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Assault Rifles for Survival Use

While assault rifles are more expensive than sporting arms, they’re also more reliable and capable of taking extensive abuse before they fail. Assault rifles can fire hundreds of rounds without a hitch and continue to put their bullets right on target; most sporters will start to “hang up” after a few dozen rounds and the point of impact will wander wildly as the barrel heats up. Assault rifles make good survival weapons.

Assault rifles are built to last. The amount of use a sport rifle can take before it needs to be repaired is often measured in hundreds of rounds. Push 3 or 4 thousand rounds through one and most often you’ll be the owner of something good only for hanging over the mantle piece. But modern military rifles are designed to fire thousands of rounds before any major overhaul is needed. (For example, I’ve spoken to folks who’ve put TEN THOUSAND rounds through Colt AR-15’s without ANY repair work being called for! Most sporters can’t come close to that.)

Modern military-style rifles also come out of the box more accurate than most bolt-action sporters. The AR-15 A2, M14/M1A, HK-91, and FN LAR are all capable of accuracy that would make those owning expensive bolt-action target guns happy if not envious with 1 inch groups at 100 yards normally being possible given good ammunition and a skilled shooter.

While assault rifles are designed for combat, bullets leaving the rifles don’t know that and neither will the game they can drop. The .308 is ideal for most large game and the .223 will down a deer in a pinch with careful bullet placement. While assault rifles don’t save their brass, this isn’t the problem it once was thanks to excellent brass catchers like those from E&L Manufacturing as well as inexpensive military surplus brass for those who plan on reloading. Too, inexpensive, non-corrosive, QUALITY ammunition from companies like Olin/Winchester, PMC, Federal, and Hansen make purchasing new ammunition almost as cheap a proposition as reloading cartridges on your own. The need for a bolt-action “working gun” which saves its brass is a thing of the past.

Before we take a look at the assault rifles currently on the market, it should be noted that some otherwise fine (and not so fine) rifles have entered the investing/collecting market Because of these rifle’s high prices, manufacturer’s problems in staying in business, importing hang ups, and/or lack of spare parts for rifles like the AR-10, AR-180, Bushmaster, FN FAL, FNC, Leader, MAS, SIG-AMT, SIG PE-57, Dawoo, etc., etc., these are probably best avoided when shopping for a survival arm. That said, let’s look at what’s currently available in the U.S. AK47/AKM Spin-offs

The Kalashnikov was first fielded by the USSR in 1947 and has since been modified several times to be considerably tougher and more reliable. There are actually two versions of the basic design; one has a milled steel receiver (the AK47) and the other (the AKM) has a riveted sheet metal receiver. (Both versions are often referred to as “AK47s” by writers, advertisers, and users alike.)

The Kalashnikov rifles are usually chambered for the M43 7.62x39mm cartridge though versions made by China, Finland, and some of the Eastern Block countries are being imported into the US in .223 and .308 as well. (While the USSR recently introduced the AK74 version chambered for the 5.45x39mm, these rifles aren’t readily available in the West and probably won’t be sold commercially since the .223 Remington is superior to the Russian round.)

The AK47 and its variants are super reliable PROVIDED they are cleaned regularly. Most versions of the guns are blessed with a chromed bore which aids in cleaning and extends barrel life.

AK rifles aren’t without shortcomings. They are overly heavy and suffer from poor “human engineering” (the rear sight is poor and gives a short sighting radius, there’s no bolt hold-open device on most rifles, and the safety/selector makes an obnoxious “clack” when moved and is located inconveniently to boot). While these shortcomings can be “lived with,” many find them less than ideal.

All that said, the semiauto AK47’s give a lot of bang for the buck. Best known in the US are those made in China, Yugoslavia, and Hungary (as well as Israeli and Finnish versions listed below). While the fit and finish on com-block country weapons is often a bit crude by Western standards, these rifles are robust and suitable for survival use in the 7.62x39mm chambering.

Stocks on most AKs are too short for medium to tall American shooters (an Uncle Mike’s slip-on recoil pad is a quick way to cure this problem). Folding stocks on the various communist-made rifles are generally so-so but are good if the rifle needs to be stored in a tight place.

