Hunting with the 7.62×39

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Hunting with an AR using 7.62x39 hunting ammo

For many years, the .30-30 Win cartridge has been considered a top deer round. However, many modern hunters have moved from traditional bolt and lever guns to semi-automatic firearms like the AR-15. In these guns, the .30-30 is no longer an option. The cartridge is simply too long, and its rimed case would be a bear to work with in an AR. But is 7.62×39 hunting ammo a suitable cartridge for replicating the performance of the classic .30-30?

Let me say that the two rounds do not offer identical performance. Each cartridge has its own performance advantages and drawbacks. It is quite possible that hunters used to shooting the .30-30 may not care for the performance of the 7.62×39. On the other hand, many other shooters will prefer the 7.62×39. Let’s take a quick look at the suitability of the 7.62×39 for hunting.

This article originally ran in March of 2017; with hunting season upon us, it seemed like a good idea to bring it back. 

Enough Energy?

While a good hunting load is much more than a measurement of its energy, foot-pounds are used as an estimate of effectiveness by many hunters. Does the 7.62×39 have enough energy to get the job done? Yes. In general, expect about 1,450 – 1,550 ft-lbs of energy from most 7.62×39 loads. This is well below 2,800 ft-lbs (+/-) from a .308 Win, but much closer to the 1,800 – 1,900 ft-lbs seen with the .30-30 Win.

Of course, each load, especially if you work up your own, is different. However, in very general terms, the .30-30 has more muzzle energy that the 7.62×39. However, the 7.62×39 tends to retain more downrange velocity and energy. This is partially because the .30-30 is typically loaded with flat or round point bullets that are not ballistically ideal. For shots at about 80 yards and out, I would expect the 7.62×39 to hold an advantage. Some modern loads, like the Hornady Superformance line, can shift the comparison making the .30-30 more attractive.

7.62x39 hunting ammo

Caliber choices: 7.62×39 hunting ammo definitely has its place in the field.

7.62×39 Hunting Ammo Choices

For the 7.62×39, there are more hunting ammo loads on the market than you might realize. Both Winchester and Federal (Fusion) make 123 grain soft point ammo for hunting, and many people report good results with these. Corbon loads the all-copper 123 grain DPX bullet in a 7.62×39 load that is also reported to perform well on deer-sized game.

7.62x39 hunting ammo

Hornady’s polymer-tipped 123 gr SST in a steel case aren’t easy to reload, but they’re an excellent round.

One of my favorites for the 7.62×39 is made by Hornady. Hornady loads a polymer-tipped 123 grain SST bullet into a steel case (sorry – no easy reloading of these.) They have a rated muzzle velocity of 2,350 fps with a 20” test barrel. Out of a CMMG Mk47 Mutant rifle, I chronographed these rounds at 2,242 fps. Not bad for a 16” barrel.

I’ve been told by a friend that does quite a bit of hunting that the DoubleTap Ammunition load with the 123 grain Barnes TSX bullet is quite good in the field. He said the round performs well on white tail and pigs alike. Accordint to DoubleTap, the load makes for 2,400 fps from an SKS (20” barrel) and 2,280 fps from an AK-47.

Guns

Howa MiniAction

Ok, you like the caliber, but don’t know what gun to pick for hunting? Well, there are a few bolt-action rifles chambered for the caliber including the recently introduced MiniAction rifle from Howa. These rifles are an amazing value, especially the scoped packages that include a Nikko Stirling Panamax 3-9×40 optic. With a 20” lightweight barrel, these guns are quite handy in the field. Should you prefer a longer barrel, a 22” standard profile barrel is available. Also, a 20” heavy barrel version is offered by Howa.

Even though I really like the Howas, most people will be using a modern sporting rifle for this caliber. I understand – I own several long guns in the caliber.

The SKS is a popular deer gun, though with fewer of the rifles being offered for sale, and at higher prices than in the past, this rifle is starting to wane in popularity. Unless you put a sporter stock on the gun, the SKS is a bit heavy with the wood furniture. That may be a factor for you.

