Top 10 tips for new AK shooters

There’s no debating that the AR-15 is truly “America’s Gun.”

The AR is by far the most popular gun in the country. You’d need a thick book just to list all the rifle and accessory manufacturers.

But if we use the same standard, with more than 100 million rifles built in more than 35 countries, the AK is truly the “World’s Gun.”

I’ve been an AK addict for decades.

I’m not alone. There are others who share this affliction.

Over the years, the only commonality I’ve noticed among fellow AK addicts is that we all tend to say “f@ck” a lot. Other than that, we’re a pretty diverse group.

If you’re a new AK shooter or you’re thinking about joining this strange club, here are some tips I hope you’ll find useful:

1. The best AK is the one you can afford. Since we launched this site a little more than five years ago, the number-one question I get is: What’s the best AK? To be clear, all AKs run — regardless of price. If yours doesn’t, something is wrong. Either send it back to the manufacturer or take it to a gunsmith. Therefore, for most shooters, the best AK is the one that fits your budget. If you can afford a custom gun, great. If the budget only allows for a WASR, they’ll still run like a sewing machine.

2. Practice magazine changes, but don’t go crazy. Here’s the easiest and fastest way I’ve found to change a mag if you’re right-handed: Keeping your AK pointed at the threat, pull a fresh mag from your web gear with your left hand. The bullets should be facing forward. Scrape the mag forward along the bottom of the trigger guard — as a guide — hard and fast. This will both trip the mag release and strip the empty mag from your rifle. Rock in the fresh mag from front to back. Move your now-empty left hand under the gun and up to rack the bolt. Some shooters come over the top of the weapon to charge it, but this can be difficult if you’re running an optic. If you practice mag changes enough, your sights should never leave the target. Note: I realized not too long ago I was spending far more time practicing mag changes than I truly needed. (I wanted to beat the AR guys). For most civilians who rely upon an AK for home defense, a 30-round mag is more than enough ammo. God help you if it’s not. Instead of practicing mag changes, in my humble opinion you should spend your precious training time conducting Ready-Up drills. They’re far more beneficial and they require you to manipulate the safety, which is something you need to learn to do without thinking if you want to run an AK.

3. Get a red dot. I’ve met a lot of AK shooters who run totally stock guns. There’s certainly nothing wrong with this — nothing at all. But for me, I’m at least a 1-1.5 seconds faster with a red dot than with traditional iron sights. It’s been proven with a shot timer. Shot timers don’t lie. I sometimes wish they did. Also, don’t scrimp on your optic. You’ll regret it when it fails. I’ve shot some AKs with scopes. In my humble opinion, these too are slower than a dot without any magnification.

4. The best place to mount an optic is on the Warsaw Pact rail. The rail along the left side of some AKs offers, in my opinion, the best way to mount a red dot. Nowadays, there are plenty of rock-solid mounts made for these rails. Some AK shooters mount optics on railed gas tubes — there are plenty of quality manufacturers for these too — but I prefer the side rail. There’s less chance of cooking your optic as the gas tube heats up. For AKs without a side rail, such as underfolders, I’ve had great luck with a Strike Industries mount that replaces the rear sight.

5. The main consideration for training ammunition is price. AKs are omnivorous. They’ll eat anything. For training ammunition, the only thing I consider is the price — the cheaper the better. I’m agnostic about the manufacturer. It all works. However, if you plan on using your AK for home defense, there are serious over-penetration concerns. Thanks to our newest sponsor, Widener’s Reloading & Shooting Supply, we’ll be able to test the most popular types of 7.62x39mm defensive ammo to determine which round performs best. We’ll be conducting this testing next week.

6. If you’re going to change the gun’s furniture, I recommend Magpul. Many AK shooters find the standard furniture too small, especially the grip and the butt stock. There are a lot of options out there, but be careful. Some of the furniture is cheap plastic Chinese junk. They’re not suitable for Airsoft, much less real firearms. I’ve tried many of the brands out there. Magpul’s MOE® line is the best I’ve found.

7. I strongly recommend steel magazines. I had a loaded polymer mag explode in my gun safe. I’ve broken polymer mags during training. Nowadays, all I run are steel mags. Sure, they’re heavier, but I have never had one break. Also, I’ve found that if you’re doing serious running and gunning, the slick-sided steel mags are easier to get out of a mag pouch. Many of the polymer mags have such aggressive stippling and knurling that they can hang up when you’re trying to get them out of a pouch quickly.

8. Buy AK mag pouches — not AR. For running and gunning with an AK, you’ll need AK mag pouches. There are some AR pouches that may work, but most are too tight. AK mags have more of a curve, so they don’t fit well in AR pouches. I have tried one Kydex AK mag carrier. It did not work well. The mag was not held securely enough and tended to fall out. I am right-handed so I carry my mags on my left side, bullets facing back.

9. Wear gloves. Nothing about the AK is pretty. Nothing is ergonomic. There are a lot of sharp edges and the gun heats up very quickly. Save yourself some cuts and burns and get a good pair of tactical gloves. I hate shooting while wearing gloves, especially during a steamy Florida summer, but if you’re going to run an AK hard, they’re damn near mandatory.

10. The AK excels as a home defense weapon. In my humble opinion, I prefer an AK for home defense over all else, even with the aforementioned over-penetration concerns. It’s lighter than a shotgun, holds  more ammunition, is quicker to reload and has much less recoil. The round is much more potent than a handgun, and it’s easier to shoot. Add a white light and you’re set.


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


  1. Robert Adams on

    I forget which shop in Sarasota is having Dead Air show up within the next week or so, but maybe you can do the testing there and with one of their cans if they brought the wolverine or one of the other compatible models. just a fyi.

    pretty good tip list.

    Have you tried any of the aftermarket triggers? I see there are a few more out there now than previously.

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