We asked a top firearms expert to rank the top 7.62x39mm rifles.
Here is what he came up with:
In the automotive world, you have endless Ford vs. Chevy debates. (Mustangs rule, by the way. End of story.)
And in the world of military rifles, you have the endless debate of 5.56x45mm NATO vs. 7.62x39mm.
Thanks to the Cold War, that rifle caliber debate has almost every bit as much an “East vs. West” ideological and geopolitical debate as a ballistic one, since the 5.56 was an American invention whilst the 7.62×39 originated in a Communist country. Well, I’m not here to settle that debate right now, Rather, I’m going to commence with another Top 5 List, this time assessing what I consider to be the best rifles in the 7.62x39mm caliber.
Okay, is anybody really surprised to see this one at the top of the list?
Not the first gun in the caliber, but far and away the most famous, most iconic, most battle-proven, and most ubiquitous of the bunch, with **75 million** having been built around the world. Though admittedly of only mediocre accuracy – as even its most hardcore adherents will readily concede, Lt. Gen. Mikhail Timofeyevich Kalashnikov’s invention is the gold standard of battlefield reliability, durability, simplicity, and ease of maintenance; if the Glock 17 and Ruger GP-100 are the Timex of semiauto pistols and DA revolvers respectively, i.e. “Takes a licking and keeps on ticking,” then the Avtomat Kalashnikova is the Timex of automatic rifles.
My personally-owned AK is the Century Arms WASR-10, which I purchased for roughly $800.00 as a Christmas gift to myself back in 2017 whilst I was on R&R from my last Iraq contract. It’s made in Romania, i.e. a freedom-loving NATO member state as opposed to autocratic Russia or communist China, which means you can buy one with a clear conscience. I’ve only fired maybe 500 rounds though her, as I don’t do nearly as much rifle shooting as I do handgun shooting, but in that span, she’s displayed the flawless reliability that AKs are renowned for, and reasonably good accuracy as far as AKs go. I’ve only been able to test-fire her at a max distance of 50 yards thus far – using PMC Bronze 123-grain full metal jacket (FMJ) ammo – but I intend to give ‘er a 100-yard evaluation in the near future.
This is where it all began, i.e. the very first weapon chambered for the 7.62x39mm round, dating back to 1945. Of all the guns in the caliber, the Самозарядный карабин системы Симонова/Samozaryadny Karabin sistemy Simonova, 1945; “self-loading carbine of [the] Simonov system, 1945; named for its inventor, Sergei Gavrilovich Simonov) is the one with I’ve had the most shooting experience; the SKS was the first long gun that I ever owned, buying a Chinese-made Norinco specimen back in the summer of 1994 (this was many years before I had my epiphany and finally realized that mainland China is truly our enemy). In 3,000 rounds fired, I found it to be a reliable performer, and more than sufficiently accurate for paper punching at the range.
Though officially replaced by the AK-47 as the official Red Army rifle in 1949, the SKS saw plenty of action around the globe, especially in the hands of the Viet Cong, and 15 million of these rifles have been produced around the world.
In contrast with the other rifles on this list with their detachable box magazines, the SKS loads from the top of the receiver via stripper clips into a fixed internal magazine, just like the good ol’ American M1 Garand…though I’m reasonably certain that a good faithful communist like Tovarish (“Comrade”) Simonov wasn’t intentionally trying to emulate a “capitalist running dog” like John Garand.
I was issued this rifle as a contractor in Iraq, and of all the weapons in the caliber that I’ve worked with, I’d say it’s the most user-friendly in terms of portability, i.e. weight and compactness alike. Though I only got to fire a few rounds through it thanks to my then-employer’s rather skimpy training ammo budget, I’d also have to say it’s the most accurate gun in the caliber that I’ve fired. Made in the former Czechoslovakia, it bears a superficial cosmetic resemblance to the AK but actually has zero parts compatibility with the Kalashnikov and field-strips more like the SKS. Reliability is up to par with the other guns on this list.
To reiterate what I stated in my 19FortyFive article titled “Ready, Aim And Fire! 5 Best Military Rifles In The World”: “It could be reasonably argued that this Israeli-designed rifle series is the ultimate refinement of the Kalashnikov system. The Galil utilizes the same action as the AK47 and AK74 but uses a modified gas system of the Finnish Valmet M62, which reduces recoil. By most accounts, it’s every bit as reliable as the AK, with the bonus of being more accurate.”
The latest & greatest edition of the Galil being advertised on the Israel Weapons Industries (IWI) website is the Galil ACE GEN II, which carries an MSRP of $1,979.00.
That “556” portion of the SIG 556R’s alphanumeric designation is a bit misleading, as rest assured it is a 7.62x39mm and not a 5.56mm; indeed, as Robert Farago noted in an August 2012 article for The Truth About Guns, “The ‘R’ in the SIG 556R stands for “Russian.”
And why not? SIG reckons the Russkie’s 7.62 x 39mm round is a ‘more potent round for small to medium game.’” Gabe Suarez of Suarez Tactical was a particularly strong proponent of the 556R. And as Northwest Fine Guns states in their advert on the Guns International website, “Back on the market…Lethality of the 7.62 x39 with the reliability of the Swiss. Whats [sic] not to like. Rifle has a folding stock, iron sights, scope rail and will take any AK style magazine.”
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Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.