There’s something undeniably rugged about the AK-47 design. Intended to be used by relatively untrained conscripts and maintained less frequently than Robert’s guns (if that’s even possible) it keeps working under even the worst conditions.

Bringing that rugged reliability and brutal design to the shotgun world seemed like a slam dunk. While other companies have tried none seem to have gained more than a small cult following. Kalashnikov USA, the American counterpart to the Russian arms manufacturer, is hoping that by manufacturing them in the states they can finally crack the code.

reviewed the Saiga-12 shotgun way back in 2011. The gun had some issues — it refused to cycle regular target loads, the fit and finish was relatively poor, and the fact that it was made overseas brought in all sorts of 922(r) compliance questions that I really just did not want to deal with.

In the end I needed to replace a good chunk of the operating parts of the gun just to get it to run common target ammunition, and even then I wasn’t completely satisfied. When Robert handed me the Kalashnikov KS-12 I had flashbacks to hours on end spent trying to get the Saiga-12 to run. I hoped I wouldn’t have the same issues here.

The outside the gun is just like the Saiga-12 series of shotguns, only better. The fit and finish on the gun is far superior to the previous version; rather than feeling like a 12-year-old painted the gun with a combination of black mud and sandpaper, the finish on the U.S. made Kalashnikov KS-12 is smooth and even.

The KS-12’s barrel is a 18″ tube with a threaded muzzle, just like the one on the Saiga series. Instead of using a set of chokes that screw into the inside of the muzzle of the barrel, you adjust the KS-12’s choke by tacking on a muzzle device that performs the same action. While it’s slightly easier to change in the field, it also makes the barrel longer and heavier than needed.

The handguard to the rear is similar to the Saiga series, but likewise improved. The styling is a bit more modern. The handguard includes quick Detach cups for sling attachment points and screw holes for add-on accessory rails.

The operating bits, are also in this area. They’re identical to the Saiga and Molot series of AK style shotguns. In theory, this means that aftermarket parts made for those firearms will fit here as well.

This is also where the iron sights reside — on top of the gas tube. There’s no independent front sight block like on a traditional AK-47; the front sight is simply tacked onto the front of the gas tube. That gives you less than a hand’s width of sight radius, definitely not ideal for precision shooting. Then again, this is a shotgun.

Things have changed a bit in the receiver.

The telescoping dust cover is still present. As the bolt carrier is smaller than the size of a spent shotgun shell, Kalashnikov needed a way to cover the rear of the action, and that’s as good a way to do it as any. The dust cover extension is attached to the recoil spring. It may make getting the bolt in and out slightly easier; it’s a set-it-and-forget-it arrangement.

What isn’t still present: a bolt hold open mechanism.

There was a button underneath the receiver on the earlier Saiga shotguns. Hold that button down, cycle the action to the rear, and the action remains locked open. It was a nifty design but often malfunctioned, sticking open and causing the gun to jam at inopportune moments. Kalashnikov fixed this issue by removing the button and relying on the same safety lever cutout as their other designs.

The pistol grip is another welcome change.

Saiga and Molot shotguns had traditional style stocks. As imported semi-auto firearms, they needed to fit the “sporting purposes” requirements. Pistol grips were right out and only available with heavy modification. The Kalashnikov design is built in the USA, so the pistol grip is built in from the factory.

A standard Russian style optics rail sits on the other side of the receiver. The rail enables a red dot or other optics. The iron sights are usable but an Aimpoint would be pretty clutch on this setup.

There’s a nice stock with another QD sling mount and the shotgun takes standard Saiga magazines. If you already have a stockpile of drum magazines you don’t need to throw them out and start anew.

Jeremy and I took the KS-12 out to the range to put it through its paces, feeding a wide variety of ammunition through the gun.

We started with two versions of slugs: Federal high brass and managed recoil 1 ounce slugs. The high brass slugs worked just fine. The managed recoil slugs worked . . . mostly fine. We had one failure to extract on the managed recoil slugs early on out of about 50 rounds. I’m happy to attribute that to the crappy magazine we were using at the time.

High brass loads in general seemed to work very well. Full power cartridges — we ran 00 buckshot, high speed steel birdshot hunting rounds, and various slugs — were cycling the action perfectly. When we switched things up, the gun started having all too familiar issues.

Low brass loads like the usual trap and skeet target loads (common in 3-gun competitions as well as practice ranges) rarely worked.

The malfunction you see above is par for the course. The low brass load simply doesn’t provide enough pressure to the piston to kick the spent cartridge out of the action and clear the rear edge of the next round on the magazine.

I solved this issue in my Saiga-12 by changing the gas system. I’m hopeful that an aftermarket modification — such as the work done by Lone Star Arms, who lent us this gun — can make the KS-12 run on low brass.

I ran the KS-12 all morning. As long as I was using high brass ammunition it chugged away happily. Shooting one clay pigeon out of the sky after another, the accuracy was good enough for government work. Shooting slugs I was nailing specific rocks at about 50 yards without an issue. In short, for everything you’d want to use the gun to do it should be OK. As long as you feed it well.

