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(This is a reader gun review contest entry, click here for more details – enter by December 19th!)

By J. Law

Conventional wisdom is that shot for shot, a shotgun provides the ultimate in close quarters fight stopping power. For a fairly scientific and visual analysis of why that is, see this video. Due to the shotgun’s superiority over the handgun and even the rifle in close range destructiveness, many people recommend a 12- or 20-gauge shotgun for home defense. Indeed the only reason many would NOT recommend a shotgun for concealed carry is that it’s difficult for most people to routinely conceal a shotgun. Problem: even most “tactical” shotguns are merely adaptations of sporting shotguns that were never designed with combat in mind. They were originally designed to mount and swing well in a wide open space for bird hunting, clay target competitions, etc. . . .

For indoors close quarters combat, they’re long, heavy and poorly balanced for the kind of movement that’s required in an unpredictable, chaotic fight. My training with John Perkins as well as with recent veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan has taught me that real combat in close quarters, as has been faced recently by our troops clearing structures in Iraq and elsewhere, can get incredibly chaotic, making the ability of the combatant to react and move quickly and fluidly with an effective weapon the difference between life and death.

We have found that long guns with handling characteristics more similar to a pistol than to a full-sized rifle are optimal for this kind of action, even if they are not as good for long range precision shooting. Properly set up and balanced bullpup weapons have the advantage, facilitating ultra-fast and precise movement while minimizing encumbering size and far-from-center weight while maintaining longer barrel length for optimum ballistics (more of a concern with a rifle than with a shotgun). A bullpup that can be shot from either shoulder is of course best, whether because of its mechanism or its ergonomics.

The short barreled shotgun (barrel shorter than 18”, red tape and tax stamp required for private ownership) attempts to correct the long and heavy criticisms of conventional shotguns, but standard 14” barreled SBSs are still fairly long and poorly balanced for fighting. The pistol grip-only shotgun (no shoulder stock) again attempts to correct the length issue, but by eliminating the shoulder stock you eliminate many of the advantages of having a long gun rather than a pistol, namely improved pointability, accuracy and control via four widely spaced points of contact (shoulder, cheek, strong hand, weak hand).

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Another problem with conventional “tactical” shotguns is the tube magazine. Max capacity is only six or seven 2 ¾” rounds on an 18” barreled shotgun, fewer for a short barreled shotgun. Reloading needs to be done round-by-round. While some tactical instructors may try to extol the virtues of such a system for “keeping topped off” or changing ammunition type, if it were such a great system why isn’t it used on any other modern military small arms? The tube magazine system is completely different from all modern combat arms (which are nearly all fed from detachable box or drum magazines, or belt-fed), and they are difficult to manage under stress.

In 3-Gun matches, it is generally acknowledged that the shotgun race is primarily a reloading race, and one of the differentiators between Tactical and Open class is the reduced reload time in Open made possible by the allowance of shotgun speedloaders that can load multiple rounds in one swipe—with a lot of practice and maintenance. And speedloaders are decidedly not durable enough for combative purposes, else they would likely be used by at least some military or police units. The only real advantage of a tube magazine over a reliable removable box magazine is that the tube magazine maintains a smaller profile with nothing extending out the bottom of the shotgun. In certain cases this might be important for storage or staging in particularly narrow locations.

Finally, many recommend the slide or “pump” action shotgun for combat and self-defense purposes, the theory being that the slide action is more inherently reliable than any semi-automatic action. Well, again, why don’t we see any slide action military rifles? Modern semi-automatic shotguns are far more reliable than those of the past. Even well-trained slide action shotgun users sometimes short-stroke the slide when under even a little stress and time pressure.

The semi-auto reduces the opportunity for human error in the firing cycle. Dramatic demonstrations in controlled conditions aside, nearly everyone can shoot a semi-auto better (faster and more accurately) than a slide action, particularly under dynamic conditions that may necessitate unconventional shooting positions that can impede good slide action manipulation. The only real advantages of a slide action shotgun over a reliable semi-auto are lower price and the ability to effectively use non-lethal and other nonstandard ammunition that might not cycle a semi-auto.

My first “tactical” shotgun was a nice 18”-barreled Remington 870 put together by AI&P Tactical. I ordered it with an Endine recoil reducing stock to allow longer practice sessions with full power ammunition (the pistol grip also facilitates one-handed firing, limited in effectiveness by the forward balance of the shotgun and of course the slide action), a sidesaddle to hold extra shells, a Modified choke to reduce the risk of stray pellets hitting unintended targets, tritium rifle sights to allow accurate slug shooting in reduced light, and a side rail magazine and barrel clamp to enable attachment of a Streamlight TLR series light to provide reliable white light capability without the weight and expense of a dedicated forearm.

This is a great shotgun that smoothed out quickly with some shooting and is 100% reliable as long as I don’t mess up. However, I quickly realized all of the shortcomings discussed above when attempting to train with it in a close quarters combat role. Due to the length, weight and balance, movement in confined space and fast weapon manipulation (e.g. switching shoulders, adapting to cover and otherwise moving with the shotgun according to the dictates of the situation) felt awkward, slow and difficult compared to similar movement with a bullpup combat rifle (in my case, an FN FS2000) or a short carbine or submachinegun.

