We’ll have a look at the 2 biggest heavyweights of the rifle world, 2 rifles that seem to always be in the middle of a heated debate… which is better for survival?
The AR-15 is based off of the Stoner Rifle platform and has seen action by the US military since the Vietnam War, while the AK-47 is the most widely-used assault rifle in the world, with upwards of 100,000,000 (yep, million) rifles produced.
These are 2 great rifles, each with pros and cons. We’re going to delve into both and see what makes each rifle unique and such a heavyweight in the firearms industry.
Most conceal carry permit holders who choose a 9mm handgun talk about that caliber’s high velocity, light weight, and ability to carry more rounds in a standard sized pistol, while those who choose to carry a .45 always talk about stopping power, stopping power, and stopping power. The same goes for AK and AR owners – they will both have strong opinions concerning their rifle of choice, leading to heated discussions on forums.
Both are great rifles, and many people own both, but they are 2 completely different firearms with varying statistics. Maybe you already own one or both, or maybe you are looking into buying your first main SHTF rifle.
If you are considering other firearms to include in your disaster plans, then check out my other popular article, “What are the Best SHTF Firearms?“, to find out the details of 13 different firearms I have personally picked out. The article also focuses on what factors you need to focus on when choosing the ideal caliber and specific firearm for you.
For now, we’ll only focus on the 2 most popular rifles (that also happen to be on that list of 13 firearms) for preppers. I’ll be completely impartial here and only provide you with the facts and statements based on those facts. Let’s begin with America’s Black Rifle.
AR-15 – America’s “Black Rifle”
The AR-15’s ancestry is traced back to a man named Eugene Stoner. Based off of the AR-10 rifle (chambered in 7.62×39), the AR-15 was the lighter 5.56 version both built by ArmaLite (ArmaLite Rifle). ArmaLite sold the rights to the rifle’s design to Colt in 1959. Colt spared no time in aggressively marketing the new rifle to the US military, which adopted it in the form of the M16 in 1963. By 1969 the M16 had become the US military’s standard service rifle (replacing the M14). The M16A2 was adopted by the United States Marine Corps in 1983 (and 1986 for the Army), which featured a 3-round burst mode instead of the fully automatic version used in Vietnam. This was done to conserve ammunition, since the users of the fully automatic M16A1 tended to “spray and pray” into Vietnam’s jungles. Today the Marine Corps uses the M16A4 variant, which comes equipped with a removable carrying handle and a full-length quad Picatinny rail for mounting optics, foregrips, and other devices. The shorter M4 (single fire, 3-round burst) and M4A1 carbines (single fire, fully automatic) are also chambered in 5.56 NATO and are issued to some military personnel.
The image below shows 4 different M16 variants (generations).
Top to bottom – M16A1, M16A2, M4 Carbine, M16A4
Other than Colt, other manufacturers of the AR-15 rifle include Bushmaster, Knight’s Armament, Windham Weaponry, Stag Arms LLC, Barrett, DPMS, and Spike’s Tactical, among many others.
Colt’s AR15A4 is one of the closest rifles you could get to the military’s M16A4 and has a MSRP of $1,270. Colt’s LE6920 SOCOM is one of the closest rifles you could get to the military’s M4 carbine and has a MSRP of $1,602. These AR-15 rifles are all chambered in 5.56×45 NATO and feature a chrome-lined 1-7″ twist barrel. The AR14A4 has a 20″ barrel while the LE6920 SOCOM has a 16.1″ barrel.
The 5.56 NATO round has been in use by the US military for years and is derived from (but not identical to) the .223 Remington cartridge. The standard weight for this round is 12.31 grams with a bullet weight of 4.02 grams. It has a standard velocity of 991 meters/second. It is lighter than the AK’s 7.62×39 cartridge and features less recoil and better accuracy out of the AR-15. However, it’s relatively small bullet size has led to many criticizing the round’s stopping power on 1 shot kills. Upon impact on it’s target, the 5.56 “tumbles” inside the body, causing great internal damage. It can sometimes fail to stop the target if he/she is drugged up. You will be able to carry more 5.56 than 7.62 ammunition, but may be sacrificing stopping power.
Iron Sight Picture
The AR-15’s sight picture feature adjustable posts for elevation and windage. The front sight is 3-pronged and fits within the circle of the rear sight. Highly accurate, some still say that these iron sights are more geared more towards target shooting than combat shooting.
The AR-15 is not as reliable as the AK-47 due to it’s more complicated and smaller internal moving parts. In field use, the more common problems that shooters have had is when you change the magazine the bolt is locked open – dirt, dust, and other debris can enter, especially if you’re in a “nasty environment.” This video by the Military Arms Channel demonstrates how reliable, or how not reliable, the AR-15 is under a torture test.
The AR-15 is the most customizable rifle platform available. There are thousands of second-party parts and optics that you can choose from to personalize your AR. Just look up “AR15″ on Google and see how different they all are from each other. This customization ability is a huge plus to preppers, since it allows you to outfit your rifle to better suit your needs and environment. Maybe you need long range capabilities? Opt for a long range scope and bipod, or an EOTech and foregrip for more CQB urban areas. There are even sniper rifle variants based off of the AR-15 platform designed for long range shooting, such as Knight’s Armament SR-25 rifle (7.62mm) and it’s military variant, the M110 SASS (winner of the US Army award as one of the “Best 10 Inventions” of 2007).
