The AK-47 and AK-74 rifles are by far the most produced modern small arms in the world. Some estimates are as high as 100 million copies. That means the AK accounts for one out of every five firearms in the world. In addition, they are quite the “bad-boy” of the firearms world. There is good reason for this. The AK has earned a reputation for being an extremely reliable weapon under all possible conditions. This is a good thing. Since it is such a good weapon, and the full auto version is relatively cheap on the international black market, many find it to be their weapon of choice, especially gangs and drug traffickers, not to mention terrorists in all parts of the world. Also, the US military has faced the AK-47 in just about every conflict from Vietnam to the present day–thus, the “bad-boy” reputation. You should have already gotten over the “not invented here” syndrome or you would not be thinking about buying one to start with. Believe it or not, and much to their loss, many folks suffer from this malady.
To keep a mental tab on how long the AK has been in service, the AK-47 was introduced in 1947 and the AK-74 in 1974. Pretty easy to remember, huh? Actually, this method of model numbering is common to the European world where the rifle is simply named after the year it was designed or introduced.
The 7.62x39mm round has good stopping power and can be favorably compared to the .30-30 cartridge. 7.62x39mm is plentiful in that countless ship loads of ammo have been brought into the US over the last 20 years, to the extent it is virtually a universal cartridge. The AK-74 5.45x39mm round is a bit less well known. It is essentially the Soviet answer to the 5.56 NATO round. For the past few years, inexpensive (and corrosive) surplus 5.45 ammo has been available, but it seems to be drying up. New production ammunition is still available in great numbers, so ammo availability isn’t a factor. The AK is also available in 5.56 NATO for those who would find that convenient. Most folks looking to buy their first AK will stick with the original 7.62×39 caliber.
Millions of AK magazines have been brought in over the years, undoubtedly. The basic AK-47 mag is the steel, 30 round “banana clip.” While these have gone up in price over the years, used surplus and unissued condition magazines are still available for under $20. The great thing about AK mags is the demand is so high they are being made new right here in the US! These are mostly the polymer variety and most are of high quality and very usable. However, the very best polymers are from places like Bulgaria which produces the “waffle mag” with the “Circle 10″ arsenal mark at the bottom. These are highly recommended if you go polymer. Of course, all the polymer mags are impervious to rust (not including the springs) and are very robust. East German and Polish steel mags are about the best. There is a whole world of information in identifying AK mags as they all are similar. Perhaps we will also add that information in the future. For now, the number one recommendation is the military surplus, 30 round steel magazine.
AK rifles are available in two major receiver groups: milled and stamped. This is where you must decide if you want to go high or low dollar. Just about any milled AK is going to be on the pricey side. That’s just the way the market is, a milled reciever is going to cost you more. To explain the difference between the two, the milled receiver starts life as a solid chunk of quality steel and is put through over 100 machining stages until there is a finished monobloc receiver. That’s the primary reason for the greater cost; all the machine work. The stamped receivers are, just as the term implies, stamped out of a flat sheet of steel and then formed in a series of bending operations until the final box-shaped receiver is completed. There are added operations for the stamped receiver such as adding the front and rear trunions, spot welding the bolt carrier rails to the inside, and installing a number of heavy rivets that are the trademark of the stamped AK receiver. However, there is something aesthetically pleasing about the solid chunk of steel on the milled receiver, and the action is generally smoother on milled guns. Let your pocket book be your guide. For your first AK-47, most folks go with the much more common 1mm stamped reciever. It is every bit as serviceable as the milled and will more than likely cost you a bunch less. Look at one of the Romanian models for around $500-$600. Be sure it accepts the standard double stack hi-capacity magazine, however.