August 2008

Semi-Autos for Self-Defense, and Fun: Pick Arsenal’s AK

The leader on the front nine was unquestionably Century Armsís C15 Sporter AR-15 clone, but a massive stoppage killed our enthusiasm for it. Rugerís KMini-14/5 was solid, but ho-hum.

Many shooters want a lightweight, handy 223 carbine for self-defenseóand that means reasonable accuracy, a good trigger, shooter friendliness, and ease of handling. In self-defense use, reliability is paramount, but the gun has to have enough accuracy to hit what itís aimed at.

There are several potential solutions to this firearms problem, one of which is the Ruger KMini-14/5 Ranch Rifle ($894), and we canít ignore the hoary AR-15Ėtype rifle, which in this test will be a parts gun assembled by Century Armsóthe $795 C15 Sporter.

More interesting to us initially was the AK-based Arsenal SLR 106FR, $925. Mikhail T. Kalashnikovís famous assault rifle is the basis for the Arsenal gun. Likely more than 75 million AKs have been produced by more than a dozen countries, including Albania, Bulgaria, China, East Germany, Egypt, Finland, Hungary, Iraq, Israel, North Korea, Poland, Romania, Russia, South Africa, and the former Yugoslavia.

Chambered originally for the 7.62x39mm cartridge, the Kalashnikov assault rifle was adopted by the Red Army in 1949. In this country, the rap against AKs has been their sheet-metal receivers and bad triggers, but Arsenalís rifles seek to cure those problems. The Arsenal rifle is built on a Mil-Spec hardened 1mm-thick stamped receiver. The rifle has a 90-degree gas chamber, a chrome-lined chamber, and 800-meter rear sight, and a rear sight block calibrated for the 5.56mm cartridge.

The SLR-106FR incorporates a Warsaw Pact scope rail that will accept all scope mounts designed for this type of rail. The compact folding stock allows the SLR-106FR to be used in close quarters. This requires a cutout in the left side of the folding buttstock, which pivots to the left. The similar SLR-106F lacks the side-rail scope mount.

The fire control group of the SLR-106FR features Arsenalís new two-stage trigger, hammer, and disconnector. The company claims these units eliminate trigger slap, which our tests supported. Arsenal also claims the initial trigger-pull weight is 3 pounds, with an 8-pound let-off. Our gun didnít meet those specs.

Of course, the Ruger and the Arsenal actions have long histories of being chambered for other rounds, while the AR-15 was, in some sense, built for the 223 Rem./5.56mm NATO round, though it, too, has bigger chamberings in its current design. But for self defense, the 223 is plenty nasty out to hundreds of yards.

Here, we worked in closer, shooting our guns at 50 yards with the attached open sights, along with extensive handling and rapid-fire work. Our test ammos were Wolf (Russian) 55-grain full metal jacket rounds, Remington 55-grain Metal Case rounds, which have a full copper jacket for reliable function, and Hornadyís 60-grain TAP law-enforcement rounds, which feature a red polymer tip on top of a hollowpoint bullet.

The Century gun came with a 10-round magazine, while the Arsenal and Ruger came with 5-rounders. To make our shooting more fun, we purchased extra magazines for each gun. We bought two clear-plastic 30-round Arsenal magazines for $36 apiece, and two Ram-Line 30-round combo magazines that functioned in both the Century and Ruger guns. They were $30 apiece. For the AR, we also bought some 30-round PMAGs by Magpul for $15 apiece.

All in we fired more than 300 rounds per gun in accuracy shooting, chronographing, and handling, so we got to know them warts and all. Hereís what we found:

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