California is an interesting and somewhat frustrating state when it comes to semi-automatic rifles. Without getting into the weeds regarding the ins-and-outs of California’s “Assault Weapons” law, suffice it to say that fully functional AR15s are generally against the law to own in the Golden State. This is partially due to the features that generally come standard with the rifle.
So that you might better understand the issue, my AR15 has a pistol grip, a collapsible stock and a flash hider. If any one of these options are installed on a semi-automatic center fire rifle which also has a detachable magazine, that rifle is considered an “Assault Weapon” in California and is a felony to posses. Therefore, in order to make an AR15 legal in this state, one has to either remove these options (hence the invention of such things as the MonsterMan Grip, the HammerHead grip, the Fin and others) or install a device called a “bullet button” which renders the magazine technically non-detachable without the use of a tool (tip of a bullet, ball point pen, etc.).
Since I prefer my AR15 with the offending features installed, the resulting requirement to use a tool to change my magazines renders the AR-15 almost useless as a serious defensive tool in this state. Which brings me to the hunt for a fully functional, yet California compliant modern defensive rifle.
Among the several rifles that fall into the “California compliant” group are the Ruger Mini 14, the M1 Garand, the SKS rifle, some version of the semi-automatic M14 (like the Springfield M1A), the Kel-Tec Sub-16CA, and the Saiga rifle in it’s California compliant hunting version. I’m sure there are others, but these are the most common and the ones that come to mind at the moment.
It’s with this dilemma in mind, that I recently packed up my AR-15 and my Saiga AK in 7.62×39 and headed off to the P2K Range to test their accuracy on the 100 yard indoor range. The Saiga is relatively new to me. It is fully California compliant, so (unlike my AR15) I can use it as a fully functional defensive rifle without any magazine changing limitations. I should also mention that I like it a great deal. That said, I want to make sure that the platform works for me in every respect and that I have confidence in the rifle’s ability to hit the intended target. Thus the reason for the test.
I shot both rifles under controlled conditions at distances of 50 and 100 yards. I was not particularly concerned about point of aim equaling point of impact. That is an issue of adjusting the sights once the desired ammunition is selected. The main concerns in this test were group size, functionality and user friendliness.
The details of the test can be found in the video. However, I have created a short list of my conclusions below for your review.
- Overall performance – Both rifles performed well.
- Reliability – Both rifles functioned flawlessly.
- Accuracy – Both rifles were accurate enough for their intended purpose as personal defense rifles.
- Ergonomics – The AR15 wins here.
- Trigger – Another win for the AR15.
- Sights – The AR15 sights were much better.
- Simplicity – The Saiga wins hands down. Very simple and easy to use.
- Durability – Both rifles are very durable.
- Cartridge – The Saiga in 7.62×39 has the more powerful cartridge.
My conclusion is fairly straightforward. The Saiga rifle works well for me as a Californian. The Saiga is a rugged, reliable fighting rifle that will hold it’s own when pit against any other rifle designed for the same purpose. Best of all, the California compliant version is fully functional with no limitations regarding magazine changes. This is of particular importance in a state that limits your magazine capacity to no more then ten rounds. Additionally, the 7.62×39 is an ideal round for hunting medium size game such as deer and hogs. That permits the Saiga to fill the roles of both a hunting and a personal defense firearm.
I don’t personally like the sights on the Saiga rifle and I found the trigger to be less than stellar. Still, upgrading the sights and smoothing out the trigger are inexpensive and easily accomplished upgrades. The only other thing missing would be a pistol grip. I’d like to have one on the rifle, but the lack of one does not limit the rifle’s capabilities and usefulness in any way. So, if you are thinking about buying a Saiga Rifle, take it from a GunGuy who already has… buy it. It will serve you well.