Saiga Semi-Automatic Rifle Reviews
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Another economy import from EAA (European American Armory), the Siaga rifles represent what is probably the best bargain in AK derivatives currently on the US market.
Engineered to comply with Clinton era restrictions placed on the Russian Federation with even fewer “evil” features than other imports as a condition of securing loans, the Saiga rifle is a highly modified derivative of the AKM rifle. Unlike other AK derivatives where they were primarily military rifles slightly modified to comply with US import regulations, the Saigas were engineered from the beginning for commercial civilian sale. This included a focus on making a rifle with fashionable “sporting” lines that would be usable by former members of the armed forces as a sporting gun in Russia and other parts of Eastern Europe. Nominal incompatibility with military high capacity magazines and a complex trigger group specifically for semi auto use put nervous public administrators at ease while the potential of this gun satisfies those looking for a utilitarian rifle but willing to give up classic AK looks. It uses a sheet metal receiver, but then also uses the higher quality component manufacture of the AK100. Furniture on most models is black plastic, with OEM magazines being a combination of plastic and metal. Sights are realistically graduated for the effective accurate range of the 7.62X39 cartridge, although there are models of the Saiga in .223 and .308, in addition to a series of very similar Saiga shotguns all derived from the same basic AK action. All of the rifle models come with the old Soviet standard scope rail. Note, that this rail seems straighter and tighter on the Saiga rifles than the same dimension rail on the Romanian AKs.
The most noticeable divergence from classic AK design on this gun is the stock and trigger group arrangement. In order to make the gun more “sporting” the trigger group was reconfigured to place the trigger and trigger guard further to the rear in the action, so as to eliminate the placement of a separate pistol grip and allow the use of a more or less conventional Monte Carlo type stock. Internally, the gun is still largely AK, but with some components added in order to compensate for the new trigger geometry. Needless to say, this also makes the usual full auto conversions the most difficult of all semi-auto only AK derived rifles. More subtle is the magazine and magazine catch arrangement on these rifles. The come with a unique 10 shot magazine that is derived from standard magazines, but not directly compatible. It will not lock properly in conventional AKs, and likewise, conventional AKs will not function in the Saiga without some modification of the gun, the magazines, or both. I found that modification of the gun alone is relatively easy to allow the use of standard magazines. This is not only a benefit for getting some firepower out of the package, but also to allow the functional use of common. “hunting legal” five shot magazines that are readily available on the open market.
Price structure on the guns is largely dependant on the number being purchased by a distributor and the availabilities of certain variants at certain times, but a basic 16 inch barreled 7.72X39 version like the ones shown here can be purchased for under $250 in most places where semi-auto rifles are legal, and in many places where “assault weapons” are restricted. This is because the Saiga lacks some of the basic assault weapon features common to the AK. The great majority of Saigas will not be compatible with standard high capacity AK mags, but as stated earlier, this is an easy fix and it is not unusual for dealers to perform this modification on the guns before retailing them. Legally, this is in a gray area, but realize the gun would only possess one “evil” feature at that point, and now that the Clinton era ban is over, the issue is largely moot, although further modification of the gun, like switching out the trigger group and installing a conventional AK stock and pistol grip will raise the issue of 922R compliance.
The basic Saiga in 7.62X39 can be modified to most of an assault rifle appearance with features like a folding stock and pistol grip, but this involves a fair amount of metal work that requires a touch that is unique to the AK. Projects such as the gun on the left can be rewarding for the gunsmith/tinkerer because a good looking and functional gun can be put together with a relatively low parts cost. Some excellent makers of AK parts in the USA are coming up with good options for stocks, internals and grips which are often good parts to put in regardless of the fact that they help the “parts count” for 922r compliance. The Bulgarian waffle mags make the package look matched well and proportionate to the overall shape of the gun which is a modernization of the old 1940s design and easily fits in with a 21st century styling. This is helped by the Tapco Galil type stock, fashionable ergonomic grip and well designed Saiga forend. Note that some of these conversions run more difficult than others because Saigas came with a few different build patterns on the barrel trunions and some barrel trunions will require modification to be reliable with standard AK mags. I also found that for some reason, it is a little easier to make those off kilter guns compatible with the waffle mags than with the older style all metal mags. The work does not require any high cost parts, but can be a bit labor intensive. A very suitable survival/security gun can be put together like the one in the picture for comfortably less than $450 and a few evenings in the workshop. One gunsmith hobbyist has done a very detailed and informative website on the process of converting the Saiga to a more paramilitary profile. You can click the link to his site here.