An AK-pattern gun can make sense, though equipping it with an optic can be a pain. Also, like the SKS, they tend to be heavy. While some people suggest the AK-pattern rifle is not accurate enough for hunting, I beg to differ. At 100 yards, most of these guns are more than accurate enough. In my area of the world, a 100-yard shot on a deer or hog is pretty rare. Most of the time, I’m look at 50-60 yards.

Just keep in mind that hunting regulations probably prohibit you from taking to the woods with 30-round magazines. So, be sure to get some low-capacity mags like these Bulgarian 5-round magazines.

Although it may seem a bit odd, I think that 7.62×39 hunting ammo makes the most sense for hunting with an AR-pattern gun. While slightly more difficult to initially set up than some other calibers, I think it is worth the effort.

To convert a standard .223/5.56 AR, you will need a new upper, bolt and magazine. Fortunately, all of these are plentiful. I recommend getting a bolt that includes an extended firing pin. These will help ensure reliable ignition of hard military primers. Additionally, going with a heavier hammer spring will help.

Hunting with an AR using 7.62x39 hunting ammo

Although there are other options, I like the 7.62×39 ASC 5-round magazines. I’ve got five of these and have found them to be very reliable.

Some of you might suggest that the 300 BLK cartridge will offer similar hunting characteristics without the need for a special bolt, magazine or hammer spring. You would be absolutely correct. However, 300 BLK ammo is also very expensive when compared to a lot of 7.62×39 ammo. While hunting rounds are going to be close in price, practice ammunition for the 7.62×39 is a fraction of the price of 300 BLK. I guess it is just a matter of going with what you like.

For me, I built an AR in 7.62×39 for hunting. With a Leupold 1.5-4x 20 scope, the gun has been a great performer out to 100 yards. Recoil is a little more than a 5.56 NATO rifle, but noticeably less than a bolt gun. Even though I keep 5-round magazines with it for hunting, I also have standard capacity 30-round magazines for use in a home defense situation.

So, have you hunted with the 7.62×39 cartridge? What kind of results have you had? Any suggestions for anyone trying out the caliber? Leave a comment below!

    • Dannyboy

      We have been using 20 round ASC magazines for four years. It’s another way to tell the 7.62×39 carbines from the 5.56mm by sight alone…the curve of the magazine!

    • Steve

      I find that is not true in my ar. I can shoot around 200 rounds and still have no problem with wolf ammo gumming up the works…

      • AverageJoe

        Same here..my 7.62×39 AR runs whatever i feed it..no prob..just ordered another 1000 round box of wolf for mine.

    • I dont need your handout

      I run wolf all day through my ar it just chews through it. Get some go juice from alg defense- 0000 lubricant its like red hot i put that shit on everything

    • Dannyboy

      The newer ammo does not have that coating that caused so many problems for us AR 7.62×39 shooters.

  • Chad Mcswain

    Shooting the 7.62×39 out of new bolt guns such as the CZ or Ruger American Ranch has changed a lot of things with this cartridge. The Ruger Ranch is known to shoot this cartridge MOA out to 200 yards and 4 to 5″ at 300. While there is a 6″ drop at 200 yards and 12″ drop at 300, the muzzle energy at 300 yards is still pushing over 600 ftlbs in most loads, which is more energy than most 357magnum pistols point blank. This combined with minimal recoil and full size 30 caliber bullet hole (to make a larger bleed hole) makes this round far superior to the .223 in regards of hunting whitetails….

