Calibre/Item: Featured article
Make: Saiga 12
Licence Number: Informative article only
Comment: The Saiga-12 is a 12-gauge shotgun available in a wide range of configurations, patterned after the Kalashnikov series of assault rifles and named for the Saiga antelope. Like the Kalashnikov rifle variants, it is a rotating bolt, gas-operated gun that feeds from a box magazine. All Saiga-12 configurations are recognizable as Kalashnikov-pattern guns by the large lever-safety on the right side of the receiver, the optic mounting rail on the left side of the receiver and the large top-mounted dust cover held in place by the rear of the recoil spring assembly.
The Saiga-12 is manufactured by the arms division of Izhmash, in Russia. It was previously imported into the US by European American Armories, although their agreement expired in 2005 and Izhmash then began exporting through the Russian-American Armory Company. The current export import partner is Wolf Performance Arms. Izhmash also manufactures Saiga 20s and Saiga 410s in 20-gauge and .410 bore, as well as the Saiga semi-automatic hunting rifles in a number of centerfire calibers.
Since shotgun shells are nearly twice as wide as 7.62×39mm cartridge, the extraction port in the side of the dust cover had to be increased in size. However, since the bolt had to remain the same length to fit inside the AK-47 sized receiver, the rear section of the bolt is covered by a sliding metal flap that rides on the recoil spring. This allows the gun to be sealed against dirt when the bolt is forward, but the compression of the recoil spring during firing moves the flap rearward to clear the extracted shells.
For the likely reason of simplifying production of Izhmash's other Kalashnikov-pattern guns, the Saiga-12 extractor does not rotate, but instead delegates the bolt-locking function to a caliber-neutral lug directly behind the bolt-face.
The Saiga-12 incorporates an adjustable two-position gas system, for the reason that firing high power loads such as slugs and buckshot generates so much force that the receiver will be damaged if the full power of the gas system is employed without some sort of recoil buffer. The problem is that making the gun durable with the higher power loads would make it useless with low-power loads such as bean-bags and flares since the gun would fail to cycle – becoming in essence a manual straight-pull action or producing a "stovepipe" malfunction.
The Saiga-12 is manufactured in several different configurations ranging from more traditional-looking hunting models to military-style models utilizing AK or SVD hardware. All these versions are available for purchase by civilians in Russia.
Civilian barrel lengths are 17 and 23 inches. The 23" version comes with a traditional rifle stock or with an AK-style separate pistol grip and folding stock (version S for "skladnaya", "folding"). The 17" version (K for "korotkaya", "short") has an AK-style pistol grip and folding stock and a specially-designed safety, preventing operation with stock folded (due to Russian gun laws, it is illegal to own a firearm capable of firing while being less than 800 mm long). "Taktika" versions with 23" or 17" barrels feature various AK, SVD or original "Legion" furniture (handguards, folding and non-folding stocks) and AK-style open sights with high post and tangent rear. Optional screw-in chokes are available. Standard AK rail for optics may be mounted on the left side of the receiver.
Two, five, seven, eight and twelve round box magazines are available, as well as ten, twelve, and twenty round aftermarket drums. All magazines may be interchanged with all 12 gauge models (sometimes minor fitting may be necessary), although factory-original magazines from Russia only exist in 5-, 7- and 8-round box configurations.
Prior to importation to the US, all Saiga shotguns are configured with a traditional fixed "hunting-style" rifle stock and 5-round magazine. Factory 8-round box magazines are not imported in the US (though they are legal for import in other countries), making them quite rare on the civilian market.
Recently, a newly configured version of the Saiga 12 was introduced. Called the Saiga Taktika mod 040, it features an extended magazine well, last round bolt hold open (recently produced very rarely and replaced with manual bolt hold), hinged dust cover with Picatinny rail for mounting optics, picatinny rail gas block, and a newly designed 8-round magazine (not interchangeable with other Saiga-12 models).
This design seems to address deficiencies that the Saiga 12 had in function. The traditional AK "rock and lock" magazine system and the difficulties associated with magazine has been replaced by a vertical insertion system that allow the magazine to be inserted with only one hand. The hinged dustcover with picatinny rail makes mounting optics simpler, and is closer to the bore axis, making sighting of optics easier. The gas-block rail system allows for the addition of combat lights and vertical fore grips. The last round bolt hold open gives the user instant feedback that the firearm is empty and allows for a quicker magazine change.
In late September 2014 the IZ109T was released in the USA. This model featured a shortened barrel with a permanently attached brake. Barrel length was 18 inches including the brake. The IZ109T also had military style features including a rear pistol grip and 6 position stock. Various modifications were made to the trigger group, bolt, and bolt carrier that allowed loaded magazine insertion without locking the bolt back. The IZ109T also featured a fully parkerized military finish.