I’ve always been a big fan of Russian guns. When I bought my first Soviet Mosin from a gun show in southeast Michigan several years ago, it was just the start of a deep fascination with the small arms of the east. So it seemed natural when I began to develop an interest in AK type rifles not long after the purchase of my third Mosin. It was a combination of the simplicity, ruggedness and aesthetics that drew me to the gun, something that’s just as unexplainable as a deep appreciation for a particular art form or music genre. They just clicked with me.
After a long time researching AKs that was further drawn out by being in college and not having sufficient funds to actually buy a gun, I finally bought my first AK in January of 2008. It was a mostly-Bulgarian clone of the AKS-74 rifle on an American-made NoDak Spud receiver built by the now defunct Ohio Rapid Fire. It was a great gun to “learn” AKs on, but I took a few issues with it: it was at its core a “used” Bulgarian gun and it lacked a scope rail on the left side of the receiver for mounting Russian-style optics. The former bothered me because ultimately I wanted something as original and unused as it could possibly be (taking federal laws into consideration) and the latter because I wanted to eventually mount proper AK optics on it and keep it as close to military specifications (mil-spec) as possible.
The issues with my AKS-74 clone led me to buy a mint-condition Saiga “sporter” in 7.62x39mm for a steal at a local pawn shop. Saiga sporters are made at the original AK factory in Izhevsk, Russia by Izhmash, which is part of the conglomerate responsible for making the most modern version of the AK as it is issued to the Russian Army. These firearms are called sporters because their features are distinctly non mil-spec and require a significant conversion to make guns that resemble “true” AKs. Most importantly, in the place of a pistol grip they have a non-pistol grip hunting style checkered buttstock, a unique one-piece non-military handguard, and a magazine feed ramp that will only properly seat proprietary low capacity magazines. In addition, it was chambered in 7.62x39mm and I wanted something in 5.45x39mm, the modern Russian military cartridge.
The Saiga sporter gave me a taste of what a “real” Russian AK would be like with the black finish, the high quality original and matching-numbered parts, the improved accuracy over my AKS-74 clone, and the scope rail. After extensively using the sporter and trying out many of the other AK type rifles available in the United States, from Romanian WASRs to RPK clones to a Bulgarian select-fire AKS-74U, I decided I wanted something definitively Russian and as close to Russian mil-spec as possible.
My research indicated that I had a few options to achieve my goal. I could get an extraordinarily expensive original Russian AK-74 that had been allowed in prior to the changing of federal laws, a Saiga sporter in 5.45x39mm and convert it myself (likely resulting in frustration and failure), pay someone to convert it for me (expensive and sometimes of dubious quality), or I could walk the middle ground and get an AK rifle from Arsenal, Inc.
Arsenal, Inc. is the exclusive American importer and remanufacturer of rifles made by Arsenal AD (sometimes referred to as Arsenal Corporation or Arsenal Company) in Kazanlak, Bulgaria. In addition to their deal with Arsenal AD, Arsenal, Inc. recently partnered with Izhmash (itself a subsidiary of Legion, a larger industrial concern), the current owners of the original AK factory in Izhevsk, Russia to import a large number of new-production Saiga sporters and remanufacture them using American-made parts into rifles as close to what is currently issued to members of the Russian military as possible.
I decided to go with the middle ground. It was the perfect choice – I could get something that was exactly what I wanted in an AK without having to sloppily involve myself in the conversion process or go way over-budget. I bought an Arsenal SGL31-47 from K-Var, which is an exact AK-74M clone with O.D. green furniture (I just really like the look of green furniture on a black gun).
I’ve since had some time to test out the gun and my experiences and reactions are detailed below. But before we get to even more boring text, check out this video of me with the AK below!