If you do a bit of research into top-quality AK-pattern rifles currently available on the American market, you'll soon discover that Arsenal Inc.'s offerings are mentioned as being among the best options available. A few years ago, the company launched the forged-receiver SAM7 series which were called “a game changer” by the company at the time. When I recently got the chance to handle one of the SAM7SF-84G models, I knew that this was a rifle I just had to test drive for myself.
Due to 922(r) regulations, AK platforms using imported components cannot contain more than 10 of 20 specified parts. Once the 10 component limit is reached, the remaining gun parts must be of American manufacture. How an importer goes about meeting these regulations has a meaningful impact on the overall quality of the rifle.
Many AKs sold in the states start out as complete surplus overseas rifles that are broken down into parts kits with key components either damaged beyond repair or completely removed (just like the 1967 Polish AK-47 parts kit used to build this rifle). The kit is then shipped to the U.S., the missing components are replaced with American-made parts and then the gun is “re-manufactured” into a complete rifle. Not surprisingly, quality-control issues can crop up at various points in this process. Where was the original rifle made? Are the parts in the kit all from the same gun or hodgepodge of bits and pieces scooped out of several different rifles? Who took the rifle apart and who put it back together again? And which companies produced the American components?
One of the reasons Arsenal rifles are so good is the manner in which the company addresses these quality-control issues at each step in the process. SAM7 rifles are wholly constructed of new-production components (no used or “mystery metal” parts). The original overseas rifles are manufactured by Arsenal in the company's Bulgarian plant. The rifles are then transferred directly to the Arsenal facilities in Las Vegas, Nev., where they are re-manufactured by the company's trained technicians. All operations are conducted in-house resulting in consistent, top-quality guns.
The “SA” in the SAM7SF-84G rifle model stands for semi-automatic. This rifle is operated using the long-stroke gas-piston system originally designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov to cycle the action. The “SF” denotes a side-folding shoulder stock and the “G” indicates an OD green set of polymer furniture including the stainless-steel-lined upper and lower handguards and the ribbed pistol grip.
While the majority of milled receivers are shaped from bar-stock steel, the SAM7SF receiver is shaped from a hot-die hammer-forged blank made in Bulgaria. The 5-ton hammer-forging process forms stronger, finer-grained steel by eliminating internal voids and cooling deformations. The forged-receiver blank then requires more than five hours of milling to prepare it for assembly. The forging and milling process is time consuming and expensive. So much so that when Arsenal offered a U.S.-made version of the SAM7SF with the same receiver, they cost anywhere from double to three times as much as the Bulgarian model tested for this review. In fact, all of the critical components, including the trigger, bolt head, bolt carrier and barrel are forged for added strength and durability.
The 16.3" cold hammer-forged barrel is manufactured using Steyr technology with bore and chamber that are hard-chrome plated. The 24x1.5 mm right-hand-threaded front-sight block supports a removable one-piece AK-74-style muzzle brake. The classic-tapered gas block often found on milled Russian AKs has been replaced with an AKM-type 90-degree gas block in which the port is drilled and aligned straight down into the bore which forces the gas from the barrel to make a hard right on its way to the gas piston. This porting approach is not original to the platform, but it works reliably enough to be standard issue to the Bulgarian military forces.
The AK-pattern sights include a shielded height adjustable post in front and a fully adjustable rear sight tangent calibrated for up to 800 meters (875 yards). The stamped-sheet-steel receiver cover is properly fitted to the front trunnion so that it does not rattle about. The right-side reciprocating charging handle and safety selector, magazine release lever and sheet-steel trigger guard are typical AK offerings in their location and operation. A fixed sling mount is located on the left side of the front trunnion with a rotating sling mount attached to the receiver directly behind the receiver-mounted sight rail.
Along with this rifle's properly executed fit and finish, the SAM7SF has two noteworthy features that deserve to be recognized: the folding stock and the trigger. I wish all the companies that fit their guns with folding stocks would take a page from the Arsenal play book. While other stocks are just add-ons that are “good enough” solutions, the SAM7's right-side folder is as fully integrated into the platform as the sight system and trigger group. The simple, lightweight hinged tubular stock features an all-steel welded construction with a textured rubber buttpad.
A round button on the right side of the hinge releases the stock so that it can be folded. A small loop next to the buttpad is captured by a heavy-duty spring-loaded catch mounted directly into the right side of the milled receiver. When the receiver-mounted catch is depressed, the stock is pushed out and away from the rifle by pressure of the round release button. This allows the stock to swing out and lock itself in place when the rifle is held with the muzzle pointed up. It's a nice touch.
The factory-installed double-hook trigger would be a top-notch aftermarket upgrade, which means it's exceptionally good for a factory-installed option. The trigger pull on this particular rifle was 3 lbs. according to a digital trigger gauge. The trigger has no take up or over travel. Instead, it has a consistent pull weight all the way through the trigger stroke. If possible, I would install this trigger on some of the other rifles I own.
