Choosing the proper ammunition for each application demands some study, and for many of us, that may be intimidating. This is especially true when it comes to the 7.62x39mm cartridge. After all, most of us are interested students at best, not experts.
We cannot let price be the only guide, but then again, we don’t always have to pay for the highest quality. Let’s look at matching the application to the loading. I think the majority of our ammunition will be fired at paper.
Even the most enthusiastic hunter takes but a few field shots every year. Few of us are called upon to defend our lives but if we are we want the best ammunition. It is all in the application.
Let’s determine just that for AK rifle loads in a variety of different applications.
General practice and range work are undertaken with readily available and inexpensive ammunition. The ammunition should be reliable, although an occasional hang-up isn’t as serious as a problem with self-defense ammunition.
The ammunition should be accurate enough for meaningful practice. Just the same, if we are practicing firing at targets at known and unknown ranges (and firing off-hand), then the difference between burner loads and the most accurate ammunition is slight.
Tula, Red Army, Wolf and other steel-cased loads are useful for this application. Some comment that these loads are dirty. Foreign powder technology isn’t what it is in the U.S., but there are other considerations.
Steel cases allow a bit more blowback, as they do not readily expand in the chamber as a brass-cased cartridge will. Also, I think sometimes that the loads are criticized as dirty after a shooter looks at his rifle when he has just fired 300-400 rounds in a single weekend.
I use these loads a great deal. They have never fouled the rifle to the point cleaning was a bad chore or function was a problem. Steel-cased burner loads are just fine for what I do most with an AK-type rifle, and that is simply to fire them for fun.
I fire at long range, at multiple targets and at small targets. Steel-cased loads are good enough. If you change up brands from PPU to Tula and back, there is little (if any) difference between the point of aim and point of impact for each loading.
Velocity and bullet weight are similar. These are the loads you will fire for 90 percent of your needs.
This is the least area of concern with an AK rifle. Very few shooters engage in any form of competition with an AK-type rifle. But there are many of us that like to test the absolute accuracy of a rifle.
This means using a solid bench rest, the right firing position and carefully pressing the trigger for a group at 100 yards or more. While AK rifles differ—from the cheapest guns to the Arsenal—the general run of ammunition is good for a four-inch group at 100 yards in most rifles.
Some are much worse, some are a bit better. The hunting and personal defense loads are much more accurate. In the affordable-but-very-accurate class is the Fiocchi 124-grain FMJ loading.
Put up in a brass case, this load is often the single most accurate loading in a number of rifles I have tested. Then there is the Seller and Beloit, also a brass-cased loading.
I know enough about rifles to realize the Seller and Beloit may be the most accurate in some rifles. Fiocchi has simply shaded it when it comes to accuracy… in my rifles, at least.
Hunting with an AK rifle can be rewarding. The rifle is accurate enough for hunting deer-sized game and boar to 100 yards, and also for keeping coyote and feral dogs dusted off of the property. Hunting is a demanding application.
The loading must be above-average accurate and also incorporate a quality expanding bullet. The bullet must have a balance between expansion and penetration that favors penetration.
Just because a cheap loading has exposed lead on the nose doesn’t mean it is a useful expanding bullet load. I used the Hornady SST in the original steel-case version for some time. Today, Hornady offers Hornady Black with a 123-grain SST bullet at 2300 to 2350 fps.
This would be the ideal hunting load for AK rifles. Accuracy and reliability are good. The Hornady Black features a brass case for superior reliability and a lean powder burn.
Many of us keep an AK rifle for area defense on a property, and for home defense. While a pump-action shotgun is a good option and some make do with manually operated lever-action rifles, there is no firearm that gives you an edge against a gang like the AK rifle does.
The AK has been criticized on wound ballistics. Some military ammo breaks at the cannelure on hitting a target, increasing the wound potential. But most are simply an FMJ bullet manufactured as cheaply as possible.
I wonder at the logic when the FMJ load is criticized. We would not carry 9mm FMJ in the pistol, would we? Use FMJ loads for practice and tactical movement training and quality personal defense loads for critical use.
Winchester offers the PDX Defender, a modern dual-core design that has proven to expand as designed in ballistic testing. This is my first choice for defensive use in the AK. This is a superior technology.
I don’t think a magazine of PDX will break the budget and the return is a load with good wound ballistics and one which limits penetration. My arsenal rifle is primarily a defensive rifle, and this includes both two- and four-legged threats.
I like the under-folder design a great deal—more so than an AK pistol for traveling. The rifle has been fitted with a TRUGLO night insert front sight.
AK Rifle Loads: Conclusion
In the end, the AK is a great all-around defensive rifle. With the proper ammunition selection, it’s a formidable rifle as well. Choose your loads wisely.
Do you own an AK? What’s your go-to load choice? Let us know in the comments below.