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What You Should Know About AK Ammunition

This is a guest post by Andrew BettsAK ammunition

AK Ammunition

In previous articles we discussed the benefits of an AK for home defense and we dispelled some of the myths and misconceptions associated with them as well as with the use rifles in general for home defense. We would now like to highlight a few ammo choices to make that .30 caliber AK or SKS (or Mini-30 or 7.62×39 AR….) as effective as it can be. Of course, any ammunition that functions reliably in your firearm can be useful for defense, but it’s a good idea to carefully choose the best ammunition if our lives or the lives of loved ones might depend on it. It is also true that plain, vanilla ball rifle ammo will beat out the very best pistol ammo in terminal effect. That said, choosing full metal jacket ammunition in 7.62x39mm leaves a lot of potential on the table and FMJ can penetrate much more deeply than is normally desired for defense.

It wasn’t too long ago that your options for defense ammunition in 7.62x39mm were limited to either plain ball, cheap Russian hollow points that mostly behaved just like FMJ, or cheap Russian soft points that mostly performed as they should. So most people who chose 7.62x39mm for defense mostly chose the latter, mostly content with the probably decent performance most of the time. Today, there are several very good choices available from domestic manufacturers that offer excellent terminal ballistics and the quality control we expect from American ammunition makers.

One of the most impressive and most recent additions is 123 gr Federal Fusion. This is a brass cased soft point with a sealed primer. Like all domestically manufactured ammunition, it is boxer primed and not corrosive. The projectile has a cannelure and measures 0.310”. The 16” barrel muzzle velocity was a somewhat sedate 2,267 fps and the bullet expanded perfectly to an average expanded diameter of 0.610” with a truly incredible 95.4% weight retention. The expansion began almost instantly as the bullet entered the gelatin block. Penetration was ideal for home defense at 15.1” and the cavity produced was predictably substantial.

Another fairly recent newcomer to 7.62x39mm is Winchester’s 120 gr PDX1. The case is nickel plated brass with a substantial crimp at the case mouth. No sealant is evident. The bullet is a flat based open tip with a cannelure and measures 0.310”. The marketing for this bullet makes some significant claims but the performance in gelatin proves less than consistent. It looks like it would be certainly adequate for defense but the performance really doesn’t seem to be substantively any better than the much more affordable and easier to find Russian soft points. Muzzle velocity from a 16” barrel was a reasonable 2,362 fps but at that speed, the front section seems to have mostly come apart, leaving the rear section to continue on for over 22 inches before leaving the gelatin block. It did create a fairly impressive wound cavity and the bullet upset began very quickly, but the penetration was substantially greater than most people would find appropriate for defense.

When fired from a short barrel, the lower velocity seems to have prevented the front section from detaching and the penetration was much more modest at 12.9”. Unfortunately, the recovered bullet was a mangled mess that indicates performance might be pretty erratic.

Hornady’s 123 gr SST has been around a little longer than PDX1 and Fusion but offers excellent performance. One of the best features of this bullet is that it is available as a component for reloading, in loaded ammunition under the name SST and also in loaded ammunition under the Zombie Max name. While it might sound ridiculous, the Zombie Max ammunition is actually high quality and usually priced a little lower than its defense oriented analogues. The particular version of SST tested was a component loaded to the same velocity as factory 123 gr SST. The projectile is a closed base, tipped hollow point with a cannelure. Unusually, the loaded ammunition uses a steel case.  The terminal performance was excellent. At 2,284 fps, it penetrated 16.7” and expanded to an average diameter of 0.498”. There was some weight loss due to fragmentation, leaving a retained weight of 77.0 gr. Fragmentation isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a defensive rifle round though, so long as the bullet can meet the 12” minimum penetration requirement. The performance of the SST might not be quite as good as the Fusion on paper, but its availability as a component is a pretty compelling factor.

All told, each of the tested loads did well and is a significantly better choice than full metal jacket for defense. As always, be sure to test the ammunition for reliability in your own weapon, but if you choose to use a rifle chambered in 7.62x39mm for home defense, any of these should serve you well.

Andrew Betts served with the Arizona National Guard for over 12 years, including a tour to Afghanistan.  Visit his YouTube Channel for more great shooting information.

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