Gun Review: Arsenal SAM7SF AK-Pattern Rifle

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Introduction:

As a long-time Arsenal fan and owner, I was thrilled to discover that I would be reviewing the Arsenal SAM7SF, which Arsenal has ambitiously termed the “Game Changer.”  Much of this excitement derived from the fact that this new AK-pattern rifle promised to be revolutionary; a bold promise for a system that is renowned for its simplicity and durability, a system that has been the most popular assault rifle ever produced, a system that has been chugging along with only a few minor design tweaks for over half a century.

 

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So what improvement did Arsenal formulate to “change the AK game?”  Speaking with other industry professionals and aficionados, we came up with our best guesses: Arsenal’s version of the AK-12?  A reliable 5.56mm AK rifle, perhaps accepting drop-free STANAG mags?  A revolutionary improvement on the AK’s mediocre iron sights?  Or my best guess – a cost saving measure that would permit Arsenal to produce a rifle on par with the quality of its usual models, but offer it at half the typical four-figure MSRP?

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.”
 
I surmise that Arsenal’s overwhelming pride in this rifle derives from the prior iteration of the same rifle, the U.S.-made SAM7SF offered by Arsenal, which offered a similar level of quality, but at two to three times the cost, and in very limited numbers.  Certainly, if you were in the market for a hard-to-come-by forged-and-milled receiver AK variant, the price change is revolutionary.  However, to the casual shooter or AK enthusiast, is this a game changer?

Specifications:
 
The SAM7SF is a 7.62x39mm AK-pattern rifle manufactured by Arsenal Company of Bulgaria and then re-manufactured, stateside, into its final configuration by Arsenal, Inc. in Las Vegas, Nevada.  It has a total length of 38.2” and a folded length of 28.4”.  The SAM7SF weighs 8.5 pounds, which is about 11 ounces heavier than a stamped-receiver AK.The barrel on the SAM7SF is a hammer forged and chrome lined Bulgarian made 16.3″ barrel made with a 1:9.45″ twist rate.  Arsenal claims that this barrel is made using “Steyr technology” (although without specifying much more than that) which also lends to the pedigree of the SAM7SF.  This barrel is crowned with a one-piece removable AK-74 style muzzle brake mated via the somewhat common 24×1.5mm right-hand threads on the front sight block.

 

 

The Arsenal also features a right-side folding buttstock.  This buttstock gives enough clearance to the bolt carrier to allow the operator to fire while the stock is folded.  Additionally, as the traditional optics mounting platform is on the left side of the rifle, the stock can be folded without removal of the optic.  And while the more astute reader might ask how the safety is manipulated while the stock is folded over, Arsenal has thought of a solution to this as well, integrating a Galil-style safety lever on the left side of the receiver, which is operated with the right-handed shooter’s thumb.  This permits safety manipulation without resortingto the right-hand AK-style safety lever, and further means that the SAM7SF has some degree of ambidexterity.The SAM7SF includes a re-designed and more ergonomic pistol grip with a special cut-out on the left side for the ambidextrous safety and a reinforcing washer between the grip and receiver giving additional stability to the less-than-fast point where those components meet.

 

 

General Observations:

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.

Close-up of Arsenal’s new pistol grip.

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.

As far as firing this rifle: Unsurprisingly, the SAM7SF had no reliability issues at the range, and, for the most part, fires like any other high-end AK. Recoil impulse was barely distinguishable from my Arsenal SGL-21 (my favorite AK in my stable), which I fired side-by-side with the SAM7SF.  However, novices should note that the AK-style rifle recoils more sharply and with a bit more effect than the average 5.56mm AR-15.  I re-emphasize how great the trigger is on this firearm.  The sights were dead-on out of the box, and feature an 800m rear leaf.  While no groups were shot or measured, this rifle would bang the 12″ gong at 100m every time with little effort.  While Arsenal claims that this rifle produces much greater accuracy than its competitors, my research indicates that users have reported a slightly-better-than-average two to four M.O.A. degree of accuracy with even inexpensive Russian plinking ammo.  While it looks like this rifle produces relatively good accuracy for an AK-pattern, there are other AK-style rifles around and below this price range that produce similar results.

 

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Negative Observations:
 
If you’ve read this review to this point, you would probably assume that I am as much in love with this rifle as my other Arsenal rifles.  However, I have some concerns with the folding stock.
 
