The New UTS-15
Who makes the world’s most complete, most bad-ass combat shotgun? It is a question that will stir some heated debates. Pump guns almost always have a leg up over fickle automatics. Capacity is an issue. For civilians who don’t want to bother with registering an SBS, length is still a concern. Ultimately it comes down to two main discussion points: reliability and ergonomics. UTAS-USA, makers of the UTS-15, now has a horse in the race. They’ve released an overhauled version of their UTS-15 bullpup.
Will it settle this debate once and for all? Of course not, but the gun may shake things up.
Let’s go back a couple of years. The UTS, after its initial debut, was hammered by the press. These negative reviews gained a lot of traction. That’s how this industry works, sometimes. Some of the reviews were so negative, and so caustic that they were re-posted and forwarded around precisely because they were so viscous. I’m not implying that the reviews weren’t honest. Most of the ones I watched chronicled reliability problems that could easily have killed the whole UTS-15 platform.
Yet there’s another side of this coin. Where were the positive reviews? They were much harder to find. Even GunsAmerica’s first review of the UTS, one which was–overall–positive, had a couple of factual errors. I would bet that there were a fair number of shooters who had positive experiences with the UTS that kept their opinions private. After all, the cool kids were panning the shotgun. The negative review is much stronger than the power of the positive review. This is a dangerous fact, and one that is amplified by the viral nature of video.
Yet UTAS didn’t cave in to the criticism. The company took all of the comments back to the drawing board and began a concerted effort to fix the problems. When we ran into the company at the NRA show this past April, they were showing off an updated UTS-15, and UTAS sent us out a new gun to showcase their efforts.
How about this version of the UTS?
When I review a gun, I beat it up. I bring all of my expertise to the proverbial table, and see what I can do to get the most out of the gun in a variety of situations. I also try to use the gun as a novice would. As a friend of mine said recently, I “try to break it like a drunk hillbilly at 2:00 a.m.” I’m not advocating a method of firearms evaluation that involves intoxication and a return to my Appalachian roots, but you understand the colorful metaphor. If something can go wrong, it will, and I try to make it happen.
There are some fickle guns out there. This version of the UTS-15 isn’t fickle. I’ve had it in for testing now for a couple of months, and it hasn’t even come close to letting me down.
Aw Hell. I’ve done introduced him enough…
On with the specs. Let’s say you’ve never seen a UTS-15 before. It is, at its core, a 12 gauge pump shotgun. The 12 gauge is the go-to round for combat and defensive shotguns, though the size of the round severely limits most shotguns’ capacity. The UTS-15 solves this by doubling up the magazine tubes, allowing for 15 rounds to be carried in the gun. Yet this increase in capacity is paired with a bullpup design that brings the full length barrel deep into the stock, reducing the UTS’s overall length. So it is a compact shotgun that holds twice as much ammo.
And this one happens to have a sharp dipped camo finish. Kryptek Mandrake is haute couture camo, and its popularity is easy to understand. From up close, it looks jarringly geometric. From farther away, the colors blend as camo should.
The magazine tubes
I’m going to gloss over the 12 gauge’s attributes, and go straight for the capacity increase. The UTS has two magazine tubes that are placed above the barrel. This doubles the width of the gun and, as previously mentioned, doubles the capacity. Each tube will hold 7 2.75” shells. With one in the chamber, that’s 15.
Each tube can be run individually. Should you want buckshot in one tube, and birdshot in the other, no problem. Slugs, less lethal, high brass, low-recoil, etc. etc. For most of us, this isn’t a really big benefit, but it is good to have as an option. For others, it solves a persistent problem. Even on my defensive shotgun, a Mossberg 590A1, I load intentionally, and keep color-coded shells in a shell carrier, and more in loops on the strap. The dual tubes can make selection a no-brainer, or can be used to cycle 15 rounds of whatever you choose.
The compact length
The traditional pump shotgun is a reasonably long package. Even with an 18.5 inch barrel, the guns are still hard to maneuver in close quarters, and when entering and exiting vehicles. The bullpup UTS-15 has cut that 39-40 inch pump gun length down to a manageable overall length of 27.8 inches which makes the UTS incredibly maneuverable. Empty, the gun weighs about two pounds less than your typical tactical shotgun, coming in at just over seven pounds.
