Gun Review: Lone Star Arms Performance Tuned KS-12

I’m not a fan of the AK pattern 12 gauge semi-auto shotguns. I reviewed the original Saiga 12 back in 2011; I was not pleased. Last year Kalashnikov Concern released a version of the same firearm called the Kalashnikov KS-12 which fixed some of my complaints. But it still didn’t reliably cycle common ammunition. Lone Star Arms thinks they have fixed all the issues with their Performance Tuned KS-12 . . .

To save myself from early onset carpal tunnel syndrome I’m going to assume you know about the KS-12 shotgun (review here) and talk about the changes Lone Star made to improve it.

Lone Star adds a rather large muzzle brake to the KS-12’s barrel. For shooting high brass ammo and slugs the muzzle brake makes all the sense in the world, reducing some of the shotgun’s significant recoil. Your range buddies may not enjoy it; the brake deflects some of the KS-12’s gas to the side and straight into nearby faces.  Unless you’re planning to stick a suppressor on the front the brake is a highly desirable option.

Further up the barrel we find one of the gun’s major improvements: the gas system.

According to LSA the firearm has been “refined, honed, and tuned” for peak performance with all types of ammunition. According to folks at the factory they polished the internal components to make it work a little bit better but I can’t tell from the outside since they use the same adjustable gas plug as the original version. Nevertheless the proof is in the shooting. Which I’ll get to in a moment . . .

The standard KS-12 has a polymer handguard. The LSA version sports a nifty quad rail configuration.

The set-up provides some extra space between your hand and the barrel, preventing paw roasting when the barrel heats up. Which it no doubt will.

The rails also create sufficient space for every rail-compatible toy you have sitting on your shelf. As many KS-12 buyers are likely to lean towards lights, lasers and mini-Keurig machines, I’m putting that one in the “win” column.

What I really appreciated about the gun: the full length rail system along the top.

Some versions of improved Saiga firearms have either a Picatinny rail mounted directly on the dust cover or lazily make use of the Russian accessory rail on the left side of the firearm (removed in this version of the gun). LSA’s take has  two parts, a hinged full length Picatinny rail and a dust cover that slots on underneath.

LSA’s mod works. There’s a set of HK iron sights along the top that co-witness with a flat-mounted red dot. If you prefer to just use the dot it’s nicely placed in your line of sight.

I appreciate not having to worry about re-zeroing my gun after each cleaning; the hinge keeps everything in line. I was a little concerned about the dust cover underneath, but as long as you slot it on first and then close the hinged portion it’s easy as pie to install and remove.

On the inside things are all shiny. LSA slathered the bolt carrier in chrome, and pimped-out the trigger assembly. I’m sure that reduces the fouling, improves reliability and makes cleaning easier, but I did have to take a second and ask myself “this is a combat shotgun, right?” It’s kind of like putting a big reflective sign on your stealth fighter.

For good measure, LSA altered the bolt. Possibly as a result of the “two is one and one is none” school of thinking there are now two charging handles coming off the bolt carrier; one in the regular location with a larger knurled knob on it and a second smaller version on the back side. To get everything working right LSA needed to slice out a section of the dust cover. That kind of defeats part of the whole reason it exists, but whatever . . .

The KS-12’s modded dual charging handles are another welcome addition. A right handed shooter can work the gun with their non-dominant hand while keeping the dominant hand on the fire controls. Just the way Chris Costa (his name be praised) says it should be.

I’d appreciate the set-up a little more if the other charging handle had the same larger knob on it. Using it as-is hurts a little bit, since all the force of working the action is focused on a very small footprint on my palm.

On the back of the shotgun LSA’s lopped off the traditional stock and fitted an AR buffer tube and Magpul stock. Not bad at all.

The bolt hold open, not so much.

If you look near the trigger on the right hand side of the LSA KS-12 you’ll notice a small bump. That’s the push button enabling the bolt hold open feature. From an operational standpoint it works like the bolt hold open feature on an M1 Carbine.

