The factory that makes Kalashnikov rifles in Russia is being kept afloat by demand from the United States.

The Izhevsk Machine Works has armed nations and insurgencies around the world, forging AK-47s and similar guns for militias and armies.

The New York Times reports that despite the gun's violent history - or perhaps because of it - American hunters and gun enthusiasts are snapping up tens of thousands of Kalashnikov rifles and shotguns.

The newspaper says demand is so brisk the factory has shifted its focus from military to civilian manufacture in the past two years.


American sales of the civilian versions rose by 50 per cent last year, officials at the factory, known as Izhmash, told the New York Times.

The United States is the world's biggest market for civilian firearms, partly because of comparatively lenient gun ownership laws.

Russian weapons accounted for a tiny portion of the US$4.3 billion ($5.3 billion) American gun market last year, but sales of Kalashnikov civilian versions, marketed under the brandname Saiga, rose far faster than the overall growth rate of 14 per cent in 2011.

"I bought a Saiga because it was made in Russia, right beside its big brothers, the AKs," said Josh Laura, a Tennessee garage door installer and former Marine. "No rifle in the world has been as reliable as this one."

Selling rifles to Americans is essential to the efforts to save Izhmash, which is now struggling. Demand for its military guns evaporated after used AK weapons flooded the market, and cheap Chinese knockoffs are stealing many of the customers that remain.