A long way from Arkansas, Mikhail Kalashnikov died two days before Christmas. He was 94 and a Russian, a proud Russian.

If his name does not ring a bell, his invention will. He created the AK-47 rifle. The name comes from Automatic Kalashnikov and the year of its birth, 1947.

Like many major developments, the AK-47 has its good sides and its not so good sides. It gave the world a cheap to make but reliable and efficient firearm. It fell into the hands of the military and the police and anyone who wanted a cheap, low-maintenance weapon.

The AK-47 spurred the United States military to drastically change its concept of firearms for foot soldiers, and today this new slant is showing up even in the deer woods of Arkansas.

Many hunters are buying and using rifles of the general AR-15 family. Most of these use .223-caliber cartridges, but some are coming out in .308 models. There is even a 12-gauge shotgun, not American made, built on the AR-15 design.

Kalashnikov’s AK-47 has been built by the many millions, far more than the numbers of the Moisin-Nagant rifle, the old Russian bolt action firearm that numbered 37 million over its several decades that included World War I and World War II.

Kalashnikov was a soldier in WWII, a tank crewman who was severely wounded in battle. He came up with the idea of the AK-47 while recuperating. He was determined to create something equal to or better than the Nazi’s superior arms. "Blame the Nazi Germans for making me become a gun designer," Kalashnikov once said. "I always wanted to construct agricultural machinery."

The AK-47 brought forth the term assault rifle, a label often misused by anti-gun critics and by some media people. The phrase "assault rifle" should refer to a weapon that is fully automatic with a large capacity magazine. Semi-automatic rifles technically are not assault rifles even with large magazines or clips.

World War II saw armies of many nations using submachine guns that fired pistol-type cartridges. The AK-47 used a .30-caliber rifle cartridge that was shorter and less powerful than the rifle ammunition like the American .30-06, the British .303, the German 8mm and the Russian 7.62X54R.

A few years after the AK-47 burst on to the firearms scene, the United States military switched to the .308 cartridge, shorter than the .30-06 but more functional in rapid-firing rifles. It is more powerful than the AK-47’s 7.62X39 ammunition.

The switch to the AR-15 and the .223 cartridge came later for the United States. This was a smaller, lighter cartridge, and some gun experts proclaim the AR-15 in general to be more accurate than the AK-47.

More and more .223 rifles are showing up in the hands of Arkansas deer hunters. Deer are being killed with them, and yes, there is debate as to whether the .223 with its bullet only a little heavier than a rimfire .22 long rifle load is enough for deer work.

Today’s Arkansas hunters are using .223 rifles in single shot, bolt action and AR-15 style models.

But the AK-47 remains the firearm for Russia’s armed forces and police as well as at the heart of the gun control debate in the United States.

And news reports tell us that Kalashnikov never made a ruble off the rifle. It was never patented.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The AK-47 is actually no longer manufactured in Russia in mass quantities, if at all, since it was discontinued back in 1959. The Russian military uses the AKM or the more modern AK-74. Air assault troops will use the AKS. The Russian police utilizes variations of the AKS (folding stock, shorter barrel) and more modern AK-74 designs. There’s almost no difference in look with the casual glance. Those variations were designed by Kalashnikov.

While it’s not mentioned, it should have been noted that the reason the AK-47, its related knockoffs and subsequent advance designs, are so popular because the guns can work in just about any weather condition and environment and requires very little maintenance. The gun also had a radical (at the time) design to expel the gases when the bullets were fired at the end of the barrel to help keep the rifle steady while firing.


Joe Mosby is the retired news editor of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Arkansas’ best known outdoor writer. His work is distributed by the Arkansas News Bureau in Little Rock. He can be reached by e-mail at jhmosby@cyberback.com.