There are plenty of good reasons to want one, so here are the best 7.62×39 upper receiver options for your AR-15.
It may seem like sacrilege, but when it comes to alternative chamberings for the AR-15, a 7.62×39 upper actually makes a lot of sense in many cases. In fact, it arguably makes even more sense than .300 Blackout when not running a suppressor.
So, let's go over why you might want one, what to look for, and then the best 7.62×39 upper options on the market.
Why A 7.62×39 Upper?
In years past, the primary draw of getting a 7.62×39 upper to go with your existing AR-15 lower was the price of ammunition. It wasn’t long ago when the cheapest 5.56 NATO ammo was still appreciably more expensive than 7.62×39, so an upper that allowed you to plink with the cheaper stuff made a lot of sense. These days, that is often no longer the case, as the two cartridges now typically have similar costs with 7.62×39 often being the more expensive of the two.
Without an economic incentive, why would anyone today still choose to buy a 7.62×39 upper? The answer mostly lies in the cartridge’s ballistic properties.
The most apparent of those qualities is that the cartridge is less sensitive to shorter barrel lengths and suppression than 5.56 NATO. If shooting with a short barrel or a can, you will see much better performance with 7.62×39. These days, .300 Blackout is very popular for many of the same reasons, even being better than 7.62×39 when it comes to shooting subsonic loads suppressed. However, .300 BLK is still substantially more expensive than 7.62×39, making it a better choice only for those who are committed to shooting with a suppressor.
In and of itself, 7.62x39mm is not terribly remarkable in any particular aspect of terminal ballistics. However, what's notable about it is that it has broadly comparable velocity, energy and trajectory to .30-30 Winchester…which, of course, is one of the most popular and most successful short-to-mid-range hunting cartridges of all time.
An AR-based hunting rifle for whitetail or hogs, a 7.62×39 upper would be a good choice and certainly cheaper to shoot than .300 Blackout or 6.8 SPC.
Also, since a different magazine is required for the Russian cartridge, there's no way you're going to mix anything up. Due to the interchangeable mags, some folks have tried loading .300 BLK into a 5.56 chamber with catastrophic results.
The Basics Of A Good 7.62×39 Upper
There are a few basic must-haves for any 7.62×39 upper that you're planning to use with an AR-15. Beyond anything else, the most important of these is the bolt carrier group.
This is because one of the most common issues people experience with 7.62×39 upper ARs is with feeding, typically caused by either an incorrect extractor or bolt assembly.
The solution? Get the complete upper; you need a 7.62mm BCG. Don't buy just the bolt head, don't trust Bubba The GunSmif, just purchase an upper that comes with an entire 7.62x39mm bolt carrier group.
Another must-have is an improved firing pin. This is because 7.62x39mm ammunition is known for having hard primers, sometimes resulting in light strikes. To prevent this, make sure to add an extended or enhanced firing pin to your setup to ensure reliable strikes. A lot of manufacturers include them now, but not all, so check before purchasing.
Also of note, while essentially all standard AR lowers are compatible with 7.62×39 uppers, the same can’t be said about magazines. Due to the shape of the 7.62x39mm cartridge, standard AR-15 magazines aren't compatible the way they are with .300 Blackout. You'll need to purchase dedicated 7.62×39 AR magazines that are compatible with standard AR-15 magazine wells.
Best Barrel Lengths For 7.62×39 Uppers
Once you have the basics of what you need to get an upper that will actually run, it’s time to think about the other details of your prospective build.
As mentioned, 7.62x39mm runs great out of shorter barrels. Compared to smaller, lighter calibers, it suffers less when it comes to velocity loss per fewer inches of barrel. Obviously, chronograph readings differ, but some people have found as little as 300 fps of difference between an 8-inch 7.62x39mm barrel and a 16-inch.
Several people have put forward arguments about the best-abbreviated barrel length is for this caliber. While 8 inches is a little extreme, somewhere between 10 and 12.5 inches is a happy medium.
However, also be aware that the shorter the gas system, the more violent the cycling. Therefore, be ready to tune the gun. The same is also true if you intend on using the gun as a suppressor host.
The 5 Best 7.62×39 Uppers
Best Entry Level: Palmetto State Armory PSA PA47 16″ Mid-Length Upper
The PSA PA47 16-inch Mid-Length is a great entry-level 7.62×39 upper. It won't break the bank and it has a lot of good features for the price.
It has a 16-inch CMV government profile barrel (1:10 twist) with an A2 flash hider and a mid-length gas system. It has a classic M16A2-style handguard and FSB, but it's a flat-top receiver so you can add whatever optic you'd like. The BCG includes an extended firing pin and a 7.62mm bolt head with a mil-spec carrier.
