Long-Term Gun Test Update: Arsenal SLR-106 (5.56mm AK)

Image: Chris Dumm

It’s been almost 18 months since I put up my review of the SLR-106, Arsenal’s 5.56mm Bulgarian AK. I’ve been lucky enough to put another thousand-odd rounds through it since then, and it’s time for a long-term test update . . .

Reliability: Still Perfect, With The Right Magazines.

The Arsenal didn’t give me a single FTF during the initial 1,000 round testing. It’s given me a grand total of four malfunctions since then, (about one for each ten full magazines fired) and ALL of them came from the two non-Bulgarian magazines that I tried out last spring. I took a chance on a couple of U.S.-manufactured Pro-Mag magazines in the immediate aftermath of Sandy Hook when all things Circle 10 were sold out or priced out of reach.

The Pro Mags were only $12 each (and they were in stock) so I gambled that at least one of them might be reliable. In fact they both were, but only for the first 29 rounds each. They both jam on the last round, which takes a nose-dive into the Arsenal’s flat breech face just about every time you use them. These magazines are now strictly for range use (not that I ever want to see any other kind) and the Bulgarian mags have still never given me a single problem.

Durability: Still Looks (Almost) New.

Image: Chris Dumm

The SLR-106 still looks and functions exactly as it did right out of the box, with the exception of the perpetually-filthy muzzle device. Yes it’s chrome-lined, but it gets dirty instantly and tends to stay that way because it’s a PITA to clean. Arsenal’s baked-on enamel coating has held up extremely well on the rest of the gun’s exterior, but I’ve used M-Pro 7 gun cleaner and (factory-recommended) Break-Free CLP, to which the Arsenal finish is impervious. I’ve been careful not to clean it with Gun Scrubber or Hoppe’s No. 9 which can strip it down to bare steel.

Image: Chris Dumm

The folding stock is still rock-solid as well, although it doesn’t get a whole lot of use. Shooting an AK from the hip is only fun for bump-firing, but the SLR-106 FR’s 2-stage trigger is too heavy for that. And besides, who has so much 5.56 that they can afford to waste it hosing down berms and hillsides with unaimed suppressive fire? If you do, we need to go shooting together!

The tan polymer furniture hides dirt pretty well in the field, as long as you’re talking about actual ‘dirt.’ It tends to show oily fingerprints really well, however, and all of those little ridges and creases in the handguard are difficult to clean.

Accuracy: Unchanged

The new SLR-106 gave approximately 2.1 MOA groups with cheap ammo and an uncomfortable scope mount. When I scope it these days it still shoots about 2 MOA, but I hardly ever scope it. I settled on an authentic Arsenal quick-release side rail scope mount and topped it with a desert tan Bushnell TRS-25 red dot.

Ergonomics: Lessons Learned

It didn’t take me long to remember how uncomfortable factory-stock AK pistol grips are. Those of us with average American-sized mitts struggle to get a firm hold on the AK’s diminutive grips which could have been designed for Cambodian toddlers. I swapped it for a contoured tan grip with a secret storage compartment I don’t use; I just wish the colors matched more perfectly.

The SLR-106 FR only comes with a short Warsaw Pact-length folding stock. Small-statured teenage shooters really like the shorter length of pull, but the rest of us don’t. Unfortunately there’s no way to replace it with a NATO-length version, and if you really need the longer stock you’ll have to buy a non-folding AK that can accept one.

Summary

A new gun is like a new car: shiny but unproven. This Arsenal continues to go the distance, with 2,000+ trouble-free rounds fired. If I could own only one modern sporting rifle, this would be it.

RATINGS: One Year Later

Accuracy: * * * * (then) * * * * (now)
Still as accurate as most entry-level and mid-grade ARs.

Ergonomics: * * * (then) * * * (now)
I replaced the pistol grip and added a red dot on a QR mount. The safety and stock length are still state of the art, for a 1940s Soviet conscript.

Reliability: * * * * * (then) * * * * * (now)
Stick with Bulgarian magazines and your MTFB will be measured in years and thousands of rounds.

Customize This: * * * 1/2
The AK market has a few more options now, including HK-style side chargers. But you still won’t want to put them on an Arsenal.

Overall Rating: * * * *
It was pretty damned good a year ago, and it has continued to prove itself rugged, reliable and accurate. Arsenals are probably a better deal now than they were in mid-2012, because parts-kit AKs have gone way up in price since then.

17 Responses to Long-Term Gun Test Update: Arsenal SLR-106 (5.56mm AK)

  1. avatarTim U says:

    Too bad Arsenal discontinued them entirely since that last review. Fortunately the Bulgarian mags last a lifetime and that means I will have plenty of capacity for mine.

