Friday, February 24, 2012

SHTF: Why I Choose the AK

Arsenal SGL31-94 Rifle
I've seen a resurgence in discussions about Survivalism online and in conversations with friends and family.  This isn't a new phenomena, Survivalists have been around all of my life.  As a kid growing up in the 1980's everyone was worried the Russians would invade or that nuclear war was inevitable.  Survivalism was extremely popular back then, so much so that popular movies like "The Survivors" starring Walter Matthau and Robin Williams were all the rage.

In the 1990's Survivalism was alive and well, but it took on a more Constitutional flavor in the form of State Militias.  These groups sprung up all over the country drawing in people from all walks of life into the movement.  They stressed self reliance, weapons training and were mostly concerned with government infringement of rights.

Today we know Survivalists as "Preppers".  Preppers are essentially Survivalists of old but their concerns are focused on economic and political issues with a few folks thinking about 2012 (Mayan predictions) and even people concerned with asteroid or meteor strikes, solar flares, earth quakes, magnetic poll shifts and super volcanos.  It's become so popular that we now have reality television shows cropping up like "Dooms Day Preppers" which continue to fan the flames of interest by the general public in being somewhat self reliant.

Key to many people who Prep is the weapon they choose as a "go to rifle".  Many of the most popular discussions online center around "what rifle would you choose for SHTF?"  These conversations are springing up on general firearms boards, not just Prepper or Survivalist boards - people want to talk about it.

Poll taken on
By far the most popular SHTF rifle in the United States is the AR15.  In every online poll I've seen, the AR usually is at least twice as popular as the second most popular rifle, the AK.  I attribute the interest in the AR to it being America's rifle.  The M16 is the longest serving U.S. service rifle in history.  It's everywhere and millions of Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Airmen have been trained in its use.

Being a former Marine, I know and trust the AR15.  It's a good rifle.  But when it came time for me to choose a SHTF rifle, I gave the obvious choice (the AR) a good-hard look.  After much thought, shooting and comparing of the rifles, I decided the AK was the best rifle for my needs.

I've read many arguments against using the AK as a primary rifle for SHTF.  I'll address the most common arguments against its use and explain why I choose the rifle for my own needs.

You will find more spare parts and ammo for the AR15.
Many of those that choose the AR15 claim they do so because it's the most common semi-automatic rifle in the country.  As such, they believe they'll have an infinite source of spare parts, magazines and ammo lying about that they can either scavenge off of dead Soldiers and civilians or they can barter/trade for.

Modern sights, rails and hand guards on an AK
I'm of the opinion that if your survival plans call for finding spare parts, magazines and ammo vs. stocking up on such things before something bad happens, you should probably rethink your plan.  I believe that most SHTF situations will be relatively short lived.  I believe the most likely scenarios will be short term failures of local, state or even perhaps federal governments.  I can't see too many plausible scenarios where modern civilization is thrown back into the stone ages indefinitely.  If you can survive for 6 months to a year, I believe you're well prepared.  Should the S still be Hitting The Fan 6 months to a year later, at least by having 6 months to a year of supplies on hand (food/water/medicine) you're in a position to prepare for a longer term failure of government.

I have rifles that are 20 years old that have never broken a part.  I have at least 50 magazines for my primary rifle.  I have cases of ammo sitting stored in tin cans to feed the rifles I have for years.  If I really thought a firing pin, hammer, trigger, spring, or something else were going to break, I would buy a spare parts kit before something bad happened and have it in my kit.  The chances of finding a M16, magazines or even cases of ammo lying about after a SHTF scenario happens is highly unlikely.  How many M16's, magazines and cases of ammo do you think people in New Orleans found lying about after Katrina?

 The AK isn't as accurate as the AR15.
What people fail to realize is that even if local governments collapse for 4 months, government *is* coming back.  Order will be restored eventually.  Laws aren't typically suspended because of natural disasters or because riots break out.  If you shoot someone at 500 yards there's a good chance you will answer to a jury of your peers for that shooting, and good luck convincing that jury you were justified in killing someone 500 yards away.  Most self defense situations will take place at much closer ranges, within 100 yards or less.  While the AR15 has a slight accuracy advantage, it's only marginal at best and certainly isn't as drastic as many folks tend to believe.   The AK is quite capable of repeatedly hitting a man sized target at 100, 200 or even 300 yards.  The AK isn't a bench rest competition rifle, but then combat isn't a bench rest competition.

The AK isn't as ergonomic as the AR15.
A bone stock rack grade AK isn't that ergonomic to a Western shooter, it's true.  We're accustom to different firearms here in the United States and the AR15 is still considered one of the most ergonomic rifles on the market.  By taking a training course centered around the AK rifle such as those offered by Tactical Response, a Western shooter will quickly become acclimated to the AK rifle and perhaps, like me, prefer it over rifles such as the AR15.

US PALM pistol grip
What I find interesting is that many people who claim the AK is uncomfortable to operate also love rifles like the M1 Garand, M1A or M1 Carbine yet they never complain about the ergonomics these rifle share with the AK.

The AK has a number of accessories made by U.S. companies that are well designed and of good quality that drastically improve the base ergonomics of the AK rifle.  New pistol grips, stocks, railed front hand guards,  safety levers, sights, etc. are available for the AK making it more comfortable to the Western shooter.

