legendary, rugged, and as dependable as the sunrise. If you feed it right, it’ll last longer than you will, and it’ll bring you a great deal of joy along the way. These rounds will all do what you need them to do, and then some. What more could you want?
If you’re looking for some great AK-47 recommendations, take a look at our Best AK-47: Complete Guide!
What 7.62x39mm ammo do you use? Has this inspired you to want to pick up an AK of your very own? Let me hear from you in the comments below! Looking for more ammo…check out our Ammo & Reloading resources.