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We’ve had some requests to add the AK or Kalashnikov-style rifles to our Shooting 101 series, so that’s what we’re covering today. The AK is a pretty easy gun to learn how to operate. But if you’re new to shooting, or if you’ve suddenly found yourself in possession of an AK for the first time, you could probably use a few pointers. We’re going over the absolute basics of how to safely load, unload, aim, and fire an AK type rifle or carbine with step-by-step instructions and a live fire demo at the end.

Details are in the video below or scroll down to read the full transcript.

Hello everyone, I am Chris Baker from It’s been a while since we added anything to our Shooting 101 series. I’ve had a few requests to cover the AK or Kalashnikov style rifles, so that’s what we’re going to do today.

The AK is a very simple and straightforward rifle to operate. But if you’re new to guns or if you’ve suddenly found yourself in possession of an AK for the first time, you still might need some help getting started in the right direction. There are several different methods for doing just about everything I’m about to show you. My goal isn’t to cover it all, I just want to help you grasp the absolute basics so you can use and handle the rifle safely.

Safe Gun Handling

Before we get into the specifics, we need to start out with a few guidelines for safety. Safe is a relative term. Anything we do with firearms is inherently dangerous. Every time you pick up a gun, you are making life and death decisions, whether or not you realize it. We can reduce that risk by following the four basic rules of safe gun handling. There are different ways to phrase these rules, but here’s my summary:

Treat all guns the same way you would treat a loaded gun. You cannot ignore the other three rules just because you believe a gun is unloaded.

  1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction. That means, if it were to fire, it’s not going to hurt anyone who doesn’t need to be hurt and it’s not going to damage anything you can’t afford to replace.
  2. Keep your finger away from the trigger until you are ready to shoot something. Pretty straightforward, but that’s the one people seem to have the most trouble remembering.
  3. Anytime we’re holding the gun but we are not actively aiming at a target and preparing to fire, we need to have our trigger finger straight and glued to the side of the receiver. We don’t just want our finger off the trigger, we want it as far away from the trigger as we can reasonably get it.
  4. Know what you are shooting at and what is behind it and around it. That goes for the shooting range or anywhere else you might need to use your gun.

There’s a lot more to using a gun safely than just these four guidelines, but if you follow them, you greatly reduce your chance of unintentionally hurting yourself or someone else.

How to Clear an AK

Whenever we handle an AK, or any gun, the absolute first thing we need to do is clear it. That means we’re going to check and see if it’s loaded, and unless we plan to fire it right away, we’re going to unload it.

Pick up the gun with your dominant hand on the grip. Tuck in the buttstock under your armpit. That’s going to help support the rifle while you perform these manipulations.

The first step is to remove the magazine. The magazine release is this paddle just in front of the trigger guard. Grip the magazine with your fingers and use your thumb to press the paddle forward. That will allow you to pivot the magazine forward and then down.

Set the magazine aside. Now you need to open the action to see if there’s a round in the chamber. On the AK, the action will not open if the safety is on. So make sure the safety selector is in the down or fire position. Pull the charging handle sharply to the rear. If there is a round in the chamber, it should eject. Hold the action open. The AK does not have a bolt hold-open feature, so you have to hold it open manually. Visually inspect the chamber to double-check that there is no cartridge in there. Then you can ease the charging handle forward. And put the safety selector back in the safe position.’

clearing an AK

I like to keep my primary hand on the grip as much as possible while I perform these operations. Since I’m right-handed, that means I have to rotate the gun 90 degrees and use my left hand to grab the charging handle. If you find that difficult to do, you can use your left hand to support the rifle by the hand guard and run the charging handle with your right hand. If you’re left-handed, you don’t have to rotate the rifle and you can simply use your right hand to run the charging handle.

Now that you have cleared the gun, you can do whatever else you need to do with it like clean it, or put it away.

How to Load an AK

In this case, we’re going to load it, so put down the rifle with the barrel pointed in a safe direction. First, you have to load the magazine. Hold the mag in your non-dominant hand and insert the rounds into the mag one at a time. If you have trouble with this, it might help to brace the bottom of the mag against a solid surface. AKs come chambered in a few different calibers. Make sure you’re using the correct magazine and the correct ammo for your rifle. Today, we’re using 7.62×39, which is the most common chambering for AKs.

A standard AK mag holds 30 rounds. Once it’s full, the next cartridge will not fit.

Now, since I don’t actually want to load the gun here in the studio, I’m going to switch to my magazine here that has dummy rounds loaded in it.

Inserting the magazines can be a little tricky until you get the hang of it. The key is to hook the little lip here on the front of the magazine in the receiver before you try inserting the rest of the mag. Angle the mag so the bottom is pointed the same direction as the muzzle. Find the magazine well and hook in the front. Then rock in the mag until it clicks into place.

Give the magazine a little tug to make sure it’s in there securely. Sometimes the back of the mag will rock into place, but the front is not actually hooked into the receiver, and then the mag falls out and you look like an idiot. It happens to every AK-user at some point, but if you give that mag a little tug first, you can catch your mistake.

