Arsenal, Inc.’s much-hyped “game changer” AK, the SAM7SF, was released two weeks ago (August 7), and it’s received a wide variety of reactions. Some have scoffed at what they perceive to be a price tag that’s much too high for an AK, while others—mostly Kalashnikov enthusiasts—have greeted the rifle with open arms.
Opinions aside, what is the SAM7SF? What makes it (allegedly) so special? Is it a “game changer” as the press surrounding it would like to indicate? And perhaps most importantly, is it a good gun that’s worth its price tag?
Of receivers and men
The SAM7SF is an AK-pattern rifle chambered in 7.62x39mm offered by Arsenal, Inc. (from here on out I’ll refer to U.S.-based Arsenal, Inc. as simply “Arsenal,” while I will refer to the separate Bulgarian concern as “Arsenal of Bulgaria”) that’s built using an authentic Bulgarian-made receiver. The gun is remanufactured by Arsenal and made compliant with 922 (r) in the United States. The rifle’s receiver is forged and milled, setting it apart from most other AK receivers that are simply stamped or milled. Without getting into the semantics of receiver construction that would likely bore many readers, here’s a quick summary of the differences between stamped and milled receivers.
Stamped receivers are made from a sheet of metal and folded into their familiar AK shape. Milled receivers are machined from a single, thick piece of steel—including the guide rails and most other internal features. Generally speaking, stamped receivers are lighter and quicker to manufacture than their milled counterparts, while milled receivers are heavier, last longer, and take more time to make than stamped receivers. A significant majority of AKs in circulation throughout the world (and the United States in particular) are built on a stamped receiver. Some early AK models were made from milled receivers, but most Eastern Bloc nations switched over to producing stamped-receiver AKs as early as they could as a way to make more guns in a shorter amount of time.
The Bulgarians did things a bit differently. They mostly stuck with the milling process of receiver manufacture, perhaps preferring a more lovingly and expertly crafted firearm than one made as cheaply and quickly as possible. Just about all of the AK-pattern rifles that Arsenal of Bulgaria offers for export these days are made from forged and milled receivers.
Note that word “forged” included in the last sentence. Not only did Arsenal of Bulgaria stick with the milling process, but they decided to go just a little bit further and mill the receiver from a hot-die forged solid hunk of steel. According to Arsenal, this extra bit of effort “produces stronger and finer-grained steel.” I’m no expert in metallurgy, but having had the opportunity to compare several types of AK to the SAM7SF, Arsenal’s game changer certainly feels more solid and well-built than other AKs. It’s also heavier than other Kalashnikovs, with the whole rifle weighing in at 8.5 pounds unloaded—compare this to the stamped-receiver SLR-107F that tips the scales at 7.3 pounds unloaded. It should be noted, however, that the greater mass of the SAM7SF in comparison to the SLR-107F is also due to the inclusion of a stock extension block, the heavier metal stock, the additional safety lever, and scope rail—the “bare” milled receiver weighs just about 0.7 pounds more than a stamped receiver.
Other features that set the SAM7SF apart from other AKs are its right-side folding buttstock and fire selector mounted in the pistol grip. The buttstock is similar to the Galil’s, and is a step above underfolding AKMS-style stocks. The SAM7SF’s right-folding buttstock doesn’t get hung up on the “Eastern Bloc scope rail” included on the left side of the receiver (as a side note, the KV-04S quick-release Picatinny rail that clamps onto this side mount is an awesome platform for optics). This is a welcome feature for those of us who prefer to mount our AKs’ optics on the left-side rail, only to have our fun ruined by the simple fact that a left-folding stock is unable to lock shut with such a set-up. There is also enough clearance between the folded stock and the receiver to allow the rifle’s action to cycle and the safety to be manipulated.
The fire selector is another excellent feature on the SAM7SF. Cut out on the left-hand side of the pistol grip is a sufficiently rigid but sufficiently movable selector switch that is easily flipped with a right-handed operator’s thumb. The awkward safety has long been a negative aspect of AK-type firearms, and the SAM7SF addresses that issue with class and comfort.
Other than these stand-out (and much appreciated) features, the SAM7SF has the standard list of high-quality components one would expect from an Arsenal AK:
- 16.3-inch Bulgarian-made, chrome-lined, and hammer-forged barrel (twist rate: 1:9.45 inches)
- Corrosion-resistant parkerized finish
- Original Bulgarian forged and milled trigger coupled with a U.S.-made hammer and disconnector
- Ergonomic larger-than-normal U.S.-made pistol grip with cut for fire selector
- AK-74-style U.S.-made muzzle brake
- U.S.-made upper and lower handguard, including stainless steel heat shield
- An overall length of 38.2 inches unfolded and 28.4 inches folded
But enough with the bullet points—let’s get to the bullet holes.
I did not expect the SAM7SF to disappoint at the range, and it certainly did not. As I’ve come to expect from Arsenal guns, the rifle performed flawlessly with the several hundred rounds of cheapo 7.62x39mm that I fed it through a variety of magazines—foreign-made steel and polymer 30-rounders, U.S.-made 10-rounders, and even a Hungarian 20-round “tanker” mag.
The best three-shot group I was able to get out of SAM7SF with the economy ammo I was slinging downrange (Wolf and Silver Bear 123-grain FMJ) was 2.25 inches at 100 yards. The average was around 2.75 to 3.25 inches. Not bad for cheap ammo over iron sights.
The rifle’s trigger is incredibly smooth, crisp, and breaks at a low weight. I was pleasantly surprised by it when I was dry-firing the gun—it’s noticeably better than the trigger on my SGL31-47 and I’d rank it about on par with or better than several AR triggers. It could lead to some very tight groups with magnified optics and match ammo.
The stock still left a little bit to be desired for a comfortable and easily repeatable sight picture. I would love to see Arsenal or K-Var offer a cheek riser made specifically for this kind of buttstock (like the Mako Group’s Micro Galil riser) to enable a more comfortable sight picture especially when using optics, but it’s sufficient when using just the irons.
The SAM7SF acquitted itself well at the range. It yielded good groups using affordable ammo, never malfunctioned, and was an all-around pleasure to shoot.
The best of most worlds
In the end, though, how does the gun stack up? The price will represent a significant barrier to most buyers—it’s currently set at a $1,349 special introductory price that will soon jump to $1,600 on August 23. Many have laughed at this price, but I don’t think they’re getting the whole picture of what this firearm has to offer. The SAM7SF sports several of the most desirable features in a dream AK, offering the best of most worlds: it’s got the receiver, the classic AK caliber, the barrel, the trigger, the fire selector, the scope rail, and the furniture. It may be pricier than your economy AK, but I think it’s worth it. At $1,349 it’s a very fair price, but $1,600 may be stretching it a bit—at least for my budget. If you want one, get it while you can at the lower price.
Is it a “game changer?” That term might be a little bit of an exaggeration, but it’s certainly the king of 7.62x39mm AKs. The SAM7SF is, for all intents and purposes, the closest thing to a new production milled “factory” AK available to shooters in the United States. It is the highest-quality AK available in the American market today. If you’re looking for a modern, reliable, top-of-the-line AK rifle, the SAM7SF is your best pick.
Images by Matt Korovesis