Arsenal SLR-107F AK was smooth shooting and far more accurate than an AK is thought to be.
I’ve been dragging my feet on getting my own Kalashnikov for years now.
In the past, I could never bring myself to put down the cash for even bargain-priced variants at gun shows. I would borrow one when I needed to familiarize myself before deploying or, when overseas, shoot the local versions. I always had the nagging suspicion it was more of a “buyer beware” situation with so many inexpensive, rough-as-a-cob variants out there than the general AK reputation for reliability would indicate.
About the time I finally knew enough to know what I truly wanted in an AK, the buying rush had started. In my region, even rough Romanian stuff was hard to find and prices were rising accordingly. I had been interested in the Arsenal SLR (Bulgarian) series for some time, but was never able to find one to examine, let alone purchase. With the AK rush on, I finally broke down and got one through gunbroker.com, paying a scalper’s price to boot.
The AK, a SLR-107F, arrived and was duly transferred through my FFL with no drama. It is a side-folding polymer-stock AKM style in 7.62x39mm with muzzle brake up front. It is said to be a semi-auto near copy of the current AK-100 series Russian service rifle.
The box included a sling, five-round magazine, oiler, cleaning kit with front sight adjustment tool, and cleaning rod. The instruction manual is detailed and well illustrated, and the rifle shipped with a test target verifying the sights had an initial zero and indicating acceptable accuracy. It also shipped with a checklist of the U.S.-made parts for 922R compliance—a nice touch.
Arsenal Bulgarian-made SLR-107F is a close rendition of the current AK-100 series Russian service rifle.
CURRENT U.S. AK MARKET
The U.S. AK market is saturated, but with some interesting things going on. Due perhaps to the AK’s reputation and the shooting public’s lack of knowledge, the market is dominated by increasingly rough “loss-leader” rifles that are designed to be sold in volume as cheaply as mechanically possible.
Having encountered AKs of all stripes around the world, I can tell you that few are as roughly made as the typical American gun-show variant. The AK’s reputation for reliability in adverse conditions, its association with Third World conflicts, and its bad-boy reputation persuade American shooters who would never dream of buying a utilitarian rifle or shotgun that poorly made to plop the money down on the cheapest AK they can find.
Most of these shooters are unlikely to use their new rifle hard, but instead use it as a diversionary plinker and accept poor accuracy or rough function as part of the AK landscape. I can’t do that. I had witnessed far too many young servicemen at my local range attempting to shoot their new threat weapon to find it would not function correctly or its canted barrel/sights are far from zero and require tools to be purchased in order to adjust. Even those that weren’t did not often shoot to the level of their overseas AK kin.
As a rifleman, I want my equipment to be equal to any reasonable task and to hit up to my ability to hold and press. My initial research showed consensus on the service-level (dare I say the much abused milspec) quality of AKs emanating from Russia and Bulgaria.
Push button behind pistol grip releases stock to fold and latch closed against left side of receiver. Quality of stamped receiver and pins is first class.
ARSENAL SLR AK
Arsenal, Inc has attempted to establish a reputation for bringing in legitimate service rifles from these countries, with a list of features that distinguish them from the less expensive competition. Arsenal seems to make a concerted effort to keep as many of the parts as legally possible under 922R import restrictions from the original overseas factories, which have decades of experience manufacturing AKs for issue to troops. This is not dissimilar to the quality difference between a government-issued M4 by Colt and its cosmetically similar but less expensive and inconsistent hobby gun cousin.
The SLR features a cold-hammer-forged chrome-lined barrel. Many competitor rifles feature relatively soft steel, unlined U.S.-made barrels whose primary objective seems to be keeping costs low. The bolt and carrier appear to be well machined, have crisp edges and are well fit. Even the stamped steel has a well-made feel to it that suggests a quality rifle.
The U.S. parts on this model consist of the stock, pistol grip and handguard, and two-stage Arsenal-made trigger. The finish on the rifle is even and a relatively attractive matte black color comparable to an entry-level AR finish.
AK-100 style compensator is very effective but easily unthreaded by hand to reduce length or weight forward.
The AK-100 style side-folding stock locks up extremely solid, with absolutely no play in any direction. The latch is metal to metal and provides a fixed-stock feel when opened. It is, conservatively, about a million times better than any of the alternative folder options on standard AKs.
The standard (Warsaw length) AK stock is about as good a general fit non-adjustable combat stock as is out there, so this one mimicking that shape and profile is a plus. The butt is covered by a stamped-steel pad with a trap for the cleaning kit capsule, and a button protrudes to release the folded stock from the side of the receiver. The stock is folded by pressing a button on the inboard (for right handers) side and swinging it over to latch into the receiver.
Folded length is 27 inches with the muzzle brake installed and 25 with it unthreaded. The folded rifle fits neatly into a large duffle and sundry other low-profile carriage options. For comparison, a 16-inch AR with stock collapsed is typically 32 inches, a little much to discreetly transport or store. Other traditionally handy rifles, such as the M1 Carbine (35.5 inches) and trapper-length 1892 lever-action carbine (33.5 inches), are not nearly as transportable as the folded SLR. The rifle weighs in at 7.3 pounds unloaded.