While unique and notable because the gun is high quality and made in a former Soviet arms plant in Russia, this is not a particularly collectible military gun. It differs so much from the AK100 that it is derived from that the visual differences are impossible to ignore. Thus, in the present market, it is purely a utilitarian gun and a good one at that. The standard stock is solid, the finish is excellent and durable, accuracy acceptable, and controls are easy to manipulate. This rifle easily does double duty as a medium game rifle and fighting rifle.
Saiga rifles have proven to be one of the favored platforms for custom AK variants constructed in the US, sometimes only preserving the most basic functioning components of the original gun, other times with the original Saiga being a host gun for parts and conversions from other AK variants used to create unique variations.
Other related links:
Saiga Forums at Saiga-12.com
Saiga conversion: Saiga Conversion site.
|Cost – Probably the single best bargain on the current semi-auto rifle market. Nobody anywhere is offering more gun for the money. Investment value on this one is a no-brainer with a brand new Saiga coming in cheaper than a lot of well used inferior SKS rifles or the Mini-30, and often costing $100 or more les than other AK derivatives.||Accessories – Really not a whole lot available for this one due to the unique trigger and stock arrangement. It takes the standard AK side rail mount scopes, and a POSP 4X24 like the one pictured here is a perfect match. Add a sling to round things out and that is about it. Stock and custom options are limited only by the imagination.|
|Mags – Solid, durable and cheap. Specific Saiga mags are costly and hold only 10 shots, but given the gun being easily modified to take standard AK mags, this is not a significant problem.||Longevity and durability – This gun could easily last 100 years with normal maintenance. I could see replacement of the furniture coming up in around 50 years. AKs traditionally last well with obscenely high round counts, and the AK100 is an improvement over what has been the standard.|
|Ammunition – Easily obtained almost anywhere due to widespread military and civilian use of the cartridge throughout the world. Mountains of inexpensive surplus ammunition make this gun very economical to shoot.||Power – The 7.62X39 AK cartridge is effective for medium game hunting and fighting out to 300 yards. While nothing to brag about as a high power rifle cartridge, it qualifies for common big game in most states.|
|Parts – Most of the gun can take standard AK parts, magazines are readily available. Some parts in the trigger group and stocks are unique to the Saiga, and while unlikely to ever break, they would be almost cost prohibitive to replace with factory originals unless you have a spare gun around to strip down for parts.||Ergonomics and handling – Really classic balance and handling you would expect from a semiauto hunting rifle, albeit heavy since most of the bulk in this gun is metal, not wood or plastic. The standard stock is very solid and helps balance the gun pretty well. The gun has good balance but is heavy. The sling mounting points are a bit too conventional for my liking, but that is easy to change.|
|Reliability – At the core of this rifle is an AK. If they don’t run 100%, then something is very very wrong. That said, it is not unheard of certain specimens might need some work when modified to work with standard or modified magazines.||Maintenance and repair – Again, it’s an AK with a chrome lined bore. It can take a licking and keep on ticking. Watch out for the parts issue though. Most basic AK parts fit, but some parts are unique to the Saiga and can be costly to replace.|
|Accuracy – As good or better than any standard grade AK. Being a Russian made gun, it is particularly well matched to the popular Wolf and Barnaul brand AK ammo that is readily available in the USA. Expect a solid 3MOA which is fine for most common uses. Don’t be suprised if the odd sample here or there will do as well as 2MOA. The iron sights are not so good, so your most precise shooting with this rifle will involve the necessity of a good scope.||Popularity – This gun is a real sleeper on the current market and is not distributed on the volume of other AK derived guns primarily because of its tame appearance. Monte-Carlo stocked AKs are traditionally not very popular and that is what I think is keeping this AK from getting more attention. With that in mind, it takes some of the most common magazines and ammunition on the planet.|