For the purposes of this article we compared the commercial M855 loading for the 5.56mm to the 1980s Russian 7N6 5.45x39mm surplus round. Both rounds were evaluated out of 16 inch barrels, as that is the most common option to the civilian rifleman. Both the AR-15 carbine in 5.45 and commercial AK-74 variants use this lengh barrel. There are exceptions, such as civilian versions of the RPK-74 (23.2 inch barrel), 20-inch 5.45 barrels and even some 14.5 inch barrels. However, the vast majority are 16-inch, which is the length we will focus on.
First, let me say that I would recommend a melonited barrel for durability and longevity. If you shoot out your 5.56 barrel, you’re looking at 15,000 rounds, which will cost (at $0.35 a round) $4500 before shipping. If you’re shooting a carbine with a 5.45 barrel (like the Ballistic Advantage Medium Heavy Rigid or the barrel offered by Spike’s Tactical), you can reach 15,000 rounds as well. This will only cost you $2346. So during the life of your barrel, you’ll save approximately $2,150. That’s nothing to sneeze at.
Edit: Unfortunately, this is no longer the case. Since the ATF banned the importation of 7N6, its price has risen consistently and predictably.
Firearm Cleaning – the Filthy Truth
The 7N6 round is dirty. It’s Soviet production, designed to be fired from the AK-74. When used in an AR-15 with a direct impingement system, significant cleaning is required. If you are in a humid environment and don’t clean your weapon, it will develop rust. For further reading on this, see one of my earlier articles on the subject. I will say that anyone who is going to be shooting a lot of corrosive ammo should invest in some Froglube. For a 5.45 carbine or rifle, Froglube is an absolute must. Before you ever fire the thing, heat up the barrel and pre-treat it inside and out with Froglube. That’s what I did with my Ballistic Advantage 14.5 inch barrel, and I couldn’t be more pleased with the results.
From 16-inch barrel, the 7N6 has accuracy on par with M855 (62grain 5.56mm). I conducted testing at 100 yards using a Spike’s Tactical 5.45 upper receiver and a Bushmaster Dissipator upper receiver on the same lower. As a side note, the Dissipator had a significantly heavier barrel profile than the Spike’s. To evaluate the accuracy of the respective rounds, we fired 5 separate 10-round strings for the M855 and the same for the 7N6. The M855 averaged 3 MOA while the 7N6 came in at 3.5 MOA.
This is where the 7N6 tends to fall on its face, at least with the AR-15 platform. The ASC 5.45 magazines are simply not as reliable as the reliable as 5.56mm variants (feeding 5.56mm ammo).
While I don’t mind spending money on high-quality optics such as a Vortex Viper PST 4-16x50mm (link to review), I am at heart, a cheap bastard. I shop at Goodwill. I buy rice and generic pasta. The meat in my freezer consists of whole pork shoulders, whole turkeys ($1.49 per pound) and half-price London Broil steaks. I buy beer by the case and liquor by the handle; not because I’m a raging alcoholic, but because I refuse to pay more than absolutely necessary. The cost advantage alone is a tremendous factor.
For the average shooter who is only interested in poking holes in paper with a full-powered cartridge, the 7N6 round offers a clear advantage. It is accurate, has low recoil, and can be had on the cheap. The dedicated shooter, one who is interested in having a rifle for Home Defense or possible serious social purposes, needs more information. I call this individual the Civilian Rifleman, and the next article in this series is where it will get interesting….
– By Allen Cosby