Best Semi-Automatic Rifle for Beginners: AR-15 vs AK-47

One of the endless debates in the gun world…AR-15 vs AK-47.

AR vs AK
AR vs AK

You can’t go wrong with either for your first centerfire gun.

The easiest way out is to just buy both!

But there might be one that is more suited for your needs…find out as we cover the history, calibers, ergonomics, reliability, cost, and accessories for both.

Table of Contents

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History

The Russian AK-47 was invented by Mikhail Kalashnikov and aligned with design doctrines of being easy to mass produce, easy to maintain, and easy to operate.

AK-47
AK-47

WWII taught the Russians that most fighting in the future would likely take place in shorter distances and so they chose the shorter 7.62x39mm round instead of previous 7.62x54mm rounds.

This allowed for good penetration, less recoil, and less raw materials needed.

However, the American ideology continued to favor longer distance fighting.

The M16 was created by Eugene Stoner and Armalite to be light, accurate, and effective up to 500+ yards.

They went with the 5.56x45mm round which had very light recoil and materials needed while having a high velocity which aided in its penetration.

M16, Britannica
M16, Britannica

The AR-15 is just the civilian semi-automatic firing model where the AR stands for “Armalite,” not “Assault Rifle.”  While the M4 is the shorter automatic version.

Caliber

Common Bullet Calibers
Common Bullet Calibers

You can see above that the 7.62x39mm AK round is roughly the same length as the AR 5.56x45mm but it has a much larger bullet (roughly 3x heavier).

So which is better?  Answer is that it all depends:

  • Velocity: AR round is faster velocity and more accurate when shot through the AR platform.  With a good rifle/skill you can expect to group your shots within 1 inch at 100 yards.  Normal shooters/rifles would be happy with 2-3 inches.
  • Deadliness: The faster velocities and design cause the bullet to yaw (or tumble) when it hits flesh.  This creates wounds disproportional to the bullets size.  However, there’s always reports of soldiers saying the round still lacks lethality.
  • Bullet Weight: AK round has more knockdown power due to the heavier bullet but in the platform it is not as inherently accurate.  You can expect 3-5 inch groups at 100 yards with a slightly less effective range.
  • Recoil: Recoil energy is noticeably more with the AK (~30-40%) but not uncomfortable to shoot.

Ergonomics

AR15 Parts Diagram
AR15 Parts Diagram
WASR-10 Parts Diagram
WASR-10 Parts Diagram

This one is hands down AR-15 due to a variety of aspects.

  • Faster magazine changes: The AR has a magazine release button that is accessed with the shooting hand while the AK has a lever that is pressed with the non-shooting hand.  Magazines also easily go into the magazine well while the AK magazine has to be rocked into place.
  • Safety: The safety lever is also easily accessed by the shooting hand’s thumb (if right handed) while the AK has a bulky lever on the right side.  This lever requires the hand to move off the grip, is slow to use, and has a loud click when used.
  • Bolt Release: The AR also has an easily accessed bolt release on the left side which can be manipulated by the non-shooting hand after a new magazine has been inserted.
  • Charging Handle: CLocated at the rear for the AR and on the right side for the AK.  For right-handed people, you usually have to use your left hand underneath the gun to rack it.
  • Bolt Hold Open: The AK also does not lock open after the last shot is fired.  You have to insert a new magazine and rack the charging handle.
  • Sights: Standard AR peep sights are also much easier to use than the AK’s sights.

Already made up your mind?  Check out our Guide to Buying Your First AR-15 and also Best AK-47.

Reliability & Maintenance

Here, the AK is the clear winner.

AR-15’s have a reputation of being a little finicky in harsh environments, or if not properly cleaned, oiled, and maintained.

The AK will always go bang when needed.

However, when you do take care of your AR-15, I have found them to work flawlessly.

There’s tons of AK torture tests on YouTube, but this one takes the cake.  Here is an AK buried in the ground for 18 years being revived with a can of motor oil.

Cost

AK’s can be found for around $500 and up while AR’s start around $800 and up.  Of course, the manufacture’s quality can vary for both.

Cost of ammunition is also a big factor with the AK winning with the availability of military surplus ammunition which rings in at about 20 cents a round.

AR cartridges are around 30-40 cents a round.

For comparisons and recommendations, check out our Best Places to Buy Ammo Online.

Accessories

A lot of AR-15’s come with rails that let you have an endless possibility of accessories such as bipods, lights, and optics.

Almost everything you see can be customized such as the pistol grips and buttstocks.

