JTS M12AK Review: Budget AK Shotgun That Actually Works?
A few months ago, I did something I don’t normally do and bought a gun that I had never even test-fired. I picked up an M12AK semi-auto AK-style shotgun from JTS Group at a pretty ridiculously low price just to see if I could get it to actually run reliably. It seemed like a fun project for the money, and I started with very low expectations.
Over the years, I’ve seen a slew of less-than-stellar performances from AR and AK-style shotguns, which often struggle to cycle a wide variety of ammo – and sometimes any ammo at all. What intrigued me about the M12AK, however, was the clever addition of an easy-to-adjust gas system that might actually solve the problem. So, did it work? Let’s check it out.
All I had to do was pick up the box to know that this shotgun is no lightweight. Outwardly, the gun does have that AK look, and most of the internals are relatively true to the AK design. I did find it almost hilarious that the gun came with an adjustable rear ladder sight that could be raised to what I presume is a less-than-accurate 500 meters for elevation.
Overall, the whole gun looks like a chunky AK, but with the nice addition of a Picatinny rail on the receiver cover and a rubberized recoil pad on the synthetic stock. For the low price point, the bluing and machine work is somewhat rough, but there wasn’t any significant rattle on the main parts, including the receiver cover.
I wouldn’t call it pretty or sleek, but once I shouldered it, the weight was balanced between my hands and the gun was reasonably wieldy for its size. Still, I have no expectations that it will shine on the clays course I intend to take it on later this summer.
Specs & Function
The 12-gauge M12AK runs off an AK-inspired piston and bolt system in a platform that would be familiar to anyone who has spent time with an AK rifle. While this version only sports Picatinny rail over the receiver, there is another variant known as the AK-T1 that offers more handrail space for attachments if that’s your thing.
My particular M12AK came with just two five-round magazines. JTS does make an extended 10-round magazine, but the gun can also host Saiga mags, which is awesome. But the main feature that actually got me excited about the gun is the small four-position gas dial at the front of the gas block. This allows you to vary the amount of gas that operates the bolt from none – functionally making it a single shot – to level three, which is recommended for the lightest loads.
The barrel is threaded for chokes, and it is worth noting that the gun can also fire slugs, unlike some other budget 12-gauge shotguns being imported right now. This shotgun came with a single cylinder choke, but there are JTS-made chokes that run the range from extra full to extended cylinder options. I’ve dropped some more specs below so you can get a feel for the size of the gun:
Length: 39.375 inches Barrel Length: 18.5 inches Sight Radius: 9.875 inches Length of Pull: 14 inches Weight: 9.64 pounds with an empty mag Chamber: 2.75 or 3-inch shells Trigger Pull: 3-4 pounds, sort of...
At nearly 40 inches and just a hair under 10 pounds, this is not a gun that I would want to lug around on a hunt. More to the point, the sight radius is quite short for a shotgun, and it was never meant to swing after fast-flying birds anyway.
The pistol grip, while ugly in a way with its semi-triangular shape, provides decent traction and locks into the hand positively. Because of the long recoiling action and the weight, the kick even with defensive loads isn’t terribly harsh. Plowing through five 3-inch buckshot loads is fast and fairly gentile on the shoulder. As a range gun, it’s also good to see that the safety/selector offers a cutout to hold the bolt open, which is sometimes required/preferred on ranges.
Rocking the mags into place is a bit of a trick. It’s not quite a standard AK rocking motion, instead requiring a secondary forward rock to really seat the magazine. That said, the magazines load easily and have cycled everything except some low-power target loads quite well during the break-in period.
For the target loads, I do still get an occasional failure to eject, which I am currently chalking up to the need to break in the gun some more. However, my defensive and waterfowl hunting loads have all cycled well on the number two gas setting.
It’s important to remember that you have to adjust the gas setting when you move between different loads. You don’t want the gun beating itself to death on the maximum gas setting while shooting hunting and defensive loads.
The sights are almost a joke on this shotgun but in a fun way. They are adjustable, sure, but that’s hardly practical. I also doubt they are calibrated for range really. Still, at 50 yards, two magazines of five rounds filled with 00 buckshot will thoroughly cover a man-sized target even with the limited sight radius.
Recoil is very controllable given the weight and the design, so follow-up shots come quickly. I was out shooting this gun in a polyester Hawaiian shirt on a reasonably sweaty day and found the recoil pad and the pistol grip were both comfortable and functional.
For my uses, I have found that the number two setting works best for defensive and hunting loads ranging from 3-inch #2 to 00 buck. These beefier loads have cycled well from the start. The number three setting has worked fairly well with Remington target loads, but I have had a few hiccups with the ejection from time to time.
So far, I’m sitting at about 200 rounds, and half of that is target loads. After a few boxes of ammo, I was able to cycle an entire 25-round box of target loads without an issue, but I do still get some hang-ups. I’ll be running some more ammo through it this summer to see if that smooths out over time. If you wanted, you could also run the gun on the zero-gas setting and manually cycle the bolt for stubborn ammo.
I've now passed the 400-round mark with this gun, and it has smoothed out some. I can't say it is 100-percent reliable with target loads, though it is pushing through my hunting and self-defense loads at 100-percent cycling right now. That actually lines up well with the original testing, and I am somewhat unsurprised that it is true.
When I first got the shotgun, I took it to the range with only moderate cleaning to ensure the gas-adjustment system didn't have anything that might get baked in and muck up that specific system – such as cosmoline grease. From the start, it liked the more powerful ammo. Target loads, on the other hand, were running a bit less predictably. While I would have some issues after every few mags, that has been cut in half from my more recent testing as the round count increases.
Pros & Cons
The first obvious pro that I see in the M12AK is the adjustable gas system. It just opens a lot more doors for ammo brands and shot sizes. After that, it’s hard to deny the price, which comes in at a fraction of what you would pay for a Saiga 12. Sure, the gun is budget, but if you just want something fun to shoot that offers shotgun power in an AK platform, the M12AK comes at a tempting price point.
I’ve also been pleased with the reliability, which wasn’t perfect but was better than I expected. After 200 rounds, I can chalk up eight failures on target loads and one on buckshot that also seems to be dissipating over time. As a fun gun, that really matters because constantly clearing jams is a fast way to ruin a range day. It’s also nice that you can swap the chokes.
There are some clear cons to me as well, and it’s not really the size or the weight that gets me. The trigger is light but not terribly predictable. It’s actually easier to just aggressively pull it without trying to find the wall. The finish is also clearly budget, making this a gun you’ll want to keep dry and clean on the outside after each use. Because the finish is somewhat rough, it is more prone to surface rust from sweaty hands.
The last stone I’ll through is at the receiver cover. I’m sure it seemed like a good idea to have it directly attached to the receiver on a hinge, but it’s a huge pain when trying to clean or work on the gun. The receiver cover just flops around and whacks into you. I’d much rather just be able to remove it entirely.
While I could see some merit in pressing this gun into home-defense service, I wouldn’t consider that its ideal role given its weight and size. At 5+1 for capacity with AK-style controls, it’s not a very slick gun to operate unless you spend a good amount of time with it. But it does love defensive loads. So, there’s that.
Hunting would also be off my personal list, though breaking clays with an AK-style gun is fun and decent target practice with the military-style iron sights. But yet again, weight and size are an issue, and there are just tons of better options at similar budget prices. For me, this gun is clearly a range companion that is just plain fun to shoot.
So far, most of the “tactical” AR and AK shotguns I’ve seen have been pricey and/or failed to work reliably. This one isn’t perfect, but it’s a heck of a lot of fun on the range for the money.