Saiga SWAT-12K shotgun
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- Last updated: 13/12/2016
If I have a claim to fame, then it’s probably being in on the inception of Practical Shotgun (PSG) in the early 1980s. Back then it was fun all the way, as all who shot it appeared to do so for the love of a good bang ‘n’ clang and little else.
However, like any equipment-orientated discipline, the ‘arms race’ soon started. In the beginning the majority of guns were pump-actions with a smattering of semi-autos. However, it soon became apparent that a high magazine capacity was to be preferred, so guns like the 8-shot, Mossberg Slugster became top choice. However, to keep them fed required you to be good at loading and trying to stuff 8-shells into an empty gun took some time; especially when you were running down a course of fire against the clock with targets all around. Research showed the average hi-cap gun usually had a maximum of 3-5 rounds in it at any one time, but soon the semi near replaced the pump as the gun of choice.
It was about this time that the more technically minded amongst us started considering box magazine feed systems, as it appeared the perfect solution to speed reloads, but in truth there was very little out there that even came close. It was a good few years later that Franchi came out with the SPAS 15, which offered a 6-round box mag.
The 15 was a good gun, but hideously expensive and that went for the magazines too. Plus by this time PSG had pretty much accepted the tube-magazine as standard and considered anything else that gave a greater advantage - not in keeping. The SPAS never caught on due to cost and availability of guns and magazines, so the sport went back to what it knew. However, a fox was nearing the hen house in the form of the Russian Saiga 12C!
Hey You're Just a Big AK?
In essence the 12C was a 12-bore AK47 in build, looks and mechanism, though it showed a 24” barrel, but best of all it fed from an 8-round detachable box magazine. The main differences were its adjustable gas/piston operating system and basic, shotgun sights. Conceptually a good Practical shotgun, however, the butt was way too short and the pistol grip too skinny, plus the mag change could be a bit fiddly and the standard AK safety catch was far from ideal…
In terms of practicality the 12C did not feature an automatic or manual last round hold open facility. Plus, and something that perhaps is not initially considered, those 8-round mags are not small and for something as ammo-heavy as a bush/jungle run where you might use up to 50 shots, a minimum of six full clips are needed and a place to carry them. Also somewhere to put the empties, as you don’t want to go losing them at £50 a pop.
Now consider standard exercises, where you may have to start with a mandatory empty gun and load it. Does a box mag gun start with an empty mag you have to fill first, as a tube version would? So though undoubtedly attractive the system is not without its limitations…
Sorry to digress, but this also serves to highlight that PSG, like it or lump it, was built around modified sporting shotguns with integral, manually-fed tube magazines. So putting these up against a box mag system needs a bit of lateral thinking in terms of the rules and also fairness to existing equipment and techniques. By the time the 12Cs started to appear I had long been out of serious/regular PSG and after testing an example I had to say that though it had a lot to offer, I did not really like the package.
FSU Connections supplied me a 12C a few years ago and a call from owner Oleg Savochkin informed me that a new model was available. What I got was amazing and I have to say right up my street too, though maybe a bit too much for PSG, so let’s take a look… Called the Saiga SWAT-12K it was essentially a 12C though it addressed most of the short falls of the original.
The 24” barrel is Cylinder bored with a slotted (M16-type) muzzle brake and the forend the same rounded-style with cast-in chequering and ventilation slots. From here on in it gets more interesting. The receiver is what I would term the M4-type with a manual bolt hold open catch inside the trigger guard, though there is still no automatic function. Rifle-type AK sights are fitted and the steel top cover hinges on the action and shows a 1”, Picatinny-style scope rail, as ever the original NV mount is still there on the left side.
Furniture is much improved, with a longer/wider/fuller pistol grip and a CAR15-type collapsing stock with adjustable comb/cheek piece. Made by a company called Command Arms Accessories (CAA), it’s near identical to the TDI replacements I have fitted to my 7.62x39mm Saiga M4 rifle and significantly improves the length of pull and head position of the generic AK.
