March 23, 2023

Article at The Resistance Library | Ammo.com

Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best 5.45x39 Ammo for Your Gun

The Soviet 5.45x39 has been the Pepsi to the 5.56x45 NATO’s Coke since the height of the Cold War, but because of import restrictions, it can be a real bear (Soviet pun intended) to find good ammo for a 5.45 rifle if you’re not in a former USSR country or at least near one.

We’re going to be taking a deep dive into the best 5.45x39 ammo out there, which is Hornady Black 60gr 5.45x39, how to choose the best option to meet your particular needs, and some tips for storing your ammo and some other important background info to help you get the most out of it.

This should be enough to point anyone looking for 5.45x39 ammo, whether for target shooting, varmint hunting, or even self-defense, in the right direction the next time they go shopping for something to feed their AK mags. 

Summary of the Best 5.45 Ammo

Summary of the Best 5.45 Ammo

Our Top 5.45x39 Ammo Recommendations

Below you’ll find a more detailed breakdown of the ammo we’ve chosen, as well as detailed reviews and recommendations for specific uses.

Top 5.45x39 Ammo Recommendations

Hornady Black 60gr 5.45x39 (Best Overall)

Specs

Hornady Black 60gr 5.45x39
  • Muzzle Energy: 1052 lb/ft
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2810 fps
  • Bullet Weight: 60gr
  • Bullet Type: Hornady V-Max
  • Best Uses: Serious target shooting, personal defense, varmint hunting

Pros

  • Most Accurate
  • Most Reliable
  • Brass-Cased
  • US-Made

Cons

  • Expensive
  • Hard to find in stock

First up, we have the only brass-cased option on the list, Hornady’s Black series 60gr 5.45x39. This is by far the most accurate and consistent 5.45 ammo we’ve tested, and it performs well in a variety of situations.

It comes topped with Hornady’s excellent V-Max bullet and features modern powders and non-corrosive primers, unlike a lot of surplus stuff out there. It burns fairly cleanly, and of course, the brass cases have a low coefficient of friction and can be reloaded, which gives it a huge leg up on the competition.

The only downsides to this ammo are really due to the market for 5.45 ammo itself. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot available and not a lot of interest in it in the United States which makes what few American-made 5.45 options there are out there a little expensive.

Beyond that, this is a great round and easily the highest-performing option you’re likely to have access to without joining the Russian military.

Wolf Performance Polyformance 55gr Hollowpoint (Runner-Up)

Specs

Wolf Performance Polyformance 55gr Hollowpoint
  • Muzzle Energy: 957 lb/ft
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2936 fps
  • Bullet Weight: 55gr
  • Bullet Type: Bimetal FMJ
  • Best Uses: Varmint hunting, target shooting

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Hollow point
  • PolyFormance coating
  • High velocity

Cons

  • Steel case
  • Not as consistent

Next up, we have Wolf PolyFormance, a more general-purpose round that can be used for everything from casual plinking to varmint hunting without breaking the bank. This affordable steel-cased ammo is a great option if you want to shoot a lot on a budget.

 The PolyFormance coating means it feeds and extracts well, and we’ve never seen it rust, even when stored in factory cardboard boxes.

For general target shooting, training, or just turning money into noise at the range, this is a really good option. Don’t let the hollowpoint fool you.

That said, the fact that this is an expanding projectile makes this a good option for self-defense or even varmint hunting/pest control if you’re using a 5.45 gun for that kind of thing. This also makes it the most versatile option on this list and a great general-purpose round to stock up on.

Tula 5.45x39 60gr Steel-Cased (Best Value)

Specs

Tula 5.45x39 60gr Steel-Cased
  • Muzzle Energy: 922 lb/ft
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2701fps
  • Bullet Weight: 60gr
  • Bullet Type: Full-metal Jacket
  • Best Uses: Training, plinking, general target shooting

Pros

  • Very Affordable
  • Phosphate polymer coating
  • Non-corrosive Berdan primer

Cons

  • Steel-cased
  • Not very consistent 
  • Doesn’t feed well in anything but an AK-74-pattern gun

Oh, Tula, where would preppers and broke college students (and gun writers) be without you? Their 5.45x39 ammo is exactly what you’d expect if you’re familiar with the brand.

If you’re unfamiliar, to summarize, it goes bang 95% of the time or more, and the bullet goes about where you tell it to. It even feeds pretty well as long as you don’t run it in a finicky, high-tolerance 5.45 gun.

Most 5.45 guns are AK-74 variants with appropriately loose machining tolerances by design, so you probably won’t have a problem feeding your gun the cheap stuff, depending on your intended use case.

This is the epitome of “buy it cheap and stack it deep” ammo, so if you’re prepping for the apocalypse (or as we call it now, “Another Thursday”), then this is a great option. It's also one of the easiest options to find in 500-1000 round box containers, which is a great way to save a bit of money.

Wolf Military Classic 60-gr FMJ Steel-Cased

Specs

Wolf Military Classic 60-gr FMJ Steel-Cased
  • Muzzle Energy: 1061 lb/ft
  • Muzzle Velocity: 2822 fps
  • Bullet Weight: 60gr
  • Bullet Type: Bi-metal FMJ
  • Best Uses: Serious target shooting, personal defense, varmint hunting

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Available in bulk
  • Similar performance to early 5.45 ammo
  • Good velocity for 60gr bullet

Cons

  • Hard to find in stock
  • Steel-cased
  • Coating isn’t great

Lastly, we have Wolf Military Classic 55gr, which is another great target shooting and plinking option, though it is a little more expensive than the Tula option above.

In our experience and testing, it’s a bit more accurate and tends to feed a little better, but it’s also a touch more expensive, and it's difficult to say if the extra $.10/round is worth the extra performance you get.

Really, as with all things, test it and see what you think. None of the ammo on this list is prohibitively expensive, and grabbing a few boxes of each to test with your specific gun isn’t a bad idea.

That said, Wolf Military Classic is a great general-use ammo that’s available in 750 rds, making it a good one to go all in on and stock up on.

Other 5.45 Ammo

As a note, there are a ton of other 5.45 ammo options out there…they just aren’t regularly available in the US, particularly from major retailers. In general, some of these rounds can be good, such as Red Army Standard and Barnaul but do your own research and remember that your mileage may vary.

Make sure you know if the primers are corrosive or not and how to deal with that if they are, and make sure you’re buying stuff that’s been stored properly. Rusty steel cases are not fun to extract. 

Ask me how I know.

Understanding 5.45x39 Ammo

5.45x39 is a Russian-made cartridge that came out of the Cold War conflicts of the 1970s. Since then, it has been a favorite in countries occupied by the now-defunct Soviet Union and is still used by the Russian military.

Like the American 5.56x45, it’s an intermediate cartridge, meaning it exists as a sort of middle-ground option between pistol calibers and heavier rifle calibers like the various 7.62 flavors.

Its role on the battlefield was intended to be a lightweight infantry cartridge that a Red Army soldier could easily schlep around a few hundred of in a chest rig or backpack and fire on full-auto without hitting mostly the ceiling.

It has fairly decent penetration in soft tissue and tends to tumble and yaw its way through flesh in unusual paths, which lead Afghan Mujahideen to label it the “Poison Bullet”, which we’ll go over a little more in a bit.

The main rifle that fires this little bundle of joy is the AK-74 and its myriad variants (AKS-74. AKS-74U, AK-74UN, AK-74M, etc, etc). Beyond that, there are a few options like certain Galil and AR-15 variants, the AK-104, and Russian VEPRs, but really not a lot here in the US.

Of course, even the best gun is basically just a fancy stick without good ammo, and a gun with unreliable ammo is barely better (or maybe worse), so it’s always vital to load up on stuff that you can trust.

Unfortunately, that’s not always as easy as it sounds. Let’s take a look at some of the issues you’ll run into with choosing 5.45 ammo in particular and how to avoid these pitfalls.

Common Challenges for Choosing the Best 5.45x39 Ammo

This original loading, the 7N6 cartridge, has been banned from US import due to anti-armor-piercing regulations, and further rounds have been made unavailable due to import sanctions levied against the Russian government due to the annexation of Crimea and the war in Ukraine in general.

This makes choosing (or even finding, for that matter) good 5.45 ammo a real hassle for US-based shooters because very little is being imported. There’s also relatively limited demand for domestic producers to fill the hole in the market.

Here in the US, we tend to gravitate towards our AR-15 cartridges, and 5.45x39 ARs are rarer than the proverbial hen’s teeth, so only one or two major manufacturers here in the US make the stuff, and even then, it’s in limited quality.

Buying the Best 5.45x39 For Your Specific Circumstances

When it comes time to choose what ammo you’re buying, you should generally tailor your purchases to what kind of shooting you’re doing and what your overall situation is.

For example, if you’re a reloader or competition shooter, or you just have really high standards for your 5.45x39 gun’s performance, go with the Hornady Black brass-cased stuff.

Or if you’re reading this in the far-flung future from when it was written, try to find another option with a brass casing. I dream of a future where such a thing is possible, and multiple manufacturers churn out 5.45x39 ammo wearing shiny brass clothes instead of steel.

Why? Brass is slicker, so it feeds and ejects better and can be reloaded at home. This latter point makes every brass-cased 5.45x39 round even more valuable because it can be reused.

It's almost always easier to find bullets to reload 5.45x39 ammo than it is to find loaded cartridges ready to be fired, so this brass-cased ammo is a huge advantage.

But what if you’re not looking for high-performance shooting and you just want to rip a bunch of ammo at the range? Then the standards we have for our ammo can relax a little bit, and steel-cased ammo starts to make more sense because it's cheaper and available in bulk.

Steel-cased ammo can’t be reloaded, and it doesn’t feed or extract as reliably, but it is significantly cheaper than brass, which makes it great for cheap ammo that you don’t expect a lot of performance out of.

You’ll also want to pay attention to the coating on your steel-cased ammo. In general, stay away from lacquer-coated stuff and stick to polymer coatings.

These coatings help with feeding and extraction and prevent corrosion, but the lacquer coatings can cause issues in some guns and generally don’t perform as well during the firing cycle or at preventing corrosion.

In terms of actual ballistic performance, we’re greatly limited by the varieties of 5.45 ammo out there and the quality of what’s available.

Some steel-cased stuff is very accurate and reliable, so you may not have any problems with it, especially in something with loose machining tolerances like the average AK, but it’s probably not going to win you any marksmanship competitions.

That said, things like accuracy and reliability are important with all ammo, including 5.45 surplus ammo, and you should keep these things in mind.

Maintenance and Storage of 5.45x39 Rifle Ammo

5.45x39mm ammo

So now you’ve got all this 5.45x39 ammo; what do you do with it?

With the brass-cased ammo, it’s easy to simply leave it in the factory packaging if you shoot often because you basically aren’t ever going to find 5.45x39 brass ammo in bulk, and the small 20-round packs won’t sit idle for long.

Steel-cased ammo is a bit of an issue, though, especially if you’ve got something like older bulk ammo in one of those tin cans. Yes, those cans can last a really long time, but if they’re damaged or dented in any way, they can let moisture in, and that’s going to cause a level of rust that will ruin the ammo.

Be sure to check your spam cans carefully for dents and holes, and make sure the seal is intact. If you’re skeptical, throw it in a tub of water, and if you see any bubbles coming up, then you’ll know the ammo needs to be repacked.

Also, if you are buying steel-cased ammo, lacquer, and polymer coatings are available, and the latter is typically preferred. Lacquer-coated cases aren’t recommended by some manufacturers and can increase the fouling rate of your rifle. Anecdotally, the 5.45x39 lacquer-coated stuff also seems to rust faster.

Lastly, if you’re repacking ammo or storing it for a long time, it's always a good idea to invest in airtight containers and desiccant packets.

You can get textile/fabric ones in bulk, save ones that come with shoes and clothes, and electronics you buy, or get reusable desiccant packs that can be refreshed in the oven once they become saturated with moisture.

On the container side of things, you can go with purpose-built ammo containers and leave it at that, or you can go a step further, and vacuum pack your ammo in smaller bundles and then store them in the can from there.

With vacuum sealers available for around $25-$30 these days, storing rounds in small vacuum-sealed packs and opening them as needed is a great option as it greatly limits the ammo's exposure to air and, therefore, moisture.

Dehumidifiers don’t hurt either but are generally more for something like a reloading room or large safe room as they'll require you to empty the collected water often, which can be a hassle.

The History and Development of 5.45x39 Ammo

In the early 1970s, a group of Soviet military designers and engineers were hard at work developing an intermediate rifle cartridge to compete with the successful 5.56x45 ammo developed by Remington those pesky Amerikanskis across the Atlantic were using.

This was part of a large push from many militaries around the world to adopt service cartridges that were less powerful and lighter than the 7 to 8mm ones that were primarily in use with major militaries at the time.

In 1974, the result of all of Ivan’s hard work was inducted into service; the 5.45x39mm was born.

The original round uses a rimless, bottlenecked steel case with a 39.82mm overall length, a 6.29mm case neck, and a 53gr bullet. Modern versions sometimes ditch the steal case and mostly use a 60gr bullet, but other than that, not much has changed on the cartridge side of things.

