The Saiga-12: From “Sporter” to 12-gauge Monster

By CTD Mike published on in Firearms

Legion Saiga-12

The Saiga-12 looking all innocent, as imported from Izhmash.

I don’t know the truth about how the Saiga-12 was invented, but I like to think it involved some bored Izhmash employees, a whole lot of vodka, and a crazy bet about who could chamber a Kalashnikov in the biggest caliber possible. Yuri’s 12-gauge was the winner of the impromptu competition, so he won a big furry hat and his design got put into production to sell to those silly Americans who will buy anything Kalashnikov.

Of course it didn’t really happen that way. The Russians simply wanted to make a semi-automatic hunting shotgun that would work no matter what, in all environments with a minimum of maintenance. They took the proven Kalashnikov pattern and beefed it up until it was shotgun sized, put a hunting stock and hunting style forend on it, included a 5 round magazine, and named it after a rare Russian antelope. They probably didn’t mean to take the shotgun world by storm. Magazine-fed shotguns had been done a few times before, but none had caught on. The Saiga was somehow the right gun at the right time. Priced competitively and readily available in great numbers, it comes in .410, 20-gauge, and 12-gauge flavors. Sales are steadily increasing as the Saiga builds a reputation for itself.

Saiga-12 Open Class thumbnail

This heavily modified Saiga-12 was built for competition.

Tactical-minded shooters knew that underneath the import-legal sheep’s clothing beat the heart of a 12-gauge AK-47 monster. Somebody wrote a letter to the BATFE asking for a ruling on the Saiga’s total parts count, so gunsmiths would know how many parts to replace to make the gun 922(r) compliant. The answer? If the Saiga has a threaded choke, it has 14 parts total, and if it has a cylinder bore barrel with no choke, 13 parts.  By replacing 4 (no choke) or 5 (choke) parts with parts made in the USA, the Saiga no longer counts as an imported firearm, and you can modify it in ways that would make an imported gun illegal. With this information in hand, wood stocks and long forends were thrown into the trash, rivets drilled out, trigger groups relocated to the original position, and pistol grips installed. Some gunsmiths and collectors wanted to make Saigas that resembled the classic AK-47 styling as much as possible. Others went hog-wild with grinders, welders, and parts from other guns. Their Frankenstein creations featured HK G3 sights, Barrett 50 cal muzzle brakes, and cobbled-together high-capacity magazines. Many of these custom guns had sawn-off barrels so short that they required registration with the BATFE as short-barreled shotguns.

Fast forward to the present day and the Saiga is more popular than ever. The toughest thing about building your custom Saiga may be finding a dealer with one in stock (we do our best here at Cheaper Than Dirt! to get as many as we can). Once you have a Saiga, many options for customization are available and easily installed without gunsmithing. Ten round stick magazines and 20 round drums give the Saiga owner semi-automatic firepower that is hard to match. Tapco makes matching railed forends and AR-15 style collapsible pistol grip type stocks that go right on the Saiga with no gunsmithing at all. Its easier than ever to trick out a Saiga-12! Those of us with some gunsmithing skills have access to amazing modifications that were just prototypes a couple of years ago. One of my favorite modifications is an AR-15 style magazine well that rivets to the bottom of the Saiga’s receiver. Modified stick magazines can be inserted straight into the Saiga-12 and drop free just like an AR-15’s magazines, but the gun loses its ability to accept drums. If installing all the extended magazine catches, muzzle brakes, and Galil-style charging handles you want is beyond your skill level, there are more than a few custom gunsmithing shops selling a variety of “turn key” custom Saigas from mild to wild. For some configurations, all that’s needed is a regular FFL transfer and a fat wallet. For the short-barreled variants, a $200 tax stamp followed by a long wait for NFA paperwork approval by the BATFE comes first.

Tromix Saiga SBSthumb

This short-barreled NFA Saiga with HK sights was custom-built by Tromix.

All this stuff costs money. A base model Saiga-12 will run you a couple hundred dollars more than a standard Kalashnikov pattern rifle in 7.62×39 just to begin with. But compare the price to traditional semi-automatic shotguns offering similar capacity, such as the FN SLP, and suddenly the Saiga costs hundreds less. You can spend the saved money on the drum mags, railed forearms, and red dot sights you want, and customize your Saiga for roughly the same money as buying a box-stock semi-auto from another maker. It’s not very often that we can make a cool custom tactical gun cost less than a plain factory gun. If those Russian engineers at Izhmash knew about the modifications we are making to their hunting shotguns, what would they think? I’m betting they do know, and I’m betting they are happily raising a toast to us as they receive orders for more Saigas!

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Comments (6)

  • D.Linck

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    I have fired target loads, heavy game loads to high base slugs and 00 shot. I have never touched the setting on the gas plug and my Saiga 12 has only malfunctioned a few times. It has a Phoenix recoil reduction pistol grip butt stock. I am thinking it was limp-wristed causing the ejection problems. Prior to installing the butt stock, I had no malfunctions with any ammo.

    Reply

  • http://www.chinastoress.com/

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    I savor, cause I discovered exactly what I was looking
    for. You have ended my four day long hunt! God Bless you man.
    Have a nice day. Bye

    Reply

  • Harold Robertson

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    The following are results of the third field of my Saiga 12. I installed the TAC 47 Auto Plug according to the Manufacturer’s instructions which states that the Auto Plug is pre-set to the nominal setting for most Saiga 12’s. The factory setting shows that the top surface of the center screw is approximately two full threads above the top face of the body of the plug. After firing several test rounds, the final setting of the center screw was one full thread below the top face of the body of the plug. At this setting, during rapid fire testing, my Saiga 12 performed flawlessly with low brass game loads, high brass buckshot and slugs. The Auto Plug may not be a “miracle cure” for all of Saiga’s “failure to eject” problems that I have read about on various forums, but it certainly cured mine.

    Reply

  • Harold Robertson

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    I chose the Saiga 12 because of it’s versatility (hunting, sport shooting, home defense). I have only field tested it twice since I purchased it about 2 weeks ago. During the first test, I found that, the more expensive, high brass (higher velocity) 2 3/4 inch ammo operates very efficiently at the #1 setting on the factory plug. However, to save money, I tested some low brass (lower velocity) 2 3/4 inch ammo at the #2 setting on the factory plug. The results were very dissapointing with over 50% failure rate. I then ordered a MD Arms V-Plug. During the second field test using the new V-Plug the results were better but far less than I would consider satisfactory. I have now ordered a TAC 47 Auto Plug after viewing videos on the Internet of tests using low brass (Wal-Mart)ammo in the “select fire” version of the Saiga 12. The results showed zero failures after final adjustments of the Auto Plug. I am planning another field test after my Auto Plug comes in next week. I am planning to use Winchester Super Speed Xtra Game Loads (1 oz. of #8 shot at 1350 fps).

    Reply

  • willy

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    looks like a science fantasy futuristic updated elite nano technological micro dynamic designer to this already insane. weapon of mass destruction, image it customized to the owners liking.

    Reply

  • Mark

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    Great weapon. I’ve had mine for about five years now (converted by Red Jacket) and it’s perhaps the funnest gun I have to shoot (I’m a scatter-gun fanatic). Something about the rock-solid nature of the AK that demands respect and exudes confidence.Hats off to Mr. Kalashnikov!

    -Happy Holidays

    Reply

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