7.62×39 – An All-Around Cartridge?

SKS Rifle w/10-Round Stripper Clip of 7.62x39 Ammunition

SKS Rifle w/10-Round Stripper Clip of 7.62×39 Ammunition

The Soviet 7.62×39, first used in the Russian RPD, has seen much use in the SKS semi-automatic rifle and the AK-47 Assault Rifle. The cartridge is still much in use today for warfare and sporting purposes, even though it was replaced in Russian service by the 5.45×39mm cartridge, which is used by the current issue AK-74 and variants.

7.62x39 Wound Chart

7.62×39 Wound Chart

With ballistics similar to the .30-30 Winchester, the cartridge was employed in the United States for taking deer-size game and the platform for doing so was the SKS that was usually ‘sporterized’ in some form or fashion. Many became known as “Bubba Guns” due to this ‘sporterizing.’ The SKS is an inexpensive gun to purchase (still) and due to its light weight, short barrel, and light recoil characteristics, it was (and still is) an excellent “bush gun” and it became a favorite among southern deer hunters. It was also just a fun gun to shoot for sporting purposes. The 7.62×39 cartridge was, and still is, a cartridge that is being used against us in the theater of war in which many of our fine service members are playing key roles in preserving freedom in lands beyond ours.

Today, the 7.62×39 cartridge is primarily fired from AK variants by folks looking for an ample solution to a personal defense cartridge beyond the .223/5.56×45 NATO cartridge. This battle for bullet supremacy is much like the bickering between Ford and Chevy owners as to which car is better.

Commercial Russian-made 7.62×39mm ammunition, such as those sold under the Wolf Ammunition brand name, are also available in Full Metal Jacket (FMJ), Soft Points (SP) and Hollow Points (HP). The Soft Points (SP) and Hollow Points (HP) offer improved accuracy and expansion.

7.62x39 FMJ

7.62×39 FMJ

It is my personal opinion that the 7.62×39 cartridge is perhaps the best cartridge ever manufactured for intermediate to close range use. It seems that there are a lot of folks that agree with me, because the sales of AK variants seems to be holding its own. The maximum effective range of the 7.62×39 is 600 meters – with the right operator and the right firearm platform to obtain that distance, although the ‘effective’ distance seems to be around 300-meters. With that said, within 100 meters, the 7.62×39 is highly effective against anything up to and including small whitetail deer.

.223 Ballistics

.223 Ballistics

7.62x39 Ballistics

7.62×39 Ballistics

One of the major complaints by our military against the 5.56×45 NATO ammunition was the lack of killing power; the 7.62 x 39 round does not suffer from that malady and that is a battle-proven fact. The 16.3-inch barrel of the AK-47 is also a testament to that fact, as it has been used against us in large numbers. While not highly accurate, the AK-47 is highly effective against those who stand before it. The 7.62×39 round itself, just needs the right platform to become both accurate and effective.
Several AR15 manufacturers, such as Colt, Rock River Arms, Olympic Arms, Del-Ton Inc, and ModelOne Sales, are producing 16″ carbines and 20″ to 24″ rifle-length firearms that can often get very good accuracy to about 1″ groups at 100 yards with the 7.62×39 cartridge.

While AK-47 rifles can no longer be imported into the United States, the parts needed to make them can be purchased from overseas. This fact has brought about numerous ‘American” manufactures of the AK-47; some of which are good while others produce trash. Most recently, while there is still a pre-ban inventory of AK-47s in the states, that number will soon dwindle. RWC will soon start manufacturing “American Made” AK-47s.

Arsenal, Inc. has taken a lead in becoming the top importer and manufacture of firearm platforms for the 7.62×39 cartridge. While their firearms are expensive, they are considered of high quality. If quality AK-based MSRs are your thing, Arsenal, Inc. provides plenty examples of them. My choice, being the traditionalist that I am, would be the SA M-7 CLASSIC – just as soon as I win the lottery.

Ruger Mini-30 Tactical

Ruger Mini-30 Tactical

Ruger produces the Mini-30 as a 7.62×39mm version of their popular Mini-14 rifle. They also once had their bolt-action M77 Mark II available in this caliber.

For a time, Remington Arms advertised the Compact Model 799 Mini Mauser bolt-action rifle chambered in 7.62×39mm in 2006 (the Model 799 was discontinued in 2008), describing the Mauser action as “sought after by today’s hunters and shooters.” The Mauser action is a copy of the Gewehr 98 model rifle’s action.

CZ 527 w/Scope

CZ 527 w/Scope

Savage 'Scout'

Savage ‘Scout’

CZ-USA sells the CZ 527 Carbine, a “micro length Mauser style” bolt-action rifle chambered in 7.62×39mm (designed to chamber steel-cased ammunition) while Savage Arms has their own bolt-action rifle in 7.62×39mm caliber – Model: 10 FCM Scout. I am, at present, doing some research because I am considering one of these carbines, simply because I am a fan of bolt-action rifles and I happen to like the 7.62×39 caliber. The CZ 527 would be a top contender as it is designed to fire steel case ammunition such as that from Wolf. From all the reports I have read (including that from CZ), standard, commercially available ‘American’ ammunition might not perform well in the CZ.