I figured that there must be more purpose-driven combat shotguns out there, but my search came up surprisingly short. Guns like the Kel-Tec KSG and UTAS-15 appear to be shorter and more handy than conventional shotguns (judging from what I’ve seen—I’ve never actually shot one), but they retain the tube magazine design (albeit two tubes rather than just one with even more awkward loading) and a slide action that some reviewers think is particularly awkward and easy to short stroke.

In terms of semi-auto shotguns, the only readily available ones presumably designed originally for combat rather than sporting purposes were the Russian Saigas (and the similar VEPRs) and the new SRM16. The Saigas were long and poorly balanced for close quarters movement just like their sporting brethren, and all indications were that reliability and quality were spotty. The SRM16 looked more promising, being a “semi-bullpup” design with the ejection port over the pistol grip (as opposed to behind it on a true bullpup), but it suffered from being new with no track record, some reports of unreliability, and a funky four-tube magazine that requires manual manipulation every four rounds and detailed attention to grip and stance to ensure reliable operation. In one YouTube video, a representative of the manufacturer actually says that you can’t grip the forearm very hard or else feeding may be affected. I’m not sure that I can trust myself to grip a weapon “nice and easy” while engaged in a fight for my life!

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I was beginning to lose hope for finding a good close quarters combat shotgun that met my standards for ergonomics and reliability. Then in my online research I came across a few references (not all of them good) to something called a Kushnapup: an aftermarket plastic stock “shell” for the Russian AK-based shotguns and rifles. I was intrigued! It appeared to offer a bullpup, semi-auto, magazine-fed combat shotgun—pretty much what I was looking for.

I had my reservations though. The shotgun inside the stock was still a Russian Saiga, with its attendant hit or miss reliability. While the installation of a stock Saiga into the Kushnapup stock looked simple enough, it left some items undone, such as installation of a top rail for sights (a more intricate operation that is in fact necessary, as the stock Saiga iron sights become unusable in the Kushnapup) and side rails for a white light—something that I consider necessary on a home defense long gun. And just from looking at pictures and videos of the Kushnapup online, I questioned whether it would actually possess the ergonomics and balance I was looking for. It appeared to be shootable from the right shoulder only, a possibly great drawback. And none of the videos I saw depicted dynamic handling in an enclosed environment.

Two factors led to my decision to go forward with the project: My discovery of Saiga Custom (www.saigacustom.com), and the Obama administration’s executive order banning the importation of Russian firearms, including the Saiga and Vepr shotguns. That executive order gave me a “now or never” kick in the pants, as practically overnight prices on Saiga shotguns and rifles went up and folks started scooping them up while they still could. Some folks think that the ban won’t last forever, but executive orders that relatively few people care about are rarely overturned, and the fact is that only a small minority of Americans has a great thirst for Russian small arms, especially as clones of most of them are available from other countries. Shortly after the executive order was passed, I began an email conversation with Steve, the head honcho of Saiga Custom, that yielded several phone conversations as well.

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Saiga Custom specializes in high-dollar conversions and custom cosmetic and internal gunsmithing work on Saiga and other shotguns and rifles. Front and center on its website was a picture of a thoroughly customized Saiga 12 Kushnapup.

Steve was very quick to respond to my inquiries, and detailed and honest in his replies. I never felt as if he was trying to sell me something; we were just discussing guns like two gun geeks. He gave me factual answers to my many questions based on his experience, good bad and ugly.

I had been told by some that even highly modified Saiga shotguns could still be problematic, but one thing that impressed me about Steve was his promise that every gun that left his shop would be test fired, by him, with a variety of 12 gauge ammunition, from low brass birdshot to full power buckshot. If it didn’t function perfectly, he wouldn’t send it to a customer.

That gave me the confidence to send him a deposit to build me a thoroughly customized Saiga 12 Kushnapup.

Steve did not merely take a stock Saiga 12 and stick it into the Kushnapup stock.

Here is a list of what was done:

  • Reshape and polish fire control group for smooth trigger pull and reliable function
  • Reprofile and polish bolt and carrier and buff rails for smooth, reliable function

(above modifications lower resistance to bolt carrier movement and enable carrier to retain momentum better throughout the firing cycle, improving performance with a variety of ammunition)

  • Jewel bottom of carrier to better hold oil
  • Modify gas ports and gas block and install modified DPH Arms six-position gas plug to enable reliable function with all ammunition from low brass birdshot to 3” Magnum slugs
  • Change recoil spring and polish rails for smooth, reliable function
  • Cut and rethread barrel and permanently install Tromix Shark muzzle brake for overall 18.5” barrel length and overall gun length under 30” (about 5” shorter than a 14” barrel Remington 870 SBS with standard stock)
  • Drill and tap gas block and install sight rail
  • Fit and install SGM butt pad
  • Fit and install JT Engineering magazine well (to eliminate need to “rock and lock” magazines in) and modify six 12-round SGM magazines to work with the mag well, as well as the 5-round magazine included with the Saiga
  • Install side rails on forend
  • Test fire with various ammunition including low brass birdshot
  • One year warranty

From the time I finally placed my order until the time Steve shipped it, less than two weeks had elapsed.