Most AK’s are also offered in “RPK” and/or sniper versions. The weight of these guns (over 11 pounds EMPTY) makes them unsuitable for most survival purposes unless a survivalist is looking for a heavy weapon for use “in place” in defending a retreat or the like.

Accuracy of all versions of the Kalashnikov is considerably inferior to Western assault rifles but this is generally not a problem for most shooters or in most combat situations. AR-15 RIFLE

When first used by US troops in Vietnam, the AR-15 was plagued with problems which stemmed from the lack of proper cleaning, use of the wrong type of powder in military cartridges, and the use of calcium carbonate in the powder (which eventually plugged up the weapon’s gas tube).

That’s changed. The AR-15 is now the most reliable firearm available. In 1980, the M16A1 proved to be the most reliable weapon used in the NATO trials and out performed the Galil, FAMAS, and FNC. (In 1986, gun writer Rod Brown also proved this by purchasing a new Colt AR-15-A2 Sporter II from a gun store and test firing the gun without cleaning for 2,140 rounds. Brown quit because he ran out of daylight during the day of testing. Except for three hang fires because of faulty ammunition, there was NO failure of the AR-15 A2.)

The human engineering on the AR-15 is also quite good; sights, safety, magazine release, charging handle, and the rifle’s light weight all make for a nice “feel.” (For lefties, there are ambidextrous-safety kits available as well, so they don’t have to suffer in this right-hander world.)

The AR-15 is available in wide variety of models and, since patent rights on its design have run out, several companies including Colt produce AR-15 style rifles. Most notable of these are Colt’s “AR-15 A2 Sporter II”; Colt’s new “military-style” rifle with “finger-adjust” windage/elevation rear sights and forward assist button; the company’s H-Bar target rifle; and Colt’s “A2” “shorty” carbine (sometimes mistakenly called a “CAR-15”). All have a 1-in-7 barrel twist with chromed barrels making them ideal for many survival situations.

It should be noted that the barrel twists of the AR-15s have led to endless confusion as to which is best. The original AR-15’s had 1-in-14 twists which were quite lethal with FMJ (Full Metal Jacketed) bullets required for use by the military. But this twist isn’t fast enough to maintain accuracy in cold weather; therefore the twist was later changed to 1-in-12 for the rifles. (Most civilian AR-15 Sporter rifles, with the beavertail fore grips, have this twist.) The 1-in-12 twist proved to also be quite effective in combat.

While many thought the new 1-in-7 twist of the Colt “AR-15 A2” models of the AR-15 would be a poor performer with FMJ bullets, tests on live animals have proved that the twist is actually more deadly than the others. The fast twist causes the bullet to break up, with the small fragments created doing more damage than a single tumbling bullet ever could. Currently Hansen Cartridge Company is selling heavy FMJ 5.56mm NATO-style ammunition which is designed for use with the faster twist though bullets of all types work well with this twist.

(One important note with the 1-in-7 twist: varminter bullets should be avoided in the faster twists since their thin jackets cause them to twist apart in the air and not reach the target in one piece or with any accuracy.)

Several companies, with SGW/Olympic Arms being the most notable, offer options not available from Colt as well as AR-15 rifle kits for do-it- yourselfers. For example, those wanting an AR-15 with a stainless steel barrel, 24-inch heavy barrel, fluted sniper barrel, unusual barrel twist, etc., can find such “options” with SGW. Adapter “kits” are also available for SGW guns so that guns can be converted from .223 to 9mm Luger, 7.62x39mm, 6mm-.223, or .17 Remington. SGW versions of the rifle have a front push pin like that of the military rifle making switching upper receivers or dis- mantling the rifle for storage easy and quick.

Whether you settle on a Colt or SGW model of the AR-15, there is also an endless array of accessories available from the two companies as well as from military surplus sources and companies like Choate Machine and Tool and Ram-Line so that an AR-15 can quickly be “customized” to suit the needs of its owner.