Similar to the more notorious Yugoslavian underfolding AK rifles, or over-folding shotgun wire stocks, the operator may experience some cheek bite due to the stock’s wire-style chassis.  As stated, I did not shoot and measure groups for this rifle simply because the stock was unmanageable for me – the end of that buttery trigger pull was greeted with a shock through my cheek, courtesy of the metal folder.  Note that this was more prevalent in supported or prone shooting, not so much with standing.  As a multiple AK owner and an avid rifle shooter, I don’t believe operator error was the cause of this issue.  For that matter, in is this author’s opinion that the Bulgarian triangle folder is one of the better and more comfortable AK folding stocks made.  To make sure I wasn’t the only one having this problem, I had two of my students I was with at the time test the rifle out.  Both also found the stock to be uncomfortable while shooting.  The only owner I could locate on AK47.net also stated that he felt the stock was “not as comfortable” as the triangle folder.While three or four shooters is still a small sample size, it was reasonable to conclude from this that some shooters may not like the wire stock.  Underfolder stock shooters have typically addressed this issue by wrapping the stock in paracord or buying a cheekpiece.  Fabrication of an ACE-style foam sleeve would be a simple solution as well.  

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.

Our discussion was followed up by an email from an Arsenal representative which read, in pertinent part:

[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. 

Conclusion:

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.

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James Reeves is a licensed and practicing concealed weapons instructor, the winner of Maxim Magazine’s MAXIMum Warrior 2011 civilian challenge, a graduate of Front Sight and Tier 1 Group, and is an Appleseed Rifleman. James previously owned and operated a gun shop in Tallahassee, FL and worked as a regional sales representative for Interstate Arms Company, a distributor, before he began practicing law, his present career. James likes traveling with his wife, boating, America, photography, guns, gear he doesn’t really need, cold beer, and a little exercise here and there (James is also GORUCK Tough). Above all, James enjoys performing product evaluations for The Firearm Blog and posting his reviews for TFB readers. Follow James on Twitter and Instagram @PelicanHandgun.


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  • Mr Mxyzptlk

    Anyone know what the little black plastic looking thing in the right side lightening cut is? Something to do with the folding stock?

    • James

      Yes, the release latch. That lever, when pressed, deploys the stock from folded position.

  • Thomas Gomez

    Damn good article! I like your pictures.

    • http://thefirearmblog.com/ James R.

      Thanks, Tom!

  • Lance

    Yawn its still just a AK-103 with a milled receiver. I still want a true AK-74M imported. I doubt the AK-12 will into export since Russia isnt going to adopt it nore is it a 5.56mm rifle its a 5.45mm rifle meant for Russian Army testing which its not really at all. Id like to see a GSH-18 pistol imported.

  • Woodroez

    Very clean write-up, James, thanks for putting forth the effort. I do note that you wrote that the sample you reviewed initially had a stiff safety lever; interestingly, I’ve seen a video review from someone on Youtube who had the opposite problem. A man with the username chamberlin1 has a video of him firing the rifle and you can watch, at around the 22-minute mark of video, the safety lever creep up a bit during one shot. It did not impede function but I did find it concerning.

    Still, though, I find myself wanting an AK, and this remains an intriguing option.

    • Tierlieb

      As with all Kalashnikov problems, there is an established solution for this: Take a small zip tie and wrap it around the safety lever. Removes the wobble of lose levers, removes friction from stiff levers and makes the switching process much more quiet.
      This tip was brought to you by Swiss militia training ;-)

      • http://thefirearmblog.com/ James R.

        LOL, nice.

        • TX

          or get a SIG 556R (Russian).

  • Michael Y

    Great job on the review James! The rifle looks great. I’ve been trying to get my hands on a decently priced Arsenal ak for quite a while now.

    • http://thefirearmblog.com/ James R.

      Thanks for the comment, Mike!

  • bigbear78

    For the money you could get a sig 556r it uses the same mags has a folding stock that feels great and is a all around better rifle

    • Tim U

      Pretty much. Same basic action, same mags, better optics solutions, etc.

      And this is all from an AK guy.

      • bigbear78

        I hear you I was a huge ak man till I got a 556r and never looked back

    • Clint Notestine

      more accurate and definitely sexier

  • J_Kusanagi

    Forward for safe, back for fire on the thumb safety selector seems counterintuitive, but I guess that’s the easiest way they can do it mechanically.

    Do you know the length of the buttstock? Looks longer than standard. “NATO”-length?

