The UTS-15 from UTAS-USA is a 15 round pump shotgun with magazine tubes on the top instead of the bottom as they are on a Kel-Tec KSG. While it is impossible to not bring the KSG into any discussion about a bullpup 15 round shotgun, the folks at UTAS claim that the impetus for the project pre-dated the KSG and came from a spec released by Smith & Wesson.
Shown here next to our “working KSG,” the UTS-15 is a slightly larger and heavier gun, with some significant advantages and disadvantages when you compare it to its predecessor.
The UTS-15′s top mounted dual 7 round magazine tubes use this follower. First you click it back into the tube, then you can load rounds like you would any pump shotgun.
Both sides have the same gate, and the center selector can be left in the middle if you want to just run the gun. Move it right or left to select the other side exclusively if you wish. Otherwise the UTS-15 takes a shell from wherever it finds one, right side first.
The rear action shroud opens easily to give you complete access to the loading system, so if it hangs up you can just dump the round and keep going.
The gun comes with a pre-installed cylinder bore choke tube with a knurled front on the 18 1/2″ barrel. Also included are this breacher tube and a 7.5″ extension barrel, that also takes the standard and breacher chokes. A breacher is used on a shotgun to blow out locks and hingens on doors. It acts as a standoff so that the gasses can escape with the muzzle held firmly against the breaching surface.
The UTS-15 also comes with a pre-installed light and laser combo, with a control switch in front of the trigger guard. You can choose either light or laser.
The manual explains in full color the operation of the gun, as well as how to completely take it apart. There is even an accordian exploded parts diagram.
This the gun with the barrel extension.
Any new gun in the market should face extreme scrutiny. This is particularly true of a new design, and even more so of a new concept, engineered into a new design. Back in 2011 we got our first look at a bullpup 15 round pump shotgun in the form of the Kel-Tec KSG. At the time, most gunwriters who got one were elated with the gun, including us. But part of that elation was that this entirely new concept had come from Kel-Tec, an American company that had already pulled off groundbreaking products like the PMR-30 and another bullpup, the .308 caliber RFB rifle. Nothing about the KSG was a disappointment. The engineering made sense, and the gun worked fabulously. This year a new 15 round bullpup came into the market called the UTS-15 from UTAS-USA. It has the magazine tubes on the top instead of the bottom like the KSG. It has a built in flashlight/laser combo, and it says “Made in USA” on the gun, though UTAS is a Turkish company. We were finally able to get our hands on one this week, and like any other newly designed mechanical device, there are positives and negatives to the gun. Overall it worked well, but we did have some light strikes and mis-feeds. Understanding the differences between the UTS-15 and the KSG will be a big part of deciding which gun to try to buy. The KSG is still extremely backordered, selling for up to twice MRSP, while the UTS-15, MSRP $1200, is currently available in the market at close to that price. The UTS-15 is a lot of gun for the money, and if a 15 round shotgun is in your future, this may be the superior gun. Is it a KSG killer? No. But is it a viable option? Possibly yes.
To back up a bit, the first question anyone would should ask before buying this gun is “and exactly who the heck is UTAS-Makine?” That is the manufacturer of the UTS-15. According to the (excellent) manual that comes with the gun, UTAS has been an OEM manufacturer in the American market for many years. They claim that they won an NRA Golden Bullseye Award in both 2006 and 2007. To begin with, the Golden Bullseye is given out in several publications by NRA, and they are largely advertising driven. From my research, the American Rifleman awards to which UTAS seems to be claiming were given in 2006 to Kimber for a doublegun, and in 2007 to a Remington Model 105 for shotguns. So either UTAS is claiming that they made either of those guns, or it was not a shotgun for which they were OEM. OEM is “original equipment manufacturer” and is a friendly way of saying “we made that or a piece of that.” In this case there is very little backup evidence to determine exactly what UTAS is actually claiming to have made. That doesn’t mean that they are aren’t a sound company, but unless we get some specifics, I would not base their veracity on NRA awards.
Moving on to the gun itself, on paper there is no other shotgun in the market that can touch it. The top loading magazine tubes on the UTAS-15 are head and shoulders easier to load than the KSG, and you don’t have to flip the lever to fire 15 consecutive rounds as fast as you can pump and fire. The The UTS-15 automatically takes a shell from first the right then the left tubes, and the selector lever merely allows you to hand select the sides, in case you want slugs in one side and buckshot in the other, or a nonlethal/lethal combination. Slamming 15 rounds of high brass buckshot through the gun is exhausting, but it works. As you can see from the pictures, our only jams were from working the action slower do to being tired from several runs of 15, and trying to work the gun with it vertical. The UTS-15 works best when the gun is horizontal and you work the action quickly and with the full force of your arm strength. If you rack it back and leave it, then try to rack it forward, it generally is going to hang up on you. Holding the gun vertically requires that you rack the action as fast as you can, or it can hang up. For recoil, shooting the gun is not unpleasant with 2 3/4” shells at all, especially with modern combat loads. The recoil pad is roughly twice the thickness of the KSG. But 3” shells are an absolute NO in this gun, just like they are in the KSG. We had problems with them cycling correctly, light strikes, and they beat the heck out of you.