Upon unboxing the shotgun, I was blown away. The ergonomics and balance of the weapon were far better than I had hoped. It shouldered and pointed naturally, balanced perfectly for one-handed manipulation and shooting, switched shoulders nimbly and the foregrip, though odd looking, was very comfortable and well positioned and angled, at least for my build (six feet tall, average build and arm length). The large 12-round magazines did not seem to get in the way during fast handling and transitions, though changing them quickly took a little practice to get used to the size and motion.

With a squared up stance, it actually appeared possible to shoot effectively from the left shoulder, with either the left or right hand on the trigger. The trigger itself was perfect for this weapon, which was a great surprise given the poor reputation bullpup triggers have. The pull had some takeup followed by a smooth, clean roll of about 5 pounds, followed by some overtravel and a good reset. It was much like an enlarged striker-fired pistol trigger that slides straight back rather than pivoting. It would not be optimal on a precision rifle, and it’s probably not conducive to bump-firing or similar uncontrolled silliness, but for a close range combat weapon I feel the trigger is ideal. Steve offers an upgraded fitted trigger with greatly reduced overtravel for additional cost, but I feel it’s unnecessary on a combat weapon. Could potentially make a difference in split second competition I suppose.

I futzed a little with the gas plug during my initial examination of the weapon, just seeing how everything worked and moved. After doing this, I realized that I wasn’t actually sure how to set the gas plug. I didn’t see any clear indicator or witness mark to align the numbers on the plug with, plus I didn’t feel any stops while holding down the button to allow rotation of the gas plug. On the way from my FFL to the range I called Steve about this, and in the short phone call he told me to align the desired number with the “little silver thing”. I had no prior experience with AK-type weapons, so this was all new to me.

Having recently moved to this area from another state, I wasn’t familiar with the local ranges. Where I came from, I had been allowed to shoot any shotgun ammo at the range. Unfortunately when I arrived at the range, I was told only 00 Buck and slugs were allowed—and I had brought only birdshot and #4 Buck. I called another range nearby but they were slugs only. Turns out all the ranges near me allow either slugs only or at most slugs and 00 Buck. I’ll have to at some point venture out to some of the larger outdoor ranges much further from my home to experiment with smaller shot sizes.

Unfortunately this range was selling 00 Buck for more than a dollar per round, much more than I knew I could get it for online, and all they had was a 2.75” reduced recoil load. I bought a few boxes and headed into the range to shoot my new weapon.

The weapon came from Saiga Custom with a top rail only, no sights. I had brought with me a Trijicon RM07 mini red dot sight mounted on an American Defense tall quick-release mount, as well as an Aimpoint H1 4 MOA red dot sight on a medium height LaRue quick-release mount to try out. Unfortunately, the slots in the top rail were narrower than Picatinny spec, so neither mount would fit on the rail. I proceeded to try out the shotgun without sights, merely looking down the barrel. The first couple shots were great, and the shotgun indeed pointed very naturally even without sights (all hits centered on the target). Unfortunately, after the first couple shots, I got stovepipe failures to eject every few rounds. I tried turning the gas plug, lining up the numbers with the closest thing to a “little silver thing” I could find, depressing the release button while turning the plug. Nothing seemed to help. A bit dejected but still hopeful due to the warranty on the weapon and my trust in Steve, I left the range and immediately called Steve again. During this much longer conversation, I discovered that I had been using the gas plug completely wrong:

  1. The “little silver thing” I had been lining the numbers up with was actually just a mark on the top of the barrel from the packaging—the actual silver thing was at an angle above and beside the barrel and visible only with good light when viewed from the front of the weapon (once you learn where it is, you don’t need to actually see it to make adjustments)
  2. By holding down the release button while turning the plug, I had not allowed it to lock into the correct position, versus pressing it only to get the plug started and then releasing it to allow the plug to lock into the next position

So I had basically been positioning the gas plug in between gas settings, allowing very little gas in to operate the weapon. I suggested to Steve that he provide written, photo and perhaps even video directions for dolts like me!

I brought the weapon home and played with the gas plug until I fully understood how it worked and could adjust it without issue. I also disassembled the American Defense mount for the RMR and filed down the crossbar until it would fit snugly into the slots on the top rail. Steve had warned me that while the side rails would work great for a white light, they might not be appropriate for a laser because they angle inward slightly due to the streamlined design of the Kushnapup stock. Needing to see for myself, I mounted a Streamlight TLR2G white light and green laser unit to the left side rail. (I needed to use the GLOCK rail key as the Picatinny rail key again was too thick for the slots in the rail. The Glock key fit perfectly.)