They're compatible with any AR-15 lower (not all PSA 7.62x39mm uppers are!) so you just need to supply some 7.62×39 AR magazines and a sighting system.
MSRP: $320 ; palmettostatearmory.com
Best Modern Upper: Rock River Arms Coyote Carbine Upper Half
Rock River Arms' Coyote Carbine upper in 7.62×39 is a modern AR upper receiver, with a flat/Picatinny rail top, an M-LOK handguard and some little touches throughout that justify its higher price.
The barrel is a 16-inch chrome-lined barrel (1:10 twist) with an HBAR profile, carbine-length gas system and Smith Vortex flash hider. The bolt carrier group is also chromed, which will make the rifle more resilient. The upper also ships with a C-Products 28-round magazine.
It's compatible with standard AR-15 lowers, so drop it in, plug and play. Add magazines, an optic and any other accessories as desired. MSRP is a bit stiff, but this upper comes with more premium features than most.
MSRP: $925 ; rockriverarms.com
Best Upper For Suppressed SBR: Brownells BRN-180S Gen2 10.5”
Technically, this isn't an AR-15 upper, as the BRN-180 is more like an AR-18 upper. However, it’s included on this list because it was designed to drop into any standard AR-15 lower receiver.
The BRN-180S is a side-charging, piston-driven rifle system with the AR-18's dual guide rod and recoil spring assembly, which is captive with a built-in buffer. It has a 10.5-inch 4150 steel barrel with a nitride finish and a 3-prong flash suppressor on 5/8×24-inch threads, so adding a can would be easy. The receiver has Picatinny rail on top and M-LOK slots at 3, 6, and 9 o'clock on the handguard.
Yes, it's a piston upper, but that also means it's easily tuned to cycle suppressed without the headache of an adjustable gas block or having to buy extra springs or buffers.
MSRP: $969 ; brownells.com
Best CQB Upper: Maxim Defense MDX:508/510 U.R.G.
Maxim Defense MDX: U.R.G uppers are designed for CQB use, so these would be a great choice for a home defense AR with a short barrel. Maxim manufactures its firearms for hard use, so if you intended to put a lot of training in with your upper, this would be a top model to get.
One standout feature is Maxim's HATEBRAKE, a flash suppressor/muzzle brake/muzzle booster that acts as a regulator for the gas system, ensuring reliable cycling. The HATEBRAKE fits inside the handguard, so it doesn't add to the overall length. The upper also includes a Radian charging handle, M-LOK handguards (with QD socket) and a handstop/barrier stop pre-installed.
The MDX:508 U.R.G. has an 8.5-inch barrel and the MDX:510 U.R.G. has a 10.3-inch barrel. Both models come with an adjustable gas block and can be ordered with either a black, grey or FDE finish.
MSRP: $1,395 ; maximdefense.com
Best For Hunting: PSA Gen 2 AR-47 16″ 7.62x39mm
Palmetto State Armory's PSA Gen 2 AR-47 16″ 7.62×39 upper is one of the better choices for a hunting rifle in this caliber. It's a modern AR-style upper with a lightweight M-LOK handguard, with a midweight (lighter than HBAR/A2) barrel profile, which matters if you're going to be carrying it in the field.
The barrel is 4150 with a nitride finish, with a 1:10 twist rate, an A2 flash hider and a carbine-length gas system. The upper receiver is a flat-top with a 13.5-inch handguard. The BCG includes an extended firing pin and a Toolcraft-enhanced extractor.
Palmetto recommends purchasing a PA-10 buffer spring and heavy buffer for the best function. What makes this a good choice for a hunting rifle is the slimmer profile and lighter weight, as almost all 7.62×39 uppers have a heavier barrel profile. Also take note that while this PSA AR-47 upper was designed to interface with mil-spec AR lowers, the company’s similar KS-47 line of uppers are only compatible with PSA’s KS-47 lowers. Be sure you’re buying the correct one if you intend to use it with a standard AR lower.
MSRP:$359.99 ; palmettostatearmory.com
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The first word that comes to mind is: “Yikes”! The prices of these things exceed the cost of a new AR in many cases. I bought an upper on sale at Bear Creek Arsenal for $175 – that seemed like a reasonable price to add the versatility of another caliber to my AR; at the prices above, it would not make sense. Palmetto comes close, but it’s still a bit up there, when you can buy a whole AR in the $400-500 range. No, it won’t be suitable for an extended war, but exactly – exactly, now – how many ARs are going to be used by a US citizen, in the US, in an extended war? I don’t commute to work in a Bugatti Veyron, and I find a Hyundai perfectly serviceable for the purpose. It’s worth doing a simple mental exercise: is the $500 difference between a $500 AR and a $1,000 AR better spent on the weapon “prestige” or on 1,500 rounds of ammunition to practice with? I’ll take the ammo, thanks.