Unlike most AK triggers, the Arsenal trigger is a two-stage unit. It is similar in feel to a standard M4 trigger, having a weighted take-up through the first stage (albeit longer travel in this case) with a fairly crisp break with some movement through it. In dry fire, it felt somewhat heavy but manageable, with a predictable break, unlike the standard AK almost double-action-like “roll.” The trigger broke at 11 pounds straight through or just over seven counting the second stage only. For the shooter transitioning to the AK scene from AR use, the trigger will be similar, although heavy as issued.
SLR with included accessories. Folded length is a mere 25 inches.
FIRE IT UP
Taking the rifle to the range, the typically horrible 800-meter AK sights assaulted my sensibilities but were well regulated, and accuracy was in the 1.5- to 2-inch range for three shots at 100 yards from prone over a rest. This is as good as most samples of the revered 1903 Springfield will do with more precise iron sights, and better than many rifles out there.
I could hit clay birds on the berm at 100 meters with some consistency, so my hopes for the Bulgarian barrel were validated. The rifle is limited more by the sight picture offered and heavy trigger, both of which I can change, and not the inherent consistency. I was pleased.
I was not pleased with the initial reliability. The SLR’s trigger stuck to the rear ten times in the first 100 rounds and did not reset. The trigger had to be manually reset and would then fire normally. In tearing the rifle down, I discovered that the disconnector shelf had a small ridge from manufacture and, where the parts met, it required the first few boxes of ammo to wear down to a point that it would consistently release to reset. Feeding and cycling of the rifle were smooth and trouble-free thereafter.
SLR can be pressed into service with stock folded if transported or carried in that manner, with acceptable speed and accuracy until the situation allows the shooter to get the stock around.
The Arsenal-made handguards have a heat shield in them and worked quite well in rapid fire compared to the laminated wood-stocked versions and AMD variants I have fired. With many AKs, a quick mag or two has you quickly reaching for a glove. The heat shields extended that time a little and toned the heat down pretty well. The plastic is exceptionally slick, however.
In handling the rifle, I used SKD Tactical’s PIG full dexterity tactical gloves, which worked very well. They took the edge off any heat, yet provided exceptional feel and enough dexterity to paste targets, take notes, and fill magazines.
Knowing that this particular rifle is likely to be carried or put into action from folded, I shot it that way. While awkward, the sight radius made hitting with the rifle held out in front slow, but pretty easy. It is the AK equivalent of a Buntline special.
Groups at 25 yards were fist sized, but follow-up shots somewhat difficult due to the way the rifle recoiled and settled with the firing wrist canted as it was. At conversational distances, the rifle can be indexed and shot pretty well with a flash reference of the front sight to clear an immediate threat.
Interested, I timed both employing the rifle as a pistol by just sweeping the safety and getting it onto target, and taking the time to release and swing the stock into place while mounting the rifle. Hurriedly shooting the rifle as a pistol against a VTAC silhouette at 25 yards averaged 2.7 seconds to mostly well-centered hits with a few loose VC zone impacts. Sweeping the stock and shouldering took three seconds on average to get hits, with the added ability to follow up or quickly transition to deeper or multiple targets.
SLR houses a cold-hammer-forged barrel and quality of build that should go the distance. Arsenal heat-shield handguards took the edge off heat, allowing ultra-thin SKD Tactical PIG dexterity gloves to work well.
The SLR-107F’s compensator was very effective. There is little rise and, as long as you are the shooter, the noise is not objectionable. Those to your left and right might disagree strongly, however. I like how easy it is to remove should you want to reduce overall length, requiring just one retaining pin to be pushed in and unthreaded. The threads are not the standard 7.62 AK 14×1 left hand, but rather the 24×1 AK-74 style, so some of the newer muzzle devices on the market are not compatible with this particular rifle.
The rifle’s magwell is nicely contoured. Surplus steel, Bulgarian “Waffle” polymer, and Hungarian “tanker” mags all locked into the action smoothly and without a trace of wobble. Once there they were truly there, locking in firmly and rigidly, but releasing easily. This was better than most AKs I have handled from various countries.
I shot the rifle through a round of aggressive drills that I have years of performance data on using ARs and other platforms. It fared well, handling and hitting well despite the trigger weight and meager sights. It is absolutely viable as a defensive or patrol weapon, with the plus of a heavier caliber.
IS IT WORTH IT?
For the shooter who simply wishes to own and test fire an AK, the extra cost of the Arsenal SLR is probably not going to provide a return on investment.
However, for a shooter planning to use an AK seriously or hard, I believe the rifle is solid (initial issues with the trigger notwithstanding). I think the heart of the rifle challenges many notions about AK accuracy, while it has the quality of parts to maintain the AK’s legendary durability.
Tweaking the AK platform is rapidly evolving, and as a base gun—in the sense that Colts and Springfield Armory 1911s were in the late 1980s/early 1990s—the Arsenal is an exceptional choice. If you follow that comparison, where we used to happily pay Colt prices and then accept that we’d have to tune the trigger and replace the sights at minimum, the Arsenal side folder is probably about there.
There are a few simple do-it-yourself mods I have in mind to boost the SLR’s potential as a defensive weapon. I’ll give them a run and report back in a later issue.