After practicing the various malfunction drills on AR’s, some of you are probably thinking about changing weapons to something that has a reputation for more reliability. In most shooters, this instantly summons a mental image of General Kalashnikov’s contribution to Anglo-Soviet relations.
Ahh, yes… I speak of the venerable AK-47 and its numerous variants and descendants.
The U.S. Operations Research Office had to study over 3 million casualty reports to figure out what General Kalashnikov knew years earlier; that the decisive factor in most battles was volume of fire, rather than precision. This idea was confirmed by the ORO in their 1948 ALCLAD study that concluded most combat kills occurred at 100 meters or less and that accurate, aimed fire in an offensive role did not seem to be any more effective at creating casualties than randomly fired shots. Keep in mind; we are talking about the battlefields of WWI, WWII and Korea, which have some major differences to the terrain and technology of today’s battlefield. The magic of silicone notwithstanding, 60+ years later we are still facing AK-wielding enemies who are inflicting their share of casualties.
While it is typically accepted that accuracy is not the strong point of garden variety AK-47’s, reliability certainly is. This assumes, however, that the rifle was assembled by a competent armorer. The irony is that there are guys in the Khyber pass assembling these rifles with hand-tools and rocks, and those rifles seem to be more functional than some of the commercial AK’s available on the US market today.
A typical AK-47 is capable of 3” to 5” groups at 100 yards. The upgraded AK-74, firing a 5.45X39mm cartridge, can vie with the AR-15 in the accuracy department, while at the same time maintaining traditional AK reliability and impressive lethality. Unfortunately, the BATFE, in its infinite wisdom, has recently determined that cheap and plentiful 7N6 ammunition is “armor piercing,” therefore illegal to import. This is an interesting determination, since the legal definition of “armor piercing” ammunition states it applies to projectiles .22 caliber and larger that meet certain construction criteria and 5.45mm is only .21 caliber. Capricious much?
The great majority of AK’s have only 4 inputs: magazine release, bolt, selector lever and trigger. Some folks also notch the safety so it can also act as a bolt hold-open.
In America, we are quite zealous over the use of manual safeties on rifles and we tend to use them “tactically.” What I mean is, that we engage them when moving, when changing shooting positions, when we sling up, when we do basically anything but shoot; we are manipulating the safety or selector. I personally find this odd, since it runs contrary to the prevailing mentality of concealed carry handguns with no manual safeties and constantly drilling shooters to keep the finger off the trigger until ready to shoot because “a safety is a mechanical device that can fail.” The biggest “fail” about manual safeties in both long guns and handguns seems to be forgetting to take them “off” before impotently yanking the bejeezus out of the trigger in a moment of excitement, then finger-fumbling around to take the safety off, usually while uttering a few helpful incantations. Because of this tendency, it is wise to train to take the safety "off" every time we bring the rifle from the ready to a firing position, regardless of whether the safety is actually on or not.
American designers usually position selectors and safeties so they can be quickly deactivated without releasing the firing grip. My suspicion is that General K. was less than concerned with the use of the manual safety on his creation in a tactical role, so he left it in an administrative location where it could also serve as a mechanism to keep debris out of the action.
Righties typically engage or disengage the AK safety by releasing the pistol grip with the right hand (shock, horror!) and with the hand open, “wiping” the selector up into safe mode or down into fire mode, then re-acquiring the firing grip.
For lefties, when it comes to using the selector, it makes sense to keep the firing hand on the pistol grip, slide the right/support hand back to a mag-well hold, and use the right hand thumb to brush the safety on and off.
The magazine release is at least located centrally for ease of operation with either hand. You can use the thumb to push the release forward to disengage it, then use the palm of the hand to push the magazine forward and out of the rifle. Many folks use the fresh magazine to press the mag release lever and then strip out the old mag. This works too.
Bilateral as well - nothing to see here Comrade.
The bolt handle protrudes from the right side of the receiver, just like the SKS, M1 Garand, M14, and others. Why do you think that is? I may be completely wrong, but I would bet that the early semi-auto rifles, pretty much everything designed before about 1960, took much of their design from previous repeating military arms which were bolt guns. The bolt handle was placed on the right side of the firearm to facilitate right-handed shooters running the bolt with their strong hand, while their weak arm was supporting the weight of the rifle or tied to it in a shooting sling. Even muzzle-loading long guns predominantly place the “lock” on the right side of the barrel. This not only places the hammer in an easier position to be cocked with the right hand, but places the pan and all of the flash on the opposite side of the rifle from the right-handed shooter’s face and eyes. On muzzleloaders and bolt guns, keeping the firing hand on the grip isn’t a priority… neither did it seem to be on the AK, at least at its inception. As tactics have changed, more emphasis has been placed on this, but let’s face it, the AK is a much more convenient system for the sinister than it is for the dexterous.
The right handed shooter needs to reach beneath the rifle to access the bolt handle with the left hand, whereas the left-handed shooter can merely draw their hand straight back from the forearm to access the bolt handle.
“Speed” or “emergency” reloads are fairly simple on the AK, as described above; you can use the right thumb or the new magazine to push the release lever forward, then strip out the old magazine by knocking it clear of the rifle. The new magazine is inserted front edge first, then rotated upward to lock it in place.
I don’t think the Russians’ version of tactical mag changes in The General’s day was the same as yours or mine.
In Mother Russia, rifle reloads you!
Placement of the mag release centrally and in close proximity to the magazine enables lefties or righties to “beer-can-grip” and extract the partial magazine,
insert the fresh mag, slide the hand down and off of the newly inserted mag and stow the partial.
If your hands are too small for this, you will have to strip and stow the partial mag before inserting a fresh one.
Contrary to popular belief, AK's can and do malfunction...albeit infrequently. Typical non-diagnostic clearing procedures should work for the great majority of firing stoppages. Although it's never a bad idea to make sure the mag is locked before running the bolt to clear a malfunction, "Type 1" (failure to feed due to magazine not being locked) malfunctions on AK's are all but non-existent. Unlike an AR, where there is sufficient friction on the magazine to hold it in place when not locked, if you don't get an AK mag locked, it's probably going to fall out of the rifle as soon as you let go. This is something that you should notice tactilely, either when you feel the mag fall out of your hand, or when it hits you on the shin on its way down. For those situations where the bolt gets frozen shut, before you stick the butt of the rifle in the dirt and kick-start the bolt handle, I recommend you pay special attention to the muzzle direction.
Meanwhile in Russia: