The problem with shotguns is that the ammunition is huge and awkward. As a result, the traditional way to keep a shotgun running has been a tube magazine running along the bottom of the barrel. It works well for things like skeet and hunting, but when you get into “tactical” uses or competition shooting the game becomes a test of who can stuff rounds in their gun faster. The VEPR-12 semi-automatic magazine fed shotgun from Molot seems designed to change the game.
Semi-auto AK-style shotguns aren’t new, and we’ve reviewed them before on the site. My Saiga-12 shtogun review comes to mind, in which I detailed exactly why the gun was a piece of crap and the fan boys retorted with “well, obviously you need to fix the gun before you test it! You didn’t give it a fair test!” To which I reply that guns are tested in factory condition, and a gun that needs to be “fixed” before you can actually use it is a pretty piss poor gun. With the VEPR-12, it looks like some of those problems have been fixed.
Most obvious is probably that the gun comes from the factory configured the way you’d want it. Instead of the traditional stock there’s a skeletonized tubular stock and a pistol grip. There’s a full length rail along the top of the receiver for your optics and other gubbins. And instead of rocking the magazines into place like on a standard AK, they simply slot straight into the receiver. Oh, and the best part:
The bolt is held open after the last round fires. No longer do you have to count your rounds and then muscle the new magazine into place with the bolt forward, it locks open just like an AR-15. It’s much more convenient and a lot quicker to reload.
The effect of these changes is that the gun is a lot easier to handle straight out of the box. reloads are quicker, movement is much more fluid, and the manual of arms is much more similar to the AR-15 rifle. But still, there are problems.
First on the list of gripes is the safety. Instead of being a straight AK-style safety, Molot has added a flap that extends down near the pistol grip with the idea that you can then use your trigger finger to manipulate the safety. It’s good in theory, but in practice it’s annoying and somewhat sharp. I’m not a big fan of thin pieces of metal jutting out off a firearm, especially near my hand, and especially when I’m going to fire slugs through it. It made firing the gun somewhat uncomfortable for me.
In the same area is the bolt release. Positioned about in the same spot that the bolt hold open tab was for the Saiga-12 shotgun, the tab now works as a bolt release allowing you to press this one tab and let the bolt slide home. Ignoring for a minute that it’s inside the trigger guard which is a huge safety concern to some people, the role reversal means that there’s no easy way to lock the bolt open when the gun runs dry. You need to insert and empty magazine and then rack the action back, which is an extra step for something so crucial.
The sights are nice, and the full length rail along the top is a very nice touch, but it would be more useful if the stock wouldn’t get in the way so much. There’s a rubber pad on the stock that wallows from one side to the other much like the cheek pad on a SVD rifle, and while it seems like a good idea in practice it tends to move around quite a lot and just get in the way. With the cheek pad in place I couldn’t get a good sight picture, and with it removed I couldn’t get any kind of cheek or even chin weld on the stock. It’s annoying and frustrating, and if this were my gun that would be the first thing to go.
There are some really nifty features on this gun, and it definitely is an improvement from the Saiga-12, but I’m running into the same problem that I ran into with the Saiga: what do you use it for?
If you’re thinking about home defense, that’s probably the best application I could think of for the gun. Get yourself some higher capacity magazines and prop it by the bedroom door loaded with buckshot and you’re nearly guaranteed to kill whatever busts down your door. But the form factor of the magazines limit your capacity, and are you really going to take the time to strap on extra shotgun magazines before checking on what that noise downstairs was?
Trap and skeet shooting? The gun suffers from the same parallax issues that the Saiga had, since the sights are over an inch above the top of the barrel, and if you’re spending this kind of money on a dedicated trap or skeet gun there are much better suited choices out there.
3-gun competition? If you’re running in open division then this is definitely an option, but consider that for the same price you can have a Mossberg 930 with an XRAIL and have 22 rounds at your disposal before needing to reload, and still have a normal shotgun in every other way. The biggest magazines I’ve seen fro the VEPR-12 are 12 round magazines, and those require compliance with that pesky Federal statute 922(r) before using them in your gun. Even with the availability of Saiga-12 and VEPR-12 shotguns, the pro 3-gun shooters still don’t use them.
The VEPR-12 is definitely an improvement over the Saiga-12, but as far as I can tell it’s still a solution looking for a problem. A nifty range gun no doubt, but if I’m spending this much money I’d like to actually be able to use it for something.
Barrel: 19 inches
MSRP: $1,199 (Buds)
Ratings (Out of Five Stars):
All ratings are relative compared to the other weapons in the gun’s category. Overall rating is not mathematically derived from the previous component ratings and encompasses all aspects of the firearm including those not discussed.
Accuracy: * * * *
There’s an issue with aiming this gun, thanks to the parallax resulting from the sights being an inch above the top of the barrel. You can adjust, but shooting at different distances will be an issue.
Ergonomics: * * * *
It’s better than the Saiga-12, but the safety is an issue for me and the gun feels like it has very sharp edges and rough machining.
Ergonomics Firing: * * * *
Not bad, actually. Light recoil for a 12 gauge.
Customization: * * * *
Rails all over the place, and more after market mods than you can shake a stick at.
Overall Rating: * * *
The Saiga-12 costs about $610 these days, and this gun retails for nearly twice that much. It’s an improvement over the old Saiga-12, but I wouldn’t judge it being twice as good. Bring the price down around $800 and we’ll talk. In the meantime I’m giving it one more star than I gave the Saiga-12.