In Search of the Best 12 Gauge
We liked a Russian-made Saiga-12 we tested a few years ago, but they’ve escalated in price to the point that we went looking for alternatives. We’d pass on two Chinese-made variations.
For those who are not in restricted states, magazine-fed shotguns can quickly switch from sporting uses to home defense and competition with some minor adjustments. In the November 2012 issue, we test-fired four high-capacity products with an eye mainly toward effective home defense, which is often done with shotguns that hold 5, 6, 7, and 8 rounds, usually in tubular magazines under the barrel. But there are bigger-capacity shotguns out there, so in the March 2016 issue we examined the Akdal Arms MKA 1919 3-Inch 12 Gauge, a Red Jacket Saiga RTS-SBS-12 Short-Barrel 12 Gauge, the Kel-Tec KSG 3-Inch 12 Gauge, and the Saiga IZ-107 12 Gauge.
Outcomes: The Akdal MKA 1919 was a gas-operated semi-automatic shotgun that was created by a Turkish company called Akdal Arms. The 1919 was designed to look and feel like the AR-15 rifle. It suffered quite a few malfuctions during our test, and we weren’t sure what fixes would be needed to make it cycle reliably. The Red Jacket Saiga RTS-SBS-12 Short-Barrel 12 gauge was pricey and didn’t function worth a hoot during our testing of these shotguns.
The KSG (Kel-Tec Shot Gun) was a bullpup pump shotgun whose short overall length tallowed for greater maneuverability, making it suitable for close-quarters combat. The KSG weighed a shade over 7 pounds and measured only 26.1 inches in length. The internal dual tube magazines held an impressive 14 rounds of 12 gauge 2 3⁄4-inch shells (seven per tube) or 12 3-inch rounds (six per tube). Because different types of loads can be placed on either side, the shooter can switch between tubes depending on his needs. There are many good fighting shotguns on the market, but no others are quite as handy and possess as much firepower as the Kel-Tec KSG, we found.
Another recommended shotgun from that test, and our favorite, was an older Saiga 12, graded as in Very Good used shape. It was manufactured at the Izhmash Factory in Russia and imported through EAA Corp. What we believe is an identical gun, the IZ-107 12 Gauge, is available from K-Var Corp. of Las Vegas (K-Var.com). Designed as an all-purpose shotgun, the Saiga comes with a chrome-lined barrel, which allows the use of many different types of ammunition, including steel. This shotgun was manufactured utilizing the Kalashnikov gas system, which reduced felt recoil dramatically over the KSG pumpgun. The Saiga shotgun was capable of cycling both 2 3⁄4- and 3-inch magnum shells. As with all Saiga 12s, this shotgun is not designed to use low-pressure shells. Saiga 12 gauges now come standard with a bolt hold-open feature, which allows for quicker magazine changes.
Since our last test, market availability for the Saiga 12 has tightened, making these shotguns difficult to come by and rather expensive — Gunbroker.com prices average around $1300 for an Izhmash-branded Saiga. We wanted to see how a Saiga-style shotgun, but made in China at less than half the price, would hold up to the real thing, so we acquired Catamount Fury and Fury II shotguns and put them through similar tests as the Izhmash Saiga. Here’s what we found:
Century Arms Catamount Fury SG1874-N 3-inch 12 Gauge, ~$400
GUN TESTS GRADE: D
Century Arms Catamount Fury II SG1875-N 3-inch 12 Gauge, ~$575
GUN TESTS GRADE: D-
The Fury SG1874-N appeared more like the standard Izhmash Saiga we tested a few years ago. We hoped it would perform like the Izhmash, but it didn’t. It was plagued by malfunctions. The Fury II SG1875-N tactically styled version was worse.
|ACTION||Semi-auto, gas operated piston; adjustable pressure settings|
|OVERALL LENGTH (Fury)||42.75 in.|
|OVERALL LENGTH (Fury II)||41.25 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT||7 in.|
|MAX WIDTH||2.5 in.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED (Fury)||8.8 lbs.|
|WEIGHT LOADED (Fury, 5-round)||9.8 lbs.|
|WEIGHT UNLOADED (Fury II)||8.6 lbs.|
|WEIGHT LOADED (Fury II, 5-round)||9.6 lbs.|
|BARREL||20.125 in. long; internal thread|
|MAGAZINE||Detachable box, 5- or 10-round|
|DUST COVER||Stamped steel with picatinny top rail|
|RECEIVER||Stamped steel, black anodized|
|BUTTSTOCK||Polymer, rifle style grip|
|BUTTSTOCK (Fury II)||Polymer skeleton, pistol grip|
|LENGTH OF PULL||14.25 in.|
|LENGTH OF PULL (Fury II)||12.5 in.|
|SIGHTS||Fixed rifle style|
|SIGHT RADIUS||8 in.|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||7 lbs.|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT (Fury II)||6.8 lbs.|
|CHOKES||F, M, C|
|WARRANTY||1 year limited|
|MADE IN||Zwiang Machinery Co., China|
|IMPORTED BY||Century Arms, Delray Beach, FL|
The Saiga 12 is a Kalashnikov-pattern 12 gauge imported as a sporting shotgun. Like the Kalashnikov rifle variants, it is a rotating bolt, gas-operated gun that feeds from a box magazine. Saiga 12s are recognizable as Kalashnikov-pattern guns by the large lever-safety on the right side of the receiver, the optic mounting rail on the left side of the receiver, and the large top-mounted dust cover held in place by the rear of the recoil spring assembly. Our 2012 test shotgun was manufactured at the Izmash Legion Factory in Russia.