AK-47 – The World’s Most Popular Assault Rifle
The Avtomat Kalashnikova model of 1947 is the most widely known and infamous assault rifle in the world. It is also known by Kalashnikov or simply AK. It’s design first traces back to 1945 during World War 2. It’s ancestor, the German Sturmgewehr, was the first true assault rifle and saw use throughout World War 2 as well. The AK-47’s designer, Mikhail Kalashnikov, first began the rifle’s design while in a hospital bed where he stayed after being shot during the Battle of Bryansk. The basic AK-47 design has influenced many other assault rifles, including the Israeli Galil and the Yugoslav M76. This photo demonstrates how many AK variants and influenced designs there are (many more not pictured).
Photo credit militaryphotos.net
Over 100 countries and states currently use the AK-47 and it’s variants, especially the popular AK-74 and AKM. It is featured on the flags of both Mozambique and Hezbollah, as well as on the coat of arms of East Timor. This world map below shows the states that use this iconic rifle.
Map Color Key
AK-47 operators = red
AK derivative operators = orange
Modernized AK operators = pink
The AK-47 owes it’s worldwide popularity to a few factors. First, it’s very cheap to build. It doesn’t require many intricate parts so this means more can be made for less. It’s also extremely easy to clean. You can use your finger and a rag to effectively clean it. Some Afghans just tie their bootlaces into a multiple of knots, dip it in motor oil, and pull it through the barrel. That’s how easy it is to keep it combat operational.
The AK-47’s 7.62×39 cartridge is much meatier that than the AR-15’s 5.56 NATO round. The bullet itself weighs 7.9 grams, compared to the 4.02 grams of the 5.56 NATO. As far as hunting goes, the 7.62 can easily be used for hunting up to whitetail deer, and larger animals with proper shot placement. The bullet’s size and power helps take down cover that a target may be hiding behind by blasting away at it. It’s stopping power is much greater than the 5.56, but you’ll be sacrificing accuracy.
Iron Sight Picture
You can see that the AK-47’s iron sights lead to a less accurate rifle than the AR-15 overall, but the open and less-cluttered nature of these iron sights allows for more combat-effectiveness since less metal will be “blinding” you by getting in the way and limiting your vision during the stress of combat.
The first thing people talk about when discussing the AK-47 is probably it’s reliability. Because of it’s simple, rugged design, the AK can withstand a lot more punishment than the AR-15. You can soak the whole thing in water and it’ll still fire. Bury the whole rifle in mud and it’ll keep firing. Bend the barrel and it’ll still work. Abuse it to where it rusts and it won’t let you down. You can even fill the magazine with dirt and it will still fire. Don’t believe me? Watch these 2 short videos.
As you can see, not much will make the AK-47 not work. Perfect for survival situations where a jammed weapon might mean death.
Your standard, wood stock AK-47 will not allow you to customize it much. You could change the magazine type from banana to drum, and perhaps mount an optic if your rifle allows it, but many do not offer this ability. Luckily, many synthetic stock AKs have now been produced and these allow you to attach grips and a much wider variety of optics. Plus, the synthetic stocks are generally tougher and more durable than wood.
Maximum effective range:
- AR-15 = 600 yards
- AK-47 = 300 yards
- AR-15 = 4.02 grams
- AK-47 = 7.9 grams
Standard rifle length:
- AR-15 = 39.5″
- AK-47 = 34.3″
Standard rifle weight (unloaded):
- AR-15 = 8.8 lbs
- AK-47 = 10.9 lbs
- AR-15 = 1,300 fps
- AK-47 = 1,500 fps
Rounds per minute:
- AR-15 = 700-950 rpm
- AK-47 = 600 rpm
Standard magazine capacity:
- AR-15 = 30 rounds
- AK-47 = 30 rounds
- AR-15 = $800-$1,500+
- AK-47 = $400-$700+
Accuracy (AR-15 based on 7 MOA, AK-47 based on 10 MOA):
- AR-15 = 100 yards, 7″ potential deviation. 200 yards, 14″ potential deviation.
- AK-47 = 100 yards, 10″ potential deviation, 200 yards, 20″ potential deviation
- (AR-15 is 30% more accurate on average than the AK-47)
- AR-15 = B
- AK-47 = A+
Now that we’ve taken a close look at each rifle’s pros and cons, it’s time to declare a winner. On one hand you have the customizable AR-15 that is much more accurate, farther effective range, has more complex guts, harder to strip and clean, less stopping power, and slightly less reliability. On the other hand you have the AK-47 that is less accurate, less effective range, extremely simple guts, easy to field strip and clean, more stopping power, and more reliability.
Because of it’s ease of field and combat use, ease of field stripping and cleaning (barely any needed), and because of it’s high, high reliability… the AK-47 is better for survival than the AR-15.
AK-47 – 1st Place
AR-15 – 2nd Place
I will leave you with 3 videos. The first 2 are from the Discovery Channel’s “Top 10: Combat Rifles” episode, ranking the AK-47 and the M16.
M16 – #2
AK-47 – #1
“If I had to go to a planet, an unknown planet, and I was allowed to take 1 firearm – it would be an AK-47. When Western civilization melts down, I want an AK-47.”
– Richard Venola, Editor Combat Arms
Now, for those of you who are biased towards the AR-15 or who disagree with me (and that’s okay) and think that the AR-15 is superior than the Ak-47 for survival, I leave you with this final video of retired USMC Gunnery Sergeant R. Lee Ermey putting these 2 iconic rifles head-to-head in 3 tests for field stripping, stopping power, and accuracy. Enoy – I know I did!