The Russian American Saiga 12 is an semi-automatic hunting shotgun chambered in 12 gauge. The Saiga family of shotguns are based on the ubiquitous Kalashnikov assault rifles, of which the AK-47 is the most widespread exponent. Saigas are imported and distributed by Century Arms.
The AK design is very rugged because it can still function after being exposed and submerged in water, sand, dirt, and mud. Just like the AK-47, the Saiga 12 uses a very clean gas-piston operating system where propellant gases are captured into a tube near the muzzle and directed onto a piston, the gas pushes the piston back so it can drive the bolt to the rear, the bolt ejects an empty shell and then loads a fresh one.
The Saiga 12 has a smooth bore and can shoot magnum shells and slugs. It has two sighting options available, either fixed or adjustable sight leaf.
Russian American recommends the Saiga 12 is recommended for hunting small and medium-sized game.
|Sights:||Adjustable leaf sights<br />Iron sights|
|Features:||Fires regular and magnum shells|
|Barrel Length:||19"<br />24"|
|Overall Length:||41"<br />45"|
RAAC Saiga 12—12 gauge
My shoulder hurts – not as bad today as it did yesterday when I got home from the range, but I can feel it. And see it. I have the faint traces of a bruise. And like almost everyone else that has tried the Saiga 12, I’m smitten.
The growing popularity of all things AK has broadened the market for the gas operated shotgun. But the Saiga 12 has gotten a lot of attention lately. The Discovery Channel’s "Sons of Guns" features the Saigas quite prominently. Whenever a customer is seen asking about home defense, they are whisked to the mini range to test out a Saiga, usually one with a super short barrel.
So why all the attention?
The AK-47 is still the iconic emblem of the cold war, and the feared weapon of too many of our enemies, but the AK platform seems to have a life apart from its national and ideological roots. The gun is incredibly effective, highly reliable, nearly indestructible and tons of fun. The AK has been adopted by almost everyone. That said, I’m still a bit surprised to see so many American contractors carrying AKs. But they work. I guess that trumps patriotism. And maybe even adds a touch of insult.
The AK-47s, and AK-74s, the AK pistols. Why not take the same iconic aesthetics and killer mechanics and make a shotgun? The Saiga 12 exemplifies this transformation.
How does it work?
The simple answer is it works exactly like other AKs. Mostly. Except the magazine. Inserting the Saiga 12’s magazine is a royal pain in the ass. You have to pull the bolt back with one hand while inserting the magazine with the other. There is no lever to hold the bolt back. Imagine trying to brace the gun, compress springs designed to handle the recoil of 12 gauge high brass, and wok in the mammoth magazine.
Needless to say, there is a learning curve. I think the video will show this. If the magazine isn’t seated correctly, the shell hangs up. But this gun is a beast. A good push on the charging handle will seat the round and it is good to go.
The magazine is well built and easy to load. The spring tension is pretty tight, but everything on this gun lacks subtlety. It seats well in the magazine well, and the lever that releases the empty magazine is functional enough. I’m still trying to figure out how a gun with such a strange and unnecessarily complicated magazine connection made it to market, but I’m assured by many different Saiga owners that they have all mastered the skill.
How does it compare?
I cut my teeth on autoloading shotguns with a classic Browning A5. That gun seemed built for dolts like me who can’t hit moving targets. I could pull off five rounds in the time I could usually get two rounds through most pumps. I still can’t hit anything, but I like blasting away anyhow.
As a semi auto, the Saiga 12 can also put a fair amount of steel downrange fast, but it isn’t a hunter’s gun or a bird hunter, either. The bulky gas system eliminates the clean rail, the long sight picture that is so prevalent on fowlers. The Saiga might have other hunting applications. The sights are decent. It could be an effective slug gun at a reasonable range. But this is built off of the AK model. Like the AK-47s, and all of the subsequent variants, this gun is designed for a different kind of sport.
And it is certainly rugged. The Saiga 12’s plastic parts are durable and, well – plastic. The rest of the gun is steel, mostly. While it doesn’t have the heirloom feel of a Browning or a Benelli, it begs to get tossed around, slung on your back and shot. Like most AKs, it looks like it can handle anything it faces.
But I am missing the point, I think. I want to compare it an AK. It is an AK. It’s Mikhail Kalashnikov’s basic design. Yet the Saiga 12 should be compared to other semi-automatic shotguns, which will always be compared with pump shotguns. So there is a lot of competition.
Maybe that’s why I’m having trouble. I don’t see this gun in the same category of weapons as the Berettas and Benellis and the other high end autos. It has a much lower price. If I were in the market for a new shotgun, I would compare the Saiga with the potential of the obscene Kel-Tec KSG.
How does it shoot?
It shoots like a shotgun. While the sight picture is different, the results downrange are the same. I ran a bunch of low brass bird shot through the Saiga 12 and didn’t see any appreciable difference than I would get from any shotgun of comparable length. If anything, the pattern at 25 feet was a bit wider than I am used too. I imagine the short barreled variants would have devastating defensive effects.
The real fun with this gun came with repeated shots. The video should demonstrate the reasonably low muzzle flip. The gun pushed back, hard, but it didn’t walk up that much. I emptied the ten round magazine relatively quickly. I started below the center line of a silhouette target and my last shot was still in center mass. And I’d like to stress that I don’t have all that much experience shooting like this. If I can hold it on target, someone who really knows their way around a shotgun should be able to keep all ten shots in a really tight group – and do it much faster than I could.
I’m a bit conflicted about the Saiga. It would be an extremely versatile gun in a world full of zombies, or a world at war. It is fun to shoot. But it would not be my first choice for home defense. I know myself too well. I’d empty the magazine in less than three seconds. And then it would take me another couple of minutes to figure out how to get the next magazine in.
And I think this gun might make me act a little crazy. I came across a huge hornets’ nest today and my first thought was I wish I had that Saiga 12. That’d get that thing down.
Nothing personal, Saiga, but I might live longer without one. I still believe that the obnoxious clatter of a round being chambered in a pump shotgun is a really strong defensive deterrent. And with a pump, I’m more inclined to think through shots. But if you want rugged, fun, and fast – try out a Saiga 12.