Far and away, one of the least expensive rifle calibers out there to train with is the 7.62×39, leading many to stock up in bulk. The round itself works- sure, there’s others that increase range, accuracy and terminal effect, but essentially the round does fairly well what it was designed to do, used within the parameters of which it was designed, being the intermediate ~300M range.
That being said, the round needs no introduction to most of the readership. Veterans know it well, Hunters especially in the Southern US know it as the poor man’s 30-30, and range rats know it as the fun caliber to shoot on the cheap. Like the 30-30, it carries a similar energy and trajectory, punches through brush fairly easily without a significant impact on trajectory, and reliably does what you want it to. Many Survivalists have stocked away lifetime supplies of the round just based on it’s price point of both the round and the weapons that fire it. While its easy to ride down to the local gun shop or ammo website and pick up a few hundred rounds, not all of the ammo is the same.
Just like with 5.56, 7.62×51, etc, there’s a plethora of different rounds, some being better than others. Many, many folks I’ve run into are guilty of lumping it together in to one sole category as if there’s no difference. Concerning accuracy there’s not much difference between the stuff coming from Russia, but terminal effect-wise, the differences become more clear. If you’re buying bulk there’s a couple of specific rounds to look for, aside from simply what’s the cheapest. Of the loadings, there’s three general types of rounds themselves- Full Metal Jacket, Hollow Point, and Soft Point. Among these, as anyone familiar with terminal ballistics will attest, the SP round is generally the most desirable. Full metal jackets are great for playing on the range, but not my first choice for desirable ammo. Hollow points are the most confusing category to many, due to the wide variety of ammunition imported but not always clearly indicated. They range from simply being an AK version of Open Tip Match (a tiny hole in the tip with little to no expansion properties) to HPs with pre-fail cuts inside the round itself.
The common bullets weights for 7.62×39 range from 122 to 125gr, with a 154gr load on the market as well made by Tula. I don’t recommend bulking up on the 154 if you’re running an AK, as the additional weight may cause premature wear on the recoil spring, bolt carrier, and rear trunion. In purchasing bulk general purpose ammo, 125gr SP is most desirable of what’s commonly available sight unseen, with it being the best medium between mass, speed, effect, and cost effectiveness. It may not be a premium hunting round, but the chances of it yawing or expanding is higher than with simple FMJ.
The next most sought after round is not as easy to come by, and a great amount of confusion surrounds it’s source. It’s known as 8m3, sometimes referred to as the “Sapsan” round after the original imported brand name. 8m3 is a 124gr HP with pre-fail cuts in the jacket, allowing greater fragmentation on impact. 8m3 has an intriguing story of how it came about, not unlike our load development changes in 5.56 and 7.62×51 coming from experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The 5.45 experienced shortcomings with Russian troops in Chechnya, ricocheting off of and fragmenting when hitting intermediate barriers, as well as having limited close range effectiveness. The extended engagement ranges of Afghanistan that favored the newer, faster 5.45 had given to close range fights in urban and dense forest. Although superseded by the 5.45x39mm AK-74 in Afghanistan, the AKM continued to be used in a limited, specialized role in conjunction with the PBS-1 suppressor and rudimentary (although high tech in it’s day) starlight scope, seen at right. The 7.62 round, being a great deal slower, was still quite effective within medium ranges and lost less energy from the effects of the suppressor.
This limited role platform was re-recognized in the next decade during the Chechen crisis, and the 7.62 was employed yet again due to it’s favorable attributes of energy retention at close range even when suppressed and superior intermediate barrier penetration. Other weapons have since been purpose built to fill this role (such as the 9x39mm VSS) but due to the sheer numbers of AKMs in the inventory, it still sees widespread use, even as recent as Crimea.
Recognizing the need to maximize the 7.62, Ulyanovsk ammunition plant (makers of Wolf Military Classic and sometimes Wolf black box) developed a new anti personnel round with pre-fail cuts to guarantee expansion on impact. The new 8m3 round was issued to domestic security units and was sold commercially. Fortunately it’s still available stateside for those careful enough to look.
8m3 is a 124gr bullet, most commonly found in Wolf Military Classic, but also occasionally in Tulammo, which used to be known as Wolf, loaded at Tula arsenal. Not all HPs are 8m3…only the 124gr, and not all of those either. One way to make sure you have 8m3 is to take a finishing nail or pin and rub the inside of the cavity, checking the pre-fail notches. The ammo works well, and is far superior in terminal performance to FMJ.
The round’s effect, seen in this gel test, is a good demonstration of it’s wounding capacity just after it enters and creating a large channel. It’s great ammunition and should be sought after if you’re looking to run the AK.
The Soft Point and 8m3 HP are the two most economical yet effective rounds on the market for the AKM. Caliber and platform arguments aside (which is a stupid, stupid waste of time normally argued by folks who’ve never fired a shot in anger) you as the shooter should be looking at every way possible to maximize the effectiveness of your equipment. Maximizing the lethality of your rounds is a great step in the right direction. This article is not meant to ignite a caliber or weapon shouting match, but rather inform based on the best of the options out there for the AK platform. You may not have enough ammo for what’s coming down the pipe, but you can at least know which rounds to acquire till that day arrives.