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Hybrid Pump/Semi-Auto Scattergun? The TriStar TEC-12—Full Review.

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For more information, click this link: http://www.tristararms.com/.

To purchase on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=TEC-12.

There are few firearms as versatile as the shotgun. Long revered for its’ stopping power, the shotgun has maintained it prestigious position as problem solver for over 100 years. From the early days of single-barrel breach loaders to modern-day marvels, the shotgun has taken a long journey. The modern shotgun is a work of engineering prowess, but one seemingly insurmountable issue has been developing a semi-automatic that can fire the full range of loads (from the lightest birdshot to specialty bean bag rounds to the heaviest slugs and buckshot) reliably. In these cases, you usually must revert back to a pump action. But what if you want one that can do everything? Then how about a hybrid pump-action/semi-auto, and one that won’t break the bank? Then take a look at the TriStar TEC-12.

The hybrid pump/semi-auto TEC-12 gives you the flexibility to shoot powerful high brass shells as well as the lightest loads and specialty shells.

The hybrid pump/semi-auto TEC-12 gives you the flexibility to shoot powerful high brass shells as well as the lightest loads and specialty shells.

SPECS

  • Chambering: 12 ga., 3 inch
  • Barrel: 20 inch, interchangeable choke (Beretta pattern)
  • OA Length: 43 inches
  • Weight: 7 pounds, 4 ounces
  • Stock: Synthetic with pistol grip
  • Sights: Ghost ring rear, fiber optic front
  • Action: Pump or semi-auto
  • Finish: Matte black
  • Capacity: 5+1
  • MSRP: $690

Double Action

TriStar has been around a long time and has a reputation for offering a variety of weapons at affordable prices. The TEC-12 is a good representation of that philosophy. The TEC-12 is a dual-action 12 gauge shotgun which can cycle back-and-forth between semi-automatic and pump-action modes of fire. The advantages of this design truly shine in the tactical application world. Many semi auto guns have no love for light-shooting tactical loads like bean bag rounds, tear gas and other less-than-lethal options. With the TEC-12 these rounds can be loaded and the gun run in the pump action mode as needed. The system design may be very familiar to those who have watched shotgun development over the years. The semi-auto side of the system employs the inertia drive system we have seen in the Benelli M3. The expiration date came and went on the patent for the design and TriStar moved quickly to incorporate the inertia drive system in their new tactical and home defense TEC-12.

The ability to quickly switch between the pump and semi-auto modes makes the TEC-12 quite an interesting scattergun.

The ability to quickly switch between the pump and semi-auto modes makes the TEC-12 quite an interesting scattergun.

Build it Up

The rear sight is a heavy-duty ghost ring system situated behind a strip of Picatinny rail.

The rear sight is a heavy-duty ghost ring system situated behind a strip of Picatinny rail.

As mentioned, the gun is primarily marketed at a lower price point than similar shotguns at an MSRP of $690. Ryan Bader of TriStar says, “We’re excited by the number of new shooters entering the market, and we’re seeing more consumers shop based on price. Additionally, with the growth of 3-Gun and emphasis on personal defense becoming so popular, this gun seems to be a good fit.”

The shotgun I received for testing instantly reminded me of the Benelli M3, a very nice but very expensive shotgun. The TEC-12 features a 20-inch barrel with an extended, ported cylinder choke with a 3-inch chamber. As with other tactical-style shotguns it comes with a stock with a pistol grip. The recoil pad on the end of the stock was sufficient to take the bite out of the gun without adding too much to the length of pull. Sticking to its tactical roots, the gun came set up with a ghost ring rear sight matched with a high visibility fiber optic front sight set inside protective wings. The gun also comes stock with a pre-mounted Picatinny rail that allows you to mount an optic if you wish. A final touch is the inclusion of a military-style sling swivel and studs. Anyone who wants to take the TEC-12 through a shotgun course will appreciate this detail. Coming in at an overall length of 43 inches and weighing only a breath over seven pounds, it’s an easy-to-handle shotgun.

Back and Forth

The switch for changing firing modes is a ring forward of the fore end that you rotated to change from pump to semi-auto.

The switch for changing firing modes is a ring forward of the forend that you rotate to change modes from pump to semi-auto.

Range day came and the first order of business was to see how the gun ran in semi-auto mode. I am very familiar with the inertia-driven action and was pleased to find the TEC-12 run exactly the same as guns I have run in the past. One weakness of the inertia system is its dislike for low brass or low-powered rounds. So it only made sense that I should test the TEC-12 to see what its ultimate tolerance of the low-end of the power range of shells would be. I was pleased to find that, while not officially rated for them, the shotgun ran all of the low-brass shells I fed it with only one hiccup. Going back to the official guidelines, I then ran buckshot and slugs to get a feel for its recoil management. Once again it was a smooth shooting event. The TEC-12’s extended and ported cylinder choke dampened the traditional recoil of 12-gauge buckshot and slugs quite well. Interestingly, TriStar advises against the use of heavier loads in the pump-action mode.

