America's Most Aggressive Defender
of Firearms Ownership

J.B. Hohlfeld

Several months ago, Aaron Zelman contacted me about ourdoing a detailed T&E on one of the new Kalashnikov shotguns, which were beginningto enter the USA at that time. Needless to say, I took advantageof Aaron's kind offer, and began the necessary coordination with Mr. RichardBischoff of Kalashnikov USA, LTD (561-337-3398).

Within a few weeks, Aaron's brand new SAIGA-12 shotgunarrived. Straight out of the box you know that you are looking at sometype of Kalashnikov firearm, due to the distinctive receiver profile, thecharging handle configuration, the location/style of the magazine release,and the classic design of the safety lever. As with all other Kalashnikovfirearms, the SAIGA-12 shotgun is built around simplicity and mechanicaldurability for the real world.

Before I go into the mechanical aspects of the SAIGA-12,let's take a quick tour of the finish and furniture. The receivercover, bolt carrier/bolt, appear to have some type of phosphate finish, but notquite a true parkerized finish. However, the barrel, gas tube,and receiver, do appear to have a true parkerized finish, which is pretty durableand survived our testing quite well. The dull black buttstock andforearm, appear to be a carbon-polymer plastic, with functional checkering moldedinto the wrist area of the buttstock, and the side panels of theforearm. The removable buttplate is also a carbon-polymer plastic, with a smoothsurface on the shouldering face. The overall configurationof the buttstock is similar to most commercial rifle or shotgun designs,versus some type of tricked-up AK47 design. The "feel" of both the buttstockand forearm is very good, with the length of pull on the buttstock beingquite comfortable. If you happen to be a small framed, light weight shooter,I would recommend the addition of a good Decelerator type recoil pad if youintend on firing volume heavy loads, ie; 3-inch magnums. Thoughthe SAIGA-12 comes with sling swivels, they aren't the greatest, and I wouldrecommend that you replace them with a good set of the Q.D. type swivels.The SAIGA-12 also comes with a sling, which is a wider version ofthe standard AK47 webb sling, with the exception that the sling does not havean adjusting slider plate, ie; to change the length of the sling, you eitherlet out or take in the leather straps on the ends of the sling. Thoughlimited in it's adjustment range, the sling is quite comfortable andworks well in the field.

The construction/function of the SAIGA-12 is essentiallythe same as it's AK47 cousin, with disassembly/assembly of the primarycomponents also mimicking the AK47, ie; the top receiver cover, the recoilspring & guide rod, the bolt carrier, and the bolt. Since theSAIGA-12 was designed to fire 12GA ammunition, some parts are quite differentfrom it's AK47 cousin. An immediate and obvious difference is the SAIGA-12'srecoil spring assembly. As you know, an AK's recoil spring isone continuous spring, whereas, the SAIGA-12's recoil spring is composed oftwo individual springs, which are separated in the middle by a "floating"sheet metal "ejection port cover subassembly". When you actually seethis particular part, it's function is obvious and makes sense. Let's seehow well I can do with only a verbal description. Mechanically the two recoilsprings appear to be made from the same type of wire stock, about the samediameter, and approximately the same length. As previously stated,the "floating" ejection port cover is made of stamped sheet metal, whichhas been pressed into the same profile as the main body of the bolt carrier,which normally acts in the capacity of ejection port cover. Theadded "floating" cover rides directly behind the bolt carrier, but does notcover the bolt carrier. Assembly wise, the two recoil springs and the "floating"ejection port cover are all fitted onto the single recoil spring guide rod,and move in unison during the rearward recoil cycle. The obvious questionnow is: "Why the two recoil springs, and why the "floating" ejection portcover"? The answer is so simple that you miss it at first: (1)The bolt carrier is the same general dimension as a standard AK bolt carrier.(2) The top receiver cover is also the same dimension as a standard AK topreceiver cover. By merely modifying existing parts, the Russian's savedmany ruble's by not having to completely retool for these components.Needless to say, ejection of a fired 76mm (3-In Mag) shotgun case through an ejectionport designed for a 39mm rifle case, is easier said than done.Solution, enlarge the size of the ejection port in the top receiver cover to accommodatethe much longer fired case. A good idea, which then createda second problem. Due to the enlarged ejection port in the top receiver cover,you now have a gaping "hole" of 1 1/2 -in by 1 1/4 -in directly behindthe rear of the bolt carrier. Not a good thing to have on a self-loadingshotgun. Enter, the "floating" ejection port cover, a simple,yet ingenious solution to a serious problem. (Note: The front recoilspring and the "floating" ejection port cover, can be removed from the recoil springguide rod. However, the rear recoil spring is "captured" onto therecoil spring guide rod and cannot be removed with the use of basic tools).