Some of the early criticism of the UTS pointed to the slide release as a hindrance to effective operation. Most bullpups change the placement of controls. The very nature of moving the forward on the gun makes control placement awkward, at best. The slide release for the UTS is on the bottom of the gun, midway down the stock. It isn’t a natural position, especially if you’re used to having the button accessible at the end of the trigger finger, or your thumb.
Yet muscle memory is easy to build. After a day at the range, I found that I could use the drop reliably, consistently. It just takes some practice.
Each tube can be run independently, or together (which pulls one from the left, then one from the right) if the switch is in the middle position. Running through 15 rounds, as fast as you can run the slide, is a blast. It will also stand you up straight. With 3 inch shells in the gun, the recoil from 15 fast-paced rounds will knock the wind out of you. But this has little to do with the UTS, and everything to do with the 3 inch 12 gauge round. It kicks, no matter what you shoot it from.
There are other features, though, that deserve more attention. The ergonomics of the UTS are both intentional and intuitive. The rail, which runs the whole length of the gun, sits higher than it is on most shotguns. The barrel sits lower in the frame. Iron sights sit on the rail right at eye level. The gun points naturally, and there’s no need to dip your head for sight alignment. The weight balances out nicely, which allows it to move easily between targets. Because the gun is so flat (vertically), it points well from the hip and is easy to point-shoot.
The grip and safety mirror those of the AR-15, so there’s more cross-platform knowledge transfer. In fact, I shoulder the UTS like I would an SBR. I put the stock below my clavicle on my chest, and stand squared to the target. While it may not function exactly like all of the other pump shotguns on the market, it isn’t totally alien to me, either. I don’t know why there aren’t more shotguns that borrow from the AR platform. It is such a sound design principle.
The big question. The center of this debate over the UTS. Will it fire, reliably, every time?
Yes. Yes it will. This is no small point. We ran the UTS with every type of shell we could get our hands on, and found no difference in any of the 2.75 or 3 inch shells.
One of the key things that UTS did when redesigning this gun was to replace some of the plastic parts with aluminum. The company still makes 80% of the UTS-15 form fiber reinforced polymer, which significantly cuts down on the weight, but they’ve been selectively upgrading the parts that were responsible for some of the earlier reliability issues.
There is a learning curve. When compared to most pump shotguns, the UTS has a much shorter range of movement. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say that the shooter has a restricted range of motion. This short motion takes a bit of getting used to, honestly. The stroke feels different when you are cycling a bullpup. The motion is more confined
There is only one thing I’d like to see altered on the UTS, and that is the front end of the pump. I’d like to see a more prominent forward stop that I could really push hard on, just to mitigate the possibility that I might slip forward, which would suck.
While I’m suggesting structural changes to the gun, I’d like to see a larger—or somehow more prominent—slide release button, but that is less of a safety issue.
If there is a problem with the cycling of shells into or out of the gun, a jam can occur. Such issues can be cleared by opening the cover on the back of the gun. You may not be able to simply wrack the slide back and stick your finger in, but it isn’t too complex, either.
We only had one issue in all of the rounds that we fired, and I think it was my fault—not the gun’s. I pulled off 13 fast shots, and had lost count of how many I had. After an odd short stroke, I pulled the trigger on an empty chamber. At that point, I thought I was empty, but wracked the slide a couple of times anyhow (a habit I’ve developed) just to make sure there wasn’t anything left in the tube. Well there was–one lone round. That, though, was the only problem, and I’d call it user error. Every other round fired and extracted perfectly.
This UTS has a leg up over a lot of shotguns in that it comes equipped with a light and a laser built into the slide. Because the magazine tubes are higher on the frame, and the pump isn’t riding on that tube (as it does on most pump shotguns), the space that held rounds can now hold a light/laser combo and batteries. This means you won’t need extra rails to mount an external light.
The green laser/light combo isn’t an inexpensive addition. It sells for $329, but it does its job well. The 200 lumen light has a wide flood beam, with a tighter, brighter center. It is powered by two CR123A batteries. The internal design keeps the gun streamlined.
Who’s going to buy the UTS?
The market for this shotgun is hard to pin down. The Kryptek model starts at $1,350.
