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Shooting Tips: Fighting with an AK

The Essential Skills You Need To Survive With A Kalashnikov

Shooting Tips: Fighting with an AK
AK rifles remain hugely popular for personal protection. Here are tips from a US Special Forces vet on how to fight with one! (Photo by Sean Utley)

Think about why you would have to fight with a rifle to survive. It might be the proverbial “bump in the night” that turns into a home invasion. It could be criminal rioting or politically inspired insurrection as seen over the past nine years. Or, a family camping, boating, or RV trip that turns ugly at the hands of a criminal element. Perhaps even an active shooter situation for which there is no way out. We also know we have terrorists on our soil that show no signs of giving up. The late Lieutenant Colonel Jeff Cooper wrote in his 1997 book “The Art of the Rifle”:

"The rifle is a weapon. Let there be no mistake about that. It is a tool of power, and thus dependent completely upon the moral stature of its user. It is equally useful in securing meat for the table, destroying group enemies on the battlefield and resisting tyranny. In fact, it is the only means of resisting tyranny, since a citizenry armed with rifles simply cannot be tyrannized."

You can be sure of one thing, a battle rifle, especially a semi-automatic one that is properly outfitted and reliable, can be a highly effective tool for survival in the most extreme of self-defense situations. It makes perfect sense to have a rifle for protection, especially where standoff is required. Considering the low percentage of hits, or effective hits, most people get with handguns, a shoulder-fired firearm is a better choice for any situation you can have one. But, you have to train with it to ensure success when it’s for keeps.  

What follows is what you need to train on, or get from a formal course, for rifle fighting skills with the AK. Much of what is detailed here applies to any shoulder-fired self-defense firearm, whether it’s a semi-auto, bolt action or lever action rifle, pistol caliber carbine or even a stocked pistol. Once you have learned basic rifle marksmanship that applies to gunfights, you should then practice these skills with any defensive shoulder firearm. Also look for them in course descriptions when shopping for a fighting rifle course. Most of what is covered here applies directly to variants of the Kalashnikov, such as the Galil, Valmet, and SIG SG 550 series rifles.  

Reactive Shooting Technique Specific to Kalashnikov Rifle Fighting

This is how you bring the rifle to bear for quick shots from a ready position, or upon immediate reaction after bringing it out of storage condition. Once you have it right, practice these “up drills” while in a fighting stance, both stationary and moving. Practice with both dry fire and live fire using single & multiple shots.

Elements of the Point-Shoulder-Aim Technique

  • The Rifle Fighting Platform Fighting Stance:
    • Mount toe of stock in pit below the collar bone. This is the pivot point. (Note: heel/top of buttplate should not be touching your body when the rifle is at eye level, and can be seen from behind you if it is proper)
    • Upper body, torso leans forwards, chest squared towards the threat (and not too bladed, if at all), elbows down, head erect, shoot both eyes open.
    • Shooting hand high on pistol grip, pulled back firmly into shoulder.
    • Support hand and arm, there are variations on how to do it and where to put that hand.
    • Lower Body: Feet shoulder width apart (no matter where they end up), knees bent, toes forward. This is the same stance that enables you to shoot on the move, use cover, and react more quickly. 
    • Ready position: Muzzle at least below the level of the hands of the assailant (but if they are within ‘leap or lunge’ distance, too low can actually endanger you). 
    • Important Note: If you cannot fire rapid multiple shots stationary, or moving, without the muzzle rising, cannot move, pivot or turn quickly, or lean out of cover properly with a minimal portion of your upper body only, then you need to get into a more aggressive fighting stance. The rifle should not recoil up to the left or right, but remain in the sight plane while shooting. Lean into it! You control the rifle don’t let the rifle control you!
    Fighting with an AK
    Note the proper, high index stock mount for combat shooting. Bring the rifle up to the eye, head erect, not the head down to the rifle. (Photo by Sean Utley)
  • To Shoot:
    • Identify the threat.
    • Raise the rifle pivoting from the stock toe to eye level, so the sights instantly go into the line of sight and appear in front of dominant eye with no needed movement of the head (bring the sights to the eye, not the eye to the sights. If this does not instantly occur, then your shoulder mount of the stock may need to be higher).
    • Safety reflexively comes off as rifle is raised. 
        • On the AK, Valmet M62 series, older Galil and some others there are not many efficient ways to do this. Preferred Technique for close quarters self defense and reactive shooting: When at the ready position extend the fingers of your right hand and swipe the safety down and onto fire with your index or middle finger.
        • Alternate technique: When at a ready position, having the non-firing hand under the receiver /behind the magazine well and using the fingers to grasp the long flat portion of the safety lever. This takes practice to become fast at it.
        • Other techniques: On other AK variants such as the newer IWI Galil ACE and SIG SG 550 series rifles, the safety is in a much easier position to actuate using the firing hand thumb.
    • Shot breaks simultaneously as rifle comes to eye level, or slightly after.
    • Press and reset, finger not coming off of the trigger until the threat falls or disappears from view.
  • After the Shot(s): 
    • Follow-through (very momentary pause).
    • Muzzle down or up as appropriate, as finger comes off trigger.
    • Safety on.
    • Check status of rifle (in battery, magazine is still in). Since you may have to tilt the rifle inboard to reach the safety, you can simultaneously take a quick look down at the ejection port and bolt.
    • Scan left, right and behind you to break tunnel vision, locate possible additional threats, locate initial or better cover, and to find an escape route. But, never take attention off of the initial threat!
    • Move if needed (it is almost always best to create distance with the threat).
    • Check status of rifle.
Fighting with an AK
Bring the rifle up to the eye, head erect, not the head down to the rifle. (Photo by Sean Utley)

