Saiga 12 review


July 12, 2003, 03:14 PM
My new Saiga got a good testing this morning.

The good news. Relibility was superb. I shot S&B 00 12 pellet buck, Remington reduced recoil slugs (only a couple, forgot the rest at home), and a ton of bird shot, ranging from Winchester high base #5, down to el cheapo Wal Mart bulk pack low base #8. I did not have any magnums however, as I don't ever shoot them anyway. Zero malfunctions.

I shot it fast, I shot it holding it lightly (as will often jam a recoil operated gun, but the Saiga uses a gas piston). No problems.

I also lent it to a group of kids and their Dad to play with for awhile. Hey they had plenty of ammo, and you should have seen these kid's faces light off when they started shooting the Saiga. It is a pretty cool looking gun to a 12 year old. :)

Patterns were much tighter than expected. According to CDNN this gun is supposed to be cylinder bore. Ha! If this is what the Russians consider cylinder bore I would like to see their idea of full choke! :D Buckshot pattern at 7 yards was the size of my fist. 10 yards was a bit bigger. 15 yards was about basketball size. 25 yards still had all 12 pellets on an IDPA target. Now I've used a lot of this S&B through my open choke 870, and it is worthless past 15 yards. (don't matter, seeing as my house isn't that big!).

The action was fast. Very fast. Unfortunatly I did not have a PACT timer with me this morning, but split times are quick. The Saiga actually points very well, being mag fed it is almost muzzle light, and the balance seems to ride right between your hands. Not what I'm used to, but I can see how somebody could get used to that.

LOP is a bit short for me, but then again, I'm a moose. I'm apparently the guy that they design factory stocks for. :) The recoil pad is just a hard piece of plastic. That has got to go.

Recoil was not bad at all. I found it a little stiffer than my 870 with the same loads, but I have years of familiarization with that gun, and the stock fits me better. I think that the addition of a good pad will fix that right up.

Muzzle rise is very negligable. Like I said, I didn't have a PACT timer today, so I can't give you any drill times. However I'm willing to bet that it would handle very competitively with any other auto shotgun in 3 gun.

The Downsides:

Minor problems.

The trigger pull sucks. It is creepy, and kind of bumpy. This is the government's fault. The Saiga is supposed to have pistol grip stock, however because of the AWB it can only be imported with a standard stock, to use a standard stock the trigger must be moved back a bit. So now the trigger cams up and wedges the sear forward and up, vs. just a simple down ward pull. (pulling something is always less creepy than pushing something). Not that big of deal on a home defense shotgun, as it is still plenty good enough for minute of badguy. However it is bad for clays.

The safety is a traditional AK style safety, which I happen to like on PG rifles because my finger is long enough that I just trip it with my trigger finger. Piece of cake, just as fast as a thumb safety. I can't do that with a standard stock however. And for everybody else, it is going to be just as slow and awkward to use as a regular AK safety. So for bird hunting, it is a major bummer.

The sighting plane is pretty high above the bore. This causes your POI to be below your POA. Now most American shotguns are set up so that the pattern hits above the barrel. (see clay pigeon, vaporize clay pigeon). I first realized this was going to be a pain when I was patterning the buckshot on an IDPA target. I put the bead in the center of the target, hit about four inches low.

This isn't that big of a deal with steel targets, you just aim at the top of the target instead of the base or the center. However when I tried shooting clay pigeons, it was a real bummer. Normally I do pretty good at thrown clays, today it was bad. To get good hits on the clays with the Saiga required you to aim ABOVE the speeding clay. Not a good way to make a hit on something that is little and fast.

And the biggest downside, and the one that takes it right out of the running for what I do. Mag changes.

If you manually pull the bolt to the rear, and lock it into place with the button, then insert the loaded mag, retract the bolt and let it go, it loads great.

However with the bolt closed, it is dang near impossible for me to get a loaded magazine into place. I can do it with the 5 rounders, but it is hardly what I would call easy. The top shell sticks out of the magazine, and it needs to be pushed down against the spring pressure, then rocked and locked into place like a regular AK mag.

In 3 gun competition, half the battle in shotgun stages is keeping the gun loaded. The best way to do this is to always be topping the gun off, anytime you are moving, load, looking for another target, load, going to cover, load.

I thought the Saiga might be great because it gave you the ability to stick in the gun fast. However to do that I would need to (on the clock) retract the bolt, lock it to the rear with the button, remove the old mag, insert the new one, work the bolt. Too slow, and too difficult to do on the move.