Another difference between the SAIGA-12 and the AK, isthe addition of an adjustable gas valve, which in my opinion should be onany self-loading shotgun. On the SAIGA-12, the gas valve is locatedat the front of the gas tube, which is very easy to access and is quite "userfriendly". By depressing a spring-loaded detent you can quickly changefrom the #1 setting to the #2 setting, with the aid of a large coin.The #1 setting is used for 2 3/4-in cartridges, while the #2 setting is usedfor heavier 3-in Mag cartridges. A point to remember regarding the gasvalve adjusting drum assembly. When shifting from #1 to #2, or vise-versa,DO NOT attempt to turn the drum assembly in a complete 360 degree circle,as it is not designed to be rotated in such a manner, IE; at leastour test shotgun was obviously not designed to be able to do this. Aswith any gas system, remember to periodically oil the gas drum and check itfor free movement from position to position.

Next, we need to go over the sights available for theSAIGA-12. With regard to the factory "iron sights", both the front and rearsight are mounted onto a rib, with is approximately 9-in long and 3/8-in wide.Unlike may shotgun ribs, this on is made of steel, which means it can takeabuse in the field. The rear of the rib is dove-tailed into the front receiverring, while the front of the rib is attached to, and ends at, the forwardend of the gas tube. The front sight is your typical brass beadtype, which is not protected and open to damaging. The rear sightconsists of a vertical "ear" on each side of the rib, which forms a SWAT style "express"-U- notch. Due to the width of the rib and the short sighting radius,both the front and rear sight are very easy to locate when doing "snap-shooting".Having worked with many of Ashley Emerson's sighting systemsin the past, it would be very interesting to see how well this shotgun couldperform if the front brass bead were replaced with an Emerson ramped-bladefront sight. My bet is, that this sight combination would greatly enhancethe SAIGA-12's accuracy potential quite a bit. (NOTE: those interestedin having such a combination for their SAIGA-12, or any other shotgun,should contact Ashley Outdoors, Inc., Ft. Worth TX phone number 817-536-0136)With regard to adjusting the SAIGA-12's rear sight, it is hammer and"brass-punch" adjustable for windage only. The front sight hasan elevation wheel, which allows for limited adjustment, ie; the front sight onAaron's shotgun allowed us a +2 to -2 clicks of elevation change.I should also mention that the elevation wheel is "field adjustable", if youhappen to be carrying a small jeweler's screwdriver, or something similar,so that you can lift the spring clip detent, which indexes the elevation wheel.As part of his overall package, Aaron had also ordered the SAIGA-12scope base and a compact 4x by 28mm rifle scope. After checkingthe scope base with a magnet, we determined that it was made from some typeof allow metal, with the exception of it's NATO/STANAG type quick release/lockinglever. The left side of the SAIGA-12's receiver has a 4-inch longdove-tail rail attached to it, which mates with the slip-on lockingdove-tail of the scope base. During testing, the scope base proved tobe located at the proper height in relation to shooter's natural spot-weld locationon the buttstock. It also proved to be very durable and appeared to indexto the same point after several dozen mount/dismount trials. With regardto Aaron's little Chicom scope, it was a non-starter, due to the fact thatit was not compatible with the SAIGA-12's scope base, ie; the distancebetween the front and rear ring on the scope base is about 1 1/4-inch, and they are not adjustable on the base. Though we could mount theChicom scope onto the base, because the scope was so short along themain tube axis, we could not adjust it for proper eye relief, which meant that ourshooter's lost time before each shot attempting to find the proper eye relief.As luck would have it, our friend Bill Black, had just receiveda new ADCO Vantage #V-1 "red-dot" scope, which he needed to field test.For those who are not familiar with red-dot scopes, they really are not "scopes"in the normal sense. When using a red-dot, the shootermust keep both eyes open and really does not look "through" the scope, but looks "at"the scope with their shooting eye, while looking "at" their target withtheir other eye. The brain then superimposes the red-dot onto the targetand presto, you have a hit. Since the front tube of any red-dot systemdoes not "flare" on the objective end, we could easily mount the ADCO Vantage#V-1 scope through both scope base rings and get a good enough fit for fieldtesting purposes. Using a bore-sight, as you would for any rifle, we quicklyadjusted the red-dot for elevation/windage and got ready for the range.(NOTE: In my experience, a good red-dot makes close in shooting -100-meters or less - extremely easy for pretty much anyone. For SWAToperations, where a lack of speed can kill, they are very fast for targeting andprovide no telltale "signature" as to the shooter's location).

