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AR v. AK Death Match

Update: The original thread I brought this up on is here. Make sure you read the comments for a good discussion.

Les’ post on asking gun questions of Sean Penn reminded me that I planned on doing an AK vs. AR analysis. Here it is:

Feature AR-15 AK-47 Winner
Design Tight tolerances.  Machined aluminum.


Loose tolerances.  Made mostly from stamped sheet metal.


Draw – each has advantages and disadvantages
Reliability Known to fail to feed or fail to eject when exposed to extremely cold temperatures and sandy environments.  Proper cleaning is required to ensure reliability.  The gas system leaves a lot to be desired and should be cleaned regularly or it will cause reliability issues.  When properly maintained, it functions flawlessly.   Due to low mechanical tolerances, it will fire every time you pull the trigger.  Doesn’t matter where it’s at or what you just did to it.  A friend of mine, and I am not making this up, fired his while the bolt was rusted shut.  It fired, ejected the round, and chambered the next one (don’t try that at home, kids).  Cleaning, though a good idea, is generally not required.


AK-47, hands down
Stopping Power The standard 5.56NATO lacks stopping power when using ball ammo.  However, the AR-15 is available in many calibers, from 22LR to 308 Winchester to 50 Beowulf. 


The standard 7.62X39 round is battle tested and proven.  The AK is also available in many calibers from 22LR to 308 Winchester. Draw – Though there are many more caliber options for the AR than the AK
Accessories Tons of accessories made specifically for the AR-15.  Accessories (particularly optics) work on them ‘out of the box.’ There are tons of accessories for the AK as well.  However, there are issues with optics in that the stock AK lacks a good platform to mount them.  The receiver side mounts are a nuisance.  Many common accessories require modifications to the weapon.


AR merely due to the ease with which you can find accessories that fit out of the box.
Price Range from $550 to as much as you want to spend.  Magazines run between $15 and $25.


Can be had for as little as $250.  Some high end custom jobs can be pricey.  Mags can be had for less than $5 AK is hands-down the winner for those on a budget. Generally, you can get almost two AKs for the price of an AR.
Accuracy Tight tolerances of the machined parts yield a more accurate rifle.  The AR is known to be accurate at 600 yards.  Even further with good optics.


Maybe accurate at 300 yards on a good day.  AR-15, hands down
Ergonomics The AR-15 offers proper cheek-weld.  It’s controls (selector, safety, bolt release, and magazine release) are convenient to the shooter’s hands. Some folks find the charging handle design is a bit odd. The AK is an awkward design in terms of ergonomics.  There is no cheek weld to speak of (it’s more like a chin-weld), which affects sight picture.  Removing the magazine requires losing sight picture.  The safety requires the shooter to remove their trigger hand from the pistol grip.  There is no bolt release.


AR-15, no question
Sights Military peep sights that are rugged and durable.


Front post, rear blade. AK sights are not the most durable. AR-15
Trigger Pull Military style trigger.  It’s crisp but not the  smoothest. The loose tolerances really show in the trigger pull.  It is not crisp nor is it smooth. Also, prone to trigger slap.



By a score of 5-2-2, I call it for the AR-15. Let the flaming begin!

24 Responses to “AR v. AK Death Match”

  1. _Jon Says:

    I think you need to weight them.
    For example, is it more important that the rifle fire than be accurate at x-yards?
    How important is the ease of mounting optics in comparison to the cheek/chin-weld?

    You may not have wanted to get that detailed in your comparison, but I think it is critical.

  2. countertop Says:

    I agree with Jon. Also, while diversity of ammo choices is interesting, lets face it – 99.9% of AKs are in 7.62×39 and 99.9% of ARs are in .223 Rem. When comparing ammo, you really ought to focus on a comparision of both rounds. How you then weight the results, I leave to you. Do you want something harder hitting but only really accurate out to 100 yards? Or do you want soemthing less accurate but able to reach out and touch someone 500 yards away?

  3. countertop Says:

    For what its worth, I would give design and stopping power to the AK. I prefer loose tolerances when it counts – and in any situtation where I am really going to need to rely on it, its more important to knock someone down 100 yards away than at 500 yards. For others, it might be different.

    Anyway, I would call it 5-4 under your chart though I really couldn’t care less about swag and think reliability and stopping power need to count for more.

    Weighted I would rank them as follows

    Design (x2) – AK
    Reliability (x3) – AK
    Stopping power (x3) – AK
    Accesories – AR
    Price (x2) – AK
    Accuracy (x3) -AR
    Ergonomics – AR
    Sights (x2) – AR
    Trigger pull (this is easy enough to fix) – AR

    Final (weighted) tally –

    AK: 10
    AR: 8

  4. Addison Says:

    Well, I’m biased.

