Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Ammo Spotlight: The 7.62x39mm M43

A bunch of 7.62x39mm cartridges, namely the Yugoslavian M67 type. It featured a bullet with a lead core and a hollow cavity on top to promote yaw once it hit flesh.

AK-47. SKS. Mini-30. RPD. You hear these words and think of assault rifles, machine guns, weapons of terror, deadly killing machines that can mow down an entire field of troops with one pull of the trigger.

Or, that's what the media wants you to believe. What all these guns have in common is they share the same ammo. That ammo is the well-known 7.62x39mm.

The history of this cartridge starts at the end. The end of World War II, to be exact. The Russians loved their Mosin Nagants, but these rifles were too big and bulky, and the 7.62x54R rounds were just too powerful for the close-in fighting that was going on. So they took a hint from the Germans, and based a new round off the 7.92 Kurz (of MP44 and FG42 fame) to be used in auto-loading carbines, assault rifles, and light machine guns.

First in the family is the Samozaryadnyj Karabin Simonova, or SKS carbine. Although they weren't perfected and issued until 1949, they were tested in the front lines in 1945 to much acclaim, and the 7.62x39 round started its tour as Russia's new cartridge.

In 1947, the much-acclaimed Avtomat Kalashnikova was issued as the standard infantry rifle for Soviet military, and remained so until 1974, where it was replaced by the AK-74. But the 7.62x39 didn't stop there. Far from it.

Before the 5.45mm takeover, the Soviets sold several million AKs and ammo to other groups, some benign, some malicious. They also sold the plans for the AK to several countries, who in turn started producing their own variants. Soon, the AK population exploded as everybody was building more and more of these rugged and dependable rifles, and selling them for peanuts on the dollar.

In 1987, Ruger produced a version of its Mini-14 autoloading rifle chambered for 7.62x39, called the Mini-30. These guns are not as well-known as the SKS or the AK, but they are in the same family nonetheless.

Now, back to the bullet. The 7.62x39mm M43 cartridge as we know it today was designed by Mikhail Timofeyevitch Kalashnikov - who also designed the rifle of the same name - to be an intermediate-range cartridge designed to provide aimed, rapid fire in offensive or defensive situations. The projectile itself is a 123-grain full metal jacketed boat-tail with a steel core and lead filler in between. The case is Berdan-primed, which means the anvil is a part of the cartridge case and is not included in the actual primer bit. These cartridges are not the easiest to reload, and is not recommended to be attempted by handloaders, who prefer to use Boxer-primed ammunition.

The steel core of the projectile has one drawback, though - it keeps the bullet stable, and yaw only begins after passing through about a foot of organic tissue. Not an effective anti-personnel round by average means. The Yugoslavians improved on this misgiving by creating an air cavity in the nose of the projectile - the M67. This air cavity moves the center of gravity to the rear of the projectile, and yaw in organic tissue begins at half a foot. Not as effective as an expanding bullet, but an improvement nonetheless.

There is some dispute that the 7.62x39 has as much power as the .30-30 Winchester cartridge. This is not true. The case size can't hold enough powder to propel that projectile to .30-30 velocities. Also, a common misconception is that the 7.62mm projectile is .308 inches, like the American 7.62mm projectile. This, too, is wrong. Russian 7.62 ammo is actually .310 or .311 inches, but can be fired safely in .308 bores, which might cause a slight swage in the bullet. The Mini-30's barrel is .308" diameter, but it can accept the surplus .311 ammo just as well.

Also, the Mini-30 doesn't stand up well to the surplus corrosive-primed ammo. After firing corrosive ammo through any firearm, you should immediately swab the bore, chamber, and bolt face with a 50/50 mixture of Windex and ammonia on a patch, and then a dry patch to get it all out of there. If left unchecked, all that superheated salt can turn that rifled bore into a sewer pipe.

7.62x39 is one of the cheaper centerfire calibers that can be found in the shooting world, but by no means is it a big boy's .22LR. Ammo prices aren't that cheap, but you can still have lots of fun when you buy in bulk.

No matter what your take is on the rifles that chamber it, the 7.62x39 is a versatile, reliable, if not underappreciated cartridge that certainly has a place in the shooting world

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