Our normal testing procedure for shotguns begins witha check of the shotgun's patterning capability. We were especiallyinterested in Aaron's SAIGA-12 since it had come with a 22 3/4 -inch Full-Chokebarrel. Like it's AK47 cousin, the 5-round plastic magazine for the SAIGA-12goes into the receiver in a "rock & lock" type motion. AsI found out during a preliminary check of the shotgun, loading an empty magazineinto the shotgun is not problem, however, when you attempt to lock ina full magazine it is a matter of luck if you can successfully lock the magazineinto the receiver on the first try. What's the problem? The bolt.When the bolt carrier is in the forward battery position, the bolt is sittingat the top of the magazine well. With an AK47 magazine full of smallrifle cartridges there is no problem locking a magazine into the rifle's receiver.With a SAIGA-12 magazine full of large 12GA cartridges, the degree ofdifficulty changes dramatically. As part of our field testing, I decidednot to tell our shooter's about this problem, but merely observe whathappened, ie; each shooter was shown how to mount an empty magazine intothe shotgun and then shown how to load the magazine with cartridges.Mounting the full magazine into the receiver was their problem. All of ourtest shooter's are advanced level shooters/teachers; none of our shooters could successfully"rock & lock" a full magazine on their first attempt. Duringall testing, I allowed each shooter up to six tries before I showed them "thetrick". Since you cannot lock the SAIGA-12's bolt to the rear, for loadingpurposes you must pull the charging handle to the rear and hold it there,while you insert a full magazine into the receiver. Once you do this,you can easily "rock & lock" the magazine into place. For the hunter,this procedure presents no problem and can be dealt with. However, for aPolice/Security Officer it would go like this: The shooter must pull the charginghandle to the rear and keep it there with their firing hand, while theytake out the empty magazine and put in loaded magazine with their non-firinghand. This translates to the Officer being "out of service" duringthis entire unloading and reloading process. Obviously, the morean Officer practices, the better they will become at this process, but I wouldhope that they also have solid "cover" available during magazine changes.

It was now time for serious testing of Aaron's SAIGA-12.Once again, our friend Bill Black came through for us bydonating two cases of Winchester 2 3/4 -inch #8 Dove and Quail to the project, while R.O.C.donated a case of Federal 2 3/4-inch #1 Buck. We began the patterningprocess with the Dove and Quail loads, while using the factory iron sights.At 7-meters we got a very tight 8-inch pattern. At 14-meters, we gotan 8-inch to 10-inch pattern. At 20-meters, we got an 18-inch pattern,and at 25-meters, we got a 23-inch to 25-inch pattern. We also determinedthat the iron sights needed adjusting, since all of our patterns were leftof center and low on the target. For pattering of the #1 Buck, we changedto the ADCO red-dot sight, which we had previously zeroed for the shotgun.We also changed our targets to full-sized Police silhouettes. (NOTE:To better understand the test results, the reader should remember the following:A 2 3/4 -inch #1-Buck cartridge contains 16 balls, which are .30Calin diameter). At 7-meters, all 16 balls were inside the 9-ring.At 14-meters, 11 balls were in the 9-ring, with 5 balls in the 8-ring. At 20-meters,3 balls were in the 9-ring, 4 balls were in the 8-ring, and all otherballs in the 7-ring. At 25-meters, the pattern was still quite respectable,ie; 4 balls in the 9-ring, 4 balls in the 8-ring, 4 balls in the 7 ring,and all other balls off target. Our normal shotgun procedure wouldalso include firing rifled-slugs to determine point accuracy potential.However, due to Aaron's SAIGA-12 having a Full-Choke barrel this was out of thequestion, ie; firing slugs out of a Full-Choke barrel is asking for the endof the barrel to split, which it eventually will.