Just be sure not to go overboard…You’ll see this referred to with either mild disgust or pride as being “tacticool.”

Ready to upgrade?  Check out our Ultimate Guide to Upgrading the AR-15.

Super Tacticool AR-15
Super Tacticool AR-15

AK’s have a harder time with accessories but there are mounts that allow optics to be placed above the dustcover, as well as gas tube replacements that allow rails up front.

Models

Our recommendations of AR-15 models will be coming up soon, but here are some various manufacturers with different price points.  For some in-depth help, check out our guide How to Choose Your First AR-15.

Colt 6920, ~$1000
Colt 6920, ~$1000
Daniel Defense AR-15, $1500
Daniel Defense AR-15, $1500
LWRC M6A2, ~$2000
LWRC M6A2, ~$2000

AK in-depth recommendations are coming, but here are a couple popular AK variants with different price points.

WASR-10, ~$500
WASR-10, ~$500
SLR-107, ~$1000
SLR-107, ~$1000

Conclusion

I have a couple AR-15’s and AK-47’s and my conclusion for a first gun depends on your end use.

If you’re looking for a soft recoiling accurate gun that you can spend time thinking how to upgrade and even use for competition, get the AR-15.

If you just want to have one gun that will always keep running, get the AK-47.

Or just get both!

Additional Resources

We have collected ALL our articles on the AR-15 here…the Definitive AR-15 Guide.

Here you’ll see a lot of the manipulations and gripes that I have above.

What did you end up choosing?

26 Leave a Reply

  • Jerremia

    what would be best for left handed shooters?

    1 month ago
  • ΠΕΡΙΚΛΗΣ

    for you dear friend . I like your pages too & i spend a lot-of hours watching them, learning too much . I am a Greek 68 year-old . i am a hunder . I live in Thessaloniki . But in GREECE the Firearms are strictly forbbidden . So ιτ is my pleasure to see you only . Hello.

    5 months ago
    • John

      Thanks so much! We're very glad you enjoy our articles!

      5 months ago
  • Kevin

    His comparative info on bullet weight is way off! Common 5.56 NATO loads are 55 and 62 grain bullets. 7.62 x 39 for the AK is around 123-124 grain bullets

    10 months ago
  • Cactus Cleve

    AKs are more idiot proof.

    11 months ago
  • D DuPuis

    You make a fair comparison of the two rifles however you failed in one area. That would be the time, energy,knowledge and frequency of cleaning both the ar and ak. These factors are very important and should be considered before a choice of rifle is made. It could make the difference between life or death.

    11 months ago
  • Terry

    AK's are like the Glock of the rifle world. They always fire but, in my opinion, AR's are way more fun. Not knocking reliability on the AR, Ive never had a malfunction... ever, but I've heard and seen ARs misfire, I've never seen or heard of that in an AK. Both are awesome, it's whatever your personal preference is when it comes to these 2. ARs have way more versatility and options. Shoot both, pick one or both, if you can afford it.

    11 months ago
  • John Schneider

    The AK is stamped sheet metal and who know what steel is in the barrel. I prefer the AR any day over the AK but prefer the AR 10 over the AR 15. If I had to choose an AR 15 platform I would choose something I would choose something in 6 mm caliber or 6.5 (6mm/.223 or 6mm/.223 improved) and a little larger case capacity. I love the AR platform in 6.5 Creedmoor and .243 Winchester as well as 7.62 or .308.

    11 months ago
  • Mike

    I own both... My Ak is set up just as good as my AR... if the SHTF I would definitely choose my AK any day... The info in this article is incorrect... my AK is capable of much tighter groups than stated. It’s had thousands of rounds through it and Never fails to fire...if I was able I would post a picture of it... looks nothing like the low budget gun in this article....

    11 months ago
  • Dan

    C'mon. Ford or Chevy question....

    11 months ago
    • Fredrick Rehders

      Not really, Dan. In a SHTF situation, it will be up close and very personal. I chose the most dependable 50 - 100 yard weapon, with the most knockdown, that I could afford. That was the AK. Inside of 50 yards it is the 12 gauge and inside of 10 yards it's my Glock, After those expenses comes ammo in depth, for just three sizes. I certainly appreciate those well made 1,000 yard rifles and Belgium made Browning shot guns, but shtf time ain't a Symphony, it's Rock & Roll, leave your Stradivarius in the closet.