Fortunately, the laser in the TLR2G has more than enough range of adjustment that despite the slight inward angle of the mount, I was able to align the laser exactly where I wanted it in relation to the RMR dot (which had proved to be pretty much “on” for 00 Buck at the range) at “across garage” range. Dry firing and manipulating the weapon with the newly mounted red dot sight and light/laser unit (which on the side rail aligned perfectly for thumb activation with my forward hand from either side), I was very excited to get out to the range and use the weapon properly.

I went to a different range this time that, while it still limited me to 00 Buck and slugs, at least charged a more reasonable amount for ammo. I had brought some Federal TruBall slugs from home and bought some Rio Royal full power 00 Buck at the range. Steve had suggested that to find the optimal gas setting for a certain type of ammunition, keep turning down the gas setting (6 being wide open, 1 being tightest) and firing a few rounds on each setting until malfunctions happen, then turn it back to the wider setting before the one that had the malfunctions. He said that short of maybe firing monster magnums on setting 6, shooting the gun with more gas than was needed wouldn’t harm anything in the short term. After a few rounds of experimentation, I ended up on gas setting 3 and left it there, because it shot so dang smoothly with zero malfunctions that I saw no need to experiment further.

I fired about 80 rounds of full power 12-gauge 2.75” slugs and 00 Buck during this range session, from all of the magazines, with zero malfunctions and zero bruising or discomfort. I fired two-handed, one-handed, from my right and left shoulders with either hand in control, using the red dot sight and using the laser and everything worked perfectly. Shooting from the left shoulder at first was a little intimidating, because when shooting from the right shoulder but watching the ejection port, I could sometimes see a bit of flame blast out of the port, making me hesitant to put my face close to it on the right side of the gun. However, making sure my stance was square and the ejection port was therefore well forward of my face, it was a painless experience and easily doable when needed.

With my longer, heavier feeling 870 with the Endine recoil reducing stock, I cannot go more than 20 rounds of full power ammo without getting some shoulder pain and bruising (not that I stop after only 20 rounds). With the Kushnapup, in this range session I had gone about 80 full power rounds with absolutely no discomfort and no bruising to either shoulder. Between the balance of the gun, the gas system, the SGM butt pad and the Tromix muzzle brake, this thing just does not recoil sharply. It pushes, and you will get moved back if you don’t have a fairly balanced stance, but there is no pain and little muzzle rise. You do notice the blast and flash a bit more, given that the muzzle with brake is much closer to your face than on a normal shotgun, but I find it less abusive than e.g. a 5.56mm carbine, and a pussycat compared to the .50 Beowulf carbine some guy was putting a few rounds through a few lanes over.

I was quite pumped after this range session! I asked Steve whether he thought reliable operation on gas setting 3 with full power 2.75” 00 Buck would translate to reliable operation with full power 2.75” #4 Buck on the same setting, as I’d be unable to test the smaller buckshot (which I favor for home defense over 00) until I could travel to an outdoor range. He suggested it probably would be fine but I could err on the side of caution by using a higher gas setting, just to be sure.

I had ordered some cheap Spartan 00 Buck online to avoid having to pay far higher prices for ammo at the range. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the Spartan ammo to feed well on any gas setting. Every few shots a shell would hang up before entering the chamber. The gun ran perfectly with Remington slugs during that same range session. Spartan 00 is a bit unique in that it uses a low brass shell that appears to be slightly shorter than other 2.75” shells, and when I examined the unfired shells, many of them seemed to have slightly irregular or bulged edges around the front end. This might have happened during shipping or transport to the range. I spoke to Steve and he was surprised to hear this, as Spartan is one type of ammo he regularly uses for testing. I figured that as long as the gun ran well with everything else, it was no big loss. I could get Rio buckshot (which worked perfectly) online for not that much more than Spartan, and the Spartan patterned fairly ugly anyway. I’ll save my remaining Spartan rounds for Remington 870 practice, if indeed it feeds in the Remington.

Steve had told me that he had at least one customer who had shot one of his guns for years and thousands of rounds with no cleaning whatsoever before the gun finally started to get sluggish. The Saiga design, once set up right, generally does not wear out or choke itself so long as you don’t criminally overgas it in prolonged use. That being said, he recommended cleaning every 300-500 rounds, particularly the gas block area where the “puck” slides back and forth to hit the piston. Even though I was not yet close to 500 rounds, I decided to open it up to clean it out of curiosity.

To fieldstrip the Saiga, you have to first open up the Kushnapup stock. I had feared this would be an arduous task, but it’s actually pretty quick and simple. It involves removing five screws with the supplied Phillips bit and gently pulling the stock halves apart to expose the front section and fully access the gas system. The rear portion of the stock that covers the action involves a few more screws. You should keep track of which screw goes where, but I think you’d know it quickly if you put the wrong screw somewhere because the differences in length are stark. I didn’t bother taking apart the rear section as Steve had said the gas system was the important part to keep clean, and you can see and partially access the bolt and carrier through the ejection port and mag well without taking them out.