  • Wm

    If you do not have a CZ 527 in this caliber, you are missing out. It set the standard for this round! Within its design parameters of 300 yrds it is one of the best. It is more accurate than people think out of a decent firearm. It will hold its own. In the CZ it uses COI standards from Europe so it will handle bullets from .308 up to .311 without problem. It is also proofed for all military ammo, which is plentiful and cheap and within 100-200 yrds..will shoot where you need it too. If you were in Nam, like I was..you have a lot of respect for this round! I hand load this round and get consistent 1-1.5 in groups…if you think you need more thatn that , you are really living in denial and la la land…there isn’t a hunting situation that os etheical that requires anything better. Yo shoot wthin the parameters of the round and the game for which it is designed. It is not the round you take for Kodiak Bear , but other than that…get in close, place your shot, don’t depend on electronics, optical equipment and gadgets..in other words if you really know how to shoot…it gets the job done fine. Like anything else, shot placement is the critical factor. I have taken several good sized Penna. deer with this round, one shot, down and dead. It works,

  • JROC734 .

    Not trying to bust the 7.62×39’s balls. I know people who hunt with it and I own several AK’s and an AR chambered in the round, and have a lot of love for it as a SD round. Still if the point is to have an AR15 based gun setup for hunting game considered too large for 5.56×45 wouldn’t a 6.5mm Grendel be a much better choice than 7.62×39? The only real advantage 7.62×39 has on 6.5mm Grendel from a performance standpoint is it produces a larger diameter hole. You even have 123 gr 6.5mm bullets and the energy your typical 6.5mm Grendel makes is about the same as your typical 30-30 from my understanding. Especially if you’re trying to reach out past more than a couple hundred yards there are much flatter shooting rounds than 7.62×39.

    • Dannyboy

      Most Deer hunters have no need for shooting that far out, that’s the reason they use the .30-30 or 7.62x39mm

    • Chad Mcswain

      The Grendel is a hell of a good . medium to semi-long range round. It’s basically just a 6.5 bullet stuck in a 7.62×39 case, like the 300 blackout is a .30 Cal bullet stuck in a .223/5.56 case (not exactly on either one, but close), but the Grendel has an awesome BC, more energy and range than either. However, the problem I’ve ran into is that unless you reload, the Grendel factory Ammo selection sucks. It’s hard to beat the price of 7.62×39 Russian SilverBear softpoints and they will drop a deer in it’s tracks if shot in the base of the neck or high shoulder. I’ve shot the SST rounds everyone claims are so great and didn’t get a pass through. In thick cover they we’re a nightmare because no blood trail. To be honest, I’ve shot Federal fusion, Federal powershocks, Tula and few other softpoints through the heart lung area of deer and although I got complete pass through, I still didn’t get the blood trail I expected. I guess the slower speed of the pointed bullet just doesn’t cut good enough. I did shoot some PVI round nose softpoints that resembled a short 30-30 and they left nice bleed hole, but about 2 1/2 inches was best I could get them to group out of my Ruger Ranch at a hundred. That’s ok for a semiauto or even a 44mag or 357mag lever, but not acceptable in my eyes for a bolt. So….to make long story short, if I’m hunting in thick stuff with 7.62×39, I just shoot um in high shoulder or neck to shock the spine and anchor them…..

  • Bob

    Things certainly have changed over the years. The 1903 Springfield had a magazine cut-off because it was believed that if a soldier had access to a full five round magazine, he would waste rounds. But back then, soldiers were taught MARKSMANSHIP. Today soldiers are given little centerfire .22’s and told to “spray the area.”

    My .30/30 is a single shot H&R Handi Rifle that does not require flat nose projectiles, or any other special requirements. All it requires is a user that is competent. I feel more comfortable with a case that head spaces on the rim, instead of the shoulder. That is why I like my SMLE and my Mosin Nagant. Belted magnum rounds are an attempt to avoid the problem with headspacing on the shoulder, but they are expensive and not required for rounds this small.

    I’ll stick with my bolt actions and single shots. Remember that automatic transmissions were made for people that don’t want to learn how to drive, and the same thing can be said about automatic firearms.

  • frankenbiker

    Seems I’ll be trying my AK this year in the woods. I also have a 30-30 mod 94 Winchester, Hey maybe I’ll be lucky and take a deer with both. That would be awesome.