There comes a time in every good boy’s life when he must choose his first semi-automatic rifle. Now whether that need is for hunting or personal defense is irrelevant, many semi-automatic modern sporting rifles are capable of doing both. The AR-15, AK/Variants, G3/PTR 91s, FALS, etc. are all battle proven and time-tested designs that every good boy should be familiar with. However, there are three categories we will focus on for choosing a rifle. Ammunition/magazine availability, ergonomics/customization, and reliability. Caliber is also a major consideration, 5.56 has a much flatter trajectory and tighter grouping at long distance, but a 7.62×39 can penetrate through cinder block walls and delivers a stronger punch in close quarters for example. Now let’s get down to brass tacks, let’s talk rifles.
AR-15 Variant Assault Rifle
The first rifle we're going to talk about is an obvious choice for many reasons. Parts availability? Varied, and plentiful. Modular and customizable? Absolutely. The rifle we’ve carried in one form or another since the Cold War... That’s right, the AR-15. Designed by Eugene Stoner in the late 1950s, and adopted by the US Army in 1964 as the M-16. The AR-15 is an extremely well balanced and lightweight 5.56 NATO/ .223 (standard configuration) rifle capable of taking out targets ranging from medium game to man at a distance of 500 meters accurately and efficiently in the right shooter's hands. While any choice of ammunition and firearm can be reasonable for situations where overpenetration is not a concern, for indoors situations such as home defense the lighter .223 rounds are known to be the safest. The light, fast-moving round loses energy and mass, sometimes even fragmenting while traveling through material like sheetrock and wood so that if it hits someone behind that wall whom you did not intend to shoot, it often does not result in a lethal injury. Most pistol calibers and heavier rifle calibers are much more dangerous to neighbors and family because they retain their energy and mass when going through walls.
The AR-15 relies on a direct gas impingement operation, making it very light on the front end and extremely cool (literally cool to the touch) when being fired, a major advantage over piston driven systems like the AK-47. Direct gas impingement also makes the AR-15 an extremely easy weapon system to suppress, which is perfect for those good boys out there who have their NFA tax stamps and suppressors already on order. These are extremely rugged and dependable rifles: the AR-15 has been in US service for over 50 years and still serves us today in the form of the M-16 A4 and the M4-A1 Carbine/variants. This rifle is an excellent and cost-effective choice (they can be had for well under 1000 US Dollars) for any good boy in need of a good personal defense rifle or even a small/medium game hunting rifle depending on your state's hunting regulations. Magazines and ammunition are both plentiful and very affordable as well. Magazines start as low as 10 USD and ammunition is widely available and distributed anywhere from your local gun shop to a big box sporting goods store. This is an excellent choice of weapon for almost any situation.
AK-47 Variant Assault Rifle
The second rifle we will be talking about is the AK-47/74 platform. Possibly the most iconic and reliable battle rifle ever created, the AK-47 was originally adopted in 1947 and was designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov. He originally started working on it after a Red Army competition memo for a new sub-machine gun (yes, the AK-47 was originally intended to be an SMG to replace the PPS-43 SMG already in Soviet service), but after field testing the new system took the form of a rifle. The Soviets made the move to replace their SKS battle rifles and SMGS with the new rifle, which led to its re-designation as the AK-47 (Avtomat Kalashnikov-1947 Pattern, with Avtomat translating into English as an assault or automatic rifle). With this move, the legend was born. The AK-47 and its little brother also designed by Kalashnikov, the AK-74. have been spitting out rounds on every continent in almost every major conflict since the 1960’s from Vietnam, to Rhodesia, to the Middle East, and in the hands of everyone from the Contras in Nicaragua to the Iraqi soldier and Russian police officer. They have been produced in China, Poland, Hungary, Russia, Yugoslavia, Serbia, Romania, North Korea, and beyond. They are renowned for their rugged durability and reliability above all else, as well as being perhaps the simplest rifle ever built to disassemble and clean in the field. You can tie your shoelaces in knots, dip them in motor oil, yank them through the barrel and that’d be good enough. Don’t believe me, look up how insurgents clean their AK’s.
The one downside to the AK is its weight. With some variants tipping the scales at 8 lbs plus, this is not a rifle for someone who minds carrying around a rifle all day. The AR-15 has the advantage in weight, and depending on the variant of AK the AR also has the advantage in being able to shoot at a greater distance. However, this can be misleading, as this is true when comparing the AK-47 to the AR-15 because the AK-47 is chambered in 7.62x39mm vs 5.56x45mm NATO. These rounds were designed and wholly intended to be used for different battle situations. The 7.62x39 is an excellent choice for 300 meters and in. However, the 47’s little brother, the AK-74 which is chambered in 5.45x39mm has a much greater effective range, is a much flatter shooting cartridge, and is a much better direct comparison to the AR-15 than the AK-47. AK’s are all variants Awoo’s, if you get a Kalashnikov you’d better know em’. This is my rifle of choice, and always will be, I can’t recommend them highly enough. Mikhail Kalashnikov’s genius was in his simplistic design that is rugged, reliable, and as long as it’s fed it will get you home.
