Saiga semi-automatic rifle

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Saiga Semi-Automatic Rifle
The Saiga-308 rifle
Type Semi-automatic rifles
Place of origin Russia
Production history
Designer Mikhail Kalashnikov
Designed 1990s
Manufacturer Kalashnikov Concern (formerly Izhmash)

(based on the caliber of ammunition used)

Weight 3.6 kg (7.9 lb)
Length 900 mm (35 in)
Barrel length 415 mm (16.3 in)
Width 70 mm (2.8 in)
Height 220 mm (8.7 in)

Action Gas-operated, rotating bolt
Effective firing range 500 m (550 yd)
Feed system Magazine
Sights Iron "Leaf" sights

The Saiga semi-automatic rifles are a family of Russian semi-automatic rifles manufactured by Kalashnikov Concern (formerly Izhmash), which also manufactures the original AK-47 and its variants, Saiga-12 shotguns and Dragunov sniper rifle. Saiga rifles are a sport version of the AK-series rifles, and are marketed for hunting and civilian use. They are sometimes referred to as "Saiga Sporters".


Named after the Saiga Antelope, the Saiga series of rifles is based on the AK-47 weapon system originally designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov. The Saiga platform was developed for shooters who wanted the reliability of an AK pattern rifle in a non-military package.[1]

Originally designed in the 1970s, the first rifles were chambered for 5.6×39mm. The project was not a huge success and only about 300 rifles of this design were produced.[2]

The Saiga was reintroduced in the 1990s and was marketed as a rifle capable of hunting medium-sized game. Improvements were made to the initial design from the 1970s which made the rifle capable of handling more powerful cartridges such as the .308 Winchester/7.62×51mm and the more prevalent .223 Remington/5.56×45mm, 5.45×39mm, and 7.62×39mm calibers. These improvements contributed to the modern line of the Saiga rifles being adopted by many different hunters.[2]

The rifle is currently made in the same plant as military AKs, and imported into the United States by Russian American Armory.[3]

On 16 July 2014 U.S. President Barack Obama signed an Executive Order banning the importation of Russian-made firearms (which include the Saiga) into the United States in response to Russian military intervention in Ukraine.[4][5]

Kalashnikov USA is now manufacturing the Saiga (now called the US132) and other Kalashnikov rifles in the United States, independently of the Kalashnikov Concern in Russia.[6]


A closer look at the trigger mechanism of the Saiga.

The saiga most resembles an AK-74 and the AK-100 series of rifles. It includes a stamped receiver, and 90-degree gas block unlike the AK-47 which has a milled receiver and 45-degree gas block. The use of a third trunnion rivet gives it resemblance to the AK-100 series of rifles Russia is currently exporting. This rivet is not present on the AK-47, AKM, and AK-74, the bullet guide in these designs incorporate an extra appendage which allows the bolt to lock while this Saiga and AK-100's use a single rivet design. Most of the components of the Saiga are similar if not identical to an AK-101, but there are many cosmetic and functional differences between a Saiga and an AK series rifle. On the Saiga there is a pin that is used to secure the front hand guard on to the front barrel assembly and a screw that is used to secure the hand guard in towards the rear. The 7.62×39 version Saiga is unable to accept standard AK-47 (7.62×39, 5.45×39, 5.56×45) magazines; physically the magazine catch will not allow a magazine to lock into place inside of the receiver. The Saiga's magazine catch has a smaller clearance between the receiver than a "normal" AK. This does not allow the larger lug of a non-Saiga magazine to lock in. The AK type magazines can be modified to lock in place, but cartridges may not feed because the Saiga's receiver lacks a bullet guide.[7] The bullet guide allows a round to be pulled from a magazine and then fed into the chamber without being caught on the front trunnion; this bullet guide is specifically built on the lip of the Saiga magazine. Any magazine used that does not have this feature may not feed reliably in the rifle.[7] Another difference of some later model Saigas is that they have a bolt hold open button. The Saiga bolt hold open is engaged by manually pressing a lever near the trigger guard and pulling the charging handle rearward although this feature does not automatically hold the rifle's action open after the last round is fired as seen on the AR-15. Most versions of the rifle lack a pistol grip and don't have a threaded front sight block, making it unable to accept muzzle devices. The trigger and trigger guard of most of the US versions are placed farther back on the receiver than on a typical AK series rifle, and a transfer bar type system is used to release the hammer. This results in the Saiga to have a considerably heavier and grittier trigger pull than that of other Kalashnikov-made firearms.[8]

Design and operation[edit]

The Saiga 7.62×39 rifle disassembled. The charging handle is attached to the gas piston. Also the recoil spring and Saiga bolt are visible.