When UTAS released the gun in 2012, the hype was extraordinary. The look of the gun immediately made it a crowd favorite. Yet, the reviews that followed the release, as I mentioned, seemed vindictive. This produces something of a conundrum.
The UTS-15 is a sharp looking gun. It has double the capacity of most shotguns. Some of the design elements put it at the forefront of shotgun design. Yet almost all of the initial negative press about the first versions of the UTS pointed at a variety of failures that could have run everyone off.
Yet there’s more to this story, too, and I’m talking about the power that comes from a recognizable name. UTAS-USA is an American company. UTAS has a subsidiary in Turkey, but the UTS-15 is made in Illinois. The company that makes this gun has built guns for Kimber and Smith & Wesson. The UTS-15, as a concept, originated from a request from S&W for a new duty shotgun.
Smith & Wesson is a household name. There are songs written about their guns. Kimber is an icon of quality. Are people hard on their respective failures? Of course. Yet the strength of their brand will carry them through. UTAS, even though they have won awards for guns the produced for both Kimber and S&W, has a tougher row to hoe simply because the name isn’t as well known.
Back to the question at hand. For people who want a badass, slick looking shotgun, the UTS is a clear favorite. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the UTS has almost no competition. If you buy badass range toys and have the testicular fortitude to admit it, the UTS-15 is going to make you smile. And you’re going to go broke (while lining the pockets of your chiropractor) dumping 15 rounds of buckshot at a time, over and over, until you can’t see straight.
The hardcore operators who were looking to the UTS for the ultimate QCB shotgun are going to be the hardest to please, and the early negative reputation of the UTS continues to haunt UTAS. I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of these guys read this review, a positive review of the UTS, and scoff at it, or accuse me of being bought by UTS.
Nothing could be farther form the truth. This gun works. It works reliably. And it does some things that other shotguns don’t. The capacity is one element that puts the UTS into a very small group of competitors. The ability to load different rounds in the separate tubes, and load from each—at will—is another plus. For me, I’m drawn to the height of the rail. When I shoulder the UTS, the sights and optics are at eye level. I don’t have to crane my neck to get a cheek weld, or put risers under red dots and iron sights.
Then there are the immediate extras, like the built in light/laser, the AR style safety controls, the availability of patterned finishes, and the easy-to-read tubes that show you how much ammo you have left.
When you combine all of that together, in a gun that fires and cycles reliably, it is worth taking the extra time to learn the controls. And, if all of the guns rolling off the line work as well as this one does, the reputation of UTAS is going to soar.
Each UTS-15 comes with a 1 year warranty. If you do run into a problem, UTAS will stand behind their work. They’ll fix the problem, or replace the gun. This is something I got to test first hand with the UTS. When the gun arrived for this review, I did my typical pre-flight check. While I couldn’t see the problem, there was one. After a few rounds, the aluminum tube that is molded into the bottom of the frame began inching forward, ever so slowly. It wasn’t a fatal flaw, and it didn’t prevent the gun from working, but it also wasn’t acceptable.
I called up UTAS and talked with Ted Hatfield, UTAS’s Director of Product Development. I sent some pictures of the problem. They’d seen it before. Twice. After making more than 12,000 of these, this was the third time a tube had shot loose. The problem came from incredibly small bubbles in the polymer that made it slightly weak.
After this third occurrence of the issue, UTAS took this part back to R&D and is conducting tensile strength tests now to see if they can replicate the problem. And, if they can–if this isn’t a fluke common to only .03% of the early production, I trust that they’ll fix it, just like they fixed the one they returned to me. I’ve put it through its paces since, and can’t make it fail.
In the end
The UTS-15 is one hell of a gun. Its reputation should change, though, as more reviews like this one filter out. It is deserving of a serious testing, and close scrutiny. I would need much more testing before I’d recommend it as a duty weapon, but it passes my initial testing. And we’re going to keep rolling with the gun.
Operators aside–what about the rest of us? I shoot guns because shooting guns is fun. And there’s that are some Second Amendment considerations thrown in, and a desire to protect myself and my home. During the course of this review, I’ve put the UTS-15 where I used to keep the 590A1. While I’m not likely to completely replace my go-to shotgun anytime soon (mainly because of all of the accrued training I have with that gun), I wouldn’t hesitate to trust the UTS with the protection of my family, and that’s about the highest praise I can give it.