The original Saiga 12 shotgun was dinged for the bolt hold open function. It would engage at inopportune moments, such as when the shooter was trying to empty their magazine as quickly as possible. That’s bad if you’re showing off to your friends, in the middle of a competition shooting stage, or engaging in a life-or-death defensive gun use.

Kalashnikov USA removed this function when they introduced the KS-12. A bolt hold open isn’t something that you’d expect on an AK pattern firearm, and the added reliability issues were too high a price to pay for the minor convenience factor.

LSA retrofitted their modified KS-12 with the bolt hold open. While I didn’t notice any resulting reliability issues, there it is. Again.

LSA touts their modded shotgun as a super-low-recoil shooter, minimizing the felt recoil on the shooter’s shoulder, maximizing the rate of fire. Unfortunately, the tuned KS-12 doesn’t particularly like lower recoil ammunition.

Truth be told, I tested the shotgun with everything I could find. Feeding the KS-12 slugs and buckshot everything works as advertised. It generated appreciably less recoil than with my traditional semi-auto shotguns. When I sashayed over to the skeet range and loaded the LSA KS-12 with target ammunition the shotgun cycled lighter loads — but not with 100 percent reliability.

As you’d expect for a $3,623.50 firearm — whose base model runs around $900 — LSA has done a whole lot of high-quality work modifying the KS-12. If you want/need to put a ton of rounds on target quickly and comfortably the LSA modded shotgun is an excellent choice. Our test gun may need some further tweaking, but as is, it didn’t cycle lighter loads with enough reliability to make it a competition shooter’s dream-come-true.

SPECIFICATIONS:

 Lone Star Arms Performance Tuned KS-12 Shotgun

Caliber: 12 Gauge
Price: $3,623.50 (as tested)

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: * * * * *
I’m happy. The full length Picatinny rail on the top is definitely an improvement.

Ergonomics: * * * *
The front quad rail setup is a little bulky, but overall the ergonomics have been improved. Much easier to shoulder, and definitely easier to adjust for each shooter.

Reliability: * * *
Get the right ammo and the gun will function. I also don’t like the bolt hold open tab, I’ve been disappointed in the past by that part on my Saiga 12 and I’d prefer to not have to go through that again.

Customization: * * * * 
I added a star for the ridiculous amount of rail real estate, but took it right back off again. All the customization has been done already and some of the modifications mean that standard parts will no longer work.

Overall Rating: * * *
It’s definitely better than the original Kalashnikov KS-12, but the price for quality is plenty steep. (Items can be ordered a la carte. The LSA version still has issues with lighter loads, but there are some great features. This is a gun designed for one specific job and does it well. Just don’t expect your race horse to be very good at math.

comments

  1. avatar pwrserge says:

    For that money you can get a legit M4 and convert it over to a full size big-boy magazine tube.

    1. avatar Tom396 says:

      Exactly this.

  2. avatar Tile floor says:

    Over 3 grand?! God almighty!

  3. avatar Defens says:

    Hmmm. Antique commie technology for around $3K. What shall I buy? A 12-ga. oddity shotgun, or a six-pack of used Yugos? https://www.autotrader.com/car-video/heres-why-the-yugo-is-one-of-the-worst-cars-ever-made-259789

  4. avatar little horn says:

    yeah, no. i will never buy something with a gaping whole in the receiver. mightas well get a chautchaut

    1. avatar Prudiikal says:

      The original Chauchat was fine, it was the magazines that were crap. they were flimsy and would easily bend and had huge holes mud would get into. the gun itself was really good. the 30-06 version though was a pos and is the main reason why a lot of people think the chautchat sucked

  5. avatar Soylent Green says:

    For that kind of money, I think I’d look into the stuff Dissident Arms makes from the VEPR-12’s, which they call the KL-12. Maybe a little more competition focused too, which is about all I would ever use a foreign made magfed shotgun for.

  6. avatar Tom in Oregon says:

    My Mk 1919 works just dandy for 800 bucks.