There were a total of three light strikes on the gun where it failed to fire. Two of these were on 3” shells, of which we only had two boxes for our testing. The third was a 2 3/4” Hornady Critical Defense, and on all three shells we could not run it back through the gun and have it fire. It was like these shells were slightly out of spec, and the chamber/bolt dimensions of the UTS-15 were too tight to fire the shell. All three were subsequently run through the KSG and fired perfectly. Just to note though, in defense of the gun and its reliability, I personally shot at least 6 full loads of 14 shells at a 6” steel target at 40 yards and dinged it every time with that same 00 Buck 9 pellet Hornady Critical Defense. Tight tolerances equal good accuracy, but it can sometimes be at the cost of ammo sensitivity. I tried to get this gun to fail in every way possible, and those three light strikes were the extent of anything but generally good reliability with the UTS-15.
That brings us to an extremely big departure from the KSG in the engineering of the UTS-15. But as a side note, as it relates to UTAS copying the KSG, according to UTAS-USADirector of Product Development Ted Hatfield, the UTS-15 was a project that began more than 5 years ago, at the bequest of Smith & Wesson (who won the Golden Bullseye for Manufacturer of the Year in 2006 so that could be the NRA award connection). That fact would argue that the UTS-15 was developed at the same time as the KSG, because of an open product concept for a “full capacity” 12 gauge shotgun, and that it isn’t just a cheap copy with the mags on top. The fact that the mag tubes were placed on top, and this other huge difference between the UTS-15 and the KSG is that Kel-Tec chose to cover the entire action of the gun with a blast shield of sorts and UTAS did not. These are both bullpup guns, so the blast from shotgun shell is actually happening right next to your face. The blast shield on the Kel-Tec was one of the biggest selling points on the gun back in 2011. Barrel obstructions happen, and slam fires also happen when stuff gets into the action. If the side of the action blows out, I would prefer to have the blast directed down and away from my face. This is especially true in the case of a partially closed accidental slam fire. It is an “impossible” occurrence with both the KSG and the UTS-15, but I like the fact that Kel-Tec defaulted to Murphy’s Law.
The UTS-15 is just the opposite. The action is covered by only a thin plastic wall and an even thinner plastic cap. From a tactical perspective this is 100% better than the KSG, because you can easily clear any type of mis-feed, light strike, or jam that might occur. When you lift up the cover everything is right there, and any round that might be hung up can easily be dumped out of the gun. It also gives you the added convenience of being able to unload the UTS-15 without running the remaining unfired rounds through the chamber. With the plastic cover up they jump right out of the gun onto the table. I love this feature, but I can’t help wondering if the convenience is worth not having that blast shield protecting my face. The UTS-15 has a rotating, locking bolt, but the last 1/8” of pressure to close the action is hard once your arms are exhausted, and it leaves me wary that the trigger is going to release to fire without the bolt being all the way locked. There is no evidence to indicate that this would ever happen, but it is something to think about.
Extra features are at no loss on the UTS-15. It comes with an integral flashlight and laser combination that is completely modular and replaceable should it break down. The control switch is mounted on the frame of the gun and you can choose flashlight or laser, but not the two at the same time. It runs on two standard 123A batteries. Out of the box the laser shot to point of impact at 5 yards. This all in one approach also extends to chokes. Our gun came with not only the standard cylinder bore screw out choke. It also came with a breacher/flash hider screw in choke, as well as a 7.5” barrel extension that itself also takes chokes. You have to give UTAS-USA a ton of credit for bringing a gun into the market with this level of maturity. Already they have introduced a camo-dipped sporting model as well as a marine coat version meant for combating Somali pirates. Our gun also came with excellent iron sights that mount to the top full Picatinny rail and an Allen wrench key that allows you to fully take apart the gun. The manual is full color and explains complete disassembly, with an accordion foldout showing a 15” by 16” exploded parts diagram. The only intentional misrepresentation by UTAS I found with the gun was that it is much heavier than they claim. I have seen quotes from 6.9 lbs. To 7.2 lbs., and our test gun weighs 8 lbs. 9oz.
The only thing seriously missing from the UTS-15 is a bottom rail on the forearm. The muscles that you use to rack a pump shotgun back and forth are not muscles that get a regular workout from lifting cold 12 ouncers. If you practice with the gun, you can develop muscle memory so that you drive that next shot home every time on your forward racking, but it is something you do have to concentrate on to get the gun to work well. The KSG also has this issue. Neither of these bullpup actions work as smoothly or lockup as easily as a Mossberg 500, because on the Mossberg your arm is more fully extended and at the peak of its ability. In close with a bullpup, your arm is in the middle of its extension where you have the least leverage. The KSG has a bottom rail on its forearm so you can put a vertical handle on it, which I did. This changes which muscles you use to rack the gun, and hammering 15 shells through the KSG becomes much easier. If I was going to change one thing on the UTS-15, it would be to add a blast shield, but the bottom rail would be a close second. My last peeve with the UTS-15 is the action release button, which is under the rear stock. See the pictures for that one.
Hollywood should love the UTS-15 because it looks so futuristic, and the early adopters will probably buy up the first guns out, but UTAS-USA isn’t just trying to be a fly by night company unloading containers of shotguns. From the packaging, manual and extras that come with the UTS-15, it is clear that UTAS intends to become a permanent fixture in the American market. Bullpups used to not sell very well in the US, but these days they are very popular, and a lot of that started with the KSG. Kel-Tec can sell every one of those they make even all these years later, so there is definitely room for another bullpup 12 gauge. A lot of thought and engineering went into this UTS-15. It is elegant in its simplicity. The few failures we had are not deal killers for the most part. These guns are currently out in the market, and your local dealer should be able to get you one through standard distribution. Unlike the KSG I would not pay in excess of MSRP. The boom is over and there should be plenty of the UTS-15 to buy.