By John D. Long
“It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools.” This proverb appropriately fits the main criticism of the AK-47 and its supposed lack of accuracy. A true marksman loves accuracy and precision. Watching clay pigeons break into a thousand pieces from a bullet fired from 400 yards away is very gratifying. Every shooter should demand a high degree of accuracy from his firearms. Simply put, “If it can’t hit the target, a true marksman won’t use it.”
Of course, that is not to say that a firearm will not need a certain degree of fine tuning when it first comes out of the box. For some shooters, a five-inch group at 100 yards is good enough. With over 50 million AKs produced worldwide, in various forms, there must be something good about AK rifles. But why is the AK-47 considered an inherently inaccurate firearm? Is the problem the AK-47’s lack of accuracy, or is it the shooter’s lack of marksmanship skills? Some experts claim, “The AK-47 compensates for its lack of accuracy by delivering a greater volume of fire.” However, this line of thinking only adds to the AK-47 inaccuracy myth. The Military Channel aired a program entitled, “Top 10 Combat Rifles,” and The Discovery Channel aired a program entitled “M16 vs. AK-47.” Although both presentations praised the AK-47’s reliability and rate of fire, its ability to “put out a lot of lead,” and both criticized the AK-47 for its “lack of accuracy,” did anyone ever ask who was doing the test shooting when judging the accuracy of the AKs? What kind of AKs and ammunition did they use? Did the marksmen on the programs ever zero the sights before shooting their targets? A serious marksman never fires unaimed shots and considers many factors when he tries to put a bullet on a target; such as the diameter and condition of the rifle’s bore, the manufacturer and Lot of ammunition being used, the weather conditions of temperature and humidity, the shooter’s eye sight, the circumstances he is under while the firing is being conducted, his own skill and capabilities as a marksman, and the general variations of marksmanship. Other important factors include cheek weld, sight alignment, eye relief, trigger squeeze, follow through, etc.
Rifle marksmanship has too many variables to be considered an exact science, but experience, good rifle maintenance, and a general understanding of ballistics and mathematics can enable any serious marksman to improve the performance he gets from any rifle – and marksmanship with an AK-47 should be no exception.
The Soviet/Russian experience during World War II demonstrated the need for a weapon somewhere between the fast-firing, but short range PPSh-41 submachine gun, and the powerful, long range, but slow loading and firing Mosin-Nagant bolt-action rifle and/or carbine. Designed to fill the gap between the bolt-action rifle and submachine gun, the AK-47 was never designed to shoot bull’s-eye targets at 600 yards, but rather as a combat weapon to be used by massive numbers of infantry, who would close with an enemy, and destroy that enemy with an overwhelming volume of short-range, automatic rifle fire.
What kind of accuracy can a serious shooter get out of an AK-47? For the marksmanship purposes of this experiment, four AK-47 type rifles were tested: a semi-auto Egyptian manufactured Maddi (which is for all practical purposes is an AKM built on Soviet/Russian machinery, but made in Egypt), a semi-auto Yugoslavian M70AB2, a semi-auto Romanian AKM, and a selective-fire Chinese Type-56. A cardboard panel with 12, two-inch diameter targets was set up at 50 yards. Ten rounds were fired from each rifle, one fouling shot, and then three rounds at each target, using three rounds from each of the three various brands of 7.62x39mm FMJ, ammunition. The three types of ammo were the 122-grain Russian Wolf brand, the 122-grain Czech, Sellier & Bellot and the 125-grain Chinese Norinco. All four rifles were set for zero at 50 yards and fired from a bench rest position.
With the exception of the Chinese Type-56, on average the AKs produced groups smaller than one and a half inches, striking only 1.3 inches from the center of target. Why was the Chinese Type-56 so off target? Could the bore of the Chinese Type-56 be oversized? The bores of all four AKs were “slugged.” The Egyptian Maddi measured .312, the Yugo M70 was .310, the Romanian AKM was .311, and the Chinese Type-56 was .312. The size differences in the bore diameters were not significant enough to make a difference in rifle accuracy. Next, a digital caliper was used to measure the diameter of the bullets in the loaded cartridges. With the exception of a one-thousandth of an inch difference here and there, all three brands averaged out to a bullet diameter of .308, which also meant that bullet diameter was not a factor. Was it possible that the width of the front sight of the rifles could have made a difference in the point on impact? The widths of the front sight posts of the AKs were measured. The Egyptian Maddi front sight measured .076, the Yugo M70 was .073, the Romanian AKM was .079, and the Chinese Type-56 was .075.
So, in the end, neither bore or bullet diameter, or width of the front sights were factors when examining the differences in the bullet group sizes, or the distances from the original point of aim. Therefore, it had to be something else. Could it have been a prejudice on my part of the marksman when it came to the Chinese Type-56, enough to make a difference in the group sizes? The test was repeated as previously described, 12 targets, four rifles, and three brands of ammunition. The results of the second test were too close to the results of the first test to warrant a comparison. What else could it be? There are other factors that can affect a bullet’s point of impact, such as attaching a clip-on bipod to the barrel, adding or removing a bayonet or muzzle brake, etc.
The sugar-scoop type muzzle brake on the Chinese Type-56 was later replaced with an AK-74 type muzzle brake. With the sugar-scoop type compensator, there was a wide spread in size of the bullet groups, but replacing it with an AK-74 type muzzle brake significantly tightened the bullet groups. It is difficult to explain exactly why the AK-74 type muzzle brake affects bullet flight dynamics, but the use of the AK-74 type muzzle brake greatly improved the accuracy of the Chinese Type-56, bringing its accuracy close to the other AKs. Of course, this accessory sometimes does not allow a shooter to use a bayonet on the rifle.
Another accuracy experiment was conducted firing at targets with, and without, fixed bayonets to find out the aerodynamic effect on the bullets. Without exception, a fixed bayonet had a negative effect on rifle accuracy; therefore, the flight path of a bullet is affected when it comes to muzzle brakes or fixed bayonets. Additionally, it did not matter whether the group was fired using 7.62x39mm, or 5.45x39mm ammo.
There is a long held myth in the US Military that the M16 rifle is superior to the AK-47 assault rifle, because the M16 can shoot accurately out to ranges of 400 yards, while the AK-47 was only effective at close ranges (i.e., within 200 yards). In the hands of an experienced marksman, the M16 can be accurate out to 500 yards and beyond, but reasonable accuracy can be attainable with a 7.62mm AK at ranges greater than 400 yards if the shooter is willing to apply basic marksmanship principles. If any serious marksman has a problem getting satisfactory accuracy performance out of his AK-47, where should he look first to find the answer to his problem? Is the real problem the rifle, the ammunition, or the shooter’s ability as a marksman? The 7.62x39mm AK-47 type rifle should be treated as any other firearm when it comes to putting a bullet on an intended target. The AK-47 is a reliable, rugged, easily maintained and accurate within its ballistic limitations. “It’s a poor craftsman who blames his tools,” and it’s a poor marksman who blames his misses on his AK-47.
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V12N3 (December 2008)|