Pat’s Product Review: The Saiga 12 Shotgun

Awesome! That’s the best word I can come up with, to describe the Saiga 12, 12 gauge shotgun. Most people believe that only full-auto assault rifles, machine guns or submachine guns can offer-up “fire-power.” Well, I’m here to tell you that the Saiga 12 shotgun, can hold its own against many full auto guns – at least, given the limited range of a shotgun.

Right now, the Saiga 12, is one of the hottest selling firearms across the country. There are several reasons for this, first of all is that, this is one fantastic shotgun for self-defense. Secondly, the BATFE, or more rightly so, the US Justice Department, is trying to ban imported shotguns that have certain “features” that they deem evil. Third, there is a rumor going around, that the Justice Department refuses to give any more import permits for the Saiga 12. If that’s true, this is a de facto ban that is already in place. Lastly, there is a strong possibility, that the Saiga 12 and some other shotguns will be permanently banned from future importation after May of this year.

I have watched the price on Saiga 12 shotguns soar the past couple of months. My local gun shop was selling the Saiga 12 for around $450 just a few short months ago – when they were able to still get ’em. I routinely check gun prices on Gun Broker and the few Saiga 12s on there, the Plain Jane versions, box-stock, are going for between $800 and $900 these days and I expect prices to continue to rise.

The Saiga 12 was made in Russia, in the (now closed) Izhmash factory – where many of the best AK-47s and AK-74s were being made. The Saiga 12s action is based on the AK-47 – just enlarged, and certain changes were made, in order to make this shotgun importable under US import and firearms laws. The Saiga 12 comes in several barrel lengths, with the 19″ barrel being the hands down favorite. As already mentioned, the Saiga 12 is a semi-auto loader. It comes with a chrome-lined barrel and is cylinder bored. However, you can purchase other bore setting choke sleeves and change them in seconds. As the Saiga comes from Russia, it has a 5-round detachable box magazine – which is the maximum allowed by law for imported shotguns. Why? I have no idea – just another stupid law. The Saiga 12 can handle 2 3/4″ and 3″ magnum rounds, too. There is an adjustable gas plug on the Saiga 12, however it only has two settings. (I’ll discuss this more later in this article.)

For plain ol’ fun shooting, I like to use some of the cheapest 12 gauge birdshot I can find – usually around $5.99 per box of 25-rounds of #8 birdshot. My Saiga, and most others,simply won’t function properly with the factory gas plug (regulator) on setting #1 or #2, even though the instructions say the gun should function on setting #2 with lighter recoiling birdshot. The simple solution was to replace the screw-on gas plug with one from MD Arms – that has five different settings. For 3″ magnum loads, the plug should be set on #1, for 00 buckshot loads, the setting should be on #2 or #3, for low-recoiling 00 buckshot loads, setting #4 should work. For light-recoiling birdshot, setting #5 works great. Again, this is a drop-in part – no gunsmithing required. The price on the MD Arms 5-position gas plug (regulator) is only $25. I made no other other changes to my Saiga 12. However, at some point, when funds permit, I plan on buying a conversion kit, so I can add a pistol grip and a side-folding stock – they run around $150, and if you have any gunsmithing skills, you can install this conversion yourself.

I purchased several full capacity mags for the Saiga 12. The best of the bunch, in my humble opinion is the MD Arms, 20-round drum magazine. This drum magazine is easy to load – no tools required, and you can load it up in a minute or so. I will say, that it was a little difficult loading the first few times I used it, after that, it was a piece of cake. I also purchased a ProMag 12-round drum magazine (they also make a 20-round drum mag), and it too, was easy to load, and it too was a little difficult to load the first few times, after that – no problems at all…many magazine are difficult to load the first few times you use ’em, so this isn’t a rare problem. Lastly, I bought several ProMag 10-round “stick” magazines. There are several other brands of hi-cap mags for the Saiga 12, with some stick mags holding 12 or 13 rounds, and I think they just stick out off the Saiga 12 too far and they make the gun unwieldy if you ask me. There is also an 8-round stick mag available, too.   [JWR Adds: In my experience, the AGP Arms 10 round magazines (made in Arizona) work best. BTW, they have reinforcing ribs on their sides that can also hold the floorplate–allowing you to shorten these magazines to several different lengths, with a hacksaw.]