Here's why I choose the AK.

It's simple to operate.  My rifles have (6) moving parts.  A bolt, trigger, safety, magazine release, rear sight and a folding stock.  The AK has large parts that fit together without tiny pins holding everything in place.  They can even be field stripped with winter gloves on, try that with an AR15.

It's incredibly reliable.  The AK is one of the few rifles in the world that can continue to function without much maintenance at all.  When things go south, the last thing I want to have to worry about is cleaning my rifle because it got dropped in a mud puddle or hasn't been cleaned in 3 weeks.  I want a low maintenance weapon that doesn't consume much of my time or energy to keep functioning and doesn't require special lubes, Q-Tips and pipe cleaners to stay squeaky clean.

The cheapest ammo on the market right now is 5.45x39.  This is the caliber I choose for my SHTF AK for that reason, and because I prefer the ballistics of it over the 7.62x39.  I can buy 1280 rounds of 5.45x39 for less than $150.  That means I can affordably buy plenty of ammo for both training and for storage.

In the end you should pick the rifle that best suits your needs.  Buying an AK because I choose to use one, or because someone else chooses an AK isn't a good idea.  It's a personal decision that only you can make.  Weigh your options carefully and give it some thought.  After you make your decision, learn to use your weapon.  Take a fighting rifle course.  Shoot from the standing, kneeling, sitting and prone positions.  Learn to shoot on the move.  Learn how to clear malfunctions and how to do reloads. All of this can be taught to you by a good shooting school.


  1. My SHTF rifle is very similar to yours, although I am a die-hard .30 cal fan and therefore the 7.62x39, despite its disadvantages, is more to my liking. I agree with just about everything in your article, though it might be a little lean on details in some areas. Keep up the good work!

  2. Very good points made here. I agree with all of them. As you pointed out though, in the end pick a rifle that suits your needs. If the world ended tomorrow, and AR or an AK would both work just fine 95% of the time. That being said, should the world end, I'm going to be using my SCAR 16S.

  3. Great article and super timely for me as I’m trying to figure out if I go AR or AK for a SHTF rifle. I’m on a budget and it seems like you can get far more bang for your buck with an AK. That being said do you have any suggestions on a good cheap stock AK that I can build up over time?

  4. Great post! Thanks for promoting a more reasoned approach to the SHTF scenario. Thank you for citing the Katrina situation and for bringing some real world practicality to the debate. There are several instances in contemporary history which we can look to in order to gain some perspective as to what happens when modern society breaks down. It is a responsibility to be prepared for such a situation and that means educating ones self broadly. This includes weaponry. Unfortunately, amongst the growing popularity of the preparedness movement, one finds almost an atmosphere of excitement regarding the prospect of a breakdown of rule of law.

  5. Interesting choice of a primary SHTF weapon, especially considering the broad access you have to rifles and ammo and your testing program. The 5.45x39 Ak's are renown for their reliability and lethality. Yes, the AR's have evolved into a good rifle but they didn't start that way and the fixes were slow coming. I started my military career in the Vietnam era and have been issued and put a lot of rounds through original M-16's to more modern M-4's over the past 40 years. Only recently have I become familiar with the AK's as a shooter, not as a target, primarily because I have to live on a tight retirement budget. But I feel as if I've only gained by espousing the 5.45 AK. I don't know if it is my old eyes or what, but I shoot the AK better than the AR. I trust it to work all the time, every time. From an economic point of view, it can't be beat as a SHTF rifle. You can get a Saiga 5.45, the base of the Arsenal SGL 31, several places on the Internet for under $400. Modify and upgrade it to your heart's content with a plethora of low cost high quality aftermarket parts and accessories, though it hardly needs it. As you mentioned, the ammo is the lowest cost for this genre of weapon. That makes it especially helpful for the budget minded prepper who wants to build his firearm and ammo stores quickly. Decked out SCAR's and super tacticool M-4's are great guns, but truth be told, you give up nothing in combat functionality with an AK and its accessories for a third the price of the AR. The one thing I might splurge on is a proven red dot sight that is durable and has good battery life. Properly set up and used, they can make anyone a good marksman.

  6. Can't really find an arguement with your choice. I am an avid AR shooter, having spent time in the USMC myself. Being in law enforcement, the AR platform is the rule of thumb. I have a lot of firearms to choose from when the zombies come and while I would probably grab my AR first, if I "accidently" grabbed my AK, I wouldn't be disappointed.

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  8. One thing that concerns me is that isn't the majority of the 5.45x39mm ammo imported? A government decree (President, ATF, etc.) could shut off the importation of this round. Unless you have an enormous supply of this round stocked up it could turn your SHTF rifle into a paperweight. The only large company in the US that manufactures this round is Hornady I believe.

  9. If the shtf nobodies going to be buying any ammo anywhere.

  10. Truthmster is right, look at the (lack of) availability of ammo right now during a very small "panic" situation. If poop goes down, you're gonna need to buy your ammo before it happens. I bought an Arsenal SGL-21 for $700 before the crazy prices started and I love it. I put on a Magpul CTR adjustable stock and other things to make it more comfortable, but I just really like the 7.62 x 39 round. It plows through stuff and that pleases me :)

  11. Nowadays people are so much careful about collecting good and needed survival aids. These are so much needed.

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