Gracing the cover of the March 12, 2012 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine is the Centurion 39, an American-made AK-47, from our comrades at Century Arms. It may be domestically produced, but it’s hard to look at this black gun and not feel the piercing, menacing stare of Josef Stalin himself.
In terms of sheer numbers, probably more Mauser 98s have been produced historically than AKs. But if the Avtomat Kalashnikova is anything it’s prolific. It's the gun of choice for boorish anarchists and ravel rousing rebels everywhere.
The Centurion 39 is a homegrown AK chambered in 7.62 X 39 (Soviet M43), which is a stout little cartridge developed in 1943. That cartridge did not go into full production or use until later on as the Cold War ramped up. Today, it is one of the AK-47's two most common chamberings (the 5.45 X 39 being the other).
With more delivered energy than both the .223 Rem. and 30-30 Winchester — in the neighborhood of 1,500 ft. lbs on the average — it’s plain to see why this cartridge contributed to the breakdown of the German lines all along the Russian front during the latter stages of World War II. In fact, it was precisely because the Wehrmacht were armed with assault rifles chambered for the 7.92mm Kurz that the Russians were forced to quickly develop something competitive. The ‘39 was born.
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Today, American shooters can have an American AR-style rifle chambered for the heavy-hitting Russian 7.62 X 39 cartridge. And while it's true the contemporary AR platform is available in a myriad of configurations (6.8mm Rem. SPC, .300 AAC Blackout, 6X45, .30 Gremlin, .30 Remington AR, .308 Win., 6.5 Grendal, .458 SOCOM and more) the fact remains: The Russian 7.62 X 39 is still one of the very best military cartridges ever developed. Ammo is widely available and relatively cheap. And it hits hard.
It’s ironic that before the mainstreaming of the AR in present day America, and the subsequent development of short, 30-caliber cartridges for special applications like deer hunting or short-distance law enforcement marksman engagements, the Russians were making essentially the same thing nearly a century ago.
Rock River Arms LAR-47
The LAR-47 lower and upper are proprietary. Most of the other features are standard AR, including the two-stage trigger group, 16-inch barrel, A2 flash suppressor, ambidextrous magazine release and RRA’s 6-position tactical CAR Stock. The LAR-47 gives you access to the heavy-hitting 7.62 X 39 ammo and AK mags all in the familiar AR platform. Это – большое оружие!
There are other options, too. Del-Ton, DPMS and Olympic Arms all make 7.62 X 39 uppers as does MGI Modular.
But why in the world would anyone want an AR/AK-style rifle? As Patrick Sweeney points out in the Gun Digest Book of the AK & SKS, most 7.62 X 39 ammo is Full Metal Jacket FMJ stuff — not exactly ideal for hunting big game animals.
The bullets found in surplus ammo is comprised of a mild steel core that doesn’t exactly exhibit stellar expansion properties. They ripped all matter of hell out of many German snipers’ bunkers, but weren’t developed with the big game hunter in mind. However, for the plinker and prepper, they’re pure gold.
If you’re a handloader you can concoct an excellent recipe for thin-skinned game thanks to several companies making dies and components for this cartridge. That’s the good news.
The bad news is, some American shooters just can’t warm up to the Kalashnikov, no matter how many of its virtues are extolled by proponents. Maybe that's because we're talking about a gun born of Stalin’s murderous dictatorship — a regime responsible for executing, imprisoning and forcibly relocating literally millions of people. Genocide doesn’t exactly engender warm and fuzzy feelings.
And yet while I’m no fan of Marxism, I can appreciate the gun and the cartridge for what they are. They helped to give the Red Army — and war-weary Troglodytes everywhere — an edge. The 7.62 X 39 was a great cartridge. And it remains a great cartridge. When loaded in an AR-style rifle or carbine, it’s even better.
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