With semi-auto on the books, it was time to check out the pump function. Switching between modes is an easy and quick event. At the forend is a spring loaded locking ring. You simply close the action and rotate the selector counter-clockwise. This will disengage the locking lugs from the barrel and free the forend. Pull the fore-end back and the gun is now in pump mode. To switch back to semi-auto mode, simply turn the selector ring clockwise as far as it will go and slide the forend forward until the locking lugs re-engage the barrel ring. It is a pretty simple switch. One interesting feature is that the gun goes into bolt lock on an empty chamber not only in semi-auto mode, but in pump as well. After the last round is fired you will need to hit the bolt release button to close the action. This is a nice feature, especially in pump mode, because it allows us to more quickly assess when it goes dry and also to feed it. Traditionally we would get the “click” as we press the trigger on an empty chamber then have to cycle the action. With the bolt already back, emergency reloads are faster. For the hardcore pump shotgun shooter, this may take some getting used to, but it would be a change in technique which would ultimately make manipulations in this area faster.

The inertia driven system makes the semi-auto mode extremely fast.

The inertia driven system makes the semi-auto mode extremely fast.

The technical aspects of the mechanics of the gun are pretty straightforward. It uses an inertia rotary bolt system, which is the secret behind its speed. The gun is manufactured with a lightweight alloy receiver with a steel barrel extension into which the rotating bolt locks. Like many other great pump shotguns, the TEC-12 utilizes twin action bars in pump mode. The trigger housing, stock and pump fore grip are all manufactured from a heavy, durable polymer, which contributes to its noticeably light weight.

Performance Matters

The author ran a selection of heavy loads from Hornady, Remington and Federal for function.

The author ran a selection of heavy loads from Hornady, Remington and Federal for function.

Performance of the gun overall was equal to other guns in the same category. For testing purposes I intentionally ran a wide variety of ammo though the TEC-12 to see how it would handle it. For the light loads I ran a variety of rounds that included Federal Top Gun Target Load 2 ¾ ” 1 1/8 oz. #8 shot, Fiocchi Light Target 2¾ ” 1oz. #7½  and Aguila 2 ¾” 32 gm #7½ Sporting Clays loads. With the ghost ring set up I was quickly able to drill my steel target reliably at 15 yards and enjoyed point of aim/point of impact accuracy at 15 yards. The average center pattern with birdshot was about 10 inches in steel. In the buckshot category I ran Hornady Critical Defense 2¾” 00 buckshot and Remington Express 2¾” 00 buckshot. I also ran Federal Premium Reduced-Recoil 2¾” 9 pellet FLITECONTROL 00 buckshot to see if there were any cycling issues. As I expected, the gun ran flawlessly with the reduced recoil rounds. Across the board I saw generally a five- to six-inch group on all of the buckshot at 15 yards with the Federal performing the best. The TEC 12’s ability to reliably and consistently put rounds on target makes it a good choice in the home defense and tactical world.

The manual safety of the TEC-12 is located in the forward portion of the triggerguard.

The manual safety of the TEC-12 is located in the forward portion of the trigger guard.

History Class

We would be remiss if we did not address the actual design of the TEC-12. This is obviously not the first dual-action shotgun to hit the market. The first and most iconic example of this design was Franchi’s SPAS-12 “Special Purpose Shotgun” that was released in the late 1970s. The gun was a favorite in movies and we got to see Arnold Schwarzenegger wield one in the Terminator. It was primarily marketed with military and police units around the world. There was a civilian version produced, but overall civilian sales were small. Civilian versions of these guns are quite collectible today and the price reflects that.

More recognizable though is the famous Benelli M3. Its inertia drive system, also known as the Montefeltro action, is simple with only three moving parts—the bolt body, rotating bolt head and inertia spring. This also makes it light and in turn very fast. It is also a very clean-shooting shotgun as it’s not tapping off gas and accumulating carbon. But the question I often get is “why” have a gun that does both. The answer is one I alluded to earlier. The inertia drive while fast, is not really designed to shoot lower-powered rounds such as less-lethal projectiles. These rounds have difficulty at times cycling the action, which can lead to malfunctions. The ability to manually cycle the action via pump mode is the answer. This design gives the shooter the opportunity to run a super-fast semi-auto gun when needed while still being able to deal with light load situations when necessary. With practice a shooter can quickly transition a gun like the TEC-12 back and forth between semi-auto and pump mode.

The 20-inch barrel is topped off with an extended and ported choke tube, which is in the Beretta pattern.

The 20-inch barrel is topped off with an extended and ported choke tube, which is in the Beretta pattern.

