Sunday, May 23, 2010
- One More AR15 vs. AK47 Fight
It's not like the AR15 - AK47 debate lacks enough participants, but I've recently been given a reason to choose sides in this ongoing battle. For ages I’ve had a bunch of spare parts for an AR15 in my basement; almost a whole rifle in fact. So a few weeks ago I finally got around to ordering a lower receiver (which under the law is the actual ‘firearm’ part of an AR15) along with a few other customized parts, and I put it all together. The results of my effort are pictured above. And before you “experts” start lecturing me… the adjustable stock is pinned, the bayonet lug has been filed off, and that’s not a flash hider… it’s a ban compliant muzzle break that has been permanently attached to the barrel. The gun is in complete compliance with all of NJ’s firearm laws – even the stupidest ones.
When I was going through the catalog of parts figuring out what I already had and what I still needed to buy, I was a little put off. When you build it from scratch there seems to be a bewildering number of little pins, springs, screws, and tiny doodads made of aircraft aluminum that go into an AR15, especially when compared to my former “go to” gun, the AK47. And by the time I was finished assembling them, my new rifle looked to me like a needlessly complex, surprisingly heavily little carbine. I was a little disappointed…until I took it to the range.
The AK47 is a monument to the virtues of simplicity. Its vices are many, but with nearly 100 million copies out there it’s not like they aren’t well known. And it makes up for them by being the only rifle I’ve ever seen that will continue to function under virtually any conditions imaginable. It’s relatively inaccurate, but they say that the only thing scarier than the sound of a gun going off is the sound of a gun ‘not going off’, and in that all important area, the AK will never disappoint. Not only have I never seen one fail to fire for any reason except bad ammo, I’ve never even heard of it occurring. And neither have any of my gun-nut friends. It goes bang, every time, and when you run out of ammo you can still beat someone to death with it.
The AR15 on the other hand, has been dogged by claims of unreliability since its inception, but in my opinion they’re overstated. The fact is, a few early problems aside (which were in fact caused by bad ammo and no cleaning kits), a version of the AR15 has been faithfully serving as the small arm of the world’s most powerful army for coming up fast on 50 years. It may require some cleaning now and then, but no more than my 45 caliber Beretta pistol does. And the firm consensus by those using them to stay alive, is that its early problems have long since been put to bed. It’s a precision instrument whose virtues are a little harder to find than those of the AK, but it doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
My AK is actually a Romanian WASR designed to comply with New Jersey’s famously idiotic ‘Assault Weapons Ban”. It’s not a particularly well built gun, even by the loose standards of the Kalashnikov, and its accuracy has always suffered for it. The first ten rounds will usually go where you want them to if what you’re shooting at is no more than 200 yards or so away. But after the barrel heats up it’s anybody’s guess where you’re bullets go. The best performance I’ve ever gotten out of it was about a 13 inch spread at 200 yards with a hot barrel. I’d be confident using it to shoot a deer at 50 yards, or to strafe a hoard of approaching zombies or something, but a precision instrument it is not.
Not so my new AR15. After a dozen shots to center the inexpensive scope I bought for it, I put 18 holes in a 1.5 inch circle at 200 yards. And to be perfectly honest about it, I wasn’t even really trying that hard. I only brought two boxes of ammunition and was just trying it out. Had I used a little discipline I’m convinced that I would have done even better. But it wasn’t just the accuracy that was different than my AK. The fact is, it was a pleasure to shoot in comparison.
The AK is reloaded by a mammoth piston driven bolt carrier and heavy operating handle that in most cases has the look of something that was made with hand tools in your buddy’s garage. It would probably make a pretty good weapon in it's own right. I can easily picture the desperate Russian peasant soldier, starving and long out of ammo, using it alone to bludgeon some poor farmer to better steal a chicken.
Anyway...shoving all that weight around with every shot greatly increases the shimmy and shake of an AK even if the recoil is generally pretty light. The AK’s standard bullet is more than twice the mass of the bullet from the AR so combine the two and accurate repeat fire is made more difficult than with an AR. It also has a short and uncomfortably shaped stock that might have been great for Russian soldiers sporting thick layers of insulation, but it doesn’t really suit the average t-shirt clad American sport shooter.