After a few weeks of conducting our normal field trainingroutine, we were able to turn our attention back to Aaron's SAIGA-12.Now that patterning was completed, it was time to get out the bowling pinsand let our shooter's have fun. The only guidance given to the shooter'swas that they vary their distance from the bowling pins, vary their rate of fire,and vary their firing positions. As is our standard operatingprocedure, we would begin initial field testing with the light Dove & Quailloads, due to the fact that any self loading shotgun, which can effectivelydigest light field loads, will normally exhibit zero problems when firingthe much heavier Buck or Slug loads. Around 250-rounds, we started toencounter fired cases hanging up in the ejection port. Though these wereeasily cleared, by 275-rounds it had become a persistent problem, so westopped this test phase at that point. Like it's AK47 cousin, cleaningthe SAIGA-12 is very simple and straightforward, with no surprises. About oneweek later we were able to move into the first "volume rapid fire" phase.Like our initial test, we were using the Dove & Quail loads, but we would notbe allowing the shotgun any "cool down" time between shooters, ie; 350-roundswould be fired through the shotgun on an almost continuous basis. Thoughwe did encounter a few ejection problems, there was a noticeable increase inthe SAIGA-12's performance level, which indicated to us that Aaron'sSAIGA-12 had needed a "break-in" period to smooth out the various mechanisms.Another week and cleaning later, we were able to take Aaron's shotgunback out to the range to continue the volume rapid fire testing for another300-rounds of the Federal #1-Buck fired in a continuous rapid fire sequence.As often occurs in our New Mexico end of the Rocky Mountains, the weathertook a radical turn on this particular day, and my students were giventhe privilege of helping me conduct the test during a downpour of rainand sleet, with an ambient temperature of 32-degrees. Much to everyone'ssurprise, the SAIGA-12 digested all 100-rounds of #1-Buck without anymalfunctions. For a self-loading shotgun drenched in freezing rain and sleet,this is no easy task, ie; at one point, the rain was so heavy that wehad to make sure to pour the water out of the magazine and shotgun beforecommencing fire. Very impressive test.

Bottom line, can we recommend the SAIGA-12 shotgun forcivilian use? Our only real reservation with the SAIGA-12, had been thefact that it was available as a Full-Choke barrel only, which meant thatit would have been useless for hunter's restricted to slug loads.However, after a final phone conversation with Kalashnikov, USA on this date (10DEC98),we can give their SAIGA-12 a THUMBS UP, ie; I was told that afterJan 1999, they would be offering the SAIGA-12 as a 19-inch barrel shotgun, witha Poly-Choke system on it. They also told me that the new shotgunswould have a modification made to the bottom of the bolt, so that there shouldbe no further magazine "rock & lock" problems when using 2 3/4-inch cartridges.

With regard to the SAIGA-12 for Police/SWAT usage, priorto today's conversation with Kalashnikov, USA, we had had seriousreservations about it's Police application. However, after talkingwith Steve, of Kalashnikov, USA, most of our thoughts will be incorporated into theirnew Police models: (1) Barrel length of about 11-inches, with an internal/externalchangeable choke system. (2) Exchange the "fixed" buttstock fora side-folding buttstock. (3) Increase the magazine capacity todo away with "stress" magazine changes. (4) Add some type of red-dotsighting system, ie; they are taking a hard look at one of the "heads-up" typesighting systems now.

