The AK-47 is by no means a sniper rifle. This is largely due to the way it is designed. The great Russian Kalashnikov is famous for continuing to function even after its action has been submerged in water or choked by mud. The AK achieves such reliability thanks to the loose tolerances it is assembled to – but loose assemblage also costs big points in accuracy.

To compound that shortcoming, the short distance between the AK’s rear and front sights further limits its accuracy. You can overcome this by mounting an optic but at the end of the day, window dressings can only compensate so much for a rifle that was conceived for short to medium range combat.

Keeping that in mind, we might still ask: What is the effective range of 7.62×39 ammunition? Or to put it another way: What distance can the 7.62×39 cover until it proves incapable of killing (or neutralizing, in the case of self-defense) the thing you are aiming at?

What Is The Effective Range of 7.62×39?

The author shooting an AK-47 at a shooting range

The consensus is that the 7.62×39 becomes ineffective for combat beyond 200 yards. A more generous estimate places the 7.62×39’s combat effectiveness at 400 yards. However, few would agree that the cartridge is suitable for hunting game as large as whitetail at that same range.

The accuracy of the 7.62×39 is dependent on many factors. An expert shooter is going to put the round to much better use than an amateur. There are also far more accurate rifles available than the AK. The SKS can extend the 7.62×39’s range quite a bit. Also, a bolt-action like the Ruger American Ranch Rifle does away with the design limitations of a semi-auto to give the 7.62×39 some of its most reliable ballistic performance.

7.62×39 Bullet Drop

Bullet drop complicates long-range shooting with the 7.62×39. The round exhibits a flat trajectory with little bullet rise when zeroed in at 100 yards; at 200 yards that bullet will have dropped by about 10 inches. When zeroed in at 200 yards, bullet rise becomes far more pronounced as it arches by nearly 5 inches. (Assuming you set the sights 1.5 inches above the muzzle.) Beyond that range the 7.62×39’s arcing trajectory only becomes more and more pronounced.

Of course, an expert shooter takes bullet drop into account while anticipating their shot trajectory as naturally as they draw breath. Determining a round’s accuracy is ultimately subjective. We’re sure there are old Spetsnaz who would laugh at you in Russian if you suggested to them that the 7.62×39 is inaccurate.

Energy / Stopping Power

Yet no amount of skill can make the 7.62×39 hit harder at any given point throughout its trajectory. The stopping power of a bullet depends on multiple factors. Those include if manufacturers designed it to expand or not, but the amount of energy it transfers to its target is unquestionably crucial.

It is difficult to pinpoint the energy requirements for self-defense and hunting without devolving into generalities. With that caveat, a minimum striking energy between 220 and 300 ft lbs is generally advisable for self-defense; we’ll go with the average of 260 ft lbs. The hunting community widely considers 1,000 foot pounds as the minimum striking energy for humanely hunting whitetail.

Let us see at which points in their trajectories a few representative 7.62×39 cartridges cease to offer energy levels above those two thresholds.

 Muzzle Velocity (fps)G1 Ballistic Coefficient1,000 ft lbs Range (yds)260 ft lbs Range (yds)
Sellier & Bellot 124gr FMJ24210.286184751
Nosler 123gr Ballistic Tip23500.316174797
Federal 124gr FMJ23500.303170771
Federal Fusion 123gr SP23500.302166762
Hornady BLACK 123gr SST23500.265146668
Prvi Partizan 123gr SP24610.204139541

There are two key conclusions to draw from these data:

  1. Self-Defense: Whether you consider the 7.62×39 accurate up to 200 or 400 yards, its bullet still carries sufficient energy to neutralize a threat well beyond its maximum effective range.
  2. Hunting: The 7.62×39’s energy limits its effective range for humane whitetail hunting to an average distance of 163 yards.

We’ve kept this short discussion very casual, without letting it evolve into a hair-splitting analysis of ballistic data, bullet properties, and terminal performance. But even with a cursory overview of the 7.62×39 we can conclude its effective range for self-defense depends largely on the shooter’s skill. Whereas, its effective range for deer hunting falls well within the 200 yard range. (Although that same hypothetical Spetsnaz could probably anchor a buck at several hundred yards with an AK-47 no problem.)