In the meantime, the AR uses a gas impingement system that’s been designed from scratch to shed weight and to be carefully balanced. The bullet is a smaller 5.56 caliber round delivered at a a blistering speed. And in spite of its smaller weight, has been shown to turn flesh into so much pink colored goo. The recoil is absolutely minimal and is made even less so by the straight design of the stock. The stock length is also designed to be adjusted, even if one of NJ’s stupider laws negates that benefit for me personally. But even so, it makes for a much more comfortable fit than any AK.
Describing these virtues and vices actually reminds me of a scene from that classic golf movie “Tin Cup”. At one point the hero has a tantrum and breaks all the clubs in his bag except the seven iron. He then uses it alone to shoot par on the back nine. Bragging later, he says to his professional rival “Have you ever shot par on the back nine with nothing but a seven iron? And his rival says “To be perfectly honest, it never occurred to me to try.”
That’s what the AK looks like next to the AR. It can survive all manner of things that the AR never thought to try. It’s wholly unnecessary “abuse insurance”, and it comes at the cost of accuracy, comfort, and practical effectiveness at range.
The AK can be run over by a truck and keep shooting. It can go years without cleaning and keep shooting. You can feed it a fistful of sand, dunk it under water, throw it from an airplane, drag it behind a truck, or toss it straight into a fire, and when it cools off or slows down enough for you to touch the trigger, it will probably still go bang. But why in the world would you want to (or for that matter even need to) do any of those things to your rifle?
The AR on the other hand wasn’t designed for durability as much as ease of use. It’s built so that anyone can become an excellent rifle shot using it, with only a minimum of time and effort. At some level recoil is the enemy of accuracy so the AR15 removes as much of it as possible as a central focus of it's design. Rather than the ‘spray and pray’ philosophy required for the AK, even an inexperienced wielder of an AR becomes a real rifleman; able to strike his enemy at a great range, with great reliably. It’s a completely different philosophy of fighting tool.
The AK puts an untrained soldier in the field and keeps him there no matter what, even if he’s not being terribly effective while he’s there. The AR takes an untrained soldier and makes him as useful as possible, so long as he has the support he needs to keep him in the field. A minimum amount of training goes much further with the AR than the AK. And if you ask me I think that gives it the advantage. Those illiterate AK wielding peasants might be able to stay in the field under any conditions, and their weapons can take unimagined abuse. But what good are they to your enemy if you’ve killed them all 100 yards before they can even get you inside their effective range?
What’s more, for the sport shooter, the AK is an exercise in failure… or at least in managing your own expectations. It’s about learning to live with not being able to hit something as small as you wanted to or to hit it from as far away as you would like. It's like shooting a par on the back nine with your seven iron. It's a triumph if you can mange it, but there is almost certainly no point in going to all the trouble. The AR on the other hand seems to be specifically designed for sport shooter success. You hit what you’re shooting at… even if you don’t really know what you’re doing… and even when you aren’t trying very hard to do it.
If I was sucked back in time to the 14th century I’d want to take the AK with me because there are no circumstances too tough for it. I’ll bet you could clean and lubricate it with whale oil and fire bullets reloaded with homemade black powder and it will still do fine. It’s designed to keep going no matter what. But the truth is, I’m not going back to the 14th century, I’m staying here in the modern world. And as bad as things will ever get here, there will still be plenty of modern solvents, oils and smokeless powders (or at least nitro-cellulose) available to keep my AR shooting.
It feels so much better than my AK, that in less than 100 rounds it’s become my “go to” rifle. That's the side of this argument I've now come down on.
Since a regular reader has asked via email, the rifle above is a 5.56 caliber Rock River lower with a 16 inch heavy barrel, m4 feed ramps, a mid length gas system, a chrome bore, chamber, bolt, and carrier, and has a light weight free float 4 rail tube and closed end Muzzle Brake - both from Yankee Hill Machinery, and an M4 adjustable stock that's been pinned into position.
The scope is a fixed mag 4x32 NcStar Rubber Armored Tactical Scope with a side mounted red laser, and blue illuminated Sniper Reticle.