AK pattern shotguns have become very common on US soil. Building off the Kalashnikov’s legendary reliability, these guns promised consumers speed, ergonomics, and capacity unlike any other shotgun before them. The catch is that these guns didn’t enter into the country in high-speed form. Our inscrutable system of laws and regulations prevent the import of some guns that are not meant for “sporting” purposes.
But we still import them. We convert them from cheesy import compliant configurations into tacticool combat shotguns. These conversions make them shorter, more reliable, and–most importantly–functionally ergonomic. The Saiga 12 remains (in many considered opinions) the best platform to build on. But new sanctions mean we can’t import those. So what’s still out there?
Buy one on GunsAmerica: /Saiga 12
The Saiga 12 entered the market in the early 2000’s as a sporting shotgun. They were not incredibly reliable, they were far from ergonomic, but they were plentiful and inexpensive. As aftermarket support became available, the Saiga 12 became the project gun of America. At this time the Saiga 12 monopolized the market, they were the greatest and only magazine fed option for the semiautomatic shotgunner. And the kick ass. If you are even somewhat mechanically inclined, you can keep them running forever.
In 2014 the gun more or less hit a brick wall when the Obama administration cut off supply with sanctions against Russia. If you want a Saiga now, you are limited to the stock that is already in the country. With a dwindling supply, they now bring a premium. In their unconverted state, they consist of a hunting style straight stock and forend and a short magazine. And the price you’ll pay for one seems like highway robbery to those who know what they had cost before.
What needs work on a Saiga? At a bare minimum, you need to retrofit the trigger system to a standard pistol grip configuration. On the high-end, this conversion consists of changing everything form the furniture, trigger, to the gas system.
If you’re a purist and want the real thing, the Saiga 12s can be found online for around $725 in their import configuration and right around $1000 for a converted one. They are still great options but have truly been priced out of the competition by lower cost, ready-to-go shotguns.
Buy one on GunsAmerica: /VEPR 12
The VEPR 12 is the shotgun that took over where the Saiga 12s left off. Still keeping true to the Russian design, these guns are just about everything a converted Saiga 12 could ever want to be. And they’re unaffected by Obama’s sanctions–which only affected Izmash and Kalashnikov, and not Molot (a company that hadn’t been fully integrated into the larger umbrella of brands, which meant it was–perhaps accidentally–left off the sanction list). These shotguns have continued to be imported from Russia. The Molot Vepr 12 come standard with all the improvements of a converted Saiga plus much more; some of these features include pistol grips, folding stocks, auto adjusting gas regulators, upgraded magwells, last round bolt hold opens, and railed dust-covers. These are standard features of the Vepr 12, and truly set it apart from its Saiga 12 brother in value. Upgrades can be made, but-in my opinion-are unnecessary. These guns come from the factory ready to go.
Not only are you getting a superior weapon with all these factory features, but you are also getting it for less than the Saiga 12. These guns retail for between $800 – $900. Mechanically these weapons are very similar. Hell, they may even share a few of the same parts, but its very clear that the Saiga 12 is where the AK platform shotgun started and the VEPR is where it left off.
Buy one on GunsAmerica: /Catamount Fury
The Catamount Fury is another contender that has been trying to unseat the Saiga 12 since its import restriction. Manufactured in China and imported through Century Arms, these guns are hybrids of both import friendliness and user desired features. These guns come with railed top covers, adjustable gas systems, magazine wells, and last round bolt hold opens.
Though these features are great, these guns lack aftermarket support. Making one of these guns 922R compliant, or converting it to a standard pistol grip configuration is costly due to the lack of aftermarket parts. As time progresses I’m sure we will see more accessories for the Catamount as well as options for customization.
If you accept these guns in their factory configuration, you begin to appreciate them for the low cost option they are. Retailing for around $650, the Catamounts are good to go out of the box. Are they superior to guns like the Saiga 12 and the Vepr 12? No, but if you are faced with a budget the Catamount furry is more than capable.
The Kalashnikov US109T may just be the gun that America has been waiting for. It is a USA produced Saiga 12 clone built from the ground up as a combat shotgun. It sports features like a pinned muzzle break that brings the barrel length to 18.5 inches, an enlarged gas port and gas block, vented front handguard, and a 6 position collapsible buttstock. Staying true to its Saiga 12 lineage, the US109T is a shotgun built to the specs of its Russian counterpart. It utilizes all of the aftermarket accessories already established in the market and isn’t restricted by 922R compliance, as it isn’t an import.
The actual retail price on the US109T is not yet set, but is promised to be competitive with other AK platform shotguns, so we are expecting them to retail for under $1000. They are set to ship this month and are sure to become instant favorites with the AK platform shotgun community.
Alternate Caliber AK platform Shotguns 20 and 410 Gauge
Buy one on GunsAmerica: /Saiga 20
Buy one on GunsAmerica: /Saiga 410
AK platform shotguns are known for there high capacity and 12 gauge bore. At the time this article was written, there was no current production or import of anything but 12 gauge AK platform shotguns, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t any available. For the years that the Saiga 12 was imported, its less popular (but equally as impressive) 20 gauge and 410 counterparts were also in production.
They are still available on the secondhand market. The 20 gauge sells for around $800 and the 410 sells for around $600. Either of these guns make the perfect compromise for someone looking for the maximum functionality and reliability offered by the AK platform shotguns but who is sensitive to the brutal recoil of 12 gauge.
All in all, the AK shotguns aren’t going anywhere. These guns are blazing fast and great options if you are looking for something more than a traditional auto-loading shotgun. They have an edge over traditional semi-automatic shotguns thanks to their removable magazines, and once they are broken in they are much more reliable than a traditional autoloader. You have to accept the unorthodox controls, extra weight, and slower manual of arms-but the trade off is more than worth it.