    • avatarJeff says:

      Arsenal will bring them back in a year or two. They’ve done this many times in the past. I believe Arsenal Bulgaria got a contract to build a ton of the SLR-106 series for a foreign military – possibly India or Pakistan. They would probably temporarily shut down the civilian model tooling to fulfill the contract.

      Believe it or not the SLR-106- type rifles are used by Bulgarian military/police. A lot of people think they’re not.

  2. avatarRoss says:

    I do regret selling mine.

  3. avatarpwrserge says:

    Thanks Chris. I always wanted an Arsenal AK. It might be on my list as soon as I get my backlog of stuff I want to build cleared.

  4. avatarEmfourty Gasmask says:

    The elusive 5.56 AK, lol. Every time I get the money to buy one they all disappear on me. I’d trade my custom AZEX AK for one in a heartbeat.. If I can ever find one, lol.

  5. avatarjwm says:

    I have a circle 10 Makarov. Never a problem, even with rusted bargain bin mags.

  6. avatarJeff says:

    Bulgarian magazines are seriously overpriced. If you want more affordable magazines for the SLR-106, buy surplus Polish Beryl 5.56 magazines. They are steel reinforced at the front lug and rib, and fit just as well as the Bulgarian mags. You can get them for $25ish from Robert RTG gun parts – though they sometimes go out of stock for several weeks. However I would avoid the clear mags as they have been known to crack.

    As far the the stock goes, Warsaw stocks don’t bother me and I’m 6’2″ with big arms. You just have to shoulder the rifle differently than you would an AR – a lot of AR shooters seem to have a problem adapting. Pull the rifle hard in to your shoulder and get your cheek right up against the tail of the receiver. Stop holding it out and forward like every AR shooter tries to do.

    If you still can’t stand it, buy a rubber buttpad for it. There are a few repros of the grenade launching buttpads for underfolding AKs fit the 74M folding stock perfectly.

    http://www.amazon.com/UTG-Model-Combat-Butt-Pad/dp/B002TUSK06

    I regret not buying an SLR-106 when they were cheap, but I was able to basically build the same thing out of a Saiga .223 and Bulgarian AK-74 parts kit, to get the normal military gas block/sight block/muzzle device/trigger guard/etc.. AT the time I bought them both, I got roughly the same rifle for $500 complete once I was done converting it. End product looks identical to an SGL-31, but in 5.56.

    http://i.imgur.com/QpsDU5j.jpg

    Has been a great rifle, very accurate and dependable.

  7. avatarDrVino says:

    I still see “.223″ Saigas (chambered in 5.56, but stamped .223 for importation reason) available on gunbroker etc. A perfectly fine way to go.
    Bulgarian is the same quality as Izhmash.

    • avatarJoe Grine says:

      Having studied numerous examples of both weapons up close, I think the Kazanlaks (aka Circle 10) tend to be better made than the Izhevsks.

  8. avatarJeh says:

    Very nice, I just wish someone would made something other then an AK, who wouldn’t want to see a “suppressed” (Note the (“”) marks) VSS chambered to an Amerikan caliber and using Magpul?

  9. avatarAaron says:

    Definitive Arms can modify a 5.56 AK to use ar-15 magazines and have a last round bolt hold open. Military Arms Channel reviewed it and seemed very happy with it. http://www.definitivearms.com/main_page.html

  10. avatarensitue says:

    Tapco Furniture, FTW?

  11. avatardisthunder says:

    Love mine. I got the shorty finished over the summer, and the thing is unstoppable. Only trouble I’m having these days is choosing an optic. I’m thinking a vortex mirco dot on an ultimak, but I’m a little concerned about heat.

    • avatarChris Dumm says:

      Don’t worry about the heat. I ran an $80 Primary Arms Micro Dot on a Bulgarian AK74 for a few years (and many spam cans of ammo) and the heat never bothered it. A friend still runs an Aimpoint Micro on the Ultimak on his Arsenal SGL, which is the same as the Primary Arms (just much better).

      The finned alloy of the Ultimak seems to be a fairly effective heat sink for any optics you mount there.

    • avatarJeff says:

      I like the Attero Arms Alpha scout mount better than the Ultimak. Mounts the micro dot directly to the rear sight block, getting it closer to your face, further away from waste gas (Ultimak mounted stuff can get a lot of gas blowby), and doesn’t interfere with detailed cleaning.

  12. avatarAaron says:

    A company called Canis Design Group sells a M4 to AK conversion. I don’t know if it will work on all types of 5.56 aks and i think it takes some gunsmithing but it is cheaper than the definitive arms conversion.
    http://www.canisdesigngroup.com/canis-adaptive

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