Tacti-cool cartridges don’t always make the jump to the deer blind. The .300 AAC Blackout and the 7.62x39mm Soviet share ballistic similarities with the .30-30 Win., but while hunters laud the .30-30 as an excellent deer cartridge, they rarely give the same credit to the Blackout or the Soviet.
The origins of each cartridge help account for that disparity. The Blackout has only been around since 2011 while the .30-30 is about to celebrate its 126th birthday. The 7.62x39mm was adopted by the Russian military in 1943, but its reputation as a battlefield cartridge and its chambering in the AK-47 have kept many hunters reaching for their lever actions.
However, the nationwide ammo shortage is forcing hunters to expand their cartridge repertoire, and some are looking to the tacti-cool world for ideas. If you’re considering either of these two cartridges, which should you choose?
Neither cartridge is designed for long-range hunting, but both can be effective at short distances on whitetail-sized animals. A 120-grain Blackout flies about 2,100 feet-per-second (fps) at the muzzle while a 123-grain 7.62x39mm travels about 2,300 fps. With most bullets, that’s enough juice to hit something with reliable bullet expansion out to about 100 yards.
Modern bullets have extended that range—but not by much.
The 150-grain PowerShock .300 Blackout from Federal, for example, exits the barrel at 1,900 fps and requires a 1,550-fps velocity to reliably expand. The bullet dips below that velocity around 150 yards, and by that time it’s only dropped a couple inches with a 100-yard zero. That’s good enough for whitetail at 150 yards, but the cartridge can’t take larger animals at longer distances. Loads using 120-grain bullets travel faster, but they only extend the maximum range by 25 to 50 yards.
Ironically enough, many people like the .300 Blackout because it can be loaded with bullets that travel slower. Subsonic rounds are great for plinking with a suppressor, but they often have trouble expanding. Some bullets are designed to expand at subsonic speeds, but those low velocities introduce enough variables that we don’t recommend them for hunting.
The 7.62x39mm flies faster, which usually translates to a greater maximum effective range. This 123-grain Fusion load from Federal exits the barrel at 2,300 fps and requires a velocity of 1,600 fps to reliably expand. The bullet remains above that velocity out to 275 yards but by that time has dropped about 20 inches. Your ability to take game confidently depends on your rifle’s accuracy, but that’s a big drop for that distance, so we recommend keeping shots within 200 yards.
The Soviet’s extra 200 fps of velocity increases the maximum range and ensures more reliable expansion at shorter distances. For that, I’m giving the nod to the 7.62x39mm.
Both cartridges are soft on the shoulder and (relatively) soft on the wallet.
The Soviet and the Blackout only produce about 7 foot-pounds (ft.-lbs.) of energy, according to Chuck Hawks’ recoil table. That’s about the same as the .30-30 and significantly less than most common .30-caliber hunting cartridges (.30-06: 17 ft.-lbs; .308 Win.: 18 ft.-lbs.; .300 Win. Mag.: 25 ft.-lbs.).
Those cartridges produce far more power, but for new hunters, young hunters, or hunters who prefer with less recoil, the Soviet and the Blackout are great options under the right conditions. Especially with semi-automatic rifles, the recoil impulse of these two cartridges is a virtual non-factor in any practical hunting scenario.
Ammo cost and availability is a different story, but the difference isn’t as drastic as you might expect.
The 7.62x39mm enjoys a reputation as a cheap cartridge due mostly to the availability of crappy bulk ammo from Russia. We do not recommend using that ammo to hunt. If you’re considering good, quality hunting ammunition, the costs between the two cartridges are roughly the same. For both, you’ll spend about $30 for a box of 20, give or take a couple bucks.
Availability is difficult to determine these days, but a quick scan of the Federal Premium website shows three load options for the Soviet and five for the Blackout. A search on other online ammo dealers reveals a similar imbalance: there are more options for .300 Blackout. It’s tough to tell how available each load would be in normal, non-pandemic times. But the greater variety of .300 Blackout loads suggests that you’re more likely to find hunting ammo for the Blackout than the Soviet.
Winner: .300 Blackout
Subsonic options aside, the .300 Blackout and the 7.62x39mm aren’t incredibly versatile. The Blackout can be loaded with a greater range of bullet weights, but both calibers are limited to taking deer-sized animals. Neither work particularly well as varmint rounds, and they’re both underpowered for large animals.
Rifle versatility is also a tie. While both cartridges are best known for being chambered in AR and AK-style platforms, both can also be found in bolt-actions and break-actions. A search for .300 Blackout and 7.62×39 firearms in online gun catalogues returns bolt-action firearms from Savage, Ruger, CZ, Howa, Remington, and Christensen Arms.
The .300 Blackout does have one significant advantage over the 7.62mm: it can be chambered in an AR-platform rifle just by changing the barrel. Because it uses the same casing as the .223 Rem., it can be shot with the same bolt and magazine as a standard AR-15. If you don’t mind hunting with an AR-type rifle, it’s easy to convert to a .300 Blackout.
Winner: .300 Blackout (by a hair)
And the Winner Is…
If I have to pick one of these cartridges, I’m going with the 7.62x39mm. Ballistically, it’s more comparable to the .30-30, which has proven itself in the deer woods time and again. If you’re an AR aficionado, I understand your affinity for the .300 Blackout. But in a vacuum, I’d rather have the Soviet cartridge in the field. It hits a little harder, it’s easier to find cheap practice ammunition, and you’re not limited by action type or load availability.
Overall Winner: 7.62x39mm Soviet