All of the components contained in the 10-round Arsenal magazine shipped with the SAM7SF are made in the U.S. The K-Var Corp. website offers authentic Arsenal Bulgarian Circle 10 “waffle-pattern” 30-round magazines, which are some of the strongest and most durable AK magazines available. Honestly, the rifle doesn't look fully dressed without it. The other accessories shipped with the rifle include an OD green shoulder sling, oil bottle, two-part cleaning rod, an AK cleaning kit and owner's manual.
The SAM7SF proved to be utterly reliable during informal and formal testing at the range. The bolt carrier cycled smoothly, all of the controls operated as advertised and all of the test ammunition fed, fired and ejected from both magazines without any malfunctions. For formal benchrested accuracy testing at 100 yards, a U.S. made Arsenal SM-13 scope mount was used to support Bushnell's AK Optics 1-4x24 mm illuminated scope.
This is a combat rifle designed to chew through tough, steel-cased 7.62x39 mm ammunition. So it was fed on three loads provided by Ammunition Depot. Along with offering a solid selection of brands and bullet types, the company also offers various packaging options. The Red Army Standard 124-gr. full-metal-jacket boattail rounds were shipped in a new polymer pouch Battle Pack, which makes it easier to store the ammunition or carry it in the field. This load tapped out a best single 5-shot group of 3.14" with a five-group average of 3.34". TulAmmo's 122-gr. jacketed hollow points arrive in a classic Russian 640 round storage tin. Thankfully a can opener is provided. This load yielded a best single group of 2.28" and an average of 2.70".
In the past, I've seen good results with Wolf Ammunition's Military Classic 124-gr. full-metal-jacket when fired from this type of rifle. It's available by the box or by the case from Ammunition Depot, so I made sure it was included here. Arsenal representatives state that their goal was to build a rifle that could print 1.5" average groups at 100 meters (109 yards). That goal was met using the Wolf load which produced a best group of 1.43" with an average of 1.56".
I can understand why some American shooting enthusiasts choose to turn their noses up at the budget-priced AKs floating around at various gun shows and shops. Some of them have a downright rickety feel with about as much visual appeal as spray-painted plywood. But Arsenal Inc. is playing at a different level. The SAM7SF-84G looks, feels and operates like a rock-solid combat rifle should. It's a clear-cut case of getting what you pay for. If I was putting together a list of AK-type rifles suitable for shooting competitions, hunting or for use as a defensive option, this one would be up at the top. This was my first opportunity to work with an Arsenal Inc. rifle and I sincerely hope it won't be the last.
Specifications: Manufacturer: Arsenal Inc. Online Sales: K-Var Corp. Model: SAM7SF-84G, OD Green Furniture, Folding Stock Action: Long-Stroke Gas-Piston-Operated Semi-Automatic Breech Type: 3-Lug Rotating Bolt Caliber: 7.62x39 mm Finish: Matte Black Receiver: Bulgarian Hot-Die Hammer-Forged and Milled, Straight Cut Barrel: 16” Cold-Hammer Forged, Hard-Chromed Chamber and Bore Muzzle: 24x1.5 mm TPI RH Muzzle Device: Removable One-Piece AK-74-Type Muzzle Brake Trigger: Double-Hook Steel Bow Trigger Pull: 3 lbs. (As Tested) Safety Selectors: Right-Side Receiver, Left-Side Grip Sights: Fully Adjustable Optics: Receiver-Mounted Sight Rail Handguard: Ribbed OD Green Polymer Shoulder Stock: Tubular Steel Folding with Textured Rubber Pad Grip: OD Green Polymer Barrel Length: 16.25" Muzzle: 14 x 1 mm LH Threading, Removable Thread Protector Overall Length (Stock Extended): 38.2" Overall Length (Stock Folded): 28.5" Weight: 8 lbs. 2.8 oz. Unloaded, With 10-Round Magazine Capacity: 10+1 Removable Box Magazine Twist: 1:9.45" RH Rifle Grooves: 6 922(r) Compliant: Yes Accessories: One 10-round Magazine, AK Cleaning Kit, 2-Part Cleaning Rod, Oil Bottle, OD Green Shoulder Sling Cleaning Kit, Owner's Manual MSRP: $1,499
Optics Mount: Arsenal Inc. SM-13 $129.99 Scope: Bushnell AK Optics 1-4x24 mm Illuminated, 30 mm Tube (AK912424) Rings: Weaver Tactical 30 mm Extra High Picatinny 4-Hole (#99518) Magazine: K-VAR Circle 10 7.62x39 Caliber 30 Round, "Waffle-Pattern" Magazine