The AR-15 is capable of very good accuracy (provided pressure is not placed on its barrel by a sling or bipod). Groups of 1 inch at 100 yards are not unusual with the rifle in the hands of a skilled shooter using quality ammunition. Scope mounts to take full advantage of this accuracy are readily available from companies like A.R.M.S., B-Square, and Aimpoint.

For the ultimate in accuracy, the Insight Systems’ upper receiver/barrel assembly (mounted on the purchasers own AR-15 lower receiver assembly) gives unbelievable accuracy with groups of 3/4 to 3/8 inch at 100 yards being the norm with good ammunition and a little practice at using the weapon. The Insight Systems’ upper is available for “M16” style upper receiver (like SGW’s) or for Colt rifles. The Insight Systems’ receiver has the carrying handle/rear sight milled off and a mount attached to the upper receiver for the use of a scope with Weaver-style rings. It boasts a “free floated” barrel which can be used with a Harris bipod or sling without worrying about shifting the point of impact. Insight Systems units are made on a more or less custom basis (barrel length, chambering, twist, etc., being options) with the present “going price” around $530 for the Model I with a Match Rifle version carrying an $800 price tag.

Whatever the version, many feel the AR-15 is the best of the assault rifles; it certainly makes a good choice for a survival gun. AUG

The AUG (Armee Universal Gewehr Rifle) is manufactured in Austria and is currently being imported into the US by Gun South. This bullpup rifle can be COMPLETELY disassembled without special tools so that maintenance and repair are easily carried out. Barrels can be replaced in a matter of seconds making the gun ideal as a “kit” gun with 24-, 20-, and 16-inch barrels readily available.

The sighting system for the AUG is a 1.5 power scope permanently mounted in the handle with rudimentary emergency iron sights molded onto the top of the carrying handle/scope. The scope is well protected in the handle BUT care should be taken so that it isn’t damaged. (For those concerned about damaging the scope, a special receiver designed to accept a standard 1-inch hunting rifle scope is also available.)

Like other bullpups, the AUG can not be fired with a left-hand hold (since the empty case would slap into the shooter’s face), the magazine release is a bit slow to use, and some shooters may find having empty brass ejecting off to the side of there cheek a bit disconcerting.

The AUG has a lot going for it and comes with 5 excellent 30-round magazines so that those purchasing the rifle for survival use don’t have to fork over more money for magazines. The magazines are made of a very tough clear plastic which allows the user to tell at a glance how much ammunition is in them. The AUG is merits consideration by those looking for such a rifle. Galil

The Galil is Israel’s version of the AK47. The Israel rifles are chambered in both .223 and .308 chamberings making them ideal for those wanting similar firearms chambered in each caliber. Like other AKs, the Galils work well even in dirty environments and can take a lot of abuse. They also have a few of the shortcomings of other AK47-based rifles in that their safeties are noisy (but not awkward like other AKs) and the gun itself is rather heavy compared to other .223 rifles. (Currently, spare magazines are also quite expensive in the US.)

One real plus of the Galil is an excellent folding stock which comes with most versions of the .223 rifles. Unlike com-block AKs, the Galil is capable of very good accuracy and sports excellent sights and has a good scope mount available for it as well. For those who don’t mind the weight of these rifles, the Galils make a robust choice for survival guns. HECKLER AND KOCH HK-91 and HK-93

The HK-91 is the semiauto version of the German Military’s G3 (which they adopted in the early 1950’s); the HK-93 is the .223 version of the rifle. Heckler and Koch, as well as companies like Choate Machine & Tool and E&L Manufacturing, also offer a wide array of accessories designed for the gun and, for those wanting a family of rifles, the HK-94 chambered for 9mm Luger is also available as are .22 LR adaptors for the HK-91 and HK-93.

Heckler and Koch rifles have a good reputation for being reliable and always seem to have a minimum of parts breakage with extended use. The rifles use a roller locking system which allows the rifles to function with a wider power range of ammunition; the H&K rifles have the reputation of being able to digest anything with few problems. (Brass from the fluted chamber of the H&K guns IS reloadable; the fluted markings are cosmetic only.)

