Ihe AK47, named after its designer Mikhail T. Kalashnikov, was developed during the WWII, and in 1947 the production started on the Izhmash plant in the city of Izhevsk, one of the most important Soviet military production centers (this plant, in order to hide its military nature, was also producing motorcycles "Izh", used by Soviet teams in international competitions, and world-famous sporting and hunting rifles. M.T. Kalashnikov still lives in Izhevsk and is among the most honored citizens of the city.
The first AK47s had a receiver that was part machined steel and part stampings with rivets holding everything together. This design proved to be less than robust in the field and was modified several times to gradually create a much tougher firearm.
In 1959 a tough, well-thought-out model of the gun was introduced which again used steel stampings which were riveted together. This proved to be a superior design and is the key variant seen in all modern versions of this rifle manufactured in Russia, as well as China, Finland, and most of the former Eastern Block countries. This model was designated the AKM (Avtomat Kalashnikova Modernizirovannyi) though many times it, too, is referred to as an "AK47" (as are the semi auto versions of the gun exported into the US).
The AK47 and AKM are usually chambered for the M43 7.62x39mm cartridge which originally developed for the SKS carbine.
If kept clean, the AK47 and its variants are very reliable and many of the variants are blessed with a chromed bore (since most communist or formerly communist countries until recently used corrosive ammunition) which aids in cleaning and extends barrel life. Most AK47s with quality ammunition are quite accurate - if the sights on these guns can be overcome.
On the down side, the AKs are heavy and the basic AK design is flawed from a "human engineering" standpoint in several ways:
- The rear sight has been placed forward so that the rifle has a very short sighting radius (with the rear sight being a rather crude open "V" tangent sight)
- There is no bolt hold-open device
- The safety/selector is located rather inconveniently on the right side of the rifle and makes a distinctive "clack" when moved (which has lead to the death of many a would-be ambusher from Vietnam to South Africa)
- During the so-called "drug war" of the 1980s, even semi-auto versions of the AK47 were banned from import into the US since the guns were often used by criminals - though only in fictional TV shows for the most part
Often heavier semi auto"RPK" and/or sniper versions of these rifles are also seen. These have the longer barrels designed for military use on SAW (Squad automatic weapons - light machine guns) or sniper rifles. Generally these guns do offer a little extra velocity to bullets leaving their barrels along with less report and muzzle flash. But the weight of these guns (over 9 pounds when the guns are empty) makes them unsuitable for most shooter's needs.
The AK-style rifles aren't pretty nor is their safety easy to operate. But the guns are robust and magazines, parts, and accessories inexpensive making them a good choice for those wanting a hunting rifle that can also serve as a fighting weapon.
(Information from Duncan Long's book, AK47: The Complete Kalashnikov Family of Assault Rifles)