Avtomat Kalashnikova, Model 1947 (AK47)
By Duncan Long
Designed by Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, the first AK47s had a receiver that was part machined steel and part stampings with rivets holding everything together. This design proved to be less than robust in the field and was modified several times to gradually create a much tougher firearm.
In 1959 a tough, well-thought-out model of the AK was introduced which again used steel stampings which were riveted together. This proved to be a superior design and is the key variant seen in all modern versions of this rifle manufactured in Russia. This model was designated the AKM (Avtomat Kalashnikova Modernizirovannyi) though many times it, too, is referred to as an "AK47" (as are the semiauto versions of the gun exported into the US).
The AK47 and AKM are usually chambered for the M43 7.62x39mm cartridge which originally developed for the SKS carbine and in addition to the models of this gun made in the USSR, China, Finland, and most of the former Eastern Block countries make or have made their own versions of the rifle, sometimes in chamberings other than the 7.62x39mm; AK47-style rifles are also made for export are often seen in .308 Winchester or .223 Remington chamberings among others.
The Soviets introduced the AK74 chambered for the 5.45x39mm cartridge (roughly equivalent to the .223 Remington). While it seems likely that the guns designed for this round might easily be adapted to the .223, the present anti-gun atmosphere in the US and other Western countries makes it unlikely that such guns will be exported from Russia in the near future.
If kept clean, the AK47 and its variants are very reliable and many of the variants are blessed with a chromed bore (since most communist or formerly communist countries until recently used corrosive ammunition) which aids in cleaning and extends barrel life. Most AK47s with quality ammunition are quite accurate - if the sights on these guns can be overcome.
On the down side, the AKs are heavy and the basic AK design is flawed from a "human engineering" standpoint in several ways: 1) the rear sight has been placed forward so that the rifle has a very short sighting radius (with the rear sight being a rather crude open "V" tangent sight); 2) there is no bolt hold-open device; and 3) the safety/selector is located rather inconveniently on the right side of the rifle and makes a distinctive "clack" when moved (which has lead to the death of many a would-be ambusher from Vietnam to South Africa).
During the so-called "drug war" of the 1980s, even semiauto versions of the AK47 were banned from import into the US since the guns were often used by criminals - though only in fictional TV shows for the most part. But soon the semiauto AK47 spin-offs were coming into the US again - this time with the politically correct thumbhole stock that magically transformed the rifle into a sporter according to BATF specifications. Although these guns are generally sold with a 5-round hunting magazine, they will accept the 30- and 40-round magazines designed for the AK47 as well as the 75-round drum magazine designed for the RPK version of this rifle.
Often heavier semiauto "RPK" and/or sniper versions of these rifles are also seen. These have the longer barrels designed for military use on SAW (Squad automatic weapons - light machine guns) or sniper rifles. Generally these guns do offer a little extra velocity to bullets leaving their barrels along with less report and muzzle flash. But the weight of these guns (over 9 pounds when the guns are empty) makes them unsuitable for most shooter's needs.
Finland produces a number of their modified AK military rifles for export. These are very well made and all versions, including those for the .223 and .308 as well as the 7.62x39mm, are very reliable. However the cheap labor of Chinese-made guns has driven the Finish guns off the US market for the time being (this may change with the recent ban put into place by the Clinton Administration).
The AK-style rifles aren't pretty nor is their safety easy to operate. But the guns are robust and magazines, parts, and accessories inexpensive making them a good choice for those wanting a hunting rifle that can also serve as a fighting weapon.
(For a more detailed look at the AK47 and its variants including the RPK and various machine gun versions and the Galil rifles as well as accessories for these firearms, see Duncan Long's book, AK47: The Complete Kalashnikov Family of Assault Rifles, available for $14 Paladin Press P. O. Box 1307, Boulder, CO 80306-1307 Phone: 800-392-2400.
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