updated by Reaper 01/08/2018
The Kalashnikov or AK series of rifles is currently one of the most popular weapons on the face of the planet, and because of that they have also become one of the most popular options as a primary fighting rifles for preppers. In fact, the AK is a close second in popularity as a main go-to-war weapon for survivalists only after the AR-15.
Many different variants of the AK series of rifles have been made, but the two most popular are the AK-47 and the AK-74. While the basic design of these two rifles is incredibly similar, there are notable differences between them that you need to take into account. The AK-47 is the more popular rifle, but that doesn’t at all mean that you should discount the AK-74.
In this article, we’ll assume that you’ve elected to go with an AK style of rifle for your primary go-to-war rifle, but aren’t yet able to decide between the 47 or the 74. First, we’ll discuss both rifles in depth, and then we’ll talk about the pros and cons of each in comparison to one another.
OVERVIEW OF THE AK-47
The original AK-47 was the weapon that started it all for the Kalashnikov series of rifles. While there actually are AK-47 rifles, the term ‘AK-47’ is often used to generically refer to all Kalashnikov series of rifles. Nonetheless, it’s important for you to distinguish between a true AK-47 rifle and the rest of the rifles in the Kalashnikov family.
As the name suggests, the AK-47 was designed and released in 1947. It was intended to be a reliable, simple, and cheap semi-automatic or automatic rifle that could be mass produced for the Soviet Union following World War II. Today, that’s exactly what the AK-47 is known for: it’s cheap to make, incredibly rugged, and available almost everywhere.
The primary reasons why the AK-47 is so rugged and reliable is because of its gas piston system, few moving parts, and tapered cartridge case that allow the gun to cycle and fire even when foreign materials get into it. It’s for these same reasons that the AK-47 is cheap and easy to mass produced.
The AK-47 fires the 7.62x39mm round, which is a larger round than the 5.45x39mm fired in the AK-74 or the 5.56x45mm fired in the AR-15. This means that while the AK-47 has more power than either of those two weans, it also has more recoil and can be more difficult for the shooter to control when firing bursts or fully automatic.
The real reason why the AK-47 is the most well-used rifle in history is because it has been proven to be effective in combat time and time again. The Vietnam War was the first major conflict in which the AK-47 was used extensively, although it saw worldly combat beforehand.
It proved to be incredibly reliable for the North Vietnamese in the wet and adverse jungle environments of Southeast Asia, and it has continued to be incredibly reliable in the conflicts since.
However, a few flaws with the AK-47 were also first discovered in Vietnam, particularly in comparison to the M16 rifle that the American troops were issued. The M16 fired a smaller cartridge, allowing the shooter to carry more ammunition on their person without increasing the weight of their load out. The smaller cartridges also meant that the shooter could fire in bursts or in fully automatic mode with more control and less recoil.
Even though the M16 suffered from some reliability issues in the Vietnam War (many of which were remedied afterward), its advantages over the AK-47 were noticed by the Soviets. It was these advantages that soon made the Soviets determine that an AK variant of the rifle with a lighter cartridge was needed for military use.
The result was the AK-74.
OVERVIEW OF THE AK-74
The AK-74, as the name suggests, was designed in 1974 and fired the 5.45x39mm round. Lighter than the 7.62×39, this meant that the AK-74 had naturally less recoil than the AK-47. Furthermore, the weapon was equipped with a muzzle brake on the end of the barrel, which virtually brought recoil down to the level of an AR-15.
The smaller round of the AK-74 also means that it shoots faster and has less of a ballistic arch than the AK-47. It is for this reason that you will often see a scope mounted onto an AK-74 but rarely see one mounted onto a 47. The AK-74 was soon adopted into service by the Soviet Army, and variants of it remain as the standard issue infantry rifle for the Russian Army today.
That being said, the AK-74 still never achieved the same heights of popularity that the AK-47 did. There are hundreds of millions more AK-47s on the planet than there are 74s. Still, both rifles are completely viable options as a go to rifle for survivalists. Both are rugged and reliable and have been proven to be effective in combat. If anything, the AK-74 is just an updated AK-47 with a lighter round.
For the rest of this article, we’ll talk about the specific pros and cons of the AK-47 and AK-74 side by side regarding their specific features, such as ammunition, magazines, design, and so on.
AK-47 vs. AK74 – AMMUNITION
As it stands, the AK-47s 7.62x39mm round is the most produced center fire rifle round in the entire world. When it was first designed, it was intended to hit targets hard at close distances. After World War II, the Soviets were quick to realize that future wars and conflicts would be fought in closer quarters. Western Nations such as the United States and other countries in NATO were slow to realize this and stuck with high powered rifle rounds like the .308 Winchester in M1A and FAL rifles, so in a way, the 7.62x39mm was ahead of its time.
In comparison to the .308 Winchester that was then being fielded by the Soviet Union’s opponents in the Cold War, the 7.62x39mm was lighter, cheaper to mass produce, and delivered less recoil. This also meant that more rounds could be carried in the magazine: the AK-47 carries 30 round in its standard ‘banana’ style magazine, whereas NATO’s M1A and FAL magazines carried only 20.