      11 months ago
  • Larry OBrien

    Interesting side by side. I'd go with the majority who point out the VAST difference in price -- the AR is the definite winner. Since I "assume" the earnest gun owner will have a clean, lightly oiled weapon, the admitted "dirty" performance advantage of the AK is largely over ridden. The ONE BIG advantage (in my opinion) of the "standard" AK is trigger performance (pull and smoothness); the 'military' trigger on the AR is really "Not Too Dandy". Admittedly, there are 'drop in' replacements BUT they cost about half what the weapon itself puts you back. If it's only one -- I'd go with the AR.

    11 months ago
  • Richard

    Very good article. I would like to add a few things. One thing I would like to add is that accuracy of both platforms are affected by the quality (and the dimensions) of the ammo. AK steel cased ammo is notoriously cheap but also gives mixed results with accuracy. With quality ammo and the correct bullet diameter ( .310-.311 is correct for the AK 47 yet many American manufacturers make ammo that is .308 for the AK) accuracy is greatly improved in the AK 47. Second is optics. AK47/AKM variants have terrible sights. They prevent a good sight picture and can negatively impact accuracy. This can be improved by adding peep sights.Also the rear sight is relatively close to the forward sight which allows for greater variation from where you are aiming to where the bullet actually leaves the bullet (I forget what it's called). This can be improved by removing the rear sight and adding a peep sight to the rear of the dust cover (via a rail or welding). Both can be improved by using red dots or better yet, a scope. Finally modern day AKs (like the AK 100 series) have less weight on the barrel itself which affect harmonics. Free float barrels have proven their accuracy vs non free float, and AKs have come along ways from the 50s.

    11 months ago
  • Jim

    Attending gum shows for the last 2 years in nor th carolina, I would say your prices are reversed. I have not seen a decent ak47 under $600 with most $650 or over. Several brands of ar15 have been offered at $500. In both cases these are base models but far from junk.

    1 year ago
    • David

      Prices have shifted around a lot in the past two years, I've seen build kits for AR-15s in the $300-350 range! Might be time to update this article with some new numbers.

      1 year ago
  • Kyle

    Hey great read man i ended up choosing the ar15 mainly due to price 400 but i have to build it but it should give me a better understanding of the rifle itself i also checked out your guide on building the lower so thanks for all the info

    1 year ago
    • Eric Hung

      You're so welcome, Kyle!

      1 year ago
  • Paul

    I am a relative novice and I have both an AK and an AR. In the last year the prices of entry level AR's have dropped to between $400 and $500 due to overproduction in anticipation of a run on guns if Clinton had won the election. So there are insane buys on AR's. Having said that, as a novice with limited time to practice, I think that the AK is the better novice gun. Other articles have noted that the AK was designed not only to be reliable, but to be used by illiterate peasants with minimal training. Recoil is marginally more than AR but for all intents and purposes neither has recoil worth talking about. For home defense, leave loaded mag in rifle with safety on (no kids in home!) and do not charge it. If needed, slam safety down and slap charging handle back to charge and cock the rifle. It took looking at a YouTube video to understand the AK sight picture, but once understood, it's easy and I have no trouble with the pistol-like sights It's easier to maintain, as well. And looks plain mean.

    2 years ago
    • Eric Hung

      So easy child (soldiers) can use it!

      2 years ago
  • Henry James

    It's quite unfair comparing AR 15 where up-to-date weapon with AK 47 which been replaced by Russian military with newer version, AK 74, however still lot of them on the market today. It's really good article actually, keep the good work.

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Henry, great point...will be a good update/new article idea for the future!

      2 years ago
  • Jesse Canfield

    A Tavor X95, actually. Practicality dictated that as I have a paralyzed hand and needed the weight balance from the Bullpup for a shot-while-standing situation. I also chose it because it can take a bit more punishment, with less maintenance, than the AR. But, I am making my wife build an AR soon. Though, she is in Love with the X95. Damned good shot, too!

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi Jesse, that's a great insight on a special situation, thank you for sharing. Let us know how your wife's build comes along!

      2 years ago
  • John

    This series of tutorials is a real service to allow a person new to handguns and/or home defense needs to get up to speed. I'm sure I'll get some additional training for my needs, but I'll begin it with a basic understanding of some important concepts.

    2 years ago
    • ehung

      Hi John, thanks so much for the kind words and I'm glad my articles are helping you out.

      2 years ago
      • Bob M

        You have missed the 600 lb gorilla in the living room with this discussion! Join the discussion... I looked at both and made another choice -- the Ruger Mini 30! It shoots the 7.62x39 cartridge, and the latest improved bersions are cheaper and just as reliable as the AK ! And fewer moving parts!

        11 months ago
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