What about breathing? Firing in the natural respiratory pause (NRP)? Although for longer shots and “threading the needle” in close proximity to bystanders, yes, a cleansing breath or NRP would be the way to go (if you have time). But, for most all self-defense situations, the focus needs to be getting the rifle on target quickly and accurately, either stationary from cover or while on the move. We are not talking about a High Power match here folks. You can breathe once the initial engagement is over!

Reloads and Stoppages, Some Critical Tips

Think about why you would have to reload in a gunfight. Especially if armed with a rifle and a higher capacity magazine. It’s what I call “an emergency within an emergency.” You are either out of ammo or have a stoppage. There are many techniques and options. But, whatever you do must be smooth, fast and right on the first try.

Basic Principles of a Preferred Reload Technique:

Fighting with an AK
Reload at eye level; draw the new magazine before pushing the old one out with non-firing thumb. (Photo by Sean Utley)

1. Do not lower the rifle from the sight plane. Maintain shoulder pocket at all cost. Wasted motion is wasted time. Either keep it at eye level or point at a slightly upwards angle.
2. Tilt the opening of the magazine well towards where the new magazine will come from or keep the rifle flat as if firing.
3. Eyes stay on the threat and scanning (practice the technique so that you are not dependent on looking at the rifle).
4. Finger off trigger.
5. Magazine manipulation, two options:

    • A. Drop (or pull out) the old magazine with non-firing hand by depressing the magazine release lever forwards with your non-firing thumb and use the rest of the hand to either drop or pull out the magazine by grasping it whole hand, then reach for the new magazine with a whole hand grip in the high center area of the magazine (upper third),  insert it at an angle, ensuring that the top front portion of the magazine properly engages the recess in the magazine well
    • OR
    • B. Reach for the new magazine with a whole hand grip in the high center area of the magazine (upper third), then drop/push the old magazine with non-firing hand by depressing the magazine release lever forwards with your non-firing thumb and use the rest of the hand that has the magazine in it to push it forwards and down away from the magazine well. 

6. Pull-Push: Once magazine is inserted, pull back to lock it in, then push forwards (to ensure that it did in fact lock into the magazine well).
7. Cycle the Bolt - Rack bolt every time* with your support hand and with the rifle still shouldered and at eye level or ported upwards. Specifically, how you rack it is with either of these two options, performed fast and vigorously:

Fighting with an AK
You can rack the bolt one of two ways. The first is over the top, as seen here. (Photo by Sean Utley)
    • Go underneath the rifle with your non-firing/support hand, using a straightened hand, contacting the bolt handle with either the meaty portion of the hand below the thumb or anywhere from the crotch between your thumb and index finger's first joint.
    • Alternate technique- Go over the top of the rifle, canting it in board, with your non-firing/support hand, using a straightened knife-edge like push contact the bolt handle somewhere between bottom half of your pinky finger down into the meaty portion of your hand below the pinky.
    • Left Handers- Right hand is palm facing towards you, contacting bolt handle with the outer meaty portion of the hand below the pinky joint to cycle the bolt
    • For all techniques- Push bolt handle all of the way to the rear metal-to-metal, letting it go and never riding the charging handle forward. This prevents short stroking the bolt and causing a failure to eject and/or feed.
    • * Note: Most all Kalashnikov variants do not have a bolt lock back feature. So, you will always be cycling the bolt on your reloads.
Fighting with an AK
The second way to rack the bolt is underneath as seen here. With either way, retract the bolt all the way back metal to metal, and then let it go. (Photo by Sean Utley)

8. Re-grip the rifle with your non-firing hand.
9. Back in the fight.


Fighting with an AK
Rock the new magazine in and push forward to verify it’s locked. (Photo by Sean Utley)

Or, if you are exposed or in the open, the moment the rifle goes “click” or fails to make a loud noise, MOVE! Then reload from a safer location. Real survival shooting calls for immediate movement the very second you detect the rifle is not working. Click = Move.