The KS-12 is a fine firearm. The fit and finish is remarkably good for an AK shotgun. The action feels smooth compared to the other Saiga examples I’ve owned, and it has some welcome features not on the original. The biggest issue, and possibly the deal breaker: the inability to fire common target loads without swapping any parts.

To me that seems extremely odd. The vast majority of the time shooters are going to want to feed the dirt cheap target loads through the gun, not full power high brass slugs.

Whether for recreational target shooting or 3-gun competitions, high brass ammo is more expensive, more recoil to mitigate, and more annoying to try and find. A lot of people are going to buy the KS-12 expecting it to work out of the box without reading the “high brass only” instructions. They could well give the gun a reputation for unreliability.

When you boil it down though, what you’re paying for is a magazine feeding system. For $100 less you can get yourself a Mossberg 930SPX, a more compact shotgun that will reliably cycle both high brass and low brass shotgun loads straight out of the box, with no configuration changes needed. The KS-12 doesn’t do that. What it does do, however, is feed from detachable box magazines. And that’s pretty cool.

Specifications: Kalashnikov KS-12 Shotgun

Caliber: 12 Gauge
Barrel: 18″ threaded for a choke muzzle device
Size: 44″ overall length
Weight: 8.5 lbs
Operation: Semi-automatic short stroke recoil
Finish: Manganese Phosphate
Capacity: Ships with 1×5 round magazine
Price: $999 – $825 Street

Ratings (Out of Five Stars)
Ratings are relative to other similar firearms. Final score does not reflect the “average” of the categories but instead the overall feelings of the reviewer.

Accuracy: * * * *
There’s a pretty short sight radius, but even so it’s accurate enough for shotgun work.

Ergonomics: * * *
Definitely an improvement over the Saiga and Molot designs. Better ergonomics on the stock, pistol grip, and forend. Not much you can do to improve the receiver but they did do a better job on the finish.

Ergonomics Firing: * * *
The trigger sucks (as do most AK triggers) and the recoil’s stiff, but otherwise it’s a more-than-merely-adequate shotgun.

Reliability: * * *
Get the right ammo and the gun will function.

Customization: * * * *
The Saiga-12 and Molot versions have been on the market for about a decade now, and thankfully everything seems to be compatible here as well. So all those accessories will work from day one.

Overall Rating: * * *
It works. I just don’t see how it works significantly better than anything else. Can’t use cheap ammo, can’t use it in most 3-gun competitions, and it just looks plain wrong on a trap bunker. But if this is what your heart desires then this is probably the best version of an AK shotgun that has ever been shipped factory fresh in the US.

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23 Responses to Gun Review: Kalashnikov USA KS-12 Shotgun

  1. “But if this is what your heart desires then this is probably the best version of an AK shotgun that has ever been shipped factory fresh in the US.”
    Perfect synopsis.

    • Last I heard, there was only one or two shops in the US who did quality work, and they were expensive. Not DIY because it’s easy, but because it’s necessary.

      I may be wrong, though.

  2. Had the Saiga for a while, it was fun at first, then became more of a novelty.
    They’re rugged as a brick but that’s about it.

    Its one of those guns you pass around to your buddies, everyone has it for a bit until the fun wears off.

  3. Yes, but does it have a “shoulder thing that goes up?” Without that, it’s not an ass-ault (or is it ass-hat?) shotgun that you can fire incendiary rounds that cook deer when you hit them.

    But it may be worth buying purely for the apoplexy it will cause the brain-dead anti-gunners in congress . . .

    • Hey, just like flaming arrows in Minecraft! Now I really want one of those guns. Fortunately my state hasn’t gone the gun-ban retard route (yet).

  4. It is common for a a semi-auto shotgun to not cycle properly with wimpy target loads. My Mossberg 930 Tactical has the same issue, while the Mossberg 930 JM Pro version will run target loads all day (it’s made for competition).

    You can make a gun with a weaker recoil spring that will cycle target loads, but if that spring is not strong enough to properly deal with the energy it’s given (high brass shells), it stands to reason that repeated use will damage the gun.

  5. I wonder why they dont use a bolt carrier like the vz 58 and open the top of the action . Allowing more room for spent shells to eject.

    • Short-stroke piston vs full or long-stroke piston. The top is always blocked by the piston rod on an AK (attached to the carrier). The VZ only “taps” the bolt carrier and inertia carries it rearward.

  6. I bought a simple tunable replacement gas plug for my Saiga. Tuned it for target loads, and haven’t touched it since. People make too big a deal out of this. My Saiga cost me $800 plus the cost of the replacement gas plug. I’d much rather have it than pretty much any tube-fed gun out there.

  7. I had a Saiga 12. I ended up selling it. I instead bought a Vepr 12. A much nicer shotgun with more features like a BHO. It kakes reloads much easier as you don’t have to jam it to push that first round down to lock in.

