A lot of people love to collect and Shoot AK-47 style rifles, and for good reason. The AK platform is very practical, can be cost effective (in good political climates), is extremely reliable, is hard hitting, and these rifles have an epic legacy. Many AK owners do a lot of shooting, but very few reload their own ammunition. There are some reasons for this: 7.62x39mm factory ammunition is very cheap, and works relatively well with the rifles it was designed for. Then there’s the issue of the “oddball” bullet diameter- typically .310″ rather than the .308″ bullet diameter used by most non-Russian 30 caliber rifles around the world. But there are many reasons to reload your own 7.62x39mm ammunition including performance, tailored ballistics, and control over components. Much of the 7.62x39mm “crate” ammunition is corrosive, including some 7.62x39mm ammunition that is marked “non-corrosive”. When you load your own ammunition, you have complete certainty about the components, and complete control over performance. So let’s get to it!
For this loading session, my focus was to create a “classic” 7.62x39mm load. This means a bullet in the 122-123 grain range pushed to about 2350 fps. I decided to use once-fired brass, and to load on my Hornady Lock-N-Load AP 5-station progressive press. This turned out to be a great setup!
7.62x39mm Reloading Gear and Components
One of the important aspects of any reloading session is the choice of components. For this article, I used the components shown in this picture:
Here we see (clockwise from left):
- CFE-BLK powder from Hodgdon. This powder is “new for 2017” and after I got some in the shop, I notice that 7.62x39mm is as a cartridge this powder is listed as “ideal for”. I love the fact that this powder is ball powder (meters really well in most powder measures), and that this powder has a copper de-fouling agent as well.
- 7.62x39mm Brass from Capital Cartridge. As mentioned in the video, it’s hard to find reloadable 7.62x29mm brass either new or once-fired. I’ve been looking for a long time for a good supply of this brass, and it’s great to know it’s readily available cleaned and ready to load from Capital. Some of the cases appeared to have crimped primers in the batches I got, but I did not need to swage or ream the primer pockets- these cases primed smoothly without that additional step.
- Hornady 123 Grain Spire (soft) Point .310 Bullet with Cannelure – these bullets seem to be perfect for 7.62x39mm. With the spire point profile, these bullets leave maximum case capacity for powder, and the Cannelure is a great reference for seating die setup (and relief for application of crimp!).
- CCI BR-2 benchrest primers. Not needed for this application (more expensive, and my AK is not a bench gun by any means)- but worked great.
For dies, I chose LEE Pacesetter dies (3-die set) in 7.62x39mm. This is a great choice for 7.62x39mm for a few reasons:
- They are affordable- seems to fit the theme for 7.62x39mm!
- They include the Factory Crimp Die (great for semi-auto rifle reloading).
- This set includes both a .308″ bullet expander (ball measures ~.307″), and a .310″ bullet expander (ball measures ~.309″) so that you can load either diameter bullet.
- This set comes with a shellholder- important when you want to size (or more) on a single-stage or turret press!
For more information, check out my complete and in-depth story on LEE Rifle Dies.
Here you can see the .308″ and .310″ expanders next to each other. I’m thinking of a way to mark the end of each of these expanders so that I can glance down at the top of the sizer die and see which expander is installed.
So what about die stations in the Hornady Lock-N-Load AP? Here they are:
In the above picture we see:
- Station 1: LEE Sizer/De-Primer (with .310″ expander installed)
- Station 2: Empty
- Station 3: Hornady Lock-N-Load powder measure
- Station 4: LEE Dead-Length seater
- Station 5: LEE Factory Crimp Die
This setup worked quite well. One variation I would consider would be to move the powder measure to station 2, and to put a powder check die in station 3. For this loading session, I was sure to do a visual powder check each time.
One important note: in some cases, LEE dies don’t have enough vertical travel when used in the Hornady Lock-N-Load AP press. In rare cases (like the sizer die setup for this post) I’ve needed to machine a Lock-N-Load bushing down as seen here to get enough travel downward for the die setup:
You can see the left bushing has a considerably thinner flange compared to a “stock” bushing (right). With this “thin flange bushing” I was able to dial in the sizer depth with room to spare. I probably could have gotten by with a standard bushing, but it would have been pushing the limits.
Now here’s a beautiful sight: my very own handloaded 7.62x29mm cartridges with perfect crimps:
That never gets old! Here’s the load data I used:
- 7.62x39mm Once-Fired brass from Capital Cartridge
- Hornady 123 Grain Spire (soft) Point .310 Bullet with Cannelure
- CCI BR-2 Large Rifle Primer
- 28.5 grains Hodgdon CFE-BLK Powder
- 2.186″ COL
Use load data at your own risk. Ultimate Reloader is not responsible for errors in load data on this website. Always cross-reference load data with manufacturer’s published data.
What surprised me about these loads was how well they performed, and how “dialed” they were to factory ammunition. Here’s the average FPS for my 5-shot group:
And the Standard Deviation (SD) for the same 5-shot group:
Here’s how my loads compared to Tul-Ammo 122 grain steel-cased factory ammo:
|Bullet Weight||123 grains||122 grains|
|Standard Deviation||17 fps||48 fps|
The velocity from the handloads was 98.5% that of the factory ammunition, where the charge weight was 96.1% of max. That tells me I’d have no problem pushing the same velocity with subsequent “souped up” loads. With no sighs of pressure, I’m confident that the hotter loads would perform well (and be safe). But the only way to know for sure is to carefully approach max loads and to look for pressure signs. It’s also important to look for fluctuation in SD. A good load will manage trade-offs between tight SD and optimal velocity. I’m very happy with these loads for an “initial guess” based on the components I used. With an SD of 17 fps compared with 48 fps for the Tul-Ammo, that’s quite an improvement! That’s why we handload, right?
7.62x39mm Reloading Recap and Important Notes
- For 7.62x39mm reloads, you can use .308 or .310 diameter bullets, but there are trade-offs for precision with .308 bullets.
- Be sure to use the correct expander ball for the diameter bullets you are loading. Plan to have a .308″ bullet expander (ball will measure ~.307″), and a .310″ bullet expander (ball will measure ~.309″) with your 7.62x39mm dies.
- Bullet profile will affect usable case capacity. Spire point bullets (or other flat-base bullets) will give most flexibility.
- Get and use a 7.62x39mm case gage, but if sized cases don’t gage properly, use the chamber of your rifle, and compare to factory ammunition.
- Reloading steel cased 7.62x39mm ammunition is not recommended: the cases aren’t ductile like brass is, and most steel 7.62x39mm cases are berdan primed rather than boxer primed.
- Check your cases for length *after* sizing. Trim if needed. When loading for this article, all cases were within .001″ OAL of case length spec, so I didn’t trim.
- Cannelured bullets are nice if you want to apply a crimp (can aid in feeding for semi-auto rifles).
- The reloads demonstrated in this article performed significantly better than factory steel-cased ammunition (SD).
- All of my reloads have functioned 100% (the ammunition loaded for this article).
I’m sure of one thing: I really like loading 7.62x39mm ammunition, and I have a *lot* more testing to do. Life is rough! Stay tuned for more 7.62x39mm content!