How about they are still excellent rifles in their own right. Rock solid reliable, reasonably combat accurate, plenty of ammo available. I don't know about better loads, as the military is thinking about the 6.8mm, and none of the rifles used today are as reliable.
The only objection I have to the AK is around their crude sights and awkward safety.
For general woods bumming in areas like GA, the SKS and AK are a pretty sweet deal. They're fairly light, handy, and shoot something pretty equivalent to the venerable thutty-thutty, which means that dogs, coyotes deer, hogs and even black bear will go down pretty quick to a 154 grain softpoint. The JHP and FMJ loads actually work pretty good on small game, even though it's technically illegal to use them to hunt said game. They don't expand and thus don't tear up the meat too badly.
A .38/.357, .35 Remington, .30-30 or similar would work pretty well, too, but you give up the magazine size and quick-change capability. You pays yer money and takes yer chances, as with anything else.