The Fury and Fury II are Chinese-manufactured Saiga-style 12-gauge shotguns imported by Century Arms, the Fury II being the more tactical-style upgraded model. So, in essence, what we had was one gun with two option packages.
The obvious differences between the two Chinese models are almost the only differences. The buttstock and the magazine well are the only major differences, but those variations affect weight, length of pull and overall length, and the ergonomics for fit and feel. The size advantage goes to the tactically outfitted Fury II; it’s 1.5 inches shorter and weighs in 0.2 pounds lighter than the rifle-stocked Fury.
The addition of the magazine well also means that they use different magazines, the Fury being a more traditional AK-style rolling lock and the Fury II being an AR-style straight lock. Neither takes the same magazines as the Saiga, which means our 50-round drum wasn’t part of the function tests.
Saiga IZ-107 12 Gauge, $640
Gun Tests grade: B+
The Kalashnikov-based semi-auto is a tank that fires shotshells.
|ACTION TYPE||Gas-operated, semi-auto|
|OVERALL LENGTH||44.5 in.|
|BARREL LENGTH||24 in.|
|OVERALL HEIGHT||8.75 in.|
|DROP AT COMB||0 in.|
|DROP AT HEEL||0 in.|
|DROP AT TOE||5 in.|
|LENGTH OF PULL||13.5 in.|
|WEIGHT (UNLOADED)||8.2 lbs.|
|WEIGHT (LOADED 2.75 in.)||9.1 lbs.|
|CHAMBER SIZE||2.75, 3 in.|
|SIGHTS||Fixed rear V. front post|
|SIGHT RADIUS||8.5 in.|
|ACTION||Matte magnanese phosphated steel|
|BARREL||Matte magnanese phosphated steel|
|BUTTSTOCK||Polymer, no buttpad|
|FOREARM||8.5 in. long, checkered polymer|
|TRIGGER PULL WEIGHT||6.6 lbs.|
A Closer Look
As we noted about the Saiga in 2012, there were some substantial nits to pick on the gun. The metalwork was rough and sometimes sharp, especially on the mount on the left side of the receiver. The lack of a rubber buttpad made the stock slip around in the shoulder socket and did nothing to soften recoil. The trigger pull wasn’t overly heavy at 6.6 pounds, but it has about a half-inch of takeup before creeping toward release. The rear sight was crudely fashioned and was only drift-adjustable in a machined-in slot in the barrel. If we were buying new, we’d probably pick an adjustable sight version for just a few dollars more.
The general look and feel of the machining on the two Chinese shotguns was worse, in our view. Aside from the etching on the receiver, the machining on the Fury II’s bolt carrier showed clearly filed down areas in a few places, while the Fury in the same spots was clean and sharp. This minor difference may have increased the number of failures in the Fury II.
Ergonomics of the shotguns were a point of contention between our testers, because some liked the tactical pistol-grip-style stock of the Fury II, and some did not. The backstrap on the pistol grip measured a short 2.2 inches, and some of our testers had a hard time finding a comfortable grip around this cross between a thumbhole and pistol-grip-style stock. The test team also commented that the shorter length of pull on the Fury II made it slightly better for home defense, but that element made it considerably worse for most sporting uses, where we found both shot about a foot low.
The Fury won the ergonomics battle with its sibling purely because none of the testers didn’t like it. It was neutral enough to take the victory over the disputed Fury II’s layout.
At the Range
The looser clearances offered in an AK design result in high reliability, which we saw in our testing of the Saiga 12. We had no function failures of any type with the Saiga, even though we used several different magazines with different capacities, including the drum magazine.
After 150 rounds through each, we think we figured out why the Chinese versions are called Fury: That’s the emotion we felt while clearing the failures we encountered with these firearms and remembering that we had to open the bolt to load a magazine, because they didn’t lock open on an empty magazine.
Our test loads for the Chinese guns were Remington 00 Buckshot and Remington SureShot Heavy Dove Loads, fired with the appropriate gas settings. Once we began shooting the shotguns, the basic Fury scored higher for a few functional reasons and ergonomics. Functionally, we had fewer issues with the Fury, although there were still plenty of failures to feed that bent up the front of the shells. But we had no failures to eject and no issues loading the magazines with the Fury. Also, on the Fury, the bolt lock/release worked.
The Fury II had roughly the same number of failures to feed as did the Fury, but it also had plenty of failures to eject as well. The bolt lock on the Fury II worked fine, but the bolt release on ours did not function. The lever, which moves up and down when the bolt is locked back or released manually, would not release the bolt on its own. If the bolt lock-open became an issue, it would call for an additional full-letter downgrade because, unlike the Izhmash, the bolt had to be open for the shooter to load a magazine.
We also had a few issues with the Fury II magazines themselves. Being all plastic, the metal bottom on the shotshell would occasionally catch on the ramp and the shells would become jammed in place in the magazine and not feed to the top.
Our Team Said:
The Izhmash remains the clear favorite as a high-capacity shotgun, and these two replica attempts weren’t close to it. Since we received our Fury models, Century now has a 922r-compliant 10-round magazine and two more chokes for the barrel that ship with the current Fury II models, so perhaps some of the function issues have been resolved in the newer versions. If it were our money, we would still hold out for a Izhmash that takes the standard Saiga magazines and runs like what we have come to expect from this reliable design.
Written and photographed by Austin Miller, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers.