TTAG’s Nick Leghorn did a solid review of his Saiga 12 experience back when it was still imported from the motherland. After 2014, Kalashnikov USA became its own boy, independent of mommy. Today, Kalashnikov USA makes the KS-12 true to the original Russian Saiga design, but with a consistent quality rarely found across the former Soviet Bloc.
The newly independent Kalashnikov USA has expanded their line, and sent us a couple different KS-12 shotguns to look at. Essentially the same shotgun, the KS-12 is their base model, shipping with a single 5-round magazine.
A singe 5-round magazine on magazine fed auto-loader isn’t much fun. The KS-12-Tactical, however, ships with a 10-round factory magazine, making the experience much more enjoyable.
Additional magazine can be purchased directly from Kalashnikov USA for $38 a piece, and any Saiga 12 magazine from any other manufacturer should work, too.
I’ll skip the detailed look into the shotguns’ design, as Nick’s already covered it (read that here).
The KS-12 is Kalashnikov USA’s version of the well-established Saiga 12. The Saiga 12, in turn, is a version of the Kalashnikov rifle line, obviously modified to accept the 2 3/4″ and 3″ 12 gauge shotgun shell. There were relatively few changes required.
The most obvious is the enlarged dust cover which incorporates a slick reciprocating slide in order to enclose the bolt, as well as a locking lug directly behind the bolt face. There’s also a two-position gas regulator and a slight change to the gas system.
But really, considering the massive change in the physical size of the cartridge that’s fired, it’s a testament to the elegant (yup, I said elegant) design of the AK that so few changes were required to make an AK rifle design work as a shotgun.
That means the Saiga 12, and consequently the KS-12, is a magazine-fed 12 gauge rifle with AK(ish) ergonomics. That should sound like a whole lot of awesome.
And it is.
There’s no wonder the Saiga 12, or any of its variants, has maintained a cult following since its first production in 1997. There are some significant shortcomings in the design, but the platform has inspired plenty of competitive shooters to spend $1,500 to $2,000 on a $900 shotgun in order to make it race-ready.
And be advised, if you want to really race it, that’s what it’s going to take. If you want a magazine-fed semi-automatic scattergun that will hold 10 rounds standard and shoot 00 buckshot forever, the base Kalashnikov USA KS-12 shotgun is plenty of gun.
Plenty of gun? Folks, that’s about 3,000 ft/lbs of muzzle energy, per round. Times 10. The terminal result of 10 rounds of 00 Buck at close range is nothing shy of spectacular.
Throw some slugs in the mix and nothing that walks this earth can withstand it.
That’s no hyperbole. It’s even more terrifying than Hillary Clinton giving advice on cyber security. Or should be.
Out of the attractive red box, I found the guns looked a lot better than the pre-ban models. The finish is smooth throughout both guns, but maybe a little thin. Having two guns shipped at the same time gave me a nice opportunity to compare the fit and finish on both guns for consistency.
They are identical in quality, with no obvious tool marks and without any rough tooling on the interior of the guns. The only differences between the two guns were intentional.
The basics of both shotguns are the same, only the furniture is changed. The roughly $100 more you’ll pay for the Tactical model buys you a few rail pieces, and upgraded stock and an upgraded UPC grip with interchangeable back straps.
Note that I said rail pieces only. The standard K-USA KS-12 is the exact same fore end as the Tactical model, it just doesn’t have the rail sections included and installed.
The most obvious difference between the two guns is the stock. I thought I would like the basic KS-12’s more traditional AK style stock compared to the Tactical version. After all, this is the same shape stock I have on all of my fixed stock AKs.
And if this shotgun was throwing out more of that sweet, sweet 7.62X39 I’m sure I would have. But it ain’t. The KS is firing 00 Buck and a lot of it.
Because of that, the stock on the KS-12T is considerably better than one on the basic model.
The CAA-manufactured stock has a wide butt, terminating in a solid, grippy pad. In addition, the Israeli-made stock provides several levels of adjustment, then locks solidly in place.
A wide buttstock, with an adjustable length of pull goes a long way in taming recoil, and allows the KS12 to do what it does best.
The trigger on both KS-12 models is the Tapco G2. This trigger should be familiar to most AK builders.
This is not a bad AK trigger at all. It has a little slack, followed by some squishy starts and stops, followed by a break at just 4 lbs. The trigger isn’t as crisp and the reset not as solid as CMC’s Single-Stage AK trigger, but it’s also about a tenth of the cost.
The sights on both KS-12 models are identical, and adequate. The front bead is small and sits inside the standard drift-adjustable rear blade. I would have preferred a tritium front sight, but I always do.
When it came to sending buckshot down range with a reasonable amount of speed and precision, the stock sights proved perfectly adequate. The same could be said for sending slugs farther down the line, but their precision was a little disappointing.
Depending on the slug being used, I averaged 8″ and 11″ five-round groups at 100 yards, while shooting from a Caldwell Stinger Shooting rest. I could only us the 5-round factory magazine for accuracy testing, as any other magazine was too long to sit in the rest.
Several other shotguns I own outperform the accuracy of the KS-12, but they all have a much longer sight radius. As the KS-12 follows the traditional Kalashnikov sight set-up, the irons really aren’t much more than a hand’s length apart. If you would like to mount an optic, the traditional optics rail is already included on the left side of each receiver.
On the range, the KS-12s perform admirably. The AK-style set-up has felt right to me from the very first day I shot it, one of the main reasons I enjoy the platform. The KS-12s are no different.
Pulling them tight into the shoulder, either shotgun churns out rounds as fast as you can pull that 4-pound trigger. The geometry and weight of the 8.5-pound guns allows the shooter to stay right on target, or traverse targets quickly.
The Saiga 12 is one of my Special Operations buddy’s favorite firearms. Walking and firing through some target lanes I have set up on my range, I can certainly see why. It’s extremely controllable, familiar, and phenomenally powerful. It’s easy to drive the gun to the target, throw a couple of rounds of buckshot or slugs into it, and then quickly move to the next target while still on the move.
To be able to spend a full 10 or 12 of those rounds at multiple targets without reloading is just awesome. Heck, you could even go with a 20-round drum. The next 10, 12, or 20 rounds is only a magazine change away.
Ah, but what a magazine change. Remember, Kalashnikov USA chose to stick with the original Saiga 12 design, so there’s no last round bolt hold open.
Unfortunately, because of the size of the shell, you can’t just rock in a full magazine on a closed bolt. The top cartridge will run into the bottom of the carrier, forcing the magazine out of position. Those of you who have spent some time with the AK are starting to see the problem.
That’s why the Saiga 12 and the KS-12 have a cut-out on the safety to manually hold the bolt open. The bolt handle is large and wide, and it needs to be.
You’ll have to pull that handle back, but not quite all the way, and then push the safety up so the notch cut into the safety rests round the bolt handle. With the bolt now “locked” open, you can rock in your new magazine, press the safety down, releasing the bolt and making the gun ready to fire again.
It’s not a fast process, but it’s a lot faster if you drill it, and I did. There’s still some of my blood in the dust cover to prove it, as the process sliced up my thumb nicely until I got it right. In order to do that, I found it much easier to switch the shotgun to my left shoulder when reloading. That way I was able to see and feel the proper match-up between the bolt handle and the safety notch.
Still, it’s not fast. In fact, with my best times on reloading a magazine, I could still load four rounds faster in my stock Remington Versa Max Tactical than I could change a magazine on the K-12. Of course, I can load 10 rounds in the KS-12, something I can’t do in the VersaMax.
I’ve seen videos and read that it’s possible to load the magazine on a closed bolt with a bit of a push up on the magazine while rocking it forward. With a 12-round Surefire magazine downloaded to 10 rounds, this was hit or miss. With any other magazine I had to reduce the load by 3 rounds, and even then, results weren’t consistent.
The reliability of the KS-12 is the very epitome of a Tale of Two Cities. “It was the best of times. It was the worst of times.”
The KS-12 includes two settings for the gas regulator. Setting “1” is used for “magnum loads or slugs and buckshot”, according to the manual. I used the factory 5 and 10 round magazines, as well as one 12-round Surefire magazine I had.
I put several hundred rounds of 9-pellet, 1300 fps 2 3/4″ buckshot through these guns. With that load, they both performed flawlessly. They performed that well because that’s what they were designed for.
But of course, variety is the spice of life. To that end, there is setting “2” on the gas regulator.
According to the Kalashnikov USA manual, this setting is “Ideal for lower recoiling loads such as light birdshot or target loads.” Sadly, this is not the case.
No birdshot round, or any shot size smaller than #4 would consistently cycle in either of these guns with the factory magazine. The “2” setting does, however, allow the use of “low recoil” versions of buckshot, such as Armscor’s Reduced Recoil buckshot.
With buckshot, the traditional wisdom of about 1″ spread from a cylinder bore for every yard of distance held true, as it has for every single shotgun I’ve ever tested. At 20 yards, every single pellet fired landed inside a 19-inch target. At 25 yards, one often did not.
As an aside, that general rule is something those of you who use a shotgun primarily as a self-defense or duty gun should consider. Look at the environment you will likely be using the shotgun in.
Inside most modern homes, maximum shooting distances are typically 10 yards or under. A front sight and quick point shooting is all you’ll need. But start stretching that out a bit, especially past 25 yards, and you’ll see the need for more proper aiming, and likely a tighter choke than cylinder bore.
For those of you wanting to tighten the pattern up on your KS-12, or just have fun increasing the recoil of 00 buckshot loads, Kalashnikov USA’s decision to stick with the traditional external threads on the barrel means that it’s super easy to do just that.
As far as I can tell, any muzzle device, including flash hiders or chokes that will screw on to any Saiga 12 will fit onto any of the KS-12 model barrels as well. Both barrels on the KS-12s are the same 18.25″. The Kalashnikov USA KS-12T just has a flash hider screwed on.
Kalashnikov USA has produced a US-made shotgun matching the original Izhmash design. There are a lot of people out there improving on that design in order to get the gun to load a magazine faster or to handle a wider variety of loads. I’ve fired some “competition conversions” of the Saiga 12 design and they are spectacular guns.
Being able to load through a magwell on a closed bolt is pretty awesome, and makes the loading of another ten to twelve rounds of 00 buck just as fast as reloading a 30-round AK mag. And really, if that’s a priority for you, it’s $300 or so well spent.
If you’re looking for a “do-it-all” shotgun, this isn’t it. You could spend a lot of money to make it that, but that’s just not what the KS-12 is designed to be. This is a shotgun designed to make what was once angry and scary now very chill, and very still.
As it is, right out of the box, the Kalashnikov USA is offering a great magazine-fed shotgun, capable of extended sessions of full-power 00 goodness. On setting 2, with reduced power recoil buckshot, 200+ round range sessions are no problem at all, and a hell of a lot of fun.
Specifications: Kalashnikov USA KS-12
Caliber: 12 Gauge
Overall Length: 38″
Barrel Length: 18.25″
Muzzle Device: None
Capacity: 1 Detachable 5 round Magazine Included
Grip: Pistol Grip
Caliber: 12 Gauge
Overall Length Stock Extended: 42.25″
Overall Length Stock Collapsed: 38.5″
Barrel Length: 18.25″
Stock: CAA Collapsable
Muzzle Device: Flash Hider
Capacity: 1 Detachable 10 round Magazine Included
Grip: Pistol Grip
Style and Appearance * * *
Nothing is particularly shiny or fancy on these guns. The finish is even and well done throughout. The fore stock looks cheap and plastic-y, but it functions well.
Customization * * * * *
If you’ve got the money, you can do anything to these guns, making them absolutely world class. Even without a lot of money, you can still do quite a bit. Even with its design limitations, it was wise of Kalashnikov USA to stick with the traditional Saiga 12 design, as the original Saiga aftermarket parts work with the KS-12 guns as well.
Accuracy * * *
With the iron sights, accuracy is acceptable. Mount a red dot on the optic rail and I would bet the loner range slug groups tighten up. Multiple chokes are available.
Reliability * and * * * * *
These autoloading shotguns weren’t designed for bird hunting. Load them on setting 1 with standard buckshot or slugs and they run like a champ, as they were intended to. Run them with reduced-recoil buckshot on setting 2, or maybe heavy duck or turkey loads, and they will run that well too. That’s what they were designed to do. This is a 5-star rating if only the manual was written as such, but it isn’t.
Overall * * * *
These are great, fun guns. If your goal is to pour out an immense amount of smoothbore firepower in a short period of time relatively inexpensively, these guns are the guns for you. Don’t expect them to be your “one gun”. That the instruction manual suggests they will run with “light birdshot” is a serious mistake. The magazine change is a challenge, but you live with it, or do a mag-well conversion. As it is, Kalashnikov USA is making the best off-the-rack Saiga 12 design shotguns I’ve seen yet, an American made gun that stays true to the original design.