With regard to the ADCO Vantage #V-1 red-dot sight, consideringthat it went through the majority of the field testing, to includethe freezing downpour, and still continues to function, we give it a THUMBSUP. Once again, Japan has made a good product, which people can easily afford.(NOTE: The diameter of the red-dot field tested is a fixed 3-MOA at100-yds,ie; the red-dot will obscure approximately 3-inches of your target.For further info contact: ADCO International; 781-935-1799)

AFTER MARKET PARTS... Aaron Zelman was kept abreast of our findings throughoutall phases of testing his SAIGA-12. It was decided that uponcompletion of our field testing, Aaron would order several after-market replacementparts, which are available for the AK47 , and which might lend themselvesto the SAIGA-12. The company Aaron contacted was, Flash Distributing Companyof Montrose, Co. (970-249-0302). The parts we were interested intrying were: (1) Bolt Lock. (2) Extended Magazine Release.

The bolt lock consisted of replacement AK type safetylever, which has had a square notch cut into the top surface of the lever.When the AK charging handle is pulled to the rear, the safety lever is pushedupward until it "captures" the charging handle in the square notchof the safety lever. In fairness to Flash Distributing I should make it clearthat we did not attempt to install these parts into a standard AK47 typefirearm. Having stated the above, I can now tell you that installationof the safety lever into a SAIGA shotgun is best reserved for a certifiedgunsmith. In brief, the safety lever requi -fitting just to get itthrough the SAIGA's right side receiver wall. Once that was accomplished,the selector bar had to be fitted to the disconnect frame assembly.After that, the selector bar had to be fitted to the disconnect's sear pawland trigger, assuring that the SAIGA would function upon firing, but also when thesafety lever was placed into the "safe" position. Due to all ofthe disassembly/assembly and fitting which was required, the above process took approximately3-hours from start to finish. Bearing in mind that theaverage gunsmith charges about $40.00 per hour, need I say more?

With regard to the replacement extended magazine release;here again it may be a simple process on an AK47, but it would have requiredmajor modification to fit the part into the SAIGA-12'smagazine release lever housing. Bottomline, we put the original factorymagazine release lever back into Aaron's shotgun.

SAFETY TIP: All shooter's who own a self-loadingrifle, should be keenly aware of how their firearm functions, and mostimportantly what is a "safe" condition and what is not. After installing theBolt Lock safety lever into Aaron's SAIGA-12 shotgun, I decided to give it the "droptest". Example: The charging handle is pulled to the rear until the boltcarrier could be locked into the open position. The firearm is thenheld in a vertical position, which is approximately 5 inches form the floor,butt down, with the magazine out and the chamber clear. Fromthis position, the firearm is allowed to drop vertically to the floor. Thetest is simple: Will the bolt carrier stay locked upon impact, or will the impactcause the bolt lock to disengage, thereby allowing the bolt carrier to slamforward? I tested the new bolt lock system on Aaron's SAIGA-12 ten times,and the bolt carrier slammed forward each time. Does this mean thatthe bolt lock didn't work? Actually no, since most bolt "hold open" systems willnot pass the "drop test", ie; AR15's are notorious for slamming closed froma "locked" position when they are bumped/jarred. Bottomline, thinksafety at all times.

Our thanks to: T.D.Adams, SSGT P.A.Warren (USMC), MAJ L.A. Lucero (NMSDF).

J.B.Hohlfeld, Instructor, Ranger Outreach Center

Ranger Outreach Center is an international school forPolice/Security personnel, or individuals who require real world firearmstraining. For information on classes offered: write to R.O.C.,P O Box 1164, Pecos, NM 87552-1164, or fax 505.757.8456.

Mr. Bill Black is a Double-Distinguished shooter for theUSN, and owner of Santa Fe Gunsmithing. Bill specializes in combat/target pistols and rifles. For information contact Santa Fe Gunsmithing, 509 Airport Rd, Santa Fe,NM 87505, or phone 505.438.4174.

[ JPFO Home  >  Life Preserver Bouyancy Testing  >  Saiga-12, Kalashnikov Shotgun ]
© 1997, 1998, 1999 JPFO < >

Home  |  Commentary  |  Campaigns  |  Network  |  Books, Videos, Apparel  |  About JPFO  |  Privacy

Mirror Site:

All Rights Reserved 2011 JPFO

P.O. Box 270143 | Hartford, WI 53027
Phone (800) 869-1884 | Fax (425) 451-3959 |