    1. avatar Soylent Green says:

      My MK1919 Match was about $500 some a year ago, but it’s now go had a bunch of Tooth and Nail parts added to it along with a Witt machine brake. These kinds of guns don’t stay stock for long

  7. Our services start at $1,100 for a complete tear-down and high performance rebuild. Bling is absolutely optional, as are the custom features used on this gun.

    There is no factory. Its just me. My customers send me their personally owned KS-12, Saiga 12, and Vepr 12 shotguns, and I build each gun individually for the customer, according to the customer’s desired configuration. I built this one for me.

    Prior to taking this shotgun hog hunting, all of that beautiful bling will be refinished in the same non reflective flat black Norrell Molly Resin used on the rest of the gun.

    Nick is correct that this particular gun was not designed as a competition gun, and was purpose built. But as a nighttime hog killer rather than a combat gun. I’ve built combat guns for law enforcement and military clients, but those will typically be lighter, without the additional weight and cost of extensive rail systems and hydraulic recoil mitigation, and depending on intended use will usually employ a breacher rather than a brake.

    If you want one that cycles nearly everything, I build them for my customers every day. The performance work isn’t cheap, but if you shoot a lot of 12 gauge, the reduced cost of operation with cheaper low base ammo will pay for the mods pretty quickly.

    The aftermarket parts ticket is a big part of build cost for the gun Nick reviewed above. I can build them with or without the bells and whistles (and this one had them all).

    Prior to sending the gun out to TTAG, this particular gun was range tested with Sellier and Bellot 9 pellet 00′ buck. Range test footage follows:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hDjOBuaigWI

    Note for hall monitors: Brake shown in the video was swapped out for a Lone Star Arms LLC ‘Recoil Buster’ brake prior to shipping the gun to TTAG.

    1. avatar Joe in San Antonio says:

      Seems like a nice gun, I am not in the market for a semi shotgun but if I ever am I will look you up.

  8. avatar rocketscientist says:

    Is there any truth to the idea that any single-stack magazine full of plastic shotgun ammo will inherently turn those cylindrical rounds into square-ish over time and cause risk of feed problems since the chambers stay round? seems to be the only thing that worries me about mag-fed shotguns. Plastic ammo stacked against spring pressure on top of one another. perhaps this is just a bad rumor….but magazines are useful because they can be pre-loaded and left for long periods of time. be a shame if doing so caused reliability issues (besides the reliability issues Nick mentions).

    1. Provided the shells are of of good quality they’ll hold their shape in the magazine pretty much indefinitely.

      The exception is the top shell which may deform if left loaded and in contact with the bolt for an extended period of time. We sculpt and relieve the bolt to mitigate this, and the mod works very well.

      The workaround for an AK pattern shotgun which has not had bolt work done is to simply use a slug as the last round loaded into the box mag or drum.

    2. @Rocket Scientist, re: Nick’s reliability concerns

      Nick’s concerns with the bolt hold open on the Saiga 12 Nick owned ‘back when’, are not an issue on the test gun. The fix for this was very simple, very effective, and was something that the Russian Izhmash factory could have easily corrected (but didn’t) on US export model Saigas.

      To completely eliminate any BHO reliability issues, all the factory had to do was notch the area of the bolt hold open where the spring rested, so that the spring would not slip off the BHO lever. Such a simple thing.

      Nick stated the following in his review: “Feeding the KS-12 slugs and buckshot everything works as advertised. It generated appreciably less recoil than with my traditional semi-auto shotguns.”

      With regard to lighter target loads, when I sent the gun out to TTAG for T&E, I also sent a detailed email which stated clearly:

      “During range testing for your [test] gun, I used Winchester AA, 3 Dram, 1 Oz., 1350 FPS, and Estate Heavy Game Loads 3 1/4 Dram, 1 1/8 Oz., 1255 FPS, #6 Birdshot. The Estate Heavy Game Loads (avoid field and target loads – too weak) are my go to loads for field testing. They are just punchy enough to run the action reliably with the low recoil system, and they are fairly inexpensive at just under $7 a box of 25.”