I noted that after shooting the Spartan ammo, the gas plug had gotten rather stiff to turn, requiring me to span the notches in the plug with a steel punch in order to get leverage to turn it to unscrew and remove it. It was pretty well caked with carbon. I managed to get the gas puck to fall out after pushing it back and forth a bit and brushing out the gas block and cycling the action a few times. Normally if one were to remove the top cover and bolt carrier one could just push the puck out with a cleaning rod. I soaked down the puck and plug with Ballistol, let them sit for a while, then managed to clean off most of the carbon buildup.

Steve recommends using NO oil in the gas system, lest it mix with dirt and carbon to form a sludge that could gum up the gun quickly. He said though that I could use some grease just on the threads of the gas block to avoid the stiffness I got after shooting the apparently dirty Spartan ammo. So I thoroughly dried the puck and plug, put some TW25B grease on the threads, and put everything back together. I left the front sling swivel (a free swinging metal loop at the front of the stock) off the gun when I reassembled it, as I had no need for it and it rattled a bit while moving the gun quickly.

The rear sling swivel on the left side of the stock is available if I want to add a one-point sling, and it does not swing and make noise like the front one did. (Incidentally I would not want to sling the weapon in its current configuration, as the sharp points of the muzzle brake would threaten to take core samples of your lower body should you let the weapon hang and then move at all.) I also took the opportunity to file down one slightly rough spot of plastic along the seam of the Kushnapup stock behind the pistol grip that had slightly irritated the top of my hand—no big deal and easily fixed.

I have examined the gas system after subsequent range sessions with other ammo (not Spartan), and the system has not gotten nearly as dirty, nor has the plug gotten stiff to turn. The puck and plug also seemed to get easier to clean, possibly a result of the Ballistol treatment or perhaps simply because there was much less crud on them. As for the action, I just wipe out whatever I can see via the ejection port and magazine well, and squirt some Ballistol into the hammer mechanism, bolt carrier, bolt and internal rails, and run a Ballistol-soaked 12-gauge Hoppes Boresnake through the chamber and bore a few times. Someday I may get more curious and decide to open the gun up all the way, but I doubt it will be necessary anytime soon.

Given how sedately the gun recoiled, and given I had read that Saigas generally prefer longer rounds for smoothest feeding, I got curious about how it might handle 3” shells. This was something I never would have considered for my 870, given the adequacy of 2.75” 12-gauge ammo and how much the 870 beat me up even with that. I ordered some Remington 3” 00 Buck and #4 Buck, and some Hornady Heavy Magnum Coyote 00 Buck and BB shot. I was curious to see how the two brands would pattern out of the Kushnapup, given the cylinder bore and muzzle brake and the VersaTite wad in the Hornady shells. (VersaTite is basically Hornady’s version of the Federal FliteControl wad, which breathed new life into buckshot for police use due to its far tighter patterning and consequently longer effective range out of cylinder bore police shotgun barrels.)

Shooting the 3” shells on gas setting 3, which had worked perfectly and smoothly with full power 2.75” buck and slugs, functioning was flawless and vigorous, but the increased amount of gas coming out through the ejection port was noticeable and a bit uncomfortable after a few rounds. I ended up turning the gas plug all the way down to setting 1, and the result was awesome. The gun didn’t seem to recoil any more that with the 2.75” shells on setting 3, and the gas coming out of the port was reduced to a comfortable level, even from the left shoulder.

The Remington 3” 00 Buck produced roughly 2-foot patterns at 10 yards—wider than I was expecting. I have not yet been able to test the #4 buck but I would assume for now that patterns would be equally wide if not wider (albeit denser—41 #4 pellets versus 15 00 pellets), as Remington loads it to the same specs as the 00. Some might favor this wide pattern for self-defense at close range, as it would indeed provide the increased margin for aiming error that some people count as a major advantage of the shotgun. Personally, I would be concerned with the potential for collateral damage from stray pellets within my house from such a wide pattern. Therefore, I was curious to next try the Hornady 00 Buck with the VersaTite wad.

With this load from the Kushnapup, I got two-INCH patterns at 10 yards. Very impressive! Assuming they pattern similarly, the BB shot version of this load may be the ultimate home defense load in this shotgun for those concerned about collateral damage. While birdshot is normally not recommended for self-defense due to inadequate penetration, BB shot tends to penetrate beyond the FBI minimum of twelve inches in ballistic gelatin at close range, while rapidly losing penetration ability at extended ranges. While no projectile with adequate terminal performance will fail to penetrate a normal interior wall, the BB shot would likely lose its lethality after passing through multiple barriers far sooner than 00 Buck would.

With the Hornady 3” VersaTite 00 Buck out of the Saiga Custom Kushnapup, using targets with six and eight bullseyes and colored shape aiming points, using either the red dot sight or the green laser, I easily rapidly removed the aiming points precisely with the two-inch patterns at ten yards with almost the same speed and handling as with a bullpup 5.56mm rifle—only I was throwing 12 .33 caliber nickel plated pellets at 1,300 feet per second with each shot (it would be 75 .18 caliber pellets at the same velocity for the BB load)!

