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The first sporting style, semiautomatic AK-47 type rifles imported from Russia were the Saiga 7.62x39mm imported by B-West Tucson, AZ USA in 1994. The second Saiga imported was the Saiga-410. It is similar to the Saiga 7.62x39mm rifle except that it is chambered for the 3 inch .410 shotgun shell. Starting in 1996 very limited numbers of Saiga's were imported by Kalashnikov USA, Port Saint Lucie, FL. Starting in 1998 the numbers of Saiga's imported by them increased until 1999, when European American Armory (EAA) took over the importation of Saiga's. EAA imported Saiga shotguns in 12, 20, and 410 gauges. All the Saiga shotguns had the same black plastic stock and forearm as the Saiga 7.62x39mm rifle until 2003 when some Saiga 12's were imported with a brown plastic wood grain stock. These guns are presently not being imported. It seems likely, particularly in view of the changing political climate, that these guns will soon be banned. Anyone who wants one, had better get it soon.
The Saiga series differs from the standard Ak in several respects. The trigger group is different, as is the rear portion of the receiver. These changes were made to make it impossible to install full auto parts, or to replace the sporting stock with one of military style. The furniture is of black plastic, and is styled after that of a classic sporting rifle. In addition, the Saiga, in holding true to it's sporting emphasis, has a side rail mount, for a scope. These guns also feature, even in the shotgun versions, a standard set of rifle sights. In many ways, this is a much better gun, than the standard AK from which it was derived. These changes also permitted these guns to be imported, even through much of the clinton assault weapon ban. The finish on these guns is a black powder coating, which can be a bit rough. This is better looking than a parkerized finish, but not quite up to the level of a good blue.
The side rail mount is the Russian answer to the rather flimsy construction of the stamped receiver cover, and to the fact that this cover is removed as a part of normal cleaning. So thin is this cover, and so variable is it's location after reassembly, that the Ak-47 does not even have it's open sights located there. The open sites are towards the front of the main part of the receiver. Still, there are some individuals, or situations, which might require the mounting of a scope. The rail mount is a substantial piece of milled steel, mounted securely to the unbroken left hand side of the lower receiver, which in turn mounts the barrel. The scope mount attaches very securely to this mount, pivoting, and locking securely in place.
Though the rail mount may be of some use for the rifle version of these guns, I see little point in mounting a scope on a shotgun. Interestingly, the shotgun version of these guns also retains the open sights of the rifle, which can be very useful to the slug shooter. The open sights, along with a nice 5/8 ounce slug would make this a dandy gun for the deer hunter, and a great defensive shotgun, particularly with the semi auto action, and five round (or better yet, eight round) detachable magazine. The choke gauge of the dealer that sold me the gun, indicated a modified, or improved cylinder choke, on this particular example. What this means, is that slugs may be fired through this gun, with no worry of destroying the barrel. So these iron sights may come in very handy indeed. the front sight is, fittingly enough, a bead, and the sight radius, as with all AK rifles, rather short, in this case being only 9". Neither site is adjustable, the front being brazed to the barrel, and the rear being mounted in a dovetail, which will permit adjustments by drift. Still, the AK series was never really designed for precision shooting, making the sights perfectly adequate, particularly for a shotgun.
The magazine release, cocking lever, and safety will all be familiar to anyone who has handled a standard AK-47. Though the gun is based upon the Ak action, there are some differences. It is not simply a matter of installing a shotgun barrel on an AK receiver. The most obvious external difference is the addition of an adjustment for the gas regulator. The adjustable gas regular permits the gun to use either standard or magnum shells. Setting 1 is for heavy loads, while setting 2 is for lighter loads. If you take the gas plug completely out, you will see a slant on a section of its inside edge. If you compare this location of the gas port in either position, you will notice that position 1 will allow less gas down the gas tube than position 2. Selecting setting 1 with light loads may cause failures to feed, while using setting 2 with heavier loads will eventually damage your gun. The setting may be changed using a coin. Some versions of the user manual have reversed the order, stating that setting 1 is for lighter loads. These manuals are in error.