When it comes to inserting the magazines in the Saiga 12, it can prove a little tricky. And, the instructions with all the mags I purchased said you might have to fit them to the gun because of different tolerances in different guns. Remember, the Saiga 12, is based on an AK-47 action and there are generous tolerances. All the mags I purchased had to be fitted to my gun. It only took a few minutes with a file to get the mags to fit perfectly – anyone can do it – just remove a little material at a time – don’t go crazy or you’ll remove too much material, and the mags won’t work properly.

I’m happy to say, I had no functioning problems with any of the magazines I purchased for my Saiga 12 – all fed without any problems at all. For sheer fire-power, you will find the MD Arms 20-round drum magazine hard to beat. We’re talking loading up with 20-rounds of 00 buckshot – and I can empty the 20-round drum mag in about three seconds…we’re laying down a massive amount of firepower. No one comes through your front door if you don’t want them to. My only minor complaint with the MD Arms 20-round drum mag is, it is a bit bulky – but that comes with having a mag that will hold 20-rounds of 12 gauge shotgun shells. For carrying comfort, I found the ProMag 12 round drum to be the best of the bunch, followed by the ProMag 10-round mags.

The Saiga 12 comes with a bolt hold-open device in front of the trigger guard. You have to lock the bolt up before inserting a fully loaded magazine into the gun. It only takes a second to draw the bolt back and lock it up, insert your magazine and pull the bolt back, chambering a round. You can then put the safety on and you’re ready to go. Oh, the side safety – being an AK-47 type gun, it is a little difficult to put on safe and off safe – but if you’ve been around AKs you already know this. There are aftermarket safeties being made for AK-47s, that would probably work on the Saiga – that makes it easier to manipulate the safety to the on or off positions. Personally, I don’t find it all that much trouble to put the gun on safe or take it off of safe for firing.   The front and rear sights on the Saiga 12 are small – then again, we are talking about a shotgun – that will be used for CQB  of no more than 50-yards with 00 Buckshot – which is about the maximum range for any 12 gauge shotgun loaded with 00 Buckshot. Now, please don’t e-mail me and tell me that you can kill a deer at 60 or even 100 yards with your shotgun loaded with 00 Buckshot – maybe you can, but I can’t. You can load the Saiga 12 with slugs, which will extend your range out to about 100 yards.

I mentioned that the Saiga will shoot 2-3/4″ and 3″ magnum shells – that’s true, using the factory 5-round magazine. However, if you plan on using the drum mags or the extended 10+ round mags, they only hold 2-3/4″ shells. Personally, I find that the 2-3/4″ shells work just fine – I don’t like the added expense of 3″ magnum shells, or the added recoil.

If you load the Saiga 12, with a 20-round drum magazine, fully loaded with 00 buckshot – and most of those contain nine .33 cal. pellets, we are talking about having some very serious firepower on-hand. We’re talking about laying down 180 .33 caliber pellets down range in a few seconds – that’s more lead than most machine guns can throw in a few seconds. And, remember, we are talking about shooting 9 .33 caliber pellets with each pull of the trigger. Like I said, no one comes through your front door of you don’t want them to.

I see the Saiga 12 as having great utility as a home defense shotgun, with 00 buckshot, in one of the hi-cap mags I mentioned above. It’s a great survival weapon for all sorts of situations. You can use it for hunting anything from big game, down to rabbits or quail, if you have the right shells loaded.

Is the Saiga 12 affordable? Well, right now, I think they are about as inexpensive as they are going to be – pending the import legislation that is coming down the pike. Is the Saiga 12 worth $800 or $900? Only you can answer that one. However, I can’t think of anything else on the market, that is capable of laying down such a vast amount of firepower, in such a short amount of time. Personally, if I had the money in-hand right now, I’d purchase another Saiga 12 without blinking an eye – I think the gun is that good! And, I don’t think they are gonna get any less expensive, given that there probably won’t be any more imported into the USA.

One Comment

  1. Good report, I have a problem loading the first round into my drum mag. It is very hard to load the first round, and it feels like the loading gate is sticking.. Have you had this problem and if so is there a way to fix it.

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