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.