Now as we spoke about earlier, the decision to evolve the AK-47 into the AK-74 was primarily because of the perceived disadvantages of the 7.62x39mm round in comparison to the M16’s 5.56x45mm. It was only after the United States military learned that the long and hefty .308-caliber M1A was unsuitable for close to mid range combat in the jungles of Vietnam that they switched to the M16, which was even lighter than the AK-47.
An ordinary 7.62x39mm round will have a muzzle velocity of around 2,350 feet per second (FPS) with a 123-grain bullet. The AK-74’s 5.45x39mm is significantly lighter with a 53-grain bullet that delivers a muzzle velocity of 2,810 FPS. The AK-74’s round may have less mass and make a smaller bullet wound, but it definitely exits the rifle’s barrel faster and at a flatter trajectory as well.
Both the 7.62×39 and 5.45×39 work well on the battlefield. It’s simply a matter of whether you want a heavier bullet or a lighter and slightly faster one, even though neither is a ‘high powered’ or long range round like the .308. Both are also relatively inexpensive on the American marketplace and tend to be cheaper than the 5.45x45mm or .223 Rem round fired in the AR-15. The 7.62×39 round is more widely available since it’s more popular, but you can still easily buy bulk packs (and surplus boxes) of both so you’ll have a healthy stockpile of ammunition no matter which rounds you choose.
In short, neither the 7.62×39 or the 5.45×39 is truly ‘better’ than the other and it completely comes down to your personal preference. Educate yourself more fully on the ballistics and power of the two rounds. Ask for opinions from those who use them personally, and practice shooting both on a range if you can to find which one you are more comfortable with.
With that being said, the 5.45×39 round is rarely sold regularly in small town gun stores. This may present difficulties acquiring ammunition in a SHTF scenario where you may need to “tactically acquire” rounds from gun stores after a total collapse. You need to think of these types of situations when you’re looking into a rifle. Due to this, the AK-47’s 7.62×39 round will be the better choice for SHTF ammunition acquiring.
AK-47 vs. AK-74 – RELIABILITY
Since both the 47 and the 74 are in the AK family, the basic design of the two rifles is virtually identical. Both come in either milled or stamped receiver varieties, the barrel lengths are the same, and all of the controls are identical. As we discussed above, the AK series of rifles uses a long stroke gas operation system with few moving parts that make them incredibly reliable in adverse conditions.
For these reasons, the reliability of the AK-47 and AK-74 is a draw. If you torture test the two rifles side by side, both are going to keep shooting and shooting for a long time. They’ve also both been proven to work extraordinarily well on the battlefield, with the AK-47 being used in virtually ever conflict since Vietnam and the AK-74 being trusted by the Russian military and seeing extensive service in the Afghanistan War in the 80s.
AK-47 vs. AK-74 – MAGAZINES
There is an old saying “a gun is only as reliable as its magazines are”. The same holds true for the AK series of rifles. The good news is that the magazines for the AKs are well-known for their extremely reliable feeding and tough durability, thanks to their high-quality metal or polymer and curved shape.
So as far as quality of magazines is concerned, it’s another draw between the 47 and 74. But as far as availability of those magazines is concerned, the AK-47 has a clear advantage. That’s not to say that there’s a shortage of AK-74 magazines, but the 47 is still the far more popular weapon both in America and abroad.
Whether walking into a sporting goods store or searching online, it’s simply going to be easier to find AK-47 magazines, and they’re going to be slightly less expensive too. You can find military surplus magazines for both rifles, but major manufacturers such as Tapco and Magpul are both producing and selling high-quality polymer magazines for both.
AK-47 vs. AK-74 – ACCESSORIES
A strong majority of the accessories and gear for the AK-47 and AK-74 are completely interchangeable. After all, most aspects of the two rifles other than their caliber are virtually identical. What’s more, is that accessories are widely available as well. It’s very easy and relatively inexpensive to customize your AK style of rifle however you want: stocks, hand grips, fore ends, mag releases, slings, lights, tactical rails, and more can be found in great abundance.
In conclusion, the biggest difference between the AK-47 and the AK-74 is the caliber that they shoot. Other than that, both rifles are almost identical and the advantages and disadvantages between the two are nil.
Most of the time, AK-74s have a shorter stock (or no stock at all), although you can find one with a standard size stock. Be on the lookout for this if you’re in the market for an AK-74, as a buttstock is incredibly important, unless you’re looking for a gun specifically without one.
When you’re trying to decide between the 47 and the 74, you essentially need to decide between the 7.62×39 or the 5.45×39 calibers. To be able to decide between those two calibers, you need to ask yourself what you’re going to be using them for.
Do you want a rifle that you can use for more accurate shooting against targets or that is going to deliver less recoil onto your shoulder? You should go with the AK-74.
Or do you want a rifle with a virtually never-ending supply of ammunition that will hit targets slower but harder? Your choice is the AK-47.
Just remember that in the end, you could always go with both if funds allow. However, if you have to choose only one, just think about what you’ll be using your rifle primarily for.
It’s a hard decision, but be comforted in knowing that both the 47 and the 74 are some of the most reliable rifles available on the market, and that both are excellent choices as a primary weapon for SHTF.
Nick Oetken is a prepper, outdoor enthusiast but, most of all, he is our in-house firearms expert. Look out for his articles on guns to find out which ones you need for your survival.