AR-15 vs AK-47

On Father’s Day, I was at the range with my oldest daughter, both of us shooting my AR-15. She is just entering the gun shooting world and has a lot of questions about a lot of things. So afterwards, on the ride to a local micro-brew for some wings and beers, she asked me questions about the AK-47 and how that compares and contrasts to the AR-15 she was just shooting.

So for other newbies out there, like my daughter, here is a brief comparison.

Classic AR-15 with its modular design.

Contrary to what the gun-fearing liberals say, “AR” does not mean “Assault Rifle”. It stands for “Armalite Rifle”. (For the record, “assault” is a behavior, not a rifle.) In 1950, when the effective usefulness of the tried and true M1 Garand began to fade, the U.S. military issued a competition for the M1’s replacement, probably due to the emergence of the AK-47. The Armalite company threw its hat into the ring. When Armalite was not awarded the contract, they began producing the AR-15 for the civilian market, and sales spread like wildfire. Shortly thereafter, Armalite sold the manufacturing rights to Colt Manufacturing, who began making the military variant known as the M16. The M16 is fully automatic and the AR-15 is semiautomatic. M16s in their full auto configuration are illegal for civilians to own.

Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov with his invention, with the classic wood stock and foregrip.

The “AK” in AK-47 stands for Avtomat Kalashnikova. It was developed in 1945 by Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov, a general in the Soviet Red Army. The gun was released in 1947 and became standard issue for the Red Army in 1949. To date, over 75 million of them have been produced. The World Bank indicated that one fifth of the world’s firearms are AKs. They are found everywhere, from the former Iron Curtain armies to African warlords to Latin American drug cartels.


Both the AR-15 and the AK-47 are gas-operated. This means the guns use the expanding gasses from a fired round to eject the shell casing and a load the next round automatically. This involves a piston mechanism. Similar to the giant pistons on steam locomotives, where hot steam pushes the piston which moves the wheels, hot expanding gasses from the fired round pushes on a piston, which in turn, pushes the bolt backwards, opening the breech and ejecting the spent casing. A spring, located behind the bolt, is compressed during the breech opening. The spring then expands, pushing the bolt forward, loading the next round. This allows both guns to have very little felt recoil.

Cutaway view showing how an AR-15 recycles

Both of these guns use a locking bolt mechanism. After the bolt pushes the next round into the chamber, the front of the bolt rotates slightly, locking the bolt in place. This can be seen in the above cutaway view. Just as the bolt is about to close completely, you can see the bolt rotate slightly. After the round is fired, before moving backwards, the bolt rotates slightly the other way, thus unlocking it, freeing it up to move backwards.

Both of these guns have about the same effective range, about 400 meters.

Both of these guns were developed within a decade of each other, and as such, have been used during the same time, albeit on different sides.

Both of these guns have roughly the same magazine capacity.


Between these two guns, there are more differences than similarities.

First off, the AK-47 is more rugged than the AR-15. This is the main reason for its popularity and longevity. It has been used in some of the worst physical conditions possible, from the frozen arctic to the equatorial sweat-baths. It holds up better to dirt and muck. There are reports that American soldiers in Vietnam often cast aside their M16s in favor of AK-47s when crawling through muck-coated VC tunnels or swampy Vietnamese jungles.

The AK-47 shoots a 7.62x39mm round with a capacity of 600 r/m at a muzzle velocity of 715 m/s, whereas the AR-15 shoots a slightly smaller .223 Remington or 5.56mm NATO round with a capacity of 800 r/m at a muzzle velocity of 975 m/s. But since neither of these guns are legal for civilian ownership in the full auto mode, the rounds per minute capacity is really immaterial.

But because of this smaller round, the AR-15 is actually easier to shoot than the AK-47, resulting in a smoother experience for the shooter, often resulting in less felt recoil. However, if you were to have a sound meter nearby, the AR-15 is probably a little louder. But in either case, hearing protection is mandatory.

The AK-47 has adjustable rear sights

The AK-47 has adjustable rear sights, whereas the AR-15 has fixed sights (out of the box).

The AR-15, on the other hand is completely modular. This means that you can do just about anything to it to make it shoot the way you want it to shoot. Want to shoot longer distances? Simply change the barrel, Want more aiming accuracy? Add better sights. Don’t like the trigger pull? Replace it. Want to shoot with more stability? Add a bi-pod. The only thing you cannot do is make the AR-15 completely automatic.

So, final thoughts. If you want a reliable gun that you can quickly grab out of your gun safe when the excrement impacts the rotary oscillator, then the AK-47 is for you. On the other hand, if you want a gun with modularity so you can customize it any way you want, or you are an American Patriot who simply must have American products, or who still has visions of the Cold War dancing in your head and could never conceive shooting a Russian gun, then the AR-15 is for you.

If you decide to get your hands on either one of these fine guns, there is one thing which is the same regardless of the model, for which you need to be aware. The fired round of either gun is extremely loud inside walls. At the range, hearing protection must be used. Inside your home…don’t even think about using either of these for defense inside your home. Not unless you install a suppressor on the gun. Guaranteed that if you shoot either of these inside your home, everyone inside the home will go deaf. The reason I say that is because if you need to grab your home defense weapon, you are not going to put on hearing protection, nor are you going to ask your family members to do the same. You are never going to say “Honey, I just heard a noise downstairs. Put on your hearing protection while I grab the AR”. You are simply going to grab your home defense gun and investigate. Save the use of either of these guns to protect you and your family from invading zombies or the government attempting to take your guns, and only then stick the barrel out the window before pulling the trigger.

Below are some photos of our Father’s Day outing.

Daughter Julie
Saving a goat at 50 yards (the target of which is available for downloading on this site, under “Training”)

AR-15 vs AK-47