  8. “The trigger sucks (as do most AK triggers)”

    I call bullshit on that. Author must not shoot AK’s at all to make such an ignorant statement especially considering the vast aftermarket out there for AK trigger groups available.

    I find a milspec AK trigger much better to shoot than an AR one especially (ironically) factory Chinese triggers that are highly regarded in the AK community.

    So in short don’t make ignorant statements about guns, like most Americans do about AK’s, that you know nothing about.

    • That statement is obviously exclusive of aftermarket upgrade options. AR triggers sucking worse doesn’t preclude AK triggers from sucking 😉

  9. Had a Siaga , and sold it after the first trip to the range. If you don’t mind a bullpup then get a DP-12. 16 rounds of anything you throw at it. It has eaten every type, style of round I have put through it with zero FTF or any malfunction. I love this gun. You can pump, fire 2 rounds very fast, and another pump 2 more rounds. This can be done very fast and accurately. The gun at first feels heavy, but once shouldered it is ballanced very well. This is my mob dispersing weapon. It is shear firepower. Beats the hell out of the KSG IMHO. Made by a company that has been making high end shotguns for years. Reciever is one solid block of aluminum that is carved out. There is very little plastic on this thing except for the furniture. Sorry to sound like a commercial. I have no affiliation with this company, I just love this gun, due to its quality, and performance. I also love the spring loaded butt stock. Almost no recoil. You can fire all day, and. Not feel the punishment of a regular 12 gage.
    I still love my Benelli Nova Army done completely in NP3.

  10. This sounds like a fun gun to own and a useful one to have, as long as it works, like any gun.

    I read the author’s review of the Saiga, and I’m sorry he had so much trouble with it. I have an older Saiga and it runs like a champ. It’s easily digested everything from slugs to buck to bird and I’ve never had an issue with ejection. It’s very energetic and sends the casings about 6 feet to the right which is an occasion to apologize to other shooters on the range. I do agree that loading a new mag into the gun is a b**tch. But to this day, my Saiga resides in a horizontal rack on the side of my mattress with a light attached in case any uninvited guests show up. It’s too bad the author couldn’t have just reviewed the new gun without feeling the need to slam the Saiga at the same time.

    I watched the author’s original slam review of the Saiga with his accompanying videos of his 3-gun runs, and I have to say it’s entertaining watching overweight guys try to run around like they are John Wick.

  11. It may not even need a tuning. I bought a vepr12 some months ago. They were lauded for being able to digest a variety of loads including low brass something many auto loading shotguns stumble over. Having never much intending on using low brass anyhow I bought it, and the first couple of range sessions sighting in and just torture testing various loads I ran some lows” it ran some an bobeled others…. that was on the first couple outings. Since cleaning it and a lube it has since settled in and runs everything including the low brass just fine even in mixed magazines

  12. It’s great to see these now available in the US, already pistol gripped, and with none of the other “neutering” problems the Saiga 12 had to deal with just to get it here for us. Thanks for the honest review. Sounds about normal to me considering they basically made a direct copy of a converted S-12, with a few added cosmetic upgrades. The lack of reliability with low brass, and the “crappy” feeling AK style trigger are no problem at all for me. It’s designed to run on magnum loads. If you want it to run on cheap target loads the solution is simple. Get the internals tuned up just like Cobras Custom has been proving for years works great on the Saiga 12. The result will be much better reliability with all loads, and an excellent trigger.

  13. The Saiga-12 like you reviewed before was a rough early attempt at an AK shotgun and they went out of style in my country (Russia) a long time ago… have been replaced with the far superior Saiga-12K models, which are equipped with a mag well and other improved features. IzhMash only kept those older models around for the US market, due to their importable shape, continued popularity and after-market support. Also, Saiga-12s (or 12Ks) were never MEANT to cycle low power shells. The US distributors didn’t make this clear enough to the consumers. They can be modified/tuned to work with them, but that’s on you. However, a Vepr-12 is a superior weapon to both kinds of Saigas in multiple ways. It is also probably a much better shotgun than this US made (is it even US made? the product pages mention 922 compliance?), unlicensed (let’s be clear on this: KUSA has NOTHING to do with the Kalashnikov Concern) knock-off. I really doubt that his gun comes close when it comes to materials, parts quality and durability. I am almost certain that, just like with US made AKs (i.e.: Century RAS47), time will show that decent finish is the only thing going for it. Hopefully, they don’t blow up (like RAS47, which also had good early reviews)! I run Vepr-12 a lot and practically never had a failure that could be attributed to the gun. Most of my customers report great results with them as well. It’s a finely designed and made weapon. Molot does a great job. Unfortunately, as far as I understand it, US consumers can no longer get Veprs either, so this KUSA and the Chinese knock-offs are all that’s left? Good luck with them! Maybe, they finally do figure out good US AK?

  14. I have 2 Saiga’s and they shoot everything just fine. I have had zero issues firing them with any type of ammo even the crappy 100ct $25 birdshot cheap stuff at Walmart works great. As for this gun I have yet to shoot so I don’t know. I just remember you were very bias about the saigas.

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