Turns out it was none of the above. Arsenal’s radical development is, primarily, the introduction of an AK receiver that is forged before it is milled. In explaining why this feature makes this AK variant a “game-changer,” Arsenal offers this explanation:
“Some companies that make milled receivers in the USA bypass the forging process, which can contribute to weak receivers, more prone to stress. The forging process strengthens the material and shapes uniform grain patterns in the steel. These forging patterns are engineered and produced to follow certain directions along the contour of the receiver to withstand high stress from the force and the movement of the working components. The forging process also eliminates any possibility of internal air pockets and cooling deformations that can impact and weaken the integrity of the receiver. While ﬁring, the forged and milled receiver does not have the same deformation issues that are typical to stamped receiver models. [...] The solid platform of the forged and milled receiver ensures superior accuracy. [...] It is not by accident that all the critical components on the SAM7SF riﬂe, including the receiver, the barrel, the bolt head, the bolt carrier and trigger are formed through forging process, to give them the crucial strength, reliability, and longevity to last for generations of use.”
Naturally, with the foregoing specifications, those of you acquainted with AK-style rifles will not be surprised to learn that the fit and finish of this particular rifle was seamless and virtually peerless. This is not a WASR. In fact, this may be one of the finest AK-style rifles I have ever handled. There were no machining marks visible, and the surface of the rifle was parkerized and then painted over in a clean flat black finish. The bolt carrier also appears to be treated and is a flat black – much nicer than the typical bare-metal bolt carriers that can rust when exposed to the elements. I will say that the left-side safety and the stock-folding button were both pretty stiff on this new rifle, but they quickly became more manageable after some use, indicating that a tight fit was the probable cause, and that a little break-in would surely lead to smooth use of either. My test rifle came with a 30 round Circle 10 Bulgarian “waffle” magazine, known as the best magazine available for the AK series, and one ten round magazine that was great for prone shooting. Also included was a scope mount for use with the side mounting plate, but I did not use optics in my evaluation.
One feature that appears to be under-emphasized in commentary about this rifle is the trigger. I dedicate a solitary paragraph to the SAM7SF’s trigger, which is the best I have felt on any AK-pattern rifle (although the TAPCO G2 is comparable when installed by a competent gunsmith), and, for that matter, I feel that this trigger is on of the best factory triggers found on any military-grade service rifle.
This is not a single stage GI trigger from your AR. Rather, the SAM7SF’s pull is smooth from start to finish with zero take-up, and uniform in weight throughout travel until break, after which there is no overtravel. Reset is positive, if not a little pushy: you get some forward pressure to reset the trigger as your finger eases forward from the breaking/firing point. It is nearly perfect.
The extra features are not just filler: The pistol grip is the one of the best I have felt on an AK-pattern, and much, much nicer than the older generic Bakelite and WASR-style pistol grips that are somewhat diminutive and flimsy where mated to the receiver. This grip is robust and ergonomic. A very nice addition that negates a typical weak point in most AKs.
A folding stock is a nice addition as well – the ability to have a folding stock on an AK-style rifle is a great advantage over other systems such as the AR. The stock Arsenal elected to equip this model with is well-built and sturdy at the mounting point. You can fire this rifle while the stock is folded should you need to, as the stock stays clear of the reciprocating charging handle built into the bolt carrier.
Before publishing this review, TFB brought this potential issue to Arsenal’s attention. Arsenal was very concerned and attentive to my concerns with the stock, and discussed it with me at length. Arsenal was surprised that I had this experience, as Arsenal said they extensively tested the stock in house without issue, and further, that they have not received one similar complaint about the stock.
[T]he prone position is the most uncomfortable position to shoot from for a number of reasons including this one. The only time to use this position is when your life is in danger. [Arsenal] does not recommend wrapping anything around the stock that would then interfere with the folding stock operation or prevent the bolt carrier pulling back with the stock in the folded position. I looked at a few forum discussions around the web and found several saying you should not have a cheek weld in the prone position. I hope this helps
Accordingly, I’d be aware of the potential problem, but realize that Arsenal has suggested that this problem is extremely uncommon among SAM7SF owners, few though there may be at this point. Moreover, note that Arsenal suggests (minimally) that shooting this rifle from prone may be uncomfortable, and that, as a precaution, Arsenal does not recommend adding any material to the stock.
As set forth herein, I can confidently say that this is one of the finest AK-style rifles ever made. The highlights are numerous: It drips with typical Bulgarian quality and finish, with smooth and uniform parkerizing, a bullet-proof and robust forged and cast receiver, top-quality barrel, great accuracy for an AK, an ambi-safety, a beefy and ergonomic new style of pistol grip, and finally, the best trigger pull you may have felt on a modern military rifle. The $1,300-$1,500 cost may be an issue for some shooters, but that’s all relative; note that several hundred people were willing to pay upwards of $3,000 for the same rifle a few years ago when Arsenal first produced the SAM7SF domestically. That said, while I’d wince at the price tag, the ~$1,300 introductory price nonetheless appears to be a good value in terms of what you get – a top-shelf AK-style rifle.
But, is the Arsenal the “Game Changer”? Arsenal certainly believes so: Take for example this Arsenal release day e-mail blast, depicting an angelic creature apparently delivering the SAM7SF from the heavens. And others may agree with Arsenal; for some, the price may be revolutionary for discriminating shooters seeking a top tier AK rifle. But, critics and TFB commenters have fairly pointed out that the advantages offered by the forged and milled receiver may be a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist – durability. How many dirt-cheap fifty year old stamped AKs are still chucking lead with little or no maintenance in the hands of untrained and carefree militia around the world? Plenty. The fact is that while almost any AK out there will certainly be inferior to this SAM7SF AK-pattern rifle, in my opinion, this is just another well made and high-end AK-pattern rifle, which category is mostly comprised of other Arsenal AKs anyhow.
Webster’s defines “Game Changer” to mean “a newly introduced element or factor that changes an existing situation or activity in a significant way”. Unique as it may be, the SAM7SF doesn’t solve a salient issue with the conventional AK or offer a significant practical improvement in performance, and thus, might be over-appraised as a “game changer”. While Arsenal is perfectly right in underscoring the fact that this AK is a cut above the rest and a good value, even at the $1,300-$1,500 price point (as evidenced by the fact that the very first run of these previously sold out at $3,500 apiece), calling it a “game changer” is somewhat of an overstatement, although many could (and will) argue that the overstatement, if any, is only slight.