Saiga M3 AK101
Pete Moore; ever a devotee of hybrid straight-pull rifles tests the good old Saiga AK but this time in the better calibre option of 223 Rem
The truth is if you want to shoot some form of Practical Rifle (PR) then the only real choice for a hybrid straight-pull is an AR15 in 223 Rem. Ok, I will admit there are other guns in this group but all have their problems – Steyr AUG, nice but a heavy trigger and hard cocking, Ruger Mini 14 (couldn’t shoot its way out of a wheelie bin from the inside), Saiga M3/M4 (AK47/AKM) a bit better but very limited on effective range.
The real problem with the Saiga is the original calibre of 7.62x39mm! Great assault rifle cartridge, if your aspirations do not exceed 200-yards on man-sizes targets. But in the short, 16” tube of the AK it was never meant for tack-driving at any real distance. Don’t get me wrong as I have an M4 (7.62x39) in my collection and it’s a lot of fun, given I keep the ranges sensible. Plus with the addition of new furniture and modifications; the rifle can be made a lot more shootable, though no more accurate…
In with a 30
What the design needs is the option of a better cartridge, which it now has, as the 223 Rem version is available from importers FSU Connections. Called the AK101, those in the know will say, but a 223 has been available for some time. Yes it has, but in smaller numbers and with only a 10-shot magazine, which is not what this gun is all about! This latest model comes with a 30-rounder, so calibre and capacity wise it’s really in the ballpark; or is it? We shall see!
My test gun came with the triangular, steel, side-folding butt and standard, black plastic furniture. For those of you not familiar with the generic Saiga AK-types here’s how it goes; light, 16” barrel with muzzle brake, right side cocking, large and clunky safety catch (right side of the receiver). Add to this a short length of pull with a low or no comb (depending on butt configuration) and iron sights – forward post and rear U-notch tangent-type. A manual action hold open has been added over the earlier M3 version and dedicated optics can be fitted on the integral NV rail (left of the receiver). However, these are not amazing with a choice of a fixed power 4x24 or 6x24, no focusing ability and a moving image reticule (with illumination) uncovered and hand-dialable turrets.
Add to this the high scope mount position and low comb of the butt and areas like cheek weld and a good eye/scope relationship are non-existent. Unlike the generic and evolved AR15s, which are now totally built with ease of use and competition in mind, the AK is very much what you see is what you get. However, they are 100% reliable, do not suffer from hard extraction problems, and are easy to use, plus they don’t cost well in excess of £1000. But for serious PR use even out to 300-yards they are sadly a non-starter; well in 7.62x39 certainly.
Visually the 223/M3 looks no different to the 7.62 version with the exception of the 30-round mag being less curved. I have to say the side-folding, skeleton butt is not the best choice for shootability and I wrongly assumed that you can also get this gun with a fixed stock in this configuration, but you can’t. However, it’s the calibre that really changes this rifle out of all proportion.
I guessed that the gun might offer a 1-12” twist rate and that proved correct as I took along an eclectic selection of ammo ranging through 55, 60, 62, 69 and 75-grains in various configurations; FMJ, V-MAX (Hornady TAP FPD), boat tail hollow point (Sierra Match Kings) and the rifle only shot the 55s well. Here I was using Prvi Partizan (PPU) and Hornady TAP FPD.
To determine accuracy I used my old, Russian 6x24 POSP scope, which fits the NV rail. I have had this a long time and it’s not the best. To solve the minimal butt style I fitted the official rubber grenade launcher pad extension, which extended the LOP. The comb was sorted by wrapping it in a foam rubber tube, which raises the head up and widens the cheek contact area just enough for a reasonable eye/scope relationship.
Even with the older and now decidedly fuzzy POSP on top the M3 was shooting 1 – 2” at 100-yards. To be honest a better optic would doubtless reduce that to around an inch. Inspection showed that groups were reasonably concentric and at least 50-100% smaller than what my 7.62x39 M4 can do. Recoil was also improved and though the 7.62 is no kicker, the 223 version is easier to control and therefore offers better target observation through the shot.
Action-wise the M3 showed smooth and easy extraction characteristics over all bullet weights/loads used. It also did not do that annoying trick of the 7.62 version in that as you cycle the action, the fired case can and does bounce off your hand and drop back into the ejection port. Chances are the slimmer dimension of the 223 case cause less of a problem. I have had Mark Bradley modify my 7.62x39mm rifle with one of his extended cocking handles, which solves this problem. But I think you can get away with it on the 223…
So accuracy is far more where we need it to be and given the gun can hold 1 ½” @ 100-yards then it should be able to keep it inside 12” at 600. Though the old 55-grain bullet is ballistically less efficient than the more modern and evolved 62/69-grain loads PR shooters favour. But also consider that a lot of people shoot the discipline using 14 ½” and 16” AR15s too and they do all right.
Ballistically the 55-grain loads were running at around 2700 fps, with is between 300/400 fps slower than what you would expect from a 20” tube.
The straight-pull AK is undeniably a simple and basic rifle, with none of the refinement of the modern AR15. However in 223 Rem it proves that the rifle can shoot, so it’s now a lot less about build and more about calibre.
To make this rifle more shootable, a fixed butt version would be better. As opposed to having to pad out the skinny, metal comb you could instead replace all the furniture with the TDi sets that FSU Connections currently offers. This includes a CAR15-type telescopic butt with adjustable comb, so sorting LOP and head/scope alignment in one go. Currently in the side-folding version you can still take advantage of the larger pistol grip and forend with the option of a forward grip, which will make it easier to hold and control the rifle. Plus you can get the grenade launcher pad/extension, which I have found to be a real boon in terms of a quick fix solution to LOP and general shouldering. The only real problem is the scope! The POSP is cheap, fits as standard and works OK. But something better would be commensurate with the 223 M3’s improved ability.
FSU also offer the AK102 version, which is the carbine with the shorter, 12 ½” barrel and fixed, plastic butt with an overall length of 33”. In 7.62x39mm this rifle is really inaccurate, but and though I have not tested an example, I’d say it would be vastly improved in 223 Rem.
Ideal would be a QD mount as the POSP, but with a rail or set of rings. Or perhaps a Picatinny rail fitted to the top cover as can be found on Saiga’s SWAT 12K semi-auto shotgun.
Truth is in 223 Rem the Saiga M3 AK101 is now a serious proposition for the PR shooters on a budget, or the clubman who just wants a hi-cap fun gun with more than acceptable accuracy. ANYBODY WANT TO BUY MY 7.62 AK?
New calibre = new rifle
Cheap and more effective
Good all-round PR/fun gun
|Capacity||10 and 30 (DM)|
|Folding||Butt side folding only|
|Scope mount||Y (dedicated)|
|Price||£595 (as tested) £640 W wooden hand guards
Spare mag £36, 10-shot £19.95
All Prices Are Guides Due to the Changes in US & European Exchange Rates