Firearms bring out the debate club champion in all of us. Seemingly every gun owner has a very vocal opinion about the best caliber or weapons platform: 9mm vs. .45 or AR vs. AK, Glock vs. Springfield. Today, I want to objectively enter the battle rifle debate, but with a twist: which battle rifle will serve an individual best during a woodland survival situation? I will be critiquing two most common weapons platforms in America – the AK-47 and the AR-15- on the following criteria: reliability, stopping power, accuracy, weight, and size.
The AK Platform
Stories have abounded about the reliability of the AK platform since its debut in 1947. Functioning AKs have been found that still fired reliably after being buried for decades. This is due in part to the loose tolerances of the rifle, as well as the piston-driven gas system. These two benefits can also be seen as demerits against the platform, since the loose tolerances and piston system are also responsible for the AKs inferior reputation for accuracy (when compared to the other two rifles in this article.) The AK-47 and its variants (except for the AK-74) fire the 7.62×39 cartridge, a powerful round that exerts a lot of force but that also has a tendency to drop off after 200 yards, another strike against the accuracy of the platform. But the AK is not a sniper rifle, and should never be considered one. The rifle is typically constructed of a steel receiver with wood or polymer furniture, making it about average in terms of weight yet decidedly heavier than an AR-15. The 7.62 cartridge is also significantly heavier than .223. And speaking of ammo: most AK users find that the rifle can fire any ammo without problems: steel cased, brass cased, corrosive or clean. This is an obvious benefit in a survival situation.
Another thing to consider with the AK platform is the numerous variants, each offering their own benefits and drawbacks. For thick woodland where the visibility is limited by dense vegetation, I would recommend the AMD-65, a Hungarian variant with a folding stock and 12.6 inch barrel. However, this rifle would not be the best for open plains, since the accuracy is obviously compromised when a quarter of the barrel is cut off!
Stopping Power: 4/5
Size and Weight: 3/5
The AR Platform
No rifle plays counterpoint to the AK like the AR-15. Developed by Armalite (the source of the “AR” in the AR-15) as a small arms solution for the U.S. Army, the AR-15 has become the most popular rifle in America. It runs off a direct impingement system that makes it a more accurate rifle than the AK by a good margin. One of the things people like about the AR-15 are the customizability of the weapons system: some people derisively call it “Barbie for Boys” because of all the various furniture, optics, foregrip, and accessory options available for the platform. As far as reliability is concerned, the AR-15 has more of a reputation for jamming than the AK-47, and can be finicky with ammo and often suffers from performance issues while dirty. Most AR users don’t run steel cased ammo through their weapons due to feeding problems. Also, most AR-15 receivers are made of aluminum, and the gun itself is certainly less durable than the average AK variant. These are obvious red flags if one was to use this gun in an outdoor survival situation.
The .223 cartridge is a good all-purpose round that delivers less power than the 7.62 round yet can sustain a straighter trajectory. It’s smaller and lighter in weight than 7.62, meaning that a person can carry more. In a situation where visibility is high, the increased accuracy and light weight of the AR make it a wise choice as long as it can be maintained.
Reliability: 3.5/5 (probably less in an outdoor survival situation.)
Stopping Power: 3/5
Size and Weight: 4.5/5
What’s the better gun? It’s hard to say. It’s easier to say what the better gun for an outdoor survival situation would be though, and that’s clearly the AK-47. The loss of accuracy and increased weight of the gun and ammo are more than made up for by the legendary durability and reliability of the AK platform. Although both rifles will serve you well for many years, the AK is simply the better choice when you’re outdoors.
Darren Davis is a firearms enthusiast and survivalist living in Tucson, Arizona. He specializes in writing about firearms and disaster preparedness and has a profound interest in firearms safety and training techniques.