H&K rifles have a safety that’s just a bit awkward to use and a magazine release that’s impossible to reach without removing the hand from the pistol grip or using the off hand to release it. Some users will also find the charging handle hard to pull back and awkwardly located; tall shooters find the stock a little short. These are, however, minor considerations for most users and most are willing to put up with them in exchange for the quality of the weapon itself.

The similarity of the safety and magazine release between the HK-91 and AR-15 makes the HK-91 another good selection for those who have AR-15’s and need a .308 rifle as well. M1A

The M1A is the semiauto version of the US Military’s M14 (which, in turn, was a variant of the old M1 Garand). The M1A is currently offered by Spring- field Armory, Inc. The rifle is chambered for the .308 Winchester/7.62mm NATO and has a wealth of military surplus/commercial accessories available for it including pistol grip and fiberglass stocks of various styles, scope mounts, etc., with many accessories as well as magazines carrying relatively low price tags. The bugs which plagued early M14s have been worked out of the M1A design so that it’s a very dependable gun.

Springfield Armory, Inc., offers two basic variations of the weapon. The most common is the standard semiauto M1A with standard barrel length and a wooden stock; an “E2” stock is also available for the standard rifle. The other model is the M1A-A1 which has a short barrel and is available with a standard or folding stock. Barrels are available in both 1-in-10 twists (for lighter .308 bullets) and 1-in-12 twists (for heavier bullets). Five round magazines are available for those wishing to use the rifles for hunting.

While heavy, the M1A is accurate and durable. Because the operation of the rifle’s safety, charging handle, etc., are similar to the Mini-14, it also makes an ideal companion to the rifle for survival use. MINI-14

The Sturm, Ruger & Company’s Mini-14 is a sort of little brother to the US M14 and M1 Garand rifles. It’s design was improved over the original since the gas port and piston have been redesigned and parts of the receiver and trigger group have been strengthened.

The Mini-14 is sold commercially as a “sporter” rifle and attracts a lot less attention than do most of the other “military” rifles listed in this article. This can be an important plus in some survival situations. By simply “plugging in” a 30 round magazine, the Mini-14 can become an “instant” assault rifle.” This, coupled with an inexpensive price tag that is about half that of most assault rifles, has made it the most popular .223 rifle in the US.

There are a number of versions of the Mini-14 including a stainless steel rifle, folding stock versions, and the “Ranch Rifle” which comes with rings and has the scope mount molded into its receiver. There is also a huge market of accessories for the rifle. Folding and fixed plastic stocks, flash hiders, extended magazines, scope mounts, etc., are readily available for it from companies like Ram-Line, Choate Machine & Tool, Sherwood International, etc.

The Mini-14 has a light trigger pull (which is missing on most military- style rifles) which is set at the factory at 4-1/2 pounds and can be lightened by a good gunsmith. The Mini-14 also functions with a wider range of ammuni- tion loads than most assault rifles making it possible to use light reloads (with cast lead bullets yet!) during practice. Older versions of the Mini-14 have a 1-in-10 twist; new versions have 1-in-7 twists; the Mini-14 capable of shooting all types of .223 ammunition whether loaded with light or heavy bullets.

Being a sporter, the Mini-14 isn’t quite as tough as most military rifles. But for many, this is a minor consideration but for those on a limited budget the Mini-14 offers the most for the dollar. The Mini-14 also makes an ideal addition to those using the M1A or Mini-30 since operation of the rifles as well as safety location, etc., is virtually identical for ease of operation when switching from one gun to another. Mini-30

Since the .223 is not suited (legally, at least) for hunting medium sized game, the Mini-30 was introduced in 1987 by Sturm, Ruger & Company. This rifle is nearly identical to the Mini-14 Ranch Rifle (i.e., it has scope rings and a mount molded into its receiver) but is chambered for the 7.62x39mm cartridge which comes very close to delivering the ballistics enjoyed by the 30-30 cartridge–a round noted for its deer-gathering abilities. This makes the Mini-30 an ideal short-range deer rifle as well as a light combat arm.