In addition to the correct gas regulator setting, you should also use the correct magazine. Magnum magazines are marked 20 x 76, while standard magazines are marked 20 x 70. The 76 magazines are claimed, by the manufacturer, to be able to chamber either size shell, which makes one wonder why the 70 magazines are produced. At any rate, all of these guns are designed to take either magazine, and there is no separate model for the standard or the magnum shells. The magazines are of plastic construction, except for the springs, and some stiffeners at the feed lips. These magazines can actually be kind of hard to load. It is not so much the spring pressure, as it is the rims on the shotgun shells themselves. These rims tend to hang up on the bases of the other shells. It takes some getting used to. In addition, it is probably not a good idea to keep these magazines loaded for any length of time. Unlike the brass cases of pistol and rifle rounds, the plastic or paper cases of shotgun shells can deform, causing failures to feed. Saiga recognized this problem early on, from experiences with Russian security forces. Their solution was to offer a series of all metal shotgun shells. This is not an issue with all shells, and seems to be related to the thickness of the walls in plastic shells. paper shells should not be used at all in these guns. The standard magazines hold five rounds, with two shot hunting magazines, and eight shot extended magazines available. Ten round magazines are produced, at the factory in Russia; but their importation into this country has never been allowed, as our betters do not consider them to have any sporting purpose.
As of this writing, magazine prices, for the standard five round box, stand at around $30 each. This can only go up, as importation is no longer allowed, and further restrictions on magazine fed semi auto shotguns are considered. ten round magazines are unavailable in this country, from Russia, and I am aware of no domestic producers. I may attempt to convert some 308 magazines from my HK rifle; but I hold out little hope. The eight round magazine are ridiculously expensive, at over $100 each. In the meantime, I have purchased four extra magazines, which should be plenty.
Magazines load, AK style, by sliding the back in and then rocking the forward section up. The 20 gauge Saiga requires that you actually push the magazine pretty hard. As with loading, magazine insertion requires a bit of practice. I worry about the plastic magazine body, and the metal magazine clips on the gun. I have never had good luck, mixing plastic and metal, having found that the metal generally wears away the plastic part. Time will tell.
All other considerations aside, these are great performing guns. They can sustain a pretty rapid rate of fire, which should be no surprise, considering that this action type was designed for full auto fire. They are also exceptionally reliable, and durable, assuming that the shooter has set the gas regulator properly. This too, should be no surprise, in view of the long history and reputation of the Ak series. Though these are shotguns, recoil does not seem particularly harsh, probably because of the gas action, though the weight, and geometry of the gun may also be contributing factors. This, despite the fact that the standard gun includes no recoil pad. These guns are fun, and easy to shoot. Every one who sees it out on the trap range, or in the field, ask about it, and seems to want one.
The Saiga vs. the classic AK-47
The initial versions of the Saiga sporterized AK action were chambered in rifle calibers. The actions were sporterized, as was mentioned above, by moving the trigger group back, and changing the stock. Still, the basic action remained the same. When converting the action to fire shot shells, more extensive modifications needed to be made. A shot shell is larger, and generally heavier than a rifle cartridge. it also has a flat nose, as opposed to the round tip of a bullet. In addition, shot shells work at lower pressures than rifle cartridges, which is why shot shells can be made from paper or plastic, as opposed to the metal cartridge case of a rifle shell.
Outwardly, the Saiga is longer, and a bit plainer than the AK; but it weighs less. It has it's sights mounted on the handguard, and uses a plain notch rear, as opposed to the ladder adjustable rear of the military AK. These outward differences give the series a more sporting feel, and a less threatening look. Both rifle, and shotgun versions share the same appearance; but the shotgun versions have some additional internal modifications.
A special multiple finger guide is used to position the flat nosed shot shells into the chamber, while a large, flat bolt face has a pair of prongs designed to grasp the rim of the shell. The repositioned trigger group permits the use of longer magazines, allowing for the chambering of full sized rifle cartridges, and shotgun shells. The bolt of the shotgun version is wider, and heavier, and sits in a longer bolt carrier. The piston, which rides ahead of the bolt carrier, is shorter and lighter. The shotgun versions have an adjustable gas regulator, to permit the use of lighter loads, and to prevent the destruction of the bolt while using heavier loads. There is a cut out in the bolt carrier, to lighten the piece.