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 semi-automatic shotguns in the states they can finally crack the code.
I 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 USA KS-12 12-gauge shotgun 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 autoloading Kalashnikov KS-12 is smooth and even.
The KS-12’s barrel is a 18-inch 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 A-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. KUSA fixed this issue by removing the button and relying on the same safety-lever cutout as their other designs. (The KS-12T has fixed sights and a manual safety selector lever.)
The pistol grip is another welcome change.
Saiga and Molot shotguns had traditional style stocks. As imported semi-auto shotguns, 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 buttstock with another QD sling mount and the shotgun takes standard Saiga mags. If you already have a stockpile of 20-round 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 gas 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 Length: 18.25-inch smoothbore barrel with flash suppressor, threaded for a choke muzzle device
Size: 44″ overall length
Weight: 8.5 lbs
Operation: Semi-automatic short-stroke recoil
Magazine Capacity: (1) 5-round magazine included (KS-12T includes (1) 10-round magazine)
Finish: Manganese phosphate
MSRP: $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. Ergonomic pistol grip and improved ergonomics on the stock and forend as well. 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 United States.
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