    I currently only have an AK-style in my safe. I don’t like the AR’s. I’ve shot ’em. They’re heavy as hell for what you get (if I’m going to shoot 5.56, I think a Kel-tec might be the way to go – light, simple (gas piston!), and lots cheaper.

    I’ve also upgraded the AK considerably – Ultimak, Red Star Trigger (no slap, great to adjust) – and a “AR-style” pistol grip – and with all of that, I’ve got less than $600 in the gun.

    Which leaves $300 or so to the nearest “stock” AR.. to buy ammo. šŸ™‚

    I’ve been considering getting a VEPR, especially with a 20″ barrel – I’d prefer that from a sound (to the shooter) perspective). I’ve got a SAR-1, and it’s … well, accurate enough. With Winchester Hunting ammo, last year, and a $30 red dot on the ultimak, and 10 round went into a “head” on the silouette that happened to be at the range – which was under the 4 MOA of the dot. Minute of Person is all that you need. šŸ™‚

    The sights are the only “real” problem that I know of, especially if you upgrade (or tune up) the trigger (and the stock AR trggers I’ve seen weren’t anything to write home about).

    I wouldn’t mind an AR, in 6.8, or something more decent – but that gas system still gives me the heebies.

    Ex-co-worker had been SF for many years, and he *loved* the AR. I commented on the lack of reliability “Oh, yeah, if you’re a dumbass” he’d say. “Trick is, whenever you stop for anything, you oil it, if you’re stopping for more than 20 minutes, give it a quick once-over, and clean it daily” “Uh, how often would you do that for an AK?” “Shit, you don’t clean those, jsut shoot them a couple times, they’re good to go”

    He didn’t understand why I’d lose the accuracy (enough for a deer last season), and take the reliability (and the far-more-effective) cartridge.

  5. Cowboy Blob Says:

    Why not let the AR reach through the ropes and tag the M1A, who, in turn, leaps from the turnbuckles, giving the AK a flying chop to the midsection? The savaged AK-47 reaches for his team member, the AK-74 who shakes his head his exaggerated histrionics. The referee hits the bell, saving AR from being pinned. Then, the XM-8 prances into the ring in a bikini holding a placard announcing Round 2! The ghosts of Eugene Stoner and John M. Browning splash some water on AR, who spits bloodily into a bucket. “Who’s Adrian?” they ask?

  6. Alston Says:


    Not “Tolerances” – Clearances! I hear this a million time a day in the gun store, and it drives me bonkers. Go talk to a machinist, and ask the difference.

    The modern AK47 variants are held to the same tolerances of any current production military firearm. The tolerances are measured in hundred parts of an inch, for NASA, they are measured in much smaller parts. The tolerances of any manufactured part refers to how many hundreths, thousanths, billionths or what have you, the part may vary from the specification, before it is out of spec.

    A modern AK47 will be manufactured to the same tolerances as any current production military firearm – the clearances that are built into the gun is where they gain their reputation for reliability when full of gunk- in short, the gun was designed with clearances, spaces in the gun where sand, mud, ice, grit or even in extreme cases, crushed fired casings could nestle out of the way, hopefully without adversely affecting the functioning of the firearm. The AK design has more “clearance” for crud in the gun than the AR15.

    And I prefer the AR15 for all purposes, because I know how to clean a gun – I’m just tired of seeing “tolerances” in the same sentence as “legendary AK reliability”, if for no other reason, than that I’ve seen them jam near as often as the M16 family. Anything with more than one part can fail to work, AKs do not defy the laws of reality.


  7. SayUncle Says:

    Ah. Not as technically apt as you are, so I’ll take your word for it. I will point out that Kalashnikov himself was interviewed on he history channel and he (or rather his interpretor) used the term ‘tolerance.’

  8. catfish Says:

    Nice bit of work. I own both, shoot both, and enjoy both. Can’t say that I argue with anything you’ve pointed out. I do however, place more emphasis on the reliability aspect of it. The better trigger and greater accuracy won’t amount to a hill of beans if the rifle no worky.

    If I’m shooting a 3 gun match and had to choose between the 2 I’d go with the AR. If I needed to rely on a weapon to save my life, with no gaurantee I could keep it clean, I’d go with the AK. Also, the AK makes a splendid car gun – #1, if my car is broken into, I’m out about $300. If my AR was stolen, that’s a good $1600 down the drain. Also, in Texas, the nasty hot summers will evaporate pretty much any oil you lube with. As you pointed out, not so good a plan for an AR. It has no effect on the AK.

    I once SO’d a shooter in a 3 gun match shooting an AK. He shot the course of fire, and when unloading and showing clear, we noted a rattle that shouldn’t be there. We investigated everything possible, and finally pulled the top off the AK. Inside were two, count em two live rounds that did not impede the rifle’s abilty to finish the COF.

    Needless to say, I was impressed.

    Great points!

