What We Want to Shoot: Saigas

Last week we went on about how we wanted to shoot these cool multi-magazine shotguns, but stopped at the Saiga.  There’s just too much to say about these Russian arms that they deserve their own article.  Saiga is the brand given to modern firearms made by the monolithic machining corporation Izhmash, so as to distance themselves from the Soviet-era style.

That said, make no mistake, these are Kalashnikov-pattern firearms, even the relatively benign-looking Saiga 100, a heavily-modified .308 Winchester/7.62 NATO or .30-06 Springfield AKs for export to countries that would otherwise ban AKs.

Izhmash is the original maker of AKs, so when they tinker with it, it’s not to see if they can make Kalashnikov turn in his sleep.  He himself pioneered the practice of swapping barrels and changing chamberings.  Saigas are the logical conclusion to that.

Saigas (not counting the Saiga-100) are available in four rifle chamberings and three shotgun chamberings, 5.45x39mm, .223 W5.56 NATO, 7.62x39mm, .308 Winchester/7.62 NATO, .410 bore, 20 gauge, and 12 gauge, like this one we just reviewed.  We’ll admit they’re missing a .22 Long Rifle and a pistol caliber carbine but damn, how’s that for a spread?

So there is a caveat.  For all the wonderfulness that is cheap, new, factory-original, modern AKs, there is also the U.S. government, which states that of a given set of long arm parts (they don’t count thinks like pins and screws) a firearm can’t have a high-capacity magazine nor a pistol grip if more than ten of those parts are foreign.

Which means that Saigas come with Monte Carlo buttstocks and 5-round magazines.  But, and we wouldn’t be bothered by them if this wasn’t possible, you can turn them into American-made AKs with all the stylings of evil black rifles but none of the legal bad touch.  It’s pretty simple.  In fact, people who have done it more than once time themselves and compete to see who can convert a rifle in the shortest amount of time.  If you don’t want to learn the nitty-gritty of the law, which is fine because it’s about 200 pages’ worth, there are handy online check-lists to help you.

And it’s precisely that requirement, that the Saigas must have a certain number of U.S.-made parts that has created a wonderful and huge American aftermarket for not just Saigas, but the whole AK platform.  The easiest way to make a Saiga legal is to change the furniture and and use us-made magazines, but most people go with a full conversion and replace the fire control unit.  This way you can also use cheap foreign surplus magazines as well as ridiculously-high-capacity American-made drum magazines.

In order to do this you’re going to need parts.  There’s Dinzag Arms, one of the first great web-based Saiga smiths and pillar of the Saiga community, and dealers like Carolina Shooters’ Supply, which at one point might have handled other firearms but nobody can remember otherwise, and big names like Tapco and Midwest Industries who both make inexpensive, entry-level furniture and high-quality quad rails and optic mounts, respectively.

Other names you should know in no particular order, Cadiz, Arsenal, K-Var, Lone Star, Chaos, Mississippi Auto Arms, Rifle Dynamics, Tromix, and Red Jacket, without Saiga they’d never have wound up on the Discovery Channel.  (Please, we know we’re not including everyone.  Feel free to comment with you favorite Saiga supplier.)

Of course, if you do this, you’re going to want a little help.  Fortunately, there’s plenty.  The two most prominent guides are this and the following video.  But if you’re still confused, here’s a sixpart video tutorial on converting Saigas.

The only question remaining is why do it?  Well, if you want an AK shotgun then your option are limited.  You can do this or get a smith to do it for you at smith for gobs of money.  Or you can buy a pre-converted shotgun from Arsenal or one of the others for even more money.

If you’re looking at some Century AKs and think, well, shit, that’s a way better deal than a Saiga that I have to then spend money on and all that just to get it to look even vaguely similar, well, you’re right.  But with a Saiga, you’re getting a new gun and one that you’ve made yourself, (or at least paid someone to do it whose reputation is on the line) you’re not getting a used gun that was assembled by someones who’s heart wasn’t in it.  This way, not only to you get to take an inexpensive but battle-proven firearm and make a custom rifle or shotgun yourself, you get intimate knowledge of how it works.

The Saiga really connects with a lot of people and that’s because you don’t just buy one, you build one.  It truly is your firearm.