Since it was adopted fully, it has survived the fall of the Iron Curtain and the Soviet Union’s breakup and has continued as the primary service cartridge of Russian armed forces to this day.

Furthermore, the future assault rifles of the Russian military, as far as we humble American gun writers can tell from here, are also going to be chambered in 5.45x39. It was originally suspected that the Russians would switch to a heftier cartridge like many Western countries are currently doing.

Then came the new bullets.

Innovations and Advances in 5.45x39 Ammo Technology

The Russian military has breathed new life into the aging 5.45x39 and, as far as we can tell from our side of the Atlantic, seems to be leaning into high-performance armor-piercing ammo for the 5.45 rather than a higher-energy cartridge.

Russia has historically skewed towards heavy armor, and heavier armor-piercing projectiles in its warfighting doctrines, and these new projectiles seem to be in line with that. Supposedly, according to the designer, the new 7N39 ammo is significantly better at defeating armor than older variations.

According to him, the new rounds penetrate standard Russian body armor at distances beyond 70 meters and provide a greater “density of fire” over the previous service rounds. What exactly does any of that mean? It's difficult to say, and the Kremlin isn’t returning our requests for comment.

What it does tell us is that the Russians seem committed to the 5.45 round, at least for the immediate future, which means this round is likely to be with us for a good long time.

Available Firearms Chambered in 5.45x39

5.45x39mm AK-47

When it comes to expanding your 5.45x39 firearm collection, options are more limited.

There are a variety of AK-74 variants out there that are sometimes imported for the civilian market, but with current restrictions on imports and sanctions on Russia, these imports have more or less dried up.

The same goes for the 5.45 VEPR semi-auto rifles made in Russia, the various bolt-action options, and who knows how many other rifles that we’ll just never see now. Some of them are here already, though, and come up for sale from time to time.

There are American makers and importers like Riley Defense and Lee Armory that offer semi-auto 5.45 AKs. Still, these have doubled in price since the recent sanctions took effect, so good luck finding one and/or stomaching the purchase price.

Your best bet a lot of the time is going to be to check physical brick-and-mortar stores and the local used market for 5.45 firearms, as opposed to online retailers.

Frequently Asked Questions About 5.45x39 Ammunition

What is the best 5.45 ammo?

The best 5.45 ammo is the Hornady Black Series 60gr brass-cased ammo. It is the highest quality ammo commercially available.

Why is the 5.45 x39 called the poison bullet?

Accounts vary, but the prevailing theory is that Afghani Mujahideen were so impressed by the round’s performance that they gave it the name as a term of respect and fear.

What 5.45 round does the Russian military use?

The current high-end Russian military rounds are the armor-piercing 7N39 and 7N40 rounds. 

What is the effective range of a 5.45 x39?

The effective range of 5.45x39 tops out at around 600 meters. Beyond that, accuracy degrades too much to be very reliable, as does terminal performance against soft tissue.

What is the bullet diameter of 5.45 x39?

The bullet diameter of the 5.45x39 cartridge is 5.60mm or .220”.

What are the disadvantages of using 5.45 x39?

The disadvantages of using 5.45x39 without an armor-piercing core are that it is prone to fragmentation when encountering hard surfaces like concrete, car windshields and doors, and body armor.

It is also difficult to source the ammo in some cases.

What is the best round for a 5.45 x39?

The best round for a 5.45x39 is the Hornady Black 5.45x39 60gr brass-cased ammo for the average American shooter. If you’re a Russian servicemember (or Escape from Tarkov player), 7N39 or 7N40 are the ones to go with.

Is the 5.45 x39 a good choice for hunting?

The 5.45x39 is not a good choice for hunting. Unfortunately for Americans, the ammo and rifles available aren’t very suited to hunting, and the round itself isn’t particularly good for hunting either.

You could maybe use it for varmint hunting/pest control, however. 

Why is the 5.45 x39 so popular?

The 5.45c39 is so popular because it is the service cartridge for the Russian military; so there’s a lot of 5.45 ammo out there. Beyond that, the popularity of the AK-74 and its many, many, many variants and derivatives means that this round is likely to remain popular for years to come.

Parting Shots: Wrapping up 5.45x39 Ammo

Buying 5.45x39 ammo can be a bit of a headache, but hopefully, you’re now on firmer ground when it comes to sourcing your own and getting your hands on stuff that works for your intended use case. 

Be sure to check out what 5.45x39 ammo is in stock at Ammo.com!

Ultimate Guide to Choosing the Best 5.45x39 Ammo for Your Gun originally appeared in The Resistance Library at Ammo.com.