There are shotguns that do not look like shotguns. All are not practical, but a few do have merit. Among the most innovative and interesting is the Kel-Tec KSG shotgun. The KSG is unmistakably a Kel-Tec—the modern design and engineering shows. This is a shotgun the user should be immersed in to learn the nuances of the design and operation if you are to deploy the shotgun for personal defense.
The KSG is an unconventional shotgun in appearance. However, the skeletal structure, you might say, is a traditional pump-action shotgun. The KSG is a bullpup shotgun design. The receiver is actually behind the shooter’s cheek; the barrel is under the cheek, and a tangent system allows a pistol grip to fire the shotgun.
The KSG has one barrel and chamber but two magazines. The total capacity is 14 2 ¾-inch shells, 7 in each magazine. However, you could push for 15 shells with a loaded chamber. The KSG also accepts 3-inch shells, cutting capacity to a measly 12 shells. As may be expected, the balance is different when the shogun is fully loaded.
Unloaded, the piece tips the scales at seven pounds and eight and one-half ounces loaded. It is manageable for fast movement. You will not notice the gun getting lighter as the shells are expended. The KSG is a pump-action shotgun with two guide rails.
The KSG feeds from twin tubular magazines. The magazines feed independently. A lever operates as a stop switch between magazines. Choose which magazine you wish to load and move the lever to cover the other magazine. Load the shells as you would any other tubular magazine shotgun. When the magazines are fully loaded, move the selector switch to cover the magazine, then load the other.
The selector also acts as a safety by blocking both magazines when the lever is in the middle position. The KSG’s unique magazines are a bit slower to load than a standard pump shotgun’s single magazine. With 14 shells this is hardly a consideration. I feel that someone familiar with the system could speed the process up.
The options are pretty broad. With the standard shotgun, we keep the magazine loaded with buckshot or with buckshot and slugs. With the KSG, you may load one magazine with buckshot. Then load the other with slugs. If you find the adversary is behind cover or at longer ranges than anticipated, simply flip the switch to the other magazine. Alternately, you could move the lever to the middle position, stop the feeding from either magazine, and drop a slug into the chamber.
It isn’t as easy to chamber a shell with the KSG as a standard shotgun—another trade off that will be mitigated by training. After a few hours practice with the KSG, I found myself working the action by second nature. If you run one magazine dry, simply run the firing hand back to the lever and flip the lever to access the shells in the other magazine. This is the fastest reload I have seen. I much prefer the KSG system to bulky, ungainly, add-on magazines for the pump shotgun.
As I read Kel-Tec’s technical description of the shotgun, I realized the conventional lockwork would be proven and durable but adapted to a thoroughly modern pump-action shotgun. The receiver is forged steel. The bolt locks solidly into the barrel. Like all pump-action shotguns the bolt is locked when the action is cocked.
A release lever in front of the trigger guard releases the bolt when the bolt is locked. After firing, the hook extractors grasp and remove the spent shell from the chamber. The follower is also an ejector that ejects one shell as the other is fed onto the follower and shell carrier. In Kel-Tec fashion, the stock and forend are made of glass-reinforced nylon.
The grip and forend are nicely checkered for good purchase. The cross bolt safety is positive in operation. When handling the KSG, the bolt release and safety are within easy reach. Each is positive in operation. A positive feature is 12 inches of Picatinny rail on the top of the receiver for mounting optics.
I mounted what I consider the ideal accessory optic for the KGS, a 30mm red dot from TruGlo. It wasn’t difficult to quickly sight the TruGlo unit in. The dot has considerable adjustment for brightness and gives a trained shooter an advantage when moving at top speed.
The action is smooth enough but absolutely demands that the action be worked forcefully and completely forward and to the rear to avoid a short cycle. All pump shotguns demand positive operation, and the Kel-Tec is no different. I think those who report a malfunction, or short cycle, with the Kel-Tec KSG are going too fast.
There is a desire to empty the magazine as quickly as possible, switch to the backup magazine, and fill the air with lead again. This is occasionally OK for fun but has no correlation to personal defense. Shooters firing any pump shotgun in this manner tend to tie the action up with a short cycle.
Firing at a reasonable rate and getting the rhythm going results in excellent speed and reliability. As for recoil, I had a pleasant surprise. My old Remington 870 riot gun kicks more. The Mossberg with Magpul stock kicks less. I cannot readily discern how the KSG dodges recoil but it does, and while the recoil is there it isn’t a healthy kick. If you can handle a riot gun, you can handle the KSG.
The Kel-Tec’s Picatinny rail accepted the TruGlo red dot and this made hits fast and sure. The lower six-inch rail affords other options including a laser or a combat light. The problem is that I like the forward-grip style, and I am more in control with this grip. (But not too close to the muzzle!)
An option is a vertical foregrip, which is not at the top of my list. Many shooters will find the vertical foregrip and combat light combination ideal. As you explore the options available with the Kel-Tec KSG, you realize that this is a well thought out firearm.
The 18-inch barrel is bored open cylinder. However, this is a shotgun bored a little tighter than some. I like that. While shotguns are individuals, the Kel-Tec KSG and the Federal personal defense buckshot load provided an excellent, tight pattern for personal defense. At 10 yards, 4×4 inches were common. That is an excellent standard for an open cylinder riot gun.
A few tips on handling the KSG—keep a steady firm hand on the forend, and do not use paper shells. There are still a few paper shells around, and a number of field loads I tested are not sturdy enough for this action. I suppose there are cheap plastic shells that might give a problem such as the shells I recently tested that were bulged at the very top.
Even a conventional pump-action shotgun with plenty of leverage will not work well with off specification loads. I began the evaluation with Winchester’s No. 9 birdshot. I loaded both magazines and fired my customary first shot into the berm. The action was smooth, and it wasn’t difficult to get fast hits on a man-sized target at 10 yards.
I followed with Federal’s personal defense buckshot load. Recoil was mild and the pattern tight. As for slugs, I like to at least test a shotgun with slugs even when it is a dedicated home defense shotgun. After all, slugs are a potent combination well suited to defense against large animals. The Federal TruBall slug posted excellent results. At 10 yards, three shots made a single ragged hole and a three-shot 1.5-inch group at 20 yards. This dog will run.
To field strip the KSG, remove the disassembly pins from the buttstock. Drive them left to right. (Triple check the gun for shells before beginning!) The grip assembly may now be removed. The rear stock is pulled to the rear and off the shotgun. The bolt is pulled from the receiver by pulling the slide and lifting the bolt. This is all that is needed for routine cleaning and lubrication.
The Kel-Tec KSG isn’t for everyone. The occasional shooter may find fun and novelty in this shotgun. The dedicated defensive shooter that masters the techniques associated with a high-performance firearm, learns how to properly manipulate the action, and quickly change magazine feed will find a unique and formidable firearm like no other.
Are you a fan of Kel-Tec’s KSG? What is your favorite shotgun? Share your answers in the comment section.
Bob Campbell is a former peace officer and published author with over 40 years combined shooting and police and security experience. Bob holds a degree in Criminal Justice. Bob is the author of the books, The Handgun in Personal Defense, Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry, The 1911 Automatic Pistol, The Gun Digest Book of Personal Protection and Home Defense, The Shooters Guide to the 1911, The Hunter and the Hunted, and The Complete Illustrated Manual of Handgun Skills. His latest book is Dealing with the Great Ammo Shortage. He is also a regular contributor to Gun Tests, American Gunsmith, Small Arms Review, Gun Digest, Concealed Carry Magazine, Knife World, Women and Guns, Handloader and other publications. Bob is well-known for his firearm testing.
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