What’s The Best AK-47 For Your Money?
The AK-47 platform is one of the most iconic guns in the world. It’s so iconic, in fact, that it’s portrayed on Mozambique’s national flag. It’s the only modern firearm to occupy such an important part in a nation’s history. The AK occupies a special place in the hearts and minds of people all over the globe, but here in America it has to contend with a crowded field of similar firearms like the AR-15.
This doesn’t mean that the AK platform is without its fans on this side of the pond. There are, in fact, shooting matches dedicated to guns that use the AK action. Gun owners across the country value the AK for its simplicity, reliability, and hard-hitting punch with the 7.62x39mm round.
Once And Future Rifle
Two events radically changed AK ownership in the United States. The first was the Bush Administration’s 1989 decision to ban the importation of many different types of “military style” firearms, including copies of the AK-47 made by Norinco in China. This had two effects on American gun owners: It raised prices on AKs here in the U.S., as Chinese AKs were, by and large, cheaper than other AK variants, and it increased interest in AK-style guns made in other countries, as well as those made here in the States.
The second event was the 1994 Assault Weapons Ban, which banned the sale of a select group of firearms based on cosmetic features and included almost all variants of the AK-47 available at the time. To get around the ban, gun manufacturers quickly learned they could adjust a few items on their guns (such as the muzzle device at the end of the barrel and type of stock used on the rifle) and their guns would suddenly become legal again. The AK was easily adaptable to incorporate features that made it no longer a “banned” gun. However, adding those features cost money, and manufacturers passed those costs on to the consumer, raising AK prices even more.
What Features Are Best In The AK-47?
This brings us to today, where you can find AR-15s at prices that are equal to or less than an AK-47 style gun. There are also a wide range of prices for AK-style guns. The cost for rifles with similar features can vary by as much as a thousand dollars. So, the question becomes, what is the best AK-47 for the money? What makes a thousand-dollar AK worth the money versus a budget blaster?
To answer those questions, I talked with two of my friends who have long histories with the AK platform: Lee Williams and Michael Bane. Lee is a newspaper editor and the proprietor of TheGunWriter.com. He is also a big fan of Eastern Bloc firearms in general and the AK in particular. As such, he is intimately familiar with the ins and outs of the platform. Michael has written and talked about the gun business for decades, first as a writer for all the major gun magazines and now as the host of Shooting Gallery on Outdoor Channel and on his own website.
Lee Williams, TheGunwriter.com
“Essentially, all AK’s are the same,” he said. “They’re based on a reliable, proven design that’s been proven to be very rugged in almost any situation. And if an AK doesn’t work,” he continued, “it is probably due to a big issue, and it needs to go to a smith.”
“The low end AKs will all run. The thing about the AK,” Lee said, “is that it’s meant to work with looser part tolerances than with, say, an AR-15. However, at some point, loose tolerances will catch up with you, and reliability will start to be an issue.”
Lee continued, “Ease of adding upgrades is an issue with the lower-end AKs. The AKs that cost $1000 or more are quicker and easier to upgrade, with better ergonomic features like a flange on the safety for easier use, a left-handed safety, and more choices in muzzle brakes for better recoil control.”
“Another thing you’ll see in the higher-end AK guns is a milled receiver group versus the stamped receiver of less expensive guns,” Lee said. “However, in my opinion, that’s a feature that Americans who are used to the AR platform demand in a gun. The fact is, the AK was designed to use a stamped receiver, and those work just fine.”
“In general,” he concluded, “the more you pay for your AK, the better the fit and finish on the gun, and the quicker and easier it will be to add accessories onto your gun.”
Michael Bane, Outdoor Channel
“Prior to the import ban of the late 80’s, you could buy AK’s for very little money because the market was flooded with cheap Norincos and other guns from Chinese manufacturers. At the same time, the AR-15 was an expensive gun, as Colt was the primary manufacturer. Now the reverse is true,” Bane said.
“Old AKs shot patterns, not groups,” he said. “Military rifles of the day, especially surplus ones, weren’t really built to American standards of accuracy and accessorizing. Precision wasn’t a priority for most armies out there, and the AK was not designed with accuracy as job one.”
“With the AK,” Michael continued, “higher standards of accuracy mean higher prices, and some of the newer good guns are quite good. Quality in AK’s has dramatically improved in the last 25 years, and now entry-level AKs are better than the surplus military products of years ago.”
“Accuracy, fit and finish and performance on the AK all go up as the price goes up,” said Michael. “There’s a bias in America that a forged receiver is a higher-quality than a stamped one, but that may not necessarily be true.”
Built Tough Enough For The Russian Winter
Low End AK-47s
- Reliable, rugged, but not that accurate
- Stamped receivers
- Limited choices in accessories
High End AK-47s
- Still reliable, but accuracy starts to improve
- Possibly uses milled receivers
- More rails and easier to upgrade
Ultimately, choosing the best AK-47 depends on a number of factors. For someone who’s looking to occasionally shoot an AK, an entry-level WASR or VSKA might be the way to go. If you need a bit more from your gun, look to a quality build from Rifle Dynamics or another manufacturer. And, if you’re looking for something a little bit different, your best bet might be a new version of the Galil or a similar gun that uses long-stroke piston action from the AK.
Is there an AK model that holds a special place in your heart? Sound off in the comments below.