Full Size Battle Rifle
Having covered two intermediate caliber assault rifles, we will now talk about the full-size centerfire battle rifle in .308, 7.62x51MM, 7.62x54R, etc. There are several AK and AR variants available in these calibers, they are simply larger versions of the two rifles. So for the sake of time we will focus on two battle rifles: The FN FAL and HK G3/PTR91/CETME, both excellent choices for those of us who really want to reach out and touch something at a superior distance. With range capability of 600 meters plus, they are capable of laying down serious stopping power. The .308/7.62x51MM NATO is a full-sized centerfire rifle cartridge developed for use by NATO forces after WWII. It was developed by Winchester in the early 1950s and made its appearance in the late 50s in the M14 and FAL rifles, followed very closely by the G3.
The FAL was designed originally to be the main battle rifle for NATO forces. It was developed in the late 1940s by FN and was first adopted by NATO aligned countries in the mid-1950s. It fires the powerful 7.62x51MM NATO cartridge from a 20 round box magazine. Available in many configurations and barrel lengths ranging from 16 to 23 inches, both folding stock, and fixed stock variants. With a maximum effective range of 1000 yards, the 7.62x51MM cartridge in this platform performs extremely well at long distances. For those who want to slot hogs in the bush on a hog hunt, there are few better choices. FAL’s are rugged, reliable, ergonomic, and thanks to companies like DSA very customizable and readily available starting at about 1000 dollars and ranging up to 2000 dollars. The extra cost of an off the rack FAL can be offset, however, by building a rifle off a parts kit combined with a new US-made receiver. If assembled by a competent gunsmith these rifles can be just as reliable, rugged, and as easy to use as any off the rack FAL in production today. My first choice for a 7.62x51MM NATO rifle is the FAL. I will own one and have one in inventory one day. It’s not nicknamed the “Right Arm of the Free World” for nothing, remember that.
Full Size Battle Rifle - Continued...
The G3/CETME/PTR-91 roller delayed blowback rifle was developed initially at the end of World War II in the late 1940s by German engineers who started out working in France and ended up working in Spain, where they further developed the design into the CETME. The design attracted the attention of the West German Army after the failed adoption of the FAL as the STG 58 due to a contract and production dispute with FN in Belgium. The German Army (Bundeswehr) adopted the rifle in 1959 and was able to purchase the production rights from Spain through a Dutch munitions company. This rifle is very reliable, rugged, customizable (for some serious shekels, H&K/CETME aftermarket parts are expensive), with magazines that are readily available and cheap. This would be an excellent choice for someone who wants to get into a true, built from the ground up .308/7.62×51 NATO platform.
There are many different stocks, rails, barrel lengths, and handguards available through www.hkparts.net. They carry parts for CETMES, G3, and PTR-91 variant rifles. They are rather well balanced and offer a comfortable shoulder weld, at least for me. However, I would get an aftermarket end cap with a carbine AR15 buffer tube assembly to allow for adjustable stocks and the use of a cheek riser for a red dot sight. This rifle has to spit out rounds in many major conflicts, including the Rhodesian and South African Bush wars, and the Middle East conflicts in the hands of Iranian and Saudi forces. If it can handle the African Bush and the Middle East sand, it can handle anything you’ll ever throw at it. These rifles can be found in many different places including atlanticfirearms.com and Academy Sports. Bottom line: they are cheaper than FAL’s and M14/M1A’s and the magazines and ammo are readily available in both new production and surplus lots. You essentially can’t go wrong with this Cold War classic.
Affordable Warfare Options
Now for the good boys who are broke or on a budget, I haven't forgotten about you boys. The wild card in this bunch, the “The Russian Garand”, the “50 dollar Chinese barrel special”... That’s right, the SKS. Now, I know what you’re thinking, that slightly rusty p.o.s. sitting in the back of grandpa’s closet he bought for 50 bucks back in 86 is somehow a relevant rifle in the 21st century? Yes, it is. With the right aftermarket parts and minor gunsmithing in some cases, these rifles are an excellent choice for anyone out there who is broke or on a fixed income and needs a rifle. The Chinese variants can be found in most pawn and gun shops for as low as 300 dollars. The Russian variants run about 600 to 800 (these are the most collectible SKS rifles), with the Yugoslavian variant coming in on average at about 450 dollars. All of these are solid rifles. The only differences are variation in certain features and parts, and where they were made. Ergonomically they are identical and easy to train with. They are also excellent choices for those good boys behind enemy lines in "ban states", as they have an integral 10 round magazine and are loaded off of ten round stripper clips. There are loads of affordable accessories and aftermarket parts available: stocks, scope mounts, aftermarket detachable magazines of 20 & 30 capacity, and full chassis systems at very reasonable prices. It is also chambered in the plentiful and powerful 7.62x39 cartridge (yes the AK-47 round) making it a great choice for those of us who either own or plan to own an AK-47. The recoil is light and easy to handle in the SKS. Having a longer barrel, it is also more accurate at longer distances than the AK-47. It can take medium sized game and any size man. It's proven this in Vietnam, Africa, the Middle East, the Balkan wars, and continues to soldier on as a police weapon in many Eastern European countries. A great rifle with a lot of character, for not a lot of money, what more could you want?
Make the Choice - and Train!
There is a variety of excellent rifles available today, many that we haven’t discussed here, and I’m not an expert by any means. However, based on about 15 years of studying firearms and tactics, these are the rifles I would recommend to anyone looking for their first semi-automatic rifle. I’ve carried and fired many of these rifles, there’s not a rifle on this list that can’t be mastered with time, practice, and good fundamentals of shooting. The rifle only gets you so far, it’s up to you boys, go forth and exercise your 2nd Amendment Rights, and enjoy responsibly!