In summary, hundreds of rounds and a few months into my ownership of it, I am THOROUGHLY impressed with the 12-gauge Saiga Kushnapup that Steve at Saiga Custom put together for me. Mag changes, handling and rapid shooting all smoothed out rapidly with practice over time as the shooter, mags and gun all naturally became more polished. In my opinion, it may well be the “ultimate” close quarters combat weapon, considering its sheer destructiveness, reliability with reasonable loads and minimal maintenance, and especially its ergonomics, maneuverability and pointability. Many underestimate the importance of such maneuverability in a long gun meant for mobile close quarters indoor use (as opposed to merely staking out a fixed position).

All this capability comes at a price. Steve charged me well north of $2,000 for the shotgun, added parts (including the six tuned magazines), labor, testing and delivery. I already owned the Trijicon red dot sight and Streamlight light and laser. Today, as the Saiga shotguns go up in value due to the import ban, the cost of the package has likely gone up as well. Steve hopes that American manufacturers will step in to fill the void and manufacture American AK-style shotguns if the executive order banning importation of Russian small arms does not go away. Until that happens (if it ever does), if you want one of these, you’d probably do better to buy sooner than later.

Does the average person NEED a tuned up bullpup semi-automatic 12-gauge shotgun feeding from 12-round magazines (or five-round for a more compact profile) with high-end red dot sight, light and laser for basic home defense? Absolutely NOT. In fact, it could reasonably be argued that the average citizen might be BETTER served by the simplicity of a standard, rugged, inexpensive slide action or semi-automatic shotgun with white light, assuming it is proven reliable with the ammunition of choice. Or one could even argue that a handgun or carbine would be a better home defense choice depending on circumstances and the build, training and experience of the individual. (Some would say, “Why choose just one???”)

That said, I find it hard to argue against the pure close quarters combat effectiveness of the Saiga Custom Kushnapup, properly set up and trained with. I look forward to doing more with it in tactical drills and training, as it is literally a joy to shoot for extended sessions with 3” full power ammunition, unlike any other shotgun I have tried (2.75” ammo is cheaper and more practical for high volume shooting of course).

Ratings (out of five stars):

Ergonomics: * * * * *
As far as I’m concerned, this is the ONLY semi-automatic shotgun I’ve found with optimal ergonomics for dynamic close quarters combat. Only way to make it better would be to make it even more left-hander friendly by adding forward ejection, which would of course necessitate an entirely different mechanism. The AK style safety will not please those who like to sweep their safeties on and off several times per second. It’s adequate though for those who, once engaged, use their trigger finger placement as their only safety. Lowest recoil I’ve experienced in a 12-gauge shotgun.

Reliability: * * * * *
Five stars out of five because it has been perfectly reliable with all ammunition tried except Spartan, once the gas system was understood correctly. I debated knocking a star off for the Spartan misfeeds, but realistically anyone willing to shell out the $$$ for this type of weapon will likely take the time and spend the money to identify which loads it likes (or in this case, identify and avoid the one cheap load it does NOT like), and it has shown the ability to be perfectly reliable so long as these steps are taken.

Trigger: * * * * *
Optimal trigger for a combat shotgun in my book, all the more impressive seeing as it’s a bullpup with a long trigger linkage.

Customize This: * * * * *
The gun can be set up however you want by Saiga Custom, including different chokes if you feel you need that for combat (I don’t). My specific gun might have lost a star because the mounting rails are not Picatinny spec. I later found out from Steve that for an additional $50 he could have used a proper Picatinny spec top rail, but I had asked him keep the price down so he had used the cheaper but still perfectly functional rail. If you go this route you can either modify or buy accessories to fit the smaller rail slots. Any of the rail mounted accessories that lock in with a simple screw across the slot (rather than a Picatinny spec spacer or lug) should fit fine.

Overall: * * * * *
In my opinion, the ultimate close quarters combat weapon!

42 Responses to Gun Review: Saiga Custom Kushnapup

  1. Given it’s magazine fed, does it still have an issue with shells deforming? A Saiga I played with during summer would have shells deform due to pressing against feed lips/bolt and negatively impact feeding. Never had an issue with my 870 in that respect.

    • If you want to store it with a loaded magazine, simply lock the bolt open. This keeps the plastic shells from pressing up against the bolt. In my experience it only takes a day or so for the shells to squish enough that they won’t feed. The magazine does not contribute to shell deformation. This does however expose the action to dust collection (not that an AK platform weapon would ever notice a couple dust bunnies). Then all you need to do is pick up the weapon and reach up with you index finger to give the charging handle a little tug. The bolt flies home and you’re off to the races. It’s just a bit of a reach but this can easily be done WITHOUT releasing your hold of the grip. This only applies to non-bullpups though. Not sure how charging the weapon in a hurry would play out with the Kushnapup kit. Probably not that much different.

      Bugs

  2. I have seen so many examples of firearms that will fire slightly out of battery (that especially includes you, Ruger 10/22), that a am not of fan of any bullpup design that situates the chamber mere inches from my eyeball.

  3. Good review except for the Reliability rating. When I read these reviews whether it is by staff or by readers I expect it to be an “out of the box” review. Having to do something other than proper maintenance doesn’t evaluate it’s true performance.