      Nonetheless, my job is to build and customize each gun to the customer’s satisfaction. I take that mission very seriously, stand behind my work, and in this case, Nick – notably TTAG’s toughest critic of AK platform shotguns – is the customer.

      I will make the necessary adjustments for my low recoil hog killer to cycle lighter target loads, and will send the gun back to TTAG for after SHOT 2018.

      The BHO will remain in the test gun because, properly installed, it’s a very useful feature.

      Nicks preference for a more comfortable, ‘palm friendly’ LH charging handle has been noted, and the gun will return with a very nice knurled handle installed.

      – Mike

  9. avatar Corky Budzek says:

    This gun or the stock KS-12 have ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to do with the Kalashnikov Concern. Kalashnikov USA is COMPLETELY UNRELATED to the Russian firm and is not allowed (due to sanctions) to have ANY DEALINGS with them. Kalashnikov Concern is not very happy about them using the Kalashnikov name either, but can’t really do anything about it.

    Anyway, I’ve been very happy with my Vepr-12. It’s been 100% reliable with the ammo it’s designed for (3+ dr, full-powered loads). The straight insert mags and last round bolt-hold-open with a bolt release button, make it far superior to older style Saiga-12s that this is based on. In addition, the built quality, fit and finish, are all clearly superior to those Saigas. I can run it almost as fast as I can an AR. I have it nicely customized to my needs too. IMO, it’s probably the best semi-auto shotgun on the market. Too bad it’s also been banned from further importation now.

    1. Really love the Vepr 12/Saiga Version 030 platform as well, and have a couple on the bench in the current build group (one Vepr, and one Saiga IZ-433/Version 030) .

      There are rumors circulating that K-USA will be producing a Vepr 12/Saiga Version 030 clone. I for one would love to see a US version of this gun!

  10. avatar Reef Blastbody says:

    Mike Rogers, how do the Kalashnikov USA guns compare in materials quality and build quality compared to the actual Kalashnikov guns from Russia?

    If I recall correctly, you were quoted, or perhaps had posted your initial impressions here or on another gun blog after receiving a KS12 several months ago, and they were overall quite positive. Just wondering what your opinion is now, after having had a chance to tear one down and really get into the guts of it.

    1. @Reef,

      I’ve torn down, and performance tuned several NIB customer KS-12s, and the quality of the factory guns I’ve worked on has been consistently excellent.

      Materials are top notch, as is manufacturing quality. My only issue with the KS-12 so far is the absence of an internal bolt hold open lever (which I like, and installed as an after market mod), and the design of the forearm which isn’t bad, but inexplicably covers the relief port at the rear of the gas block, just as the factory S12 forearm did.

      For a custom gunsmith used to taming QC issues on the Russian guns to get to goodness, pulling one of these guns out of the factory box, and being able to just go to work out on it without dealing with canted gas blocks (Saigas, and Veprs), undersized or missing ports (Saigas), oversized ports (Veprs), and porosity in the castings used for bolt carrier and bolt forgings (Veprs mostly), is still a bit surreal, but altogether welcome.

      1. avatar Reef Blastbody says:

        @ Mike,

        That’s fantastic, and a positive sign that maybe, just maybe, the “curse” of US made AKs has been broken, and that whenever KUSA gets around to releasing their Vityaz and AK74/AKM pattern guns, they too will be of high quality.

        1. If they’re manufactured in the same way as the K-USA shotguns, look for parts like gas blocks, trunnions, carriers and bolts to be precision machined from bar stock, rather than cast and forged as with the Russian guns.

  11. avatar Curmudgeon5462 says:

    Believe it or not, I recently picked up a JTS-12 from Academy for $400. It needs high brass for sure, but aside from that I’ve had 2 mishaps in nearly 170 rounds, one of which was definitely my fault for riding the charging handle. I bought it expecting it to be a gunsmithing project, but it runs like a champ right out of the box. I’ve heard they don’t all run as well, but ask to feel all they have in stock, then buy the smoothest one.

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