The next time you head to the woods for deer—think AK. Seriously. Well, that is if you want a reliable, heavy-hitting, easy-to-clean, strip, reassemble, and shoot in rain, sleet, snow, mud and swamp rifle—because the Russian-designed AK-47 military rifle is all these things and more. A lot more.
“Now hold on there Mr. Pinsky, we understand your family bloodline has vodka in it, but you can’t be serious. Everyone knows the AK-47 has seen its fair share of wars, but it isn’t fit for the deer woods because it is about as accurate as a broken watch. Da?”
No. In fact, let’s practice a little glasnost first before we shut down the AK haters.
The AK-47 military rifle was developed during the late 1940s as a platform for the Soviet-invented 7.62x39mm military cartridge, which was on the drawing tables in 1943 nearly two years before Nazi Germany cried “dzya-dzya” (Russian for “uncle”) in 1945. Legendary military-rifle genius Mikhail Kalashnikov and his comrades pitched their AK design to the Soviet government after WWII, and in 1949 the AK-47 was officially adopted by the Soviet military. Since then, the simple to use, clean, fix and acquire AK-47 has become simply the most popular military rifle in history. Why? The AK-47 quickly earned a reputation for being simple to use, easy to fix and effective by everyone from no-experience freedom fighters in the hills of Afghanistan, to the slick Spetsnaz (Russian military special forces). Of course like any weapon, its potency was always directly proportional to its user’s skills. Funny, hunting rifles follow that same rule but I digress.
“Now just a AR-toting minute there, Mr. Pinsky, we understand, the rifle has a legendary status as a war rifle but—here, let me pour you another shot of vodka—the rifle, well, it isn’t accurate. And the caliber hits like a 6-year-old school girl out past archery range. Da?”
No. Ugh. Maybe you ought to drink this vodka? Let’s talk ballistics for a minute. Let’s put things in perspective in terms any American hunter should easily understand. Few hunters would deny one of the most beloved calibers in American deer-hunting history is the rather pedestrian 30-30 Winchester. Its slick-handling, lever-action-rifle preferred, low-recoil, accurate, freezer-filling track record validated from Virginia to Alaska has made any hunter worth a salt lick acknowledge the simple brilliance of a caliber and rifle combination that works well beyond the number-crunching, ballistics-table spewing “hunters” amongst us. In a typical 30-30 Winchester rifle load, say 150 grains, hunters can expect about 800 ft.-lbs. of energy and 8 inches of drop at 200 yards with a 100-yard zero. That’s plenty of performance to result in a gut-and-drag drill in most American deer camps.
The 7.62x39mm with its typical 123-grain bullet, does at least those numbers with a little more attitude out of the most popular military rifle in human history. In fact, with a deer bullet, say Hornady’s 123-grain SST, AK-47 users can expect a 3-inch high point of impact at 100 yards while placing shoots dead-on at 200 yards, with energy just a wee-bit north of 800 ft-lbs. Again, plenty of energy for Bambi borscht.
Now, my point here is if the universally American-accepted effectiveness of the 30-30 Winchester 150-grain round nose load doesn’t raise any doubting eyebrows in deer camp, then the Russian 7.62x39mm shouldn’t either. But it does.
Many rifle enthusiasts think because the AK-47 doesn’t shoot inch-for-inch with the American-engineered AR-15 style military rifle, that it is simply inaccurate. They think this because the fit and finish, metal-to-metal machine work, and not-quite-ready for Hubble Telescope rifle optics receivers aren’t up to AR-15 standards, the AK-47 will fail miserably not only in the woods, but probably anywhere. Da?