    I also think it is a helluva assumption that an owner would do any tweaking. I’ve known more people than not who purchase some fairly high dollar firearms and either do little to the internals or end up sending it to a gunsmith if they have any real work done on it.

    • Try to improve your reading ability. I’m sorry they didn’t hold you back in 5th grade, because they should have. This is a quick and straightforward read. Or maybe the ADD has given you the attention span of a hummingbird.

  4. Yeah brevity. Wit. I agree with shotguns for home defense. I just wouldn’t feel under gunned with Mossberg 930 with 7,8 or 9 in the tube. Or my pardner pump shotgun 5+1. Fail for this endless rambling review.

  5. That’s an awful lot of perfect scores… are you sure they were not influenced by the investment you have made here?

  6. Good analysis, I plant to get one of these for a sagia 5.56 I have that has to old AK bullpup kit on it, the old one is ok but its not sturdy, this one looks solid. However…

    “Does the average person NEED a tuned up bullpup semi-automatic 12-gauge shotgun feeding from 12-round magazines (or five-round for a more compact profile) with high-end red dot sight, light and laser for basic home defense? Absolutely NOT”

    I take issue with this one statement. I would say the average person needs as much firepower as would be needed for any reasonably conceivable attack.

  7. Long review… wow. I feel like all five stars were somewhat influenced by the fact that you are trying too hard to like a gun you put a lot of money into.

    • Actually the five stars are because I consider it best in class (compared to other shotguns), and I had frankly been expecting less. I had expected a short gun that MIGHT handle okay in a limited number of shooting positions and that would run with preferred ammo. What I got was (for me) a very ergonomic, great handling ambidextrous gun that not only runs with almost any ammo, but makes shooting 3″ Magnum shells easy and enjoyable. Clearly it’s not a “stock” gun–I would never have bought a stock Saiga due to the hit-and-miss reputation for reliability. It’s a thoroughly optimized gun that I received in only two weeks. I think my money was much better spent on this than on just about any other gun for an equivalent price (given my needs and preferences).

  8. A very interesting piece. I may have missed the cost. I imagine it’s much more than my $639 Mossberg 930 SPX which eats every except crappy Fiochi light birdshot loads.

  9. Good write up, your experience with the spartan ammo is sorta why I’m hesitant on a semi-auto shotgun. Maybe one day I’ll give it a try.

    • There’s a video of a guy on Youtube that ran a drum magazine with a kushnapup. From what I could see the drum was awkward as it forced him to have his wrist at an angle and elbow way out rather than inline with the stock like a normal magazine.

    • I found the drum easier to use in the Kushnapup stock than in a regular configuration. My arm rest over and across it comfortably although I do have fairly long arms. I’m not a big fan of drums unless I am screwing around. The only reason I am buying a drum for my Vepr 12 is because it makes Feinstein soil her depends.

  10. Nice review, just a bit long. Could have used more pics, show more detail of the stock and an open view with half removed.

  11. I had a Kushnapup Saiga 12 I built myself. It is a great handling weapon and easy to use an control once you come up with a good method to reload. The only problem was it ran about 90% on each 10 round magazine. I would get one mauled shell. With buck and slugs it ran flawlessly. I tried multiple types of ammo. I sold it last week though to buy a Tavor. I still have a Vepr 12 for my magazine fed fun as it is a better shotgun. It doesn’t like federal or winchester bulk but it runs the Fiocchi loads perfectly.

    • Except that the Russians are not making any money with the ban in place; only other Americans are making money from it.

      Also if you bothered to do any research instead of listening to the propaganda from the MSM you would realize that Kalashnikov Concern had nothing to do with or is benefitting from the Ukrainian crisis. Funny how the entity that IS benefitting from this crisis, Rosoboronexport, has zero sanctions while they actively arm the rebels with impunity. This was just Obama’s way of “doing something” about gun control since he couldn’t do anything in Congress so he went the way all presidents do and that is through screwing over imports. He can get away with that since gun owners like you just like the reviewer described don’t care because it doesn’t happen to guns YOU like. Seems like you agree with Obama on something.

      • *facepalm*
        I’d have a witty response for this, but am too busy trying to figure out how I forgot about the embargo.

  12. Had the Saiga 12. Traded for AK47. Then got the Vepr 12. Night and day. Vepr rocks all around. And can be had not much more than the Saiga currently. I do expect either a foreign maker/makers to run with mag feds or US.Or both. Sanctions rarely reverse or it’s way out in time.
    .

    • Nope never going away. The Chinese rifle, pistol, and ammo ban was supposed to be “temporary” too and now it has beeN going strong for 20 years and counting.

  13. Can someone please explain to me the rational behind both the proscription against short barreled shotguns and the use of silencers? For the life of me I can not comprehend the reasoning. I suspect it ranks up there in stupidity with the ban on spring opening knives. Also, why wouldn’t that Taurus handgun that shoots 410’s fall under that ban on “saw off shotguns”? thanks

    • This requirement was created in the National Firearm Act of 1938. Think about the era. Tommy guns, gangsters, prohibition. Do some reaearch on the Act on Google and in 10 minutes you will know more about the rationale behind it than 99% of the population, including me.