Rifle Shooting Positions

In most cases, you will want to be up on your feet, moving to cover and away from the threat. But, as the military has been taught for centuries, “terrain and situation dictate.” Your surroundings, available cover, position of the assailant(s) and possibility of being injured all factor in. Some practice these in the open, which is ok for basic skill building. But, why would you shoot from a static prone, kneeling or other position in the open when under fire? Practice shooting positions at cover, in urban, vehicle and rural situations. Every position must be quick to get into, and quick to get out of. Most should allow you to use cover. The AK is a great fighting rifle and works really well in a variety of shooting positions. 

Fighting with an AK
Terrain and situation dictate what position you will fire from. So, practice all shooting positions that apply to gunfighting, especially from cover. (Photo by Sean Utley)

Multiple Threats

At least half of all assaults occur with more than one assailant or actor. Practice on multiple threats trying to envelope you at different distances. The critical skill for this is “look-shoot-look,” as follows:

  1. Look: Identify the threat (bring the rifle sight(s) to where the eyes are looking, if they’re not already there).
  2. Shoot: Once you identify what is in their hands, your vision goes to the assailant’s chest or head, where the sight picture occurs. Fire one or more shots.
  3. Look: The head moves independent of the rifle in cases where you are scanning for new threats (and cover). Repeat as needed, driving the rifle to the next target with the power of that aggressive rifle fighting stance.

Why this is a better technique: By looking first, it enables better eye-hand coordination, bringing the rifle to bear where the line of sight already is. Try this on the range, going faster and faster from target to target. Then widen the target array as well as the distances to them, capitalizing on the aggressive fighting stance. Try to work up to where you can very quickly engage out to about 180 degrees. How you find other threats (who are not already shooting at you) may be by constantly scanning your surroundings. Due to its design, and especially with shorter stocks, the AK is a great rifle for quick transitions from target to target. 

Transition from Rifle to Handgun

At close range to a threat, your “immediate action drill” for a rifle stoppage, or any failure to fire, should always be to transition to your handgun. The fastest reload is always a second gun. Once the threat is dealt with or disappears, then take cover, holster and conduct the mechanical stoppage reduction or reload the rifle, then back to a ready position, ready to fight. For the AK type rifles, we highly recommend a wrap-around two-point sling. This allows for both rapid transition to handgun or slinging the rifle for other purposes, such as climbing or getting someone else out of the line of fire, as well as for rifle retention at close quarters so that your rifle is not taken from you.

Extreme Close Quarters Shooting

Fighting with an AK
Most self-defense situations happen at close-range against moving targets so train for them. Also, train for being injured, one handed and if they go for a gun grab. (Photo by Sean Utley)

If an assailant is standing only a few feet away and could try to take your rifle away or you are surrounded, or trapped at close quarters: Tuck the rifle under the firing side armpit, parallel to the ground and under the dominant eye, leaning into it. This is not applicable for shooting beyond a few feet or yards to your front. In addition to weapon retention at close quarters, this also may be needed if you are injured and cannot raise the rifle to eye level. In this situation, a visible green or red laser zeroed to your rifle can help you to get your shots on target in lieu of the sights. If you do shoot from this position, then immediately come up to eye level for more accurate follow-up shots. This is where this next skill can be a lifesaver.

Single-Hand Rifle Shooting

Quite often, someone in a gunfight gets shot in the hands, arms, or their weapon takes a hit. Be ready to immediately transition to the other shoulder, or shoot single-handed from your dominant side. This can be done without support, by stepping forward with the same leg the rifle is on, and lean hard into it. This can be done even with a heavier rifle. The AK is especially well suited to single-hand firing. If you have cover or an object available, then you can brace the rifle against cover. Practice single-handed rifle reloading and stoppage techniques. This is safest to do with inert “dummy” rounds.

Deployment From Storage

Practice quickly bringing the rifle to bear from home storage, your vehicle and a concealment device. There should be a purpose-built wrap-around sling on the rifle. It is pre-adjusted and donned the moment that you access the rifle. This is important for retention at close quarters, if you need both hands free to climb or drag others out of the line of fire. I would recommend that when storing the AK, if empty, that the safety lever be all of the way down to the semi-automatic position. This allows you to quickly insert a magazine and cycle the bolt without delay.

There is a wide array and serious disparity in the practicality, realism and credibility of rifle courses and instructors nationwide. Not all techniques are suitable for fighting with a rifle. Be picky, as this is life and death we are talking about. So, when choosing which rifle techniques to become proficient on and which courses to attend, please consider the wisdom of the late Colonel Rex Applegate, as said in his famous book “Bullseyes Don't Shoot Back”, “There is a tremendous difference between shooting methods that work well when you're simply trying to put holes in the target and those that work well when the target is trying to put holes in YOU. Failing to understand this difference is a mistake that will get you killed.”

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