  9. Les Jones Says:

    I totally agree with Uncle’s points. On the things that I’ve actually experienced – accuracy, ergonomics, quick mag changes, sights – the AR wins. The AK has the rep for reliability, but I’ve never used the guns in conditions bad enough to test that.

  10. Jay G Says:

    One other thought: No one buys an AK to shoot it at 600 yards. For any reason. One might buy an AR to shoot at 600 yards, but for competition only. The .223 round is weak enough in close quarters, let alone letting it bleed off some speed (which is the main, some would say only, component to its effectiveness at all).

    If I want a gun I can shoot accurately at 600 yards, I’ll take a bolt-action rifle. If I want a battle rifle that’ll work out to 100 yards even if I’ve stored it in my swimming pool, I’ll take an AK.

    I own neither; in fact, the only “assault rifle” that I own is an M1 carbine (!) with a cracked receiver (!!!). The AK is on the short list of guns to get; the AR is on the longer list. Somewhere after lever-action .357 Magnum rifle and my third .357 Magnum pistol (damn but I *DO* love that round).

  11. SayUncle » Blog Archive » AR v. AK Death Match Comments Says:

    […] There’s some good discussion in my AR vs. AK death match post. Read them. I am disappointed that it didn’t become the flame-war that I thought it would. […]

  12. Addison Says:

    Perhaps we’re looking at this the wrong way.

    What would it take to fix the “deficencies” in the AK, and the AR?

    Well, the AR’s decently simple, I think. Go back to a piston-design (several aftermarkets are available, for instance) instead of the direct gas impingment, and rechamber.

    And lose some weight, somewhere. I picked up an AR at the range one time that was heavier than my M1A. If I have to carry 10 pounds, I want 7.62×51, dammit.

    AK? Well, most of it’s “shortcomings” I don’t mind so much, the mag release is probably the biggest. The safety, perhaps, I see that there’s a new add in, gives you a right-thumb control (when I looked at my AK, I didn’t know why they didn’t have that out already). Caliber is good.

    Sights would probably be the single best upgrade.

    So, the AK needs ergonomic upgrades, the AR needs reliability upgrades. .. I’d say that’s a fair comparision, how do you weight those?

  13. EgregiousCharles Says:

    This is why I’d like to get a Robinson Arms XCR, it appears to be a sucessful combination of the advantages of both; basically an AK47 action surrounded by M4 rail systems, trigger, etc; it also has some other modifications that the Robinson Arms guys thought up, which sound good to me but aren’t as proven as the AR/AK. It does NOT have the AK’s cheapness advantage. Unfortunately for me, it’s not available in 7.62×51 at this time, and I personally dislike intermediate-power cartidges in a semi-automatic weapon.

  14. Publicola Says:

    Cowboy Blob,
    The M1A would refuse to be tagged by that piece of plastic wonderment. It’d stand there with bipod crossed saying, “no mr. hotshot ‘i defecate where I feed & that’s okay’ you got yourself into this mess, you get yourself out of this”. Also JM Browning (take your hat off when his name is typed) would not splash water on an AR, cause he realizes that unlike his designs that could cause malfunctions, or make the damned thing melt. Instead he’d probably grab Stoner, toss him in the ring, climb up on the ropes & do one of those flying leapy things. When Stoner’s trying to recover, Browning would lean back & tag JC Garand’s hand (take yer hat off fer him too) . Garand would slowly circle the prostrate Stoner & snort “so, an op rod wasn’t good enough for ya huh? Had to go & steal an idea from the french – the bloody french. I’m Canadian & I didn’t look at their designs!” Then he’d give one of those elbow drops from the olden days & finish with Stoner in a figure four, saying, “Stoner. That’d be a good description of the typoe of fellow who’d take a french design & try to pawn it off on Americans. Hey JM – hand me an op rod. This [expletive deleted] has chosen the way of pain. Let’s be fair though – hand him ‘direct gas impingement’ tube or whatever they call that pigtailed looking thing. Let’s see him defend himself with that!”

    Seriously, accuracy is a bit over rated. In a match sub MOA is good. When it counts3 to 4 MOA is all you’ll ever need & it’s usually better than most folks can shoot off the bench anyway. The stopping power – I’d have called that for the AK. Despite the AR-10’s most AR’s are in the poodle shooting 5.56×45. I think that’d have knocked it down to AR- 4 AK- 4 Draws- 2. The AR’s sights are real damn good, but I have heard (though not tried for myself) of some decent receiver sights for the AK. I think with an AK so fitted it’d edge out the AR. But then gain I’m a bit biased (I know; it’s a shocker) & what I’d look for in such a platform would hinge on decent accuracy (less than 4 MOA) & mucho reliability. The other things can be worked with or around (ergonmics, sights, etc…). Then again I would cheat if I could & grab a Garand or perhaps a BM-59. When ya gonna have the Garand v anything else death match? šŸ˜›

  15. SayUncle Says:

    Well, Garand vs. M1A goes to the M1A šŸ˜‰

  16. Publicola Says:

    sure, if you omit the Garand from the contest šŸ˜€

  17. jr Says:

    What about how much the ammo weighs? I’d be interested in knowing who wins that one.