The stock of the TEC-12 has a rubberized, finger-groove-pattern pistol grip attached.

The stock of the TEC-12 has a rubberized, finger-groove-pattern pistol grip attached.

Side by Side

In a side by side match up the TEC-12 holds its own against the M3. It is accurate, smooth and, as much as we ran it, reliable. While some will argue about the ultimate durability of the TEC-12 compared to the M3, it is purely a hypothetical argument at this point. TriStar has a reputation for quality that far exceeds the price. They also are quick to back up their products with a five year warranty. This fact is one that often takes the wind out of many arguments regarding imported shotguns. What is not hypothetical however is the price point. The TEC-12 retails at $690, which is less than half of the cost of its Italian cousin. Out of the box, the gun is tough to beat. Coming in a tactical configuration as is does, there is very little if anything that would need to be done to get the gun ready to fight. If I had to pick on anything it would be the same problem we face with almost every shotgun on the market—an inability to change the length of pull, which is a challenge we face in this realm. Solutions could range from different recoil pads to actual collapsible stocks, but that is material for a different article. For those who are interested in entering the dual-action shotgun world. The TriStar TEC-12 is a cost-friendly option to get you on your way. And, while the gun actually ran all loads very well in semi-auto mode, having the option of switching to pump-action at a moment’s notice as needed is a nice feature to have. This is a really interesting shotgun at a great price.

The TEC-12 proved to be a capable performer on the range.

The TEC-12 proved to be a capable performer on the range.

For more information, click this link: http://www.tristararms.com/.

To purchase on GunsAmerica.com, click this link: https://www.gunsamerica.com/Search.aspx?T=TEC-12.

{ 5 comments… add one }
  • Scotty Gunn October 24, 2016, 5:24 pm

    I sold Tri star at retail a few years back. They stink on ice. Okay shotguns, but terrible resale. There really is not a big demand for one. If you buy one, plan on keeping it. The pump/semi idea seems cool, until you really thing about it. Just buy a semi or a pump-preferably a better one. Don’t buy the tri-star pump, either. The extended tube is fake! Yes, that is right. Seems there is restrictions on capacity of imported shotguns. Okay. But they actually put an extended mag tube on that is non functional.
    Buy a decent brand (Remington, Mossberg,Benelli) and be happy with it.

  • Dale Bailey October 24, 2016, 10:06 am

    If it works well in twelve gauge , it it should work just as well in twenty gauge and lead to a whole new group of customers . Those of us who because of physical or medical requirements can not take the pounding of a twelve gauge could get a dedicated self defense shotgun .

  • Whiskey For My Men Beer For My Horses October 24, 2016, 10:05 am

    I have two Turkish made 12 gauge shotguns. I have a USSG SAR 12 gauge semi auto with a 18.5 inch barrel, ghost ring fiber optic sights, pistol grip and with a picatinny rail on the receiver. At first this shotgun did not want to cycle rounds very well so I changed the o ring and cleaned out the gas ports. Now this gun cycles great. It also has a reversible piston so you can shoot two and three quarter or the three inch rounds. I paid 249.00 for it with free shipping. At this price how could a person go wrong. You can\’t. I also have a TriStar Cobra Force 12 gauge tactical pump shotgun. This gun has the same features as my semi auto. The only difference is it has a twenty inch barrel. This gun has a spring loaded extended forearm. That means every time you pull back on the forearm it automatically springs forward. This gun shoots great also. Depending on the size of the shells they both hold five or six. I paid 189.00 with free shipping for the TriStar. The Benelli shotguns may shoot better but I don\’t see how it can be that much better. Both are foreign made shotguns and if I am going to buy foreign I am going to get the best deal I can. For the record Turkey makes kick ass tactical shotguns. If I want to shoot clay birds or any small game then I get out my Remington model 1100 that I have had for thirty years. That is my favorite shotgun hands down. So I can\’t speak for the 12 gauge in the article but if anyone is ever in the market for a quality made economical shotgun and you see a good deal on a Turkish made shotgun gun buy it!

  • RetNavet October 24, 2016, 8:39 am

    Re-design it in a bullpup configuration and I’ll consider it

  • Will Drider October 20, 2016, 2:49 am

    I have had a H&K/Benelli M3 for well over 20 years. It has several features the TEC12 doesn’t. Including the ability to pump action fire heavy loads heavy loads. What they are saying in a round about way is that pump action lockup is weak but with the pump action Locked up in semi auto its fine. 3 Inch chamber NO 3 inch loads tested! By omission this draws attention to system strength again. Does it have a magazine cutoff to aid in loading speciality rounds faster without dumping an extra one? No extended mag tube? Can you load the tube, chamber and one on the elevator/lifter and close the bolt? The TEC12 may imitate the M3 in several ways but it falls short of being a “copy”.

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