No. Not even close. The AK-47 platform is remarkably accurate especially when you consider the less-than-precision build quality most AK’s have these days. Is it sub-MOA and your go-to gun for Camp Perry matches? Absolutely not. But, deer rifles need not have such a pedigree. Still, it shoots better than you might realize. In fact, if you get your hands on a well-put-together AK-47 variant, the accuracy isn’t just good enough for government work, it’s good enough to fill your freezer. How do I know? I found out for myself by taking a Century Arms, American-built AK-47 known as the C39v2 and, using the standard iron-sights found on your typical AK-47, holding a three-inch group at 100 yards with the slick-feeding 7.62x39mm 123-grain SST load from Hornady. It is precisely the kind of factory load I would use hunting game. As sportsmen, we know proper bullet selection, regardless of the caliber and firearm you use, is critical to taking clean, ethical and humane shots on game.
I shot ammo from Wolf, Federal Premium and Remington, and they all fed reliably and shot accurately. The FMJ ammunition didn’t group nearly as well as the SST, and for a hunt, I wouldn’t dare use that stuff anyway. In contrast, I asked CZ-USA to loan me their 527 Carbine bolt-action rifle in 7.62x39mm just to see what the caliber could do in an accuracy hot rod, and I got 1.5 inch five-shot groups all day long with the same Horandy 123-grain SST ammo in that rifle with a Leupold VXIII 2.5-8x36mm optic. My point, the round is plenty accurate on its own.
Now, can a poorly put-together AK-47 shoot much worse? Yes. Most guns are like that. The completely American-built Century Arms C39v2 is almost museum quality in its build with a milled receiver, high-quality barrel and slick-feeding magazines, compared to many post-Cold War Ak-47’s sitting on your local gun shop racks these days. Can I get the AK-47 to shoot better? Sure. Like I said, I can add an optic, and I can even tweak the trigger with an after-market version. I will note that the factory trigger on the Century Arms AK-47 was pretty nice. You can even customize your AK-47 like folks do their AR-15’s with synthetic handguards, stocks, Picatinny rails, lights, lasers, forward hand grips and a sling. However, the question was, can I hunt with an AK-47? Sure I can, and I won’t need to reach for another firearm for the zombie apocalypse, home defense or tactical missions if I need my deer rifle to pull double-duty.
Can you hunt with an AK-47? I’m sure you probably know the answer by now, but let’s add a few more logs to the fire. The AK-47 weighs about 8 pounds, so it’s not a wet sack of cement in the woods. It has clean lines, so it’s not going to hang up on branches, brush, your tree stand or you when you go to engage your target. It works well in brush with a short sight radius, and is quick to shoulder, aim and shoot accurately almost as if your life depended on it, because it usually did. The battle iron sights work very well, and the sights—which can be adjusted for windage and elevation—are actually capable of being used to engage area targets out to 800 yards. A quick study can learn to use the iron sights rather quickly and precisely to minute-of-deer standards out to about 200 yards, which is a lot farther than most folks realize—especially when there are trees between you and your venison. Can you shoot a deer farther than that with an AK? Sure, but the question then becomes not “can you” but “should you,” and only you can decide what is ethical for your tastes. My ethical appetite with the round and today’s modern bullets puts me out to about 250 yards. Regardless, the AK-47 has a simple, reliable safety, low recoil and punches 30-caliber wound channels in deer (or hogs for that matter) at more than 1500 fps at 300 yards.
Some deer hunters hike for miles, plan their shots, use bi-pods and aim carefully for a once-in-a-lifetime 400-yard shot uphill. In that case, the AK-47 shouldn’t be your first choice. The AK-47 is also not an AR-15 platform with its functionality, flexibility, superb downrange accuracy or Uncle Sam loyalty, but that’s not the point of this article either.
The bottom line is for the majority of deer or hog hunters who do most of their hunting with their feet and not their optics, having a fast-handling, reliable, 30-caliber rifle which offers a quick follow-up shot sounds awfully familiar to the allure of the lever action 30-30 Winchester thousands of American hunters swear by in deer camp year after year.
Can you hunt with an AK-47? Da.
Note: Please ensure you read and follow all local firearms and game laws regarding minimum calibers, use of magazines for your rifle, etc. While the AK-47 may seem like an ideal short to intermediate range rifle for deer and hogs, some local laws may prohibit the use of standard 30-round magazines or even semi-automatic rifles for that matter. It’s your responsibility to know the rules.