Both the SIG SG 516 Russian and the SIG 556R are chambered in 7.62×39mm.
The lower cost and high availability of military surplus ammunition makes this cartridge attractive for many civilian shooters, like myself, for sport, home defense, or as a survival round.

So, why my preference of the 7.62×39 over the .223/5.56×45 NATO? The following might explain my preference (Note: I have placed the 7.62×39 in the realm of hunting rather than for defensive purposes although the round is quite capable of being a PD round).

  • The heavier the bullet the greater the energy and the heavier the game that can be taken.
  • The maximum game weight that the 223 can humanly take at any distance is 115 lbs.
  • The maximum game weight that the 7.62×39 can take is 273 lbs.
  • At 200 yards the difference in trajectory between the 223 and the 7.62 x 39 is 2.2 inches.
  • At 200 yards the 7.62×39 can humanly take game up to 134 lbs using standard weight (125g) bullets, the 223 can only take humanly game up to 56 lbs at 200 yards using the standard 55g bullet.

The stats are in and that places me in a position to find the most modern accurate platform from which to send the 7.62×39 round downrange with aplomb.

Summary:
My choice for an intermediate cartridge is the 7.62×39 sent downrange through a Ruger Mini-30 or a good bolt-action rifle that is chambered for it. While the .223/5.56×45 NATO may have the velocity, the 7.62×39 has enough punch and bullet weight to take down a deer at intermediate distances and that, my friends, is a good enough reason for me to use it as a defensive cartridge.

While some say that the 7.62×39 suffers in the accuracy department, this is more of the weapons platform being used than the round itself. While not match material by any means, the 7.62×39 is more than adequate as a “battle” cartridge.

The felt recoil with the 7.62×39 is less than the .243 Winchester (also known as the 6.14×51), which is a necked down .308 cartridge case. The bullet 7.92 millimeter bullet diameter of the 7.62×39 is larger than the .243 and .223 rounds, but is obviously inferior to the two in velocity. Within the limitations of the bullet; however, it is more than adequate for taking game and zombies at moderate distances.

Of course, the 7.62×39 has been replaced with the 5.45×39 round for the AK-74; a slightly smaller bullet diameter than the .223/5.56×45 NATO round. Time and use of this round will tell the story as to its effectiveness in combat and for sporting use.

While I enjoy the AR-based MSRs chambered in .223/5.56×45 NATO, I would call on the 7.62×39 for serious personal defense use. Unfortunately, the cartridge has been used against us and has shortened the life span of many American troops. It would be only appropriate that we return the mail in kind with our own version of a modern combat rifle chambered in 7.62×39 using American-made ammunition suitable for military use that is ‘battle-field compatible’ with Soviet ammunition.

In my opinion, for an intermediate range defensive cartridge, the 7.62×39 gets the nod. I am not a fan of the AK, but I do have its predecessor, the SKS as a C&R gun. In a modern platform for the 7.62×39 cartridge, and in an affordable platform, I would probably go with the Ruger Mini-30 in the newest configuration. Magazines for the Mini-30 are expensive. Far more so than AK magazines or AR magazines, but so are magazines for the M1A and most Ruger large-bore rifles and pistols. With that said, I recently came a cross a new ‘not-banned’ AK. The reason that it was not banned was that it was imported as a ‘Hunting” rifle, since it has a synthetic full-stock and no bayonet mounting capabilities. As a ‘hunting’ rifle, the magazine is not, of course, large capacity, but does hold 10-rounds of ammunition (the same as the SKS). However, the magazine latch can be modified so that the firearm accepts 30-round AK magazines. However, feeding issues may result from doing so.

UPDATE:

Saiga 7.62x39

Saiga 7.62×39

More research led me to the Saiga semi-automatic rifle, which was the rifle that I mentioned in the last paragraph of this article previous to this update. According to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saiga_semi-automatic_rifle.

The Hunters AK:
The Saiga semi-automatic rifles are a family of Russian rifles manufactured by Izhmash, who also manufacture the original AK-series rifles, and SVD sniper rifles. The Saiga rifles are a sporter version of the original AK-47 rifle, and are marketed for hunting and civilian use. While the furniture on the Saiga differs from an AK, these are still considered to be true Kalashnikov rifles. They are made in the same Russian Izhmash factory where Mikhail Kalashnikov works. These rifles are not assembled with mixed-matched parts like many other AK rifles. These are completely new builds using all new parts, so the fit and function should prove better.

It might be worth considering. Hmm!

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About Taurian

Taurian is an Oath Keeper, veteran, former LEO and Defensive Tactics Instructor. Until retirement, Taurian had over forty-seven years of experience as a Technical Writer and Training Program Developer. After leaving home at the age of ten without any shoes, Taurian continues on with many years devoted to the keeping and bearing of arms.

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