      Don

  14. I have no real interest in this firearm but I liked the review. I do see that you mentioned having an FS2000, though. I’ve been contemplating a bullpup rifle for awhile and I’d definitely be interested in a writeup on yours.

  15. In civilian life, if you’re in a situation that a good ol’ pump action Mav and its 5+1 of 3″ 00 buck can’t solve, then you’re in a situation whose outcome may be too late to change. It may require a step-change in firepower, and probably manpower, that a mere swapout of one shottie for another probably wouldn’t satisfy, anyway.

    • My 21″ Benelli M2 holds 9 rounds. I don’t see how 9 rounds of 000 buck. Each of which could contain between 7 and 10, 9mm, 73 gr projectiles. (Federal Premium 3″ buck contains 10 balls, although most defensive buck rounds have fewer in the interest of having a 2.75″ shell which allows more rounds in the tube and lower recoil)

      I don’t see how that couldn’t solve almost any social situation inside the home.

  16. The biggest problem I’ve heard of with respect to a Saiga as a defensive weapon is that when the mags are left loaded for a length of time, the plastic shells can deform and cause feeding problems.

    I can’t claim first hand knowledge one way or the other because I only load mags for my Saiga just before I’m going to shoot them.

    I don’t know if this is real or just an OWT that has propagated over the Internets. But if this is a real problem, then it disqualifies the Saiga as a real defensive shotgun, no matter how well any particular example runs.

    Any real world input would be appreciated.

    Don

    • I’ll let you know in a few months; I have several mags loaded. It appears that most of the pressure from the feed lips is on the rear (brass) of the shell, not on the more delicate all plastic front. Commenter above suggested that the damage is actually done by having a mag in the gun against the closed bolt–it’s the pressure of the mag spring against the underside of the bolt that causes the deformation. If you store the gun with the bolt open, it’s no problem at all to rack it closed quickly, probably easier (more gross motor) than taking off the safety. That does leave the gun open to debris but if we’re talking home storage rather than field use, probably not a problem. That being said, the gun with mag inserted is too big to fit into my under-bed lock box, and storing it without a mag inserted doesn’t make it very “ready” (loading would take precious seconds, especially in the dark), and my friend offered me a good deal on a brand new recent manufacture KSG, so. . . . Stay tuned! 😉

  17. My gripe with semiauto shotguns was derided up front as just a concern with non-lethal shells, and then the reviewer spent pages and pages trying to get various types and brands of (decidedly lethal) ammo to feed properly. High brass, low brass, bird, buck, slug, high-velocity, reduced recoil, gas valves, bla bla bla. Buy a pump gun and stop worrying.

    The reason militaries and cops mostly use pump guns still is because there’s no such thing as standard shotgun ammo. Even the bizarrest of auto pistol cartridges doesn’t require futzing with a gas valve to make it work properly. With 10mm, you can run 165 grain pills at 40 short & weak velocities, or push 230 grain pills faster than .45ACP. Do it in the same magazine in your Glock 20 if you want. Until someone can make a shotshell system that’s at least that consistent, then it’ll always be an argument between flexibility in shotshell choice (pump) and reduced risk of operator error (auto).

    This is an interesting weapons system. I love a Kalashnikov action and I too hope someone starts making these puppies in the USA.

    • Your comment about no real standard with shotgun ammo is a really great point.

      Imagine if your semi-auto pistol had to be able to work with the equivalent of a mild 38 special round at 180 ft-lbs of energy and a hot .357 magnum with 500 ft-lbs of energy. Thats what asking a semi auto to work with everything is like.

      With that said, I have no doubt that properly worked on, a Saiga couldn’t be made to run reliably on one specific type of ammo. On the other hand (can you tell I’m conflicted) my Benelli M2 as well as my SBE II will both run on just about anything I feed them. In both cases it took a couple of dozen full power duck loads to loosen things up before it would run on the cheap promotional stuff.

      Don

  18. With the ever increasing prevalence of soft body armor being worn by home invaders a shotgun, while quite a devastating weapon in the right circumstances, is NOT going to penetrate even standard soft armor let alone plate armor. Even slugs can be defeated by soft armor albeit with significant blunt force trauma to the target.

    If one has time and room to wield a shotgun one has time and room to wield a semi auto rifle….which WILL
    penetrate soft armor.

  19. looking for the side rail (2″ spacing) no one calls out the hole spacing on the rails. I know the rail spec but these holes are not part of it. where can I purchase the side rail?

  20. I’m new to Russian guns and their clones but I’m thinking of buying a Fury 2 and putting this stock on it. The Kushnapup website says it doesn’t fit converted guns. Can someone explain to me the difference between a stock and converted Saiga/Fury?

  21. Well what do you know. I ended up with one of these guns by accident and reluctantly, in a three way trade for a truck and some parts. It came with a sack of high capacity mags too. I had never heard of a Saiga and still haven’t fired it, but I’m loving the good press. At $225 for the Bull-pup stock it sounds like an obvious “upgrade”.
    Expect to see it on Gunbroker.

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