Saiga has also improved the feed system. Gone is the direct locking, receiver-to-magazine set up, which had to be angled in and snapped back. Instead there’s an extended mag well with the clips sliding straight up to engage. This is faster and simpler, as before the release catch is located at the rear of the well but the whole job is better all round.
Visually the 12K is something you either like or don’t (or should that be approve of?)… I loved it… Big and black with the classic AK look, this is not a gun for the clay range or driven shoot. I don’t even think it’s one for field use either, as a tube mag like a Benelli M2 or Remy 11-87 SPS is far handier. It’s probably the ultimate Practical gun though; maybe even a bit too much given the discipline. But it was there and I was ready to turn live into empty, so I dug out my eclectic selection of 12-bore ammo and went to work.
The chamber is 3” and takes 2 ¾” shells too. I say this as the smaller, box mag Saiga 410 will only function with 3” cartridges, due to the feed lip angle. Ammo consisted of # 6 & 7 game loads, Buck Shot, BBs and AAAs. With iron sights and a scope rail the gun was crying out for some slug and it would have been rude not to try it, so I dug out some CBC and Remington Slugger. I fitted an Aim Point red dot as well as using the irons.
Most noticeable was the 12K’s good manners in the shoulder, especially with the Remy Slugger, which I have always found to be a hooligan in terms of felt recoil in a sporting semi. Set at position 2 (two dots) the guns showed the occasional, ejection stove pipe (fired case sticking out of the action), regardless of what type of ammo I put through it. At position 1 (one dot) this reduced, but still occasionally surfaced. In truth you will always have a few problems with any semi-auto mech, that’s just the way it is… But in this case they were very easy to clear.
One thing I did notice was the recoil generated kept shaking the cheek piece/comb loose from its rail - hardly surprising really. However, this is a useful feature for optical sights, so I’d advise you to find the right position and somehow lock it down.
For me the most noticeable aspects of the 12K are without doubt its superior butt and pistol grip, which offers better control and shootability and the more efficient mag change. Here you just grasp the empty, press in the catch with your thumb then pull it out. The full one is inserted into the well and pushed straight up to lock. The manual last round hold open is an improvement, as the gun can be shown to be empty.
Compared to a sporting semi-auto the 12K is big heavy and a bit ungainly and the standard safety catch is as ever stiff and hard to operate. This does need sorting, as for negotiating obstacles on a course of fire - making safe is mandatory.
I had an absolute hoot with the 12K just blasting away at targets. All in all I reckon I got through 200 assorted rounds, plus 40-slug without feeling beaten up by the gun… Now comes the sensible bit. Though I like the look and utility of the iron sights and the ability to fit some form of optic on the scope rail, I would be the first to admit that for a gun firing bird shot the irons are of little practical use. Unless of course you favour a red dot, which can be effective for PSG work. However, either option is good if you use it for slug shooting.
One other aspect that might cause slight problems is the 24” Cylinder-bored barrel, which might not have the effective range of a 26” multi choke tube on a Remy 11-87 for example. Though the 12K has a threaded muzzle for the brake I’m unsure if Saiga offer choke tubes to suit, though it would seem logical.
The price is surprisingly good too; certainly in comparison to a Remy 11-87 or Benelli M2, as the 12K comes in about £150 cheaper than these two market leaders. Though you are going to have to factor in spare magazines, which is where it all goes a bit pear-shaped, as the new (mag well) magazines cost £79 each. By my reckoning you will need a minimum of five or six to keep it fed for a big course of fire and that’s going to be expensive. Just to let you know the older 12C clips do not fit the 12K either.
Cheaper by around £150 are the Tactika guns, which use the original, 12C magazine system though show the iron sights, muzzle brake and new pistol grip of the 12K and either a skeleton butt or the Dragunov-type with rotary comb. They do not have a scope rail, but the good news is the magazines are £56 (8-shot) and £32 (5-shot).
Magazine prices aside; given this is a very definite horse with a course; the Saiga SWAT-12K gets my vote as possibly the ultimate Practical shotgun. I don’t have much use for a dedicated PSG tool these days, but by god if that gun had been around when I was a hard core shotgunner it would have changed the face of the discipline and put a big smile on mine too…
SPARE MAGS: £79
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