The Saiga uses the same type of gas system that the AK series rifle uses: Long-stroke piston. A piston is pushed by the force of the gases from the firearm when a round is discharged, and it keeps powder residue and carbon from impeding the action of the Saiga. It is widely accepted that this type of action provides greater reliability than most other semi automatic actions.[9] This piston is located inside the gas tube. As gas is siphoned into the gas tube, the gas piston is sent rearward. While the gas piston is sent rearward, the bolt, attached to the gas piston, is unlocked from the trunion and ejects the spent casing. When the bolt and gas piston reach the rearmost position of the receiver, the recoil spring pushes them forward again picking up a new round and chambers it, and the cycle repeats when the trigger is pulled.[10]

Another key feature cited in the reliability of the Saiga is that the rifle is designed to have loose tolerances between moving parts. These loose tolerances allow more space between the moving parts of the rifle, and they allow the rifle to push any dirt and debris out of the way when the action cycles. All Saiga rifles have a hammer-forged chrome-lined barrel, which influences the Saiga's reliability by making the inside of the barrel more resilient to corrosion and enabling the rifle to withstand more rounds to be fired out of the barrel without an adverse effect on accuracy. This allows the firearms barrel to be cleaned easier than that of a non-chrome lined bore.[11]


Since the expiration of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban in 2004, a wider range of semi-automatic rifles have become wildly popular with marksmen in the United States. The Saiga, a derivative of the ubiquitous AK design, is no exception. Often, firearms enthusiasts will "restore" a Saiga to the configuration of the modern AK-100 series rifles produced alongside the Saiga rifles at Kalashnikov Concern (formerly Izhmash). The goals of these restorations are often as follows:

  • To install standard AK furniture on the rifle- i.e., a pistol grip, military butt stock, and handguards.
  • Gain the ability to accept standard capacity AK magazines.
  • Enable the rifle to be equipped with muzzle devices such as compensators, flash suppressors, bayonets, and suppressors.
Saiga Mk .223 Rem "Tactical Edition"

To achieve this, permanent changes must be made to the rifle. The factory fire control assembly must be removed and replaced with a semiautomatic only trigger group that fits in a standard Kalashnikov rifle. The aforementioned absence of a bullet guide must also be dealt with. A hole must be drilled and tapped in the front trunnion of the rifle so that the bullet guide may be fastened in the receiver. Material must be removed from the magazine latch to allow a standard Kalashnikov magazine to be used. The factory butt stock is removed and replaced with a piece similar to that found on military issue rifles. A pistol grip is installed. These are the basic steps needed to make the rifle consistent with most AK's in function.

Some armorers also take steps to make the rifle even more similar to the AK-100 series rifles. The handguard is replaced by the removal of the factory gas tube. A standard gas tube is used as a replacement, since they have the ability to retain the top portion of the handguard present on military issue Kalashnikovs. The rifle must also be fitted with a lower handguard retainer in order to use a military-style lower handguard component. Both press-on and bolt-on retainers are available, with the press-on versions requiring the removal of the front sight post and the gas block for installation. Finally, the owner may choose to thread the muzzle of the rifle or to install a threaded front sight block to enable the use of muzzle devices. This requires the removal of the front sight block installed at the factory, or removal of the additional material over the muzzle that extends from the front sight block. At the end of this process, a Saiga may not be readily distinguishable from a fully automatic military issue AK-100 series rifle, save the third receiver axis pin required to house the additional fire control parts necessary for fully automatic fire. This procedure is legal in most states, but those with laws regulating "assault weapons" may consider a restored Saiga a contraband weapon.

Such a procedure is not without risk. Damage may occur if the individual doing the upgrade does not take care while working. Furthermore, Saiga conversions fall under section 922(r) of BATFE regulations. 922(r) requires that a "non-sporting" weapon imported to the United States have a certain number of its components manufactured in the United States. Since the Saiga is Russian made, care must be taken to make sure that the foreign parts count after the conversion does not exceed ten components out of the rifle's fourteen. As with all civilian-held firearms in the United States built after 1986, it is a felony to convert, transport, buy, sell, or be in possession of a Saiga with full-auto capability that does not fall under the grandfather clauses of the US government.

Converted Saigas are notable for their "pedigree" among Kalashnikov collectors and enthusiasts. Value is given to the weapon based on the fact that it is made from brand-new parts, as opposed to many commercially available AK pattern rifles, which are commonly built using an American-made receiver completed with surplus or retired parts kits from the rifles of the former Soviet Bloc. As a result, fit and finish on Saigas tends to fall into a higher category than the "de-milled" rifles of Romanian or Polish origin.

Rifles that have undergone more changes to resemble a military-issued weapon are often of a higher value than those that undergo a more simple conversion. These factors all enable converted Saigas to command high prices when sold relative to other civilian-legal Kalashnikov rifles. Such rifles may be sold at two to four times the value of a stock, non-converted factory Saiga.

Saigas are also considered "true" Kalashnikovs, since they are made legally (without design license violations) in the same Kalashnikov Concern (formerly Izhmash) factory where Mikhail Kalashnikov worked. Currently, this is a unique feature of the Saiga, since Izhmash, the Kalashnikov's main producer, states that the vast majority of Kalashnikov-pattern rifles produced in the world today are illegal copies produced without a license.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b Popenker, Max (1999). "Modern Firearms - civilian guns for self-defense, training and hunting - Saiga self-loading rifle / carbine". Retrieved 2010-04-16. 
  3. ^
  4. ^ Lee Williams. "BREAKING: Import of Kalashnikov Concern/Saiga AKs banned by executive order". Retrieved 25 October 2014. 
  5. ^ Breaking: Izhmash & Kalashnikov Concern Now Sanctioned by US Government -, 16 July 2014
  6. ^ Daniel Xu (July 9, 2015). "New American-made Kalashnikov USA Firearms Now Available". OutdoorHub. 
  7. ^ a b Self-Loading Hunting Carbine Service Manual. Izmash. p. 8. 
  8. ^ 'Self-Loading Hunting Carbine Service Manual. Izhmash. p. 31. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ Self-Loading Hunting Carbine Service Manual. Izmash. p. 14. 
  11. ^ 'Self-Loading Hunting Carbine Service Manual. Izmash. p. 20. 

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