Unlike other 7.62x39mm rifles which have a distinctly military look to them, the Mini-30 appears to be “just another hunting rifle” which could be an important survival plus in this age of political gun grabbers. Another plus is the weight of the rifle which tips the scales 2 to 4 pounds below the AK47 family of guns. (Those who settle on the Mini-30 as a survival rifle would do well to avoid the corrosive ammunition currently offered by many importers in the US. Two good sources of noncorrosive 7.62x39mm ammunition are the Hansen Cartridge Company and Federal’s “American Eagle” brand.)

The Mini-30 has only a five-round magazine available for it but it would seem to be only a matter of time before some enterprising manufacturer comes out with a 20- or 30-round magazine for the rifle. The Mini-30 is a very special rifle capable of doing and being things other rifles in this article can’t do or be. SAR-48

Currently, Springfield Armory, Inc. is importing Brazilian-made FN LARs and marketing them under the trade name of the “SAR-48.” The SAR-48 is made from all new parts and–because of less expensive Brazilian labor–offers a nice monetary savings over most other country’s versions of the FN LAR. Springfield also backs up the gun with repair work as well as a wealth of accessories, spare parts, and inexpensive magazines so that the buyer shouldn’t be left out in the rain in the near future if he wants any work done on his rifle.

Like other .308 rifles, the SAR-48 is heavy compared to modern .223 guns. It also suffers from some minor human engineering shortcomings with the safety a little hard to manipulate (filing a bit of plastic off the pistol grip below the safety helps with the first problem and practice overcomes the latter).

The rear sight is easily adjusted for elevation and many of these rifles are very accurate. The inherent accuracy of many of these rifles warrants placing a scope on them; B-Square makes an excellent scope base for the rifle.

Because the basic operation/safety placement/magazine release is similar to that of the AR-15, the FN LAR is also ideal for those wanting a .308 rifle to add to a “family” of AR-15s.

In addition to the standard version, Springfield Armory markets a “Para” rifle with a shorter barrel and folding stock, a Heavy Barrel version, and a “Bush Rifle” with a shorter barrel and fixed stock. Currently, there is also talk of adding a .223/5.56mm version to the company’s line up as well for those wanting a similar rifle to their .308. Of all the FN LARs available, the SAR-48 rifles are currently the best buys.


NameBarrel LengthWeight (Unloaded)LengthMagazine Cap
AK4716.4″9.44 lbs.34.7″


AR-15 (A2)20″7.88 lbs.39.6″


AR-15 (Shorty)16″6.6 lbs.36″


AR7017.8″7.58 lbs.37.6″


AUG16/20/24″8 lbs.27/31/35″


Galil (.223)18.2″8.5 lbs.38.37″


Galil (.308)21″8.7 lbs.41.3″


HK-9117.7″10.5 lbs.40.2″


HK-9316″7.5 lbs.36.1″


M1A22″9.6 lbs.44″


Mini-1418.5″6.5 lbs.37.3″5, 20, 30 or 40
Mini-3018.5″6.5 lbs.37.5″


SAR-4821″9.4 lbs.43.5″


Valmet M7616.75″8.5 lbs.37.75″15, 20, 30
Valmet “Hunter”20.5″8 lbs.42″5, 15, 20, 30


Action Arms (Galil rifles)
P. O. Box 9573
Philadelphia, PA 19124

Colt Industries Firearms Division (AR-15 rifles)
P. O. Box 1868
Hartford, CT 06101

Heckler & Koch, Inc. (HK-91, HK-93, HK-94)
14601 Lee Rd.
Chantilly, VA 22021-1708

Insight Systems, Inc. (Sniper rifle assembly for AR-15)
P. O. Box 3065 (6293 Highway 78)
Pueblo, CO 81005

303-564-8411  SGW (AR-15 rifles, parts, kits)
624 Old Pacific Hwy SE
Olympia, WA 98503

206-456-3471  Springfield Armory, Inc. (M1A, SAR-48)
420 West Main ST.
Geneseo, IL 61254

309-944-5631  Sturm, Ruger & Company, Inc. (Mini-14, Mini-30 rifles)
Southport, CT 06490

Gun South (FN LAR and AUG rifles)
P. O. Box 129, 108 Morrow Ave.
Trussville, AL 35173

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