Now if they designed the gun so that all you had to do was drop the old mag, and insert a new one, (with a round still in the chamber) this gun would be the Shizz-nit. It can be done, but it takes a lot of brute strength and leverage. I have also heard a rumor that the newer imports have fixed this problem, but I have no further information on that.

One thing they could do would be to incorporate an automatic bolt hold open like on the Dragunov. Then you would just always run the gun dry and then reload. Not efficient, but better than what it is now.

Plus a select slug drill would require you to drop the magazine to load a slug, or to load a slug only magazine.

So in conclusion. The Saiga is not the gun for bird hunters and it isn't a good 3 gun weapon. Too awkward to manipulate, sighting plane too high for fast instinctive shooting on birds.

But I can see it as one heck of a great home defense gun. Leave it with the safety off, mag loaded in it, chamber empty. Work the bolt and you are good to go. At typical HD ranges it gives you a great pattern, a good capacity, and it is intimidating as hell. :p

For under $300 I think it is a good deal on a fighting ready semi auto HD shotgun. It is also a wicked fun gun to shoot, I have got to admit that. A lot of times I get too serious, and forget about the fun part. There is just something cool about an enormous black 12 guage with a giant magazine hanging out of it. I can't think of anything that would be a better milk jug blaster.

If they fixed it so that the mag changes were easier, this would be a much better gun. If the AWB dies, then the appeal of the Saiga gets even better as you would have more stock options.

I like the Saiga, it just doesn't suit my style. For somebody else this may be the ticket. Reliable, cheap, tough, and fun.

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July 12, 2003, 06:25 PM
Great review. Kinda what I expected out of a Saiga except the tight patterns were a bonus. I might go out and get one since it seems pretty cheap for under 300 bucks :D Sounds like a fun gun to have around.

Dave McCracken
July 12, 2003, 07:26 PM
Thnaks for writing all that, and the deep researching you did.

It does sound like a fun gun that would be excellent for HD. Better reloading would turn it into a decent 3 gun shotgun, tho slug selects, as you say, would still be on the downside.

And, for folks using Kalishnikov rifles, the MOA would aid proficiency...

another okie
July 13, 2003, 12:02 PM
So why is it hard to put a new magazine in with a round in the chamber? Is the bolt too low, is there a strong spring there? I mean, is it something that could be gunsmithed or fixed? I'm thinking about a semi-auto for three gun and other purposes, and the traditional loading doesn't work well for me.

July 13, 2003, 12:58 PM

The top shell sticks out of the magazine a bunch. It needs to be pushed down far enough to get the magazine into its proper place to rock it in. So you are fighting spring pressure, and you need to push up, forward, and in at the same time. I really wouldn't want to do that on the clock.

I think that a fix could be made. If enough metal was relieved from the bottom of the bolt carrier so that the shell didn't need to be pushed in as far then that would be much better. I heard a rumor that the new imports don't have that problem, but I haven't seen one so I don't know for sure. That would be nice. I don't know if this is a gunsmith fix or not, I don't know how removing metal will effect the performance of the gun. Maybe somebody should call EAA and ask them?

The 5 rounder's spring pressure is light enough that it is doable. , and requires a bunch of wiggling and forcing. (enough that you end up popping rounds out of the top the magazine and dropping them on the ground). I don't think it could be done on the move at all.

another okie
July 13, 2003, 03:35 PM
Thanks for the interesting report. I wonder if the spring in the magazine is stronger than it needs to be and could be safely replaced, or if that would lead to feeding failures? I don't expect anyone to know the answer, since it's a new design, just thinking out loud. Maybe I'm doing some wishful thinking, since the Saiga is under $300, and the Benelli, Winchester, and Remington autoloaders for defense or competition are more like 7 or 800.

July 13, 2003, 09:38 PM
from a somewhat older review...this paragraph may be relevant

However, after a final phone conversation with Kalashnikov, USA on this date (10DEC98), we can give their SAIGA-12 a THUMBS UP, ie; I was told that after Jan 1999, they would be offering the SAIGA-12 as a 19-inch barrel shotgun, with a Poly-Choke system on it. They also told me that the new shotguns would have a modification made to the bottom of the bolt, so that there should be no further magazine "rock & lock" problems when using 2 3/4-inch cartridges.

So, apparently they've been aware of the mag seating troubles for in excess of 3 years now.

full review:

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