Now, the gun is not quite ready to fire yet. It’s loaded, but we need to get a round from the magazine into the chamber before it will fire. Move the safety back down to the fire position. Pull the charging handle sharply to the rear, and this time, do not ease it forward. Release the handle and let it go forward on its own. Now, if I were to pull the trigger at this point, the gun would fire. But I’m not quite ready to fire it, so I’m going to move the lever back to the safe position.

When the gun is on safe, the trigger will not do anything. But you never want to rely on the safety to prevent the gun from firing. We still have to keep it pointed in a safe direction and keep our finger away from the trigger.

How to Fire an AK

Grip and Stance

Before we fire the gun, we need to get into the proper stance. This isn’t very complicated. Just assume a typical athletic type stance. Your feet should be roughly shoulder-width apart with the dominant-side foot slightly behind the support side. Square your shoulders to the target. Lean forward slightly at the waist and bend your support side knee. This will put your body weight forward so the recoil of the rifle doesn’t push you backwards.

AK stance

On the rifle, place your firing hand as high up on the grip as you can get it. Keep your index finger straight and up here well away from the trigger. Place the stock in here, off of your actual shoulder and more on the edge of your pectoral muscle. Point your elbow at the ground and not out like this.

Now, grab the handguard with your support hand. I do not recommend gripping the magazine.

With the stock still on your shoulder, pivot the gun down so it’s pointed at the ground just in front of the target. This is the low ready position, and it’s the default position you will use until you’re actually ready to shoot the rifle.

AK Safety Selector Manipulation

When it’s time to shoot, bring the gun up to eye level, and as you do that, disengage the safety. The standard safety on the AK can be difficult to manipulate without completely removing your hand from the grip. There are some aftermarket safety levers that make it much easier, and I’d highly recommend installing one of those if you can.

With the original safety, the technique I use is to leave my thumb hooked around the back of the grip, shift my hand forward, and use my middle finger to move the safety. The safety on this particular rifle is very stiff, but some of them are much looser and easier to move. If you’re shooting the gun left-handed, you really don’t have any choice but to take your support hand off the handguard to operate the safety lever.

AK safety selector operation

Here in the US, the vast majority of our AKs have a two position safety selector: safe and fire. The fire mode is semi-auto only, which means every time you press the trigger, the gun fires one round. A true military-style AK has a three position selector. For those guns, in between safe and fire, there is a full-auto position. On full-auto, the gun will continue firing until you release the trigger.

Full auto guns are a lot of fun, difficult to control, and heavily restricted in the US. If you happen to be in possession of a full-auto AK, I suggest firing the gun on semi-auto mode when you want to actually hit your target.

Using the AK Sights

Okay, so disengage the safety as you raise the rifle to eye level. Get your cheek planted firmly against the stock. As much as possible, move the gun to your face, don’t move your face to the gun. You may have to kind of shrug your shoulder to accomplish this. You may even need to crane your neck down and forward. What you really don’t want to do is lean your head over to one side.

Now, you can line up the sights with the target. Most AKs have a very simple set of iron sights. There’s a notch in the rear sight and a post in the front. Look through the notch and focus your vision on the front sight. You may have to close one eye to do this. Line everything up so that post is in the center of the target. The post should also be inside the notch with the top of the post even with the top of the rear sight.

AK sight picture

The sight will wobble around a little bit and that’s okay. You won’t be able to hold it perfectly still when you’re shooting from a standing position.

The rear sight on the AK is adjustable for elevation. You can move this slider up or down based on how far away the target is. The markings on this sight are in hundreds of meters. The setting down here marked “D” may have some other symbol on your sight. That is the “battle setting” and it’s roughly equivalent to a 250 meter setting. You can leave your rear sight here most of the time. For a 7.62 AK, at any distance between zero and 300 meters, your rounds should impact no more than roughly seven inches (18 cm) above or below your point of aim.

AK rear sight

Okay, so back to shooting the rifle. When the gun is pointed at the target with the sights aligned and the safety off, you can move your finger to the trigger. Press the trigger to the rear with steady even pressure and… bang. Congratulations, you’ve just put a hole in… something.

In the blink of an eye, after the gun fires, the bolt will move to the rear, a spent shell casing will fly out of the ejection port, and a new round will be loaded into the chamber. Press the trigger again to fire another round, and you can keep doing that until you run out of ammo or you decide to stop shooting. In either case, anytime you stop shooting, take your finger off the trigger, engage the safety, and go back to low ready.

Reloading an AK

When the gun is empty, you will hear a click instead of a bang. That means it’s time to reload. If you don’t want to drop your empty mag on the ground, you can remove it just like we did when we cleared the gun. Grab the mag, press the mag release, and rock it forward and down. Get your new mag, insert it, and rack the charging handle to chamber a round.

If you’re in a real big hurry and you need more ammo in the gun as fast as possible, you can perform an emergency reload. As soon as you get the click telling you the gun is empty, tuck the buttstuck under your armpit.

Grab your new mag with your support hand. A lot of people use the new mag to slap the mag release and force out the old mag. I prefer to use my thumb instead. Get that old mag out and let it drop. Then insert the new one, chamber a round, and you’re ready to go.

Live Fire Demo

Okay, that was a lot to cover, so I’m going to go over it all again with a live fire demonstration.

I hope you guys found that helpful. If so, the next time you need some ammo, be sure to get it from us with lightning-fast shipping at

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