    • http://thefirearmblog.com/ James R.

      Good observation, and I think you answered your own question correctly.

      Also, good eye on the length. I think this one was about 2-3″ longer than my NATO-stocked SGL21. Arsenal’s specs shoqw a 10″ difference between folded and unfolded, but that doesn’t factor in the folder’s trunnion, which still protrudes from the receiver whether the stock is folded or not.

    • BillyBadfish

      MAC said in his recent review of the SAM7SF is indeed NATO length.

  • Jeremy Star

    I wondered when I first saw the pictures if the stock would suck to shoot with. Guess now I know.

  • Hunter57dor

    “you should not have a cheek weld in the prone position”

    riggght. sure.

    just one question: is your head up your ass for the warmth?

    • http://thefirearmblog.com/ James R.

      Yeah, that was, uhhh, news to me. Guess I have been doing it wrong this whole time.

      • http://www.thefirearmblog.com/ Phil W “Senior Writer TFB”

        I guess I have been to!

  • Peter Balzer

    Steyr method would indicate cold hammer forged barrels, I guess. Other than that, it’s an Arsenal Kalash, not more, not less

  • AnoSynum

    Gun looks all nice and well. Too bad we’re not allowed to have (this specific) evil baby eater up here in Canada.

    What DOES interest me though is what kind of backpack that is in your pictures?

    • http://thefirearmblog.com/ James R.

      Thanks for noticing, AnoSynum. That’s a Triple Aught Design FastPack E.D.C. in foliage. I also have the TAD LiteSpeed, which I like a little better only because a 1-day pack like the LiteSpeed simply sees more action than a 3-day like the EDC. Both are amazing, though.

      I will be in the NWT for my next birthday, and then Vancouver. Looking forward to visiting our bros to the north.

  • Brandon

    Somebody should announce a ‘game changing product’ and wait for all the rumor mill to spin up.

    Those rumors will them become the product.

  • Walter E. Kurtz

    Nice review and pics but the weapon itself is uninspiring. It is certainly not a “game changer”. It is a lot of marketing hype for a spruced up AK.

    Arsenal definitely over-promised and under-delivered. That pisses me off and I am exactly the type of client they want: an AK lover and collector.

    The horror. The horror.

    • http://thefirearmblog.com/ James R.

      Excellent points, Walter, and I think your opinion sums up the chief criticism presently revolving around this rifle.

  • Miško

    Arsenal’s new pistol grip looks like its based/inspired on Zastava’s old pistol grip (a.k.a. “Yugo” grip for you yugonostalgic Americans)

  • Tuulos

    I must disagree with the opinion of the stock being bad, it’s pretty much the same as the Ace skeleton stock or Sako/Galil folding stock and I’ve never had any trouble with those kinds or heard of anyone having trouble with those.

    However, a roll of camotape or similar would probably fix the problem for the author as long as you make sure the bolt carrier can travel without problems while the stock is folded.

    And honestly I am disappointed in the lack of proper accuracy test. When it’s quite obvious they have tried to make the rifle as accurate as possible it’s a real shame the author didn’t test that.

    In the end I would compare this rifle to the truely high-end AK-variants like Galil and Sako which makes this seem quite cheap.

  • mark

    Not worth the price saiga ak 47 for 515 and 500 for a couple thousand rounds

  • http://media.nola.com/tpphotos/photo/9346409-standard.jpg bondmen

    When they decide to move inventory and lower the price a few hundred or three, it’ll change the thickness of my wallet but I can remain on my game.

  • Fromthesidelines3

    Wow, great review! Easily one of the best I’ve ever read.

  • GuidoFL

    Anyone can make a top quality rifle when price is no object. This rifle is not a game changer other than a even higher priced item, phooey !
    I’ll keep buying other brand AK’s avoiding the over priced ones with snob appeal.

  • GuidoFL

    Phooey on “The Game Changer” more hype. As a life long Tool Maker I appreciate the forged receiver method but that is NOT a game changer. Mr. Reeves nicely outlines what a real game changer would entail.

  • SS

    A friend ordered this gun. It was underwhelming. The ambi safety and the shape of the safety/topcover led to numerous jams. The forward motion of the ambi and raise the safety higher then intended. If pulling the bolt back will force the safety up as if u were taking it out but the ambi part with become stuck and bind the rifle. Arsenal failed to repair it. I ended up doing it.