Having had the KSG for a year now, I’d like to provide a review to those who are considering it for themselves. Like most Kel-Tec designs, this 12-guage bullpup is unorthodox. It improves on conventional pump shotguns in a number of ways. Let’s look at the features first, then the actual performance.
The shotgun is short, just 1/10th of an over the minimum legal length. That means that a police officer can sling it across his chest and still sit behind the wheel in a car. The long gun becomes instantly available for firing out of the car window or for dismounted use.
The center of balance is quite close to the centrally located pistol grip, allowing one-handed control. With the pivot point in the center, muzzle rise is greatly reduced as well. Most of the recoil energy goes straight back and is well moderated by the thick recoil pad. The KSG is easy to manage even for people with little upper body strength because much of the weight is borne by the body and not by the arms.
The cylinder bore barrel is 18.5-inches long. The retaining nut can be replaced with the optional choke tube adapter. The KSG is still shorter than the typical police shotgun with a 14-inch barrel, delivering higher performance with less muzzle flash and no need for a $200 tax stamp. The gun will feed and chamber 3-inch ammunition although I think 2.75-inch makes more sense to get higher capacity and lower recoil.
All controls are large and ambidextrous. The safety button moves side to side, making accidental activation by recoil impossible.
All controls can be reached from the firing grip, safety and magazine tube switch with the thumb, slide release with the index finger.
Sights and other accessories go on the Picatinny rails above the barrel and on the slide. Most people put folding iron sights and possibly a red dot at the top, and a light, laser and a vertical foregrip on the forend. Kel-Tec includes front and rear hand stops for the slide.
Because the forward hand is placed further back than on a conventional shotgun, a vertical foregrip is very helpful for getting enough leverage for racking the slide. For low light use, an MVM14 or PVS14 night vision monocular can be placed behind the red dot. The eye relief is sufficient to avoid being hit on recoil. I recommend gluing a neoprene pad to the top of the receiver for a more comfortable cheek-weld.
The rear sling mount is integrated into the stock, and the robust metal front mounts are placed on each side of the muzzle. I have not had any problems with the sling going forward of the muzzle. The entire shotgun is quite solidly constructed despite the light weight. The sample I have has seen about 1000 rounds, including much buckshot and slug.
The use of two magazines turned out to be a good idea. Tube magazines are not heavy, and using two allows much lighter magazine springs in each. They also allow you to segregate ammunition types, such as slug and buck, or 3-inch turkey loads for distance and 2.75-inch light loads for closer range. Placing the selector switch in the middle permits loading directly to the chamber. The absence of auto switching between tubes has a regulatory advantage: the KSG is legal in all 50 states.
How does it work? In a word, well. For one, it is quite accurate with slugs. Using a red dot sight, it’s easy to place regular rifled slugs into paper grocery bag (about the size of the torso target) out to 50 yards. Recoil is on par with a somewhat heavier Remington 870. For wind shooting, I found that ghost ring sights obscure the sight picture too much, as do most red dots other than EOTech. The solution: fold the sights down and point it like any other shotgun. The KSG points very well. The forend orientation is consistent enough that laser sight installed on the rail keeps zero consistently.
My example works fine with both lethal and riot control ammunition. This is where pumps are still ahead of autoloaders. Brisk cycling is recommended for running low-power roll crimped cartridges like Fiocchi tracer shot. The trigger re-sets just fine, the problem reported at 2011 SHOT show has long since been corrected. The trigger, by the way, is very good—Kel-Tec has bullpup trigger design figured out well.
The one weak side of any bullpup is the reloading. Most people are not used to loading a tube magazine with the support hand. The plus to this shotgun is that you can reload it while still shouldered. The minus is the relatively small space inside the receiver for the hand, the shell, and the two tube magazine openings. Kel-Tec built in raceways to guide the ammunition to the magazine openings, but many shooters find it easier to hold the shotgun vertically for reloading. On the plus side, two seven-shot magazines and one in the chamber add up to the total of 15. Very few real-life gunfights go past that number. My one complaint so far is that the shell latches on the magazines are fairly thin and not comfortable to the touch. Doesn’t matter when loading the shotgun leisurely or wearing gloves, but the latch presses into unprotected fingers during rapid reloads. “Fire one, load one” drill practiced with regular shotguns is slower with the KSG. Fortunately, it carries twice the ammunition load of most riot guns and so the user can concentrate on watching the enemy and spend less time keeping the shotgun topped off.
The KSG is a significant evolutionary advance over conventional pump shotguns. It has a very different manual of arms, so first-time users often look awkward with it. The same would have happened if a Springfield musket user was given a Spencer or a Winchester rifle without an explanation of its controls. Once the controls are familiar, the advantages of short length, high magazine capacity and effective recoil management become evident. The shotgun is as comfortable to left-handed shooters as to the right-handed, and works as well for those of short stature and slight build. While many formed strong opinions based on the photographs and videos, almost everyone who actually shot this weapon really likes it.
PS: From the time the prototypes were released, the design has been improved in the details. Magazines now have witness holes to show load status, the slide release is larger and moves up and down instead of front to back, and the raceways have been added to guide cartridges to the magazines. Some of the photos here show the older modifications.