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5.45 - Poison Bullet or Dead Cartridge

5.45 - Poison Bullet or Dead Cartridge

If you’ve spent any amount of time in the AK world, you have no doubt run into the 5.45 master race. I was drawn in by stories of the Afghan war and the havoc the 5.45x39 would reap on soft targets. The idea of a soft shooting and devastating AK cartridge was very appealing. Once the move was made to ban the import of surplus 7N6 ammo from Russia, it became the forbidden fruit that I had to have.

Fast forward to 2018. I finally got my hands on an AK-74. The rifle was built by Riley Defense off a Bulgarian kit. I was very excited to take the rifle out the first time and see what all the hype was about for myself. I have to admit, I was impressed!

With the help of Ammo Supply Warehouse I had a case of ammo ready to run the round count up on the rifle quickly. The rifle was very soft shooting and reliable. Up to then, all my AK experience had been with the standard 7.62x39. I’m not going to say that any intermediate cartridge is harsh, but the smooth recoil of 5.45 was noticeable. So far, everything was living up to the hype. The main thing I wanted to test was the terminal performance of the cartridge. I cooked up some gel blocks and hit the range. Once again, things were proving to be exactly as I’d been told by the countless fanboys over the years. Even basic FMJs were creating large permanent wound cavities due to the excessive tumbling inherent to the cartridge. At the time I’m writing this, I’ve done 4 separate gel tests that are all on YouTube. I have even more planned for the coming months.

By now you’re probably thinking it might be time to jump headfirst into 5.45 and AK74s. Not so fast. As much as I have grown to love AK74s, it’s not without its drawbacks. While the cartridge has a tremendous impact on soft targets, it doesn’t deal with cover well. One of the things people like about 7.62x39 is its ability to turn cover into concealment. You lose that with the much lighter and faster 5.45 projectiles. Another issue with ammo is cost. During the olden era of 7N6, you could easily find ammo for about 10 cents a round. Since the ban, prices of 5.45 have risen to similar prices as 7.62x39. Still cheap, but not nearly as advantageous over other rounds. Contrary to some of the naysayers, 5.45 is still readily available though. Even if you don’t have issues with the problems I just listed, you’re still going to have to find the rifles and mags to run one in the first place. Finding AK74s is proving more and more difficult. When you can find them, their prices have ballooned up to in excess of $1000. Quality magazines are also proving scarce. That means that if you want to get into the new cartridge, you’re looking at quite the investment out the gate unless you want to roll the dice on someone’s used rifle.

Even if you have the funds to buy a new rifle and a full load-out of bakelite mags, you still have to deal with the logistical issues of using one for any practical purposes outside of recreation or competition. Unless you live in an area where AK74s are commonplace, the likelihood of finding replacement parts, mags, and ammo during the Boogaloo is going to be very difficult.

So where does that leave us? I still really love the AK-74. I love the recoil impulse, the form factor of the straighter mags, the terminal performance of the cartridge, and the AK family of rifles in general. That being said, unless things change drastically in the availability of rifles, it’s going to be an uphill battle to make it a practical round to base your survival plans off of. Unless, of course, we get a Red Dawn scenario where Russia invades. Then there will be enough for everybody!  

Ryan Miller

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