Test: Izhmash Saiga MK in 7.62x39 mm – On the shooting range with the civilian Kalashnikov

Sooner or later, every fan of semi-automatic rifles will feel the desire to own a civilian version of the legendary assault rifle designed by Mikhail Kalashnikov in the original 7.62x39 caliber. If, moreover, you want it Russia.made, you will quickly end up with the Saiga models from the Izhmash. In addition to their proverbial reliability and ruggedness, the MK models feature practical equipment details that make the carbine more ergonomic and practical.

Saiga MK – An icon from Izhmash?

Our test gun is a Saiga MK 7.62x39 Version 33, a civilian variant of the AK-104. This shortened model has an internally chromed barrel with a length of 13.4”/341 mm. The sister Version 30 has a standard barrel length of 16.3”/415 mm and is a replica of the AK-103. These semi-automatic rifles are also offered in .223 Rem., .308 Win. and 5.45x39 mm calibers. We immediately liked the high quality workmanship – it is unlikely to find anything of equal quality among AK clones from other manufacturers. The model series consists of a painted stamped metal receiver and a black synthetic stock. The rear stock made of stable polymer can be folded up on the left side of the receiver.

Izhmash Saiga MK 7.62x39, version 33 right side view
The Saiga MK offers reliable ruggedness and a high standard of quality. The visual appearance is both classic and modern at the same time.

Also on the left side of the receiver is the typical slide-on mount for optics such as a PSO riflescope or a Picatinny rail. The slide of the open rear sight can be adjusted up to 500 meters and is the same as that of the Kalashnikov AK-104/105. The handguard made from durable polymer has a MIL-STD-1913 Picatinny rail on the right side and on the underside. Practical for attaching a bipod or a short vertical grip, for example. A flashlight can also be conveniently fitted. Also eye-catching is the enhanced safety lever, which can be operated quickly and conveniently with the trigger finger. In contrast to the enlarged retrofit lever from the US supplier Krebs Custom, the factory lever fortunately does not have a recess to hold the charging handle in the open position. Thus, when the gun is secured, the gap in the receiver remains protected from intruding foreign bodies.

Muzzle brake of the Izhmash Saiga MK 7,62x39, version 33
The AK-74 muzzle brake noticeably reduces muzzle flip and allows for quick shot strings.

No less useful are the internal modifications. A riveted ramp in front of the cartridge chamber and the adapted magazine release allow for the use of standard military magazines. With older Saiga rifles this was not possible without reworking. A further special feature is a factory fitted trigger lock which prevents the rifle from being fired when the stock is folded. In our tested short version, the muzzle brake was glued and pinned to ensure the legally required minimum length for long guns. Different muzzle attachments are also available – for example the funnel-shaped muzzle brake of the AK-104 in AKS-74U style. The replacement of the pistol grip is recommended too. By changing the grip angle and thickness, the ergonomics are again significantly improved. Grips from US manufacturers Magpul and Tango Down are suitable for replacement. Both have a pleasant texture and each offer an integrated capped storage core. The Magpul MOE-AK is more suitable for shooters with smaller hands, the Tango Down BG-AK for larger hands – in the end, personal preferences decide. As for optics mount, we had the inexpensive Double Rail Side Mount #987 by UTG at our disposal, which we equipped with an Aimpoint Micro. The quick-release mount can be easily fitted to the factory installed mount of the Saiga. We also recommend the proven AK mounts of the US suppliers "Ultimak" and "RS Regulate".

Saiga MK specs and price:

Model:Saiga MK 7,62x39, Version 33
Price:1500 euro (price may vary in your country)
Action:Long-stroke gas-operated system with two-lug rotating bolt
Barrel Length:13.4”/314 mm
Stock:Black polymer, can be folded on the left side, handguard with two Picatinny rails
Included:10-round Magpul PMag box magazine, oil bottle, cleaning set, cleaning rod, operating instructions,  manufacturer's certificate
Safety:Safety lever on the right side of the receiver, can be operated with the trigger finger
Optics mounts:PSO mount on the left side of the receiver
Overall Length:33.4”/850 mm
Weight:6.9 lb/3.15 kg

On the shooting range with the civilian Kalashnikov:

Izhmash Saiga MK 7,62x39, Version 33 disassebled
Simple design of the Kalashnikov clone: long stroke gas operating system with rotating bolt, recoil spring and dust cover.

On the 50 m line the Saiga was fired with the red dot sight. The author succeeded in achieving a nice 0.7”/18 mm 5-shot group with the Barnaul 123-gr FMJ load. Lying on the ground, with a rapid string of shots, beer mat-sized groupings could be consistently achieved. The trigger corresponds largely to the military model and can be described as good for a utility weapon on Kalashnikov platform. Afterwards, various static and dynamic standard drills were completed. We found the locking and unlocking by means of the enhanced safety lever to be extremely pleasant. Finally, the VTAC ½ & ½ Rifle Drill was shot. This demanding drill was completed without any mistakes. Muzzle flip was moderate due to the effective muzzle brake. In combination with the short, crisp trigger reset travel, quick follow-up shots were possible. 

Safety lever Izhmash Saiga MK 7,62x39, version 33
The safety lever on the Saiga MK is equipped with a 15 mm wide, checkered side tab.

During the test, magazines from Magpul, Tapco and various military magazines were used. As expected, no malfunctions occurred. The price of our test gun is 1500 euro - not exactly a bargain for a semi-automatic rifle on an AK platform. However, due to the high manufacturing quality and the contemporary equipment, the Saiga is worth every single euro.

Saiga MK 7.62x39 Version 33 Kalashnikov clone: wrap-up

With the Saiga MK you get a piece of "Made in Russia" firearms history. Uncompromisingly designed for reliability and ruggedness, the semi-automatic gun is a faithful companion for practical use. The modifications of the MK series offer a useful added value. The high quality standard is also convincing. All in all, the Izhmash carbine was a pleasure to use on the shooting range. Anyone who is thinking of purchasing a civilian classic AK should take a closer look at the Saiga. It is worth it!

Here you can find more information on the legendary designer Mikhail Kalashnikov.

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