  18. Rivrdog Says:

    Ammo weight? You beefing about ammo weight as the reason you’d rather shoot poodles?

    Well, you can carry 120 rds for a battle load in 7.62X51 as opposed to 200 in 5.56X45. So, shoot a little less crowd-pleasing hosepipe style with your M1A or HK-91, WHICH YOU SHOULD HAVE AS YOUR SHTF RIFLE IN PLACE OF EITHER ONE OF THESE COMPROMISE RIFLES, and weight won’t be an issue in the ammo dept.

  19. Resistance is futile! Says:

    Carnival of Cordite #30

    Time once again for the (usually) weekly Carnival of Cordite! Let’s jump right in, shall we? * * * First and foremost, we have the ongoing debacle in New Orleans: Josh’s Weblog reviews the situation for us here. More from

  20. Posse Incitatus Says:

    I’m surprised that perhaps the most important factor was left off: ease of use.

    The AR was designed to be easy for novice shooters to use accurately. It is loud, but its weight and recoil are minimal. Yes, the AK throws a heavier slug, but there is a price to be paid for that.

    AR variants are easier for women to use and practice with – which means means more accuracy when it counts.

    Some may say this is part of ergonomics, but ease of shooting is a little different. It isn’t about location of the safety catch or the magazine well – it’s about how easy and therefore how often people will use it.

    The AR wins hands down here.

  21. Heartless Libertarian Says:

    Just some random thoughts…

    >Didn’t Stoner use a gas piston in his modular weapon system (which survives in a form today as the Robarm 96?)

    >Wouldn’t JMB tag in his prodigy at FN, Saive? The guy who designed the FN-49, and IIRC

  22. nvsmith Says:

    -These are all good and interesting comments.
    -I’m retired Army & scored Expert with M-1, M-14 and M-16. My last unit had M-4s but we didn’t have to shoot for record. I’ve carried all of these, and others, in unpleasant places.
    -I’ve also fired various AKs, Galils, SKS, FAL, BM-59 clone, FN49, etc. & currently own an AR-15 and civilianized SKS.
    -They are all for different people with different skills and philosophies. Although the AR/M-16 is pleasant to shoot and has myriad accessories it isn’t my first choice but I would take an AR-18/180: what the M-16 SHOULD have been. The reason the AR-15 system has so many options is to make it work the way each owner thinks it should work. Pretty soon some of the more ambitious thinkers are going to need machine gun carts to carry all the options they “need”.
    -For someone who doesn’t have rifle familiarity the SKS is an excellent choice, although I’m not fond of the safety.
    -The AK series (less the Galil versions) are also simple but filthy and have a horrible recoil as issued. Aftermarket parts and tuning can help at not too great a price. The kit built AKs have the potential to be built to far batter than Warsaw Pact tolerances and standards but still maintain a high degree of of idiot proofing.
    -The M-16 clones can have fantastic range and accuracy but that comes at the cost of ruggedness in the field: drop a teaspoonful of sand into someone’s AR at a match and see what happens…
    -I have the SKS because it is obviously a rifle but without the black rifle or curved magazine cachet. It just isn’t that menacing but is handy, rapid firing and effective to 250 meters.
    -For a service piece I’d be very comfortable with an improved AK along the lines of the Valmet or Galil with ammo to US standards. (US issue 7.62×39 ammo replicates Warsaw Pact ammo- just as stinky and filthy since it is used for OPFOR training.)
    -Like one of the previous writers I’ve never gotten used to that cotton picking recoil spring in the M-16. The AR-18 series is much more user friendly.
    -Let’s take a look at an AR-18 and an SKS (or improved AK) in 6.5 Grendel & see the effect.
    -Remember: When man makes something idiot proof, God creates a better idiot.

  23. SayUncle » Eugene Stoner versus Mikhail Kalashnikov Says:

    […] I’ve offered my opinion on the issue before, but let’s have a second opinion on the AK-47 v. AR-15 debate: It is true that Kalashnikov (the inventor, not the weapon) was an able weapon designer, but he was not superior to Eugene Stoner (the father of the M16/M4). Kalashnikov designed a weapon for an ill-trained conscripted army. For that purpose, the AK47 was and is a superb weapon. Stoner designed a weapon for a professional army. Any professional soldier would prefer the M16/M4 family over the Kalashnikovs. […]

  24. SayUncle » AR v. AK v. Mosin Says:

    […] A while back, I did my AR v AK comparison. Now, Head has done is own comparison. My favorites: AK – You are able to hit the broad side of a barn from inside […]

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