July 2010

7.62x39mm Semiautos: Three Alternatives to the AR-15 Rifle

The SKS Type 56 rifle proved to be fun, but Rugerís K-Mini Thirty-P/20 was a hard working and versatile carbine. Also, the DPMS Panther adapts well to the 7.62x39mm cartridge.

Interest in defensive carbines has grown so much that aftermarket catalogs such as Brownells (www.brownells.com), now mail a separate issue dedicated to the AR-15 platform. But the AR is not the only available long gun and 223 Remington/5.56mm is not the only round available for self defenseófor instance, thereís the 7.62x39mm. This round was developed by the Soviets circa 1943. According to some loading manuals, popularity of this cartridge in the United States saw a boom when GIs returning from Viet Nam brought home Communist Bloc weapons. Since then, other more American designs have been chambered for the 7.62x39mm. For example, our test weapons were the $966 Ruger K-Mini Thirty-P/20 No. 5853, and the AR-15 style DPMS Panther 16-inch 7.62x39mm No. RFA2-762-16 carbine, $850. Pitted alongside those two guns was a Standard SKS Type 56 with an aftermarket stock, the Advanced Technologies Incorporated Fiberforce unit. The addition of a synthetic stock has become a popular choice for those wanting to modernize their SKS rifles.


To perform our tests, we traveled to American Shooting Centers in Houston. Here we had our choice of benches facing towering berms at distances of 50 yards to 600 yards downrange. Since we would classify none of our test guns as match-grade target rifles and we would be firing with only the supplied iron sights, we set up at the 50-yard line. Our shooting team consisted of a third generation U.S. Marine on the trigger and an experienced spotter with a High Definition Swarovski Optik 10x42mm binocular to provide instant feedback without the shooter having to dismount.

For test ammunition we began with three different rounds. Winchester USAís Q3174, Federalís A76239A, American Eagle, and 124-grain soft point Military Classic ammunition from Wolf. The Winchester rounds were topped with a 123-grain full-metal-jacket bullet, and the American Eagles featured 124-grain FMJ slugs. But we were forced to switch from the Wolf soft points to Wolf 122-grain copper-jacket hollowpoints to complete our tests. Both of the Wolf rounds were Berdan primed and utilized steel cases. But we found that neither of our modern guns would reliably break the primer on the soft points. The only visual difference between the two Wolf rounds, aside from the bullets, was sealant surrounding the primer of the 122-grain ammunition. In contrast, our SKS shot reliably with every type of ammunition we could find.

Accuracy data was collected by delivering 10 shots to the target. We then used a measuring technique that determined the center of the group. Our accuracy chart lists Average Group Radius, the average distance that each shot printed from dead center, Maximum Spread, the widest separation between dead center and a single shot, and Maximum Shot Radius. Average Group Radius and Maximum Spread were measured to the center of each bullet hole and these measurements express average group size and largest group, respectively. Maximum Shot Radius was measured from the furthest edge. If a circle was used to "lasso" every hit on target, Maximum Shot [IMGCAP(2)]Radius would equal the diameter of the circle.

But thereís more to a rifle than shooting from a bench. Here is what we learned.

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