Gun Review: Arsenal, Inc. SLR-106FR (Bulgarian AK)

Let’s just come right out and say it:  Precision is to AK-47 as Rahm Emanuel is to bipartisanship.  Sure, Kalashnikov’s legendary avtomat holds many virtues – virtues that have rendered it the most common firearm in history; however, the reputation for tight tolerances and ultimate accuracy has always gone to other weapons.  Most other weapons, in fact.  In the realm of post-Assault Weapon Ban AKs, how well they operate is mainly a function of whichever domestically-produced parts are shoved into the imported rifles to make them 18 USC 922R compliant.  All too often, el cheapo parts (gas pistons, trigger groups, etc.) only promulgate the AK’s standing as a “somewhat accurate” assault rifle modern sporting rifle home defense gun.  But what would happen if one of these importers perceived a niche for quality over sheer affordability?

The SLR-106FR would happen, that’s what.  Imported by Arsenal, Inc., the SLR is basically a Bulgarian-made AK-74 chambered in the very familiAR 5.56 NATO cartridge – but with higher-quality innards that transform it into a weapon possessing almost German levels of engineering exactitude (take that, Mikhail!).  On the surface, the concept seems a bit like surgically attaching Rachmaninoff’s hands to Mike Tyson and expecting the pugnacious pugilist to go ten rounds with a piano concerto.  Then again, who’s to say that a great design can’t be improved upon?  It’s worth a try, anyway, right?

To find out how this mismatched marriage makes out on the range, the lender of this particular example (my buddy Todd, who also owns the WASR-10 we reviewed several weeks ago) accompanied me to a farm south of town where we zoomed through several boxes of .223 Remington (5.56 NATO wasn’t available) to find out how the premium parts performed.

Initial finding: they don’t do a damn thing for how the gun looks.  Plas-tactical dessert-camo-tan might be nice for blending into the Iraqi wilderness, but for those who prize the traditional AK aesthetics, only real wood furniture will make the grade.  On the other hand, the synthetic stock and hand guard do force you to recognize that this is no ordinary AK.  The specially-designed muzzle brake – strategically ported at one and three o’clock – continues the theme: Arsenal, Inc. made every last one of their 922R parts count.

Another hint that you’re not in AKansas anymore is how taut everything feels: from the positive action of the bolt to the snugness of a fully-seated magazine, the SLR-106FR feels tighter than a camel’s ass in a sandstorm.  The theme continues when you prepare to fire, as the safety comes off with a just-audible “snick” instead of the deafening “clack” voiced by the more authentic AK safeties out there.  Only the side-folding stock’s featherweight floppiness feels like the type of thing you’d find on a typical AK clone.

But this is not a typical AK clone, and when it comes time to squeeze the terrific two-stage trigger and release the spring-loaded (as opposed to free-floating) firing pin, you’ll quickly see that Bulgarian mail-order brides can dance like few others.  Here’s where you realize that Arsenal, Inc. did their homework – the combination of a well-manufactured basic gun fitted with quality internals and chambered in the easy-recoiling 5.56 caliber equates to a simply beautiful shooting experience.

Although a comparably-priced AR-15 could have probably bested the SLR’s 35-yard accuracy, it wouldn’t have been as fun to shoot.  The whole time, I kept thinking, “Gee, this is probably what a thousand-dollar BB gun feels like: zero muzzle flip, virtually no recoil, and a trigger that reads my freakin’ mind!”  Couple those attributes with the .223’s modest report, an adult-sized stock, and a cooler-than-usual AK handguard (thanks, stainless steel heat shield!) and you have a total weapon package that is truly superb.

We had so much fun shooting the SLR-106FR that not even the too-short sight radius afflicting all AKs bothered us very much.  That’s when Todd pointed at the side of the receiver and mentioned that one of the components Arsenal, Inc. replaced for 922R compliance was the generally-useless scope mount.  “I’m actually thinking about buying a scope for this one,” he said.

Placing a scope atop an AK may seem pointless to some, but the SLR is one weapon that seems completely capable of out-shooting its iron sights.  That fact, along with the extremely-reasonable $700 MSRP, completely justify Arsenal’s decision to insert some quality into the AK platform and go for the real value picture instead of mere rock-bottom pricing.  The result is one fantastic gun.  Probably, Rahm Emanuel doesn’t want you to have one.

Specifications:

Model:  Arsenal, Inc. SLR-106FR (Bulgarian AK)
Action type:  Gas-opearated, rotating-bolt semi-automatic
Caliber:  5.56 x 45 NATO
Capacity:  30-round detachable magazine
Barrel length:  16.25″
Overall length:  36.875”  (27.375” folded)
Weight:  7.3 lbs. (without magazine)
Stock:  Composite (desert tan color)
Sights:  Hooded post front; tangent leaf rear, graduated from 100 to 1000 meters
Finish:  “Phosphate-treated and then finished with black baked-on paint as used in all Bulgarian commercial and military production.” (source: Arsenal, Inc. brochure)
MSRP: $705 (per Arsenal, Inc. website)

RATINGS (Out of five stars)

Style * * *
For me (and, I suspect, for many other AK aficionados), only real wood furniture looks “right” on this gun.  But if desert camo tan plastic is your thing, who am I to judge?

Ergonomics (carry)  * * * * *
The side-folding (and locking) stock gives you the option of a better close-quarters defense configuration.  Not to mention, it’s easier to store/carry/conceal with the stock folded.

Ergonomics (firing)  * * * *
It doesn’t get much better than this.  A great two-stage trigger, a well-insulated (shielded) hand guard, and a muzzle brake that keeps the gun pointed where you aim it all harmonize to create a fantastic shooting experience.

Reliability * * * * *

No problems whatsoever, even given the atypical 5.56 chambering.  If word-of-mouth and online message boards are any indication, these guns – like all AKs – are extraordinarily reliable.

Customize This * * * * *
Oh yeah…big time.

OVERALL RATING * * * * *
Arsenal, Inc. took a chance that US AK customers might spend a little more money for higher quality.  The value story that resulted is guaranteed to make you smile.