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What about all that inexpensive Russian Ammo?   By Adam Celaya

Come test fire 6 different brands of ammo for your AK47 or SKS.  See how they strand up to  thru accuracy testing, submersion testing, and corrosion testing.

To anyone who owns Russian rifles, the glut of inexpensive Russian ammo has been a real windfall.  Think about it; at less than $3 per box of rifle ammo there is no American made ammo that even comes close economically speaking.  And we are not talking about bad ammo here.  Most of the imports feature hollow point bullets, water-sealed primers and bullets, all loaded to Soviet military specs.  Granted, the steel Berdan primed cases cannot be reloaded, but at $2.34 a box, who in their right mind would want waste their time reloading the stuff?

     The last year has seen several new contenders on the market.  Every week when I walk into my favorite gun store I am greeted by yet another new brand at an even better price than the previous sale.  I have made a point of picking up a box or two every payday just to stockpile the stuff.  It may sound terribly survivalist to keep a few thousand rounds on hand but from an economical standpoint it makes total sense: these prices cannot last forever.  Eventually, one of two things will happen;    

1) Wolf will expand their product line to the point that they take serious money from domestic manufacturers who will in turn use lobbyist pressure to limit importation, or 

 

2) Sarah Brady and her clan will shift their focus from guns to the ammo they require and tax us to death like the tobacco industry.  With those possibilities in mind I prefer to follow Janis Joplinís sage advice: Get it while you can.

     And with more than half a dozen different brands of 7.62x39 out there itís easy to stockpile a hodgepodge of ammo.  This leads to the question ďIs there any difference between the different brands?  Is one better than the others? 

     For this test I used five Russian-made products and one domestic (Winchester) as a basis for comparison.  While my first instinct was to chronograph the rounds followed by expansion/penetration tests, I in fact did not speed test the rounds.  The reason is simple enough; Why?  Can you say that anyone has ever questioned the lethality of the AK47?  Seriously, if a 123 grain bullet strikes you in the torso at any speed higher than 1200fps, you are out of there.  Yes, I have heard of those who took multiple torso hits from such cartridges and still drove on.  However, these tales are few and far between.  In each the victim is usually relegated to a defensive status, rarely are they in any position to continue in an offensive manner. 

     What I did test was how well these rounds survive against the elements.  I have long been curious to know just how worthwhile the primer and bullet sealant are on the Russian ammo.  To find out I submerged test samples in water for 24 hours then fired them.  The surprising thing was not that the Russian ammo fired perfectly (nobody knows wet weather like the Russians) but that the unsealed Winchester ammo performed flawlessly as well.

The next step of testing was to pull the bullets and inspect the manufacturing processes.  Normally I would go straight to test firing but with ammo in this price range I had a desire to see how well made they were.  Results were interesting enough.  Three of the manufacturers (JSC, SUE, & Saspan) all used nearly identical bullets while all of the Russian ammo appeared to use the same extruded powder.  All were Berdan primed, all were made from non-reloadable steel casings (except for Winchester , of course.)  Only one, Silver Bear, had a distinctive zinc plated case.  The attached table shows the total variance for powder and bullet weight.  Admittingly, the results were pretty much inconclusive.  Bullets with high variance often outshot those with little or no variance.  But then again, none of these brands shot anything close to MOA groups.

Which brings us to the corrosion tests.  The six casings were subjected to 3 days in standing water before being allowed to sit out and dry.  Surprisingly enough, all brands performed admirably except for Silver Bear.  Apparently the silvery zinc coating is water soluble since it came off in large patches and corroded enough to have rendered the ammo unusable.  The other Russian brands resisted virtually all corrosion due to their enamel coating.  I was most surprised that Winchester ís shiny brass cases did not even tarnish after three days in water.

The final and most critical test was downrange accuracy.  While it is good to have ammo that resists the elements, it is all for naught if it shoots a big sloppy group.  Due to the tactical doctrine of the 7.62 round, these rounds were tested in a hot gun.  Using a dozen or so spare rounds to warm up the barrel first, no attempt was made to cool the weapons between shots.  We arenít testing a deer rifle here! Right off I was surprised at the results.  I had totally expected Winchester to set the standard with a tight group.  Surprisingly enough Winchester came in a close second to State Unitary Enterprises (SUE.)  While SUE did produce a tighter group than the othersóthere was a hitch to it; SUE also printed quite a bit lower than the others tested.  In fact, five of the six brands printed within a few inches of each other.  So the problem is that while SUE was the most accurate, your rifle would need to be sighted specifically for SUE and no other ammo.  But the other five brands were nearly interchangeable.  If you like to shop bargains like I do, this is an issue.  If your store suddenly runs out of SUE then you are stuck re-zeroing your rifle.  In its defense, though, SUE is priced attractively enough to make you consider converting.  Currently CheaperThanDirt.com offers sealed 700 round tins of SUE for only $65. 

In summary, each of the rounds here had minor issues.  SUE shot the best but had a low point of impact compared to the other five.  Winchester also shot well and offered reloadable brass, but cost three times as much as the nearest competitor.  Saspan and Wolf shot respectable groups, withstood the corrosion tests and cost no more than any of the others.  Silver Bear also shot a respectable group but failed the corrosion tests miserably.  JSC shot a big, ugly group but was inexpensive and shot to roughly the same point of aim as most of the others making it more interchangeable than SUE.  My personal choices I would actually go with Wolf and/or Saspan.  Accuracy is a good thing, but being able to switch between brands depending on availability is a critical factor when bargain shopping. 

 

 This photo shows the results of the corrosion test.  The two leftmost cartridges are Silver Bear before and after spending three days in water.  Clearly visible are the patches where the zinc coating literally washed off and the plating that remained corroded so badly that it would have hindered extraction.  The rest of the brands tested here passed the corrosion test with flying colors.

 

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SUE shot the best (2.47 inch group), passed the submersion tests, aced the corrosion tests, and is wonderfully priced.  However, it shoots to a much lower point of aim than the others tested here making it less interchangeable than the brands tested.

 

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Surprisingly enough, Winchester was only second in accuracy with a group size of 2.66 inches.  It was also the only brand tested here that did not sport sealed primers.  Nonetheless, it passed both the submersion and corrosion tests with flying colors.  Unfortunately its high price tag made it impractical when so much inexpensive ammo was available.  It was also the only boxer primed ammo tested.

 

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Saspan is a newcomer on the American market.  With a 3.42 inch group it came in third of six.  Priced to move, Saspan passed all submersion/corrosion tests while shooting respectable groups.  Like most of the Russian ammo tested here it sports a lacquered case with sealed primers and bullets. 

 

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Wolf is the original bargain ammo that started it all.  It was also the only ammo tested here that sported a boat-tail bullet.  With acceptable accuracy (3.49 inch group) it passed all of the water tests, is widely available, and inexpensive.  Try the link at the bottom of the page for Wolf Ammo from Cheaper than dirt (who also sells a drum magazine for the Ak47 varients)

 

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 The test weapons: For the submersion & corrosion tests the author used a Romanian SAR-1 (importable version of the AK47).  Accuracy testing was conducted with a Chinese-made Norinco SKS with a 20 inch barrel.  All accuracy testing was done with a hot weapon to simulate combat conditions.

 

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Silver bear shot a 3.95 inch group but its zinc-coated casings made it the only brand tested here that failed the corrosion tests.  It may look like stainless steel---but it ainít!  

 

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 JSC Barnaul came in dead last for accuracy with a group size of 5.31 inches.  On the plus side, its internal components were some of the most consistent from bullet to bullet.  It also aced the submersion & corrosion tests.

 

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