AR-15 vs. AK-47

November 15, 2012 by | 9 Comments

Because both the AR-15 and the AK-47 are excellent weapons, you’re going to find plenty of die-hard fans of each one. Usually, there isn’t much overlap; you either love the AR or you love the AK.

As a veteran Marine, I’ve put more rounds downrange through the M16 (the military version of the AR-15) than most people will ever shoot in their lifetime. I’ve carried it through swamps, deserts, jungles, mountains, and even cities, so I’m very comfortable operating with it, and it’s the first weapon I grab when I have a choice.

That’s not to say it doesn’t have its drawbacks; it certainly does, as does the AK-47. Today, we’ll outline the pros and cons of each weapon system, and let you choose which is best for you and your situation based on that data.



Pros Reason
Lightweight A standard AR-15 weights between 5.5–8.5 lb, depending on configuration.
Smaller ammunition You can carry and store more ammunition.
Less recoil The weapon is easier to fire accurately; especially follow up shots.
Higher velocity A smaller projectile traveling at a higher speed results in a more stable and accurate round.
Longer range U.S. Marines must qualify annually with the M16 out to 500m, but it is possible to accurately engage targets even beyond that range.
Upper receiver is removable You can easily swap out upper receivers for multiple caliber and barrel length configurations.
Tighter tolerances There is less movement between parts, so your rifle is more accurate.
Picatinny rail systems MilSpec Picatinny rail systems on most modern AR-15s allows for a wide range of optics, lasers, flashlights, bi-pods and other accessories to be easily mounted.
Cons Reason
Less energy With a bullet weight between 55-63 grains, the 5.56×45 round delivers less kinetic energy, so it’s less lethal.
Requires more maintenance Generally, you’ll have to keep your AR-15 very well cleaned and lubricated in order to keep it functioning.
Gas tube system (in most cases) Combustion gasses and powder residue travel through the gas tube to the bolt carrier group, dirtying the action more quickly.
Tighter tolerances Since there is less space between parts, debris such as sand or mud can more easily jam the weapon.
More expensive Due to precision machining techniques and tighter tolerances, the AR-15 costs more to manufacture.



Pros Reason
More energy With a bullet weight between 123-154 grains, the 7.62×39 round delivers more kinetic energy, so it’s more lethal.
Loose tolerances The manufacturing process of an AK-47 leaves a lot of play between parts, which means that you can pull them out of the mud and they’ll still fire just fine.
Piston system The majority of combustion gasses never make it to the action or the bolt, resulting in a cleaner weapon.
Cheaper Due to less precise machining techniques and looser tolerances, the AK-47 costs less to manufacture.
Cons Reason
Heavy A standard AK-47 weighs 6.8 pounds or more, depending on configuration.
Larger ammunition You can carry and store less ammunition.
More recoil The weapon is more difficult to fire accurately; especially follow up shots.
Less range The ballistics of the 7.62×39 ammunition make it virtually impossible to accurately engage targets past 300m.
Loose tolerances Since the manufacturing process of an AK-47 leaves a lot of play between parts, your rifle will be less accurate.

It’s also worth noting that while ammunition is plentiful for both weapons, 7.62×39 is currently about 30% cheaper than 5.56×45/.223. I recommend keeping an eye on Bulk Ammo and Ammunition to Go because the prices fluctuate often, and sometimes, one will have a better deal than the other. Both are solid, reputable companies, and I have bought plenty of ammunition from each of them.

So there you have it. In my opinion, while the AR-15 is a far better weapon system, either one is an excellent choice for your self-defense needs; after all, you’re not traipsing around the mountains of Afghanistan engaging Taliban fighters. In an absolute worst-case scenario, you may have to repel gangs or looters, so a weapon capable of accurate fire at 50m is more than adequate. In fact, if you’re shooting at someone much further away than 20 feet, you’re going to have a tough time convincing the police that it was a case of legitimate self-defense.

If you have the money to spare, I’d go with the AR-15 every time, but if you’re on a budget, the AK-47 gives you more bang for your buck. The most important thing is to train on a regular basis with which ever weapon you’ve chosen.

Melanie Swick (a.k.a. Survival Chick) grew up wanting to be a rocket scientist, but when she realized she that required way too much math, she took to her second dream—spending time in the wilderness. Today, when she's not hiking, camping, or hunting, she's blogging about it. You can connect with Melanie on Facebook.

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  • S Xoxo says:

    We won’t be fighting Taliban but there will be bands of heavily armed and well trained vets and former police who weren’t prepared and need food and potable water.

  • George Nickerson says:

    An improvement over both these calibers/guns is the 6.8 SPC. My dad got a Ruger Mini 14 in this caliber. It is basically a 270 bullet in a mini 14 type cartridge. More power than a 223 and smaller than a mini 30 cartridge. As it becomes more popular I am sure ammo will become cheaper. It is an excellent deer hunting rifle. Ruger does a good job with these guns. Wouldn’t mind having one myself.

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      I agree, George, 6.8 is a better cartridge than either 5.56×45 or 7.62×39, but it’s not as commonly available or as cost-effective.

      The AR-15 is available chambered in 6.8, and you can slap that upper on the same lower receiver that your 5.56 uses.

  • Doc says:

    Jeremy you are right on the money with this article.
    My personal opinion is for availability of parts and ammo I’ll take an AR here in the states, most other places I have been dropped in (Except for some South American Countries and Israel) the AK is more prevalent and cheaper. But until I end up there give me the AR platform all day long.

  • OH! Don’t equate foot pounds of energy with being more deadly! A Nut-case in Tasmania used an AR-15 and a M1-A1 both using military ammo in a shooting spree years ago. The ballistic study became a focal point with researchers because the 5.56 was actually more destructive in tissue than the 7.62. I hunt with the .223 using a 65 gr controlled expansion bullet and it works quite well. The 55 gr FMJ is extremely destructive on the hogs I hunt. The Soviet bullet is too stable and punches a 31 cal hole in and out without too much damage. As you said correctly, the 223 is much more controllable in rapid firing and the trajectory is very flat at even long distances making hits more probable. Ted A Sames II

    • Jeremy Knauff says:

      You’re comparing apples to oranges, Ted. First, it’s simple physics; when comparing two similar rounds, the one that produces more energy will produce more damage. Comparing a hollow point to a full metal jacket is not an accurate comparison.

      • Bob says:

        That energy must be transferred to the target. With ball ammo 7.62 will “icepick”. If you do not hit vital areas you will not cause more damage. The 7.62 round does better when it slows down (longer distance). The energy of any ball ammo round is mostly wasted. You need the target to absorb the energy by it being a flat surface (that is why larger calibers knock over steel targets), or using expanding bullets. 5.56 coming apart does more damage.

  • kevin says:

    I’ve always liked the ruggedness and downright stopping power of the AK,in saying this I’ve also had at the same time the M16 in my hands and liked the accuracy to reach out a bit further than the AK. BUT if I was to reach for one of my weapons to bug out quickly I still think given where I reside and knowing the limitations of both ….my trusty,ugly,and heavy AK47.

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