I purchased a Saiga 12 about a year ago and decided I would test it out in a variety of ways that I found suitable for my primary home defense shotgun. The Saiga 12 is one of the sexiest shotguns I have ever seen, unfortunately that is all I have to say about the Saiga in a positive manner. There is not much out there in the market for magazine fed shotguns and you have to wonder if it’s for good reason. Why would I need a 20 round drum weighing 10lbs in any scenario that is realistic? If you need that much shotgun ammo you should have grabbed your rifle. This shotgun on average weighs in at 8.5lbs. Throw a 10 round magazine that is about a foot long and weighing about 3lbs and you have one heavy ass gun.
By now everyone reading this should know the basics of a Saiga 12, if not do some research and then read this, it will save you some time. In this nontraditional style review I will be comparing the
Saiga 12 to a Mossberg 500/590 as a common reference point. I decided to compare the Saiga 12 to the Mossberg 500/590 because they are what I feel is the standard to which every shotgun should be compared to. The Saiga has a few fatal flaws for me and yes most of these can be overcome with modifications to the gun. Keep in mind this review is on a factory Saiga 12, not a super modified aberration of this firearm. The only modifications that I did to this firearm are the addition of the
Carolina Shooters Supply reliability kit, a Polychoke muzzle brake, and some de-burring of the internal rails. If you decide to purchase a Saiga after reading this please follow these steps prior to purchase. Take off the gas plug, visually inspect the gas ports for sign of a “Vodka Special” meaning there is only 2 of the 4 gas ports that are required, if you have a 3 gas port gun and you can live with a possible issue then buy it, but by no means can I suggest that you buy a 2 gas port gun. Yes, you can have the 2 other holes drilled. But why? Buying a brand new gun should never require you to fix a known factory issue. Second item to look for is proper fit of the top cover (some can be a bitch to get on and off). When you are inspecting this gun prior to purchase be sure to disassemble it and inspect all moving parts including the internal rails, feel for burrs or deformities. If you have 4 gas ports, an easy to remove top cover and smooth rails you have a good Saiga. If any of these parts are not up to snuff I suggest waiting or buying a different shotgun. Where you live and the availability of this gun will influence the asking price for this gun drastically. Let’s just agree they are an expensive shotgun. Keep a running count of potential money you will be sinking into this firearm prior to purchase to achieve the end result you require. Let me know if it is a monetarily responsible purchase for your needs after reading. For the purpose of this review I am using the MSRP of $799.99. If you stop reading here and buy a Saiga 12, you have a shotgun that will run 3” magnum shells with relatively no issues and you might be happy with this, I was not. I had major feeding and ejecting issues that got me running to online gun forums to figure out what I can do to relieve myself of an issue that could be a disastrous if I was defending myself or home. Carolina Shooters Supplyhas an overwhelming amount of parts to maintain, replace, and modify your shotgun and they do a great job of explaining what may suit your needs best. I just went simple and got a reliability kit and went to a 5 position adjustable gas plug, a better functioning gas puck, and a low recoil spring. This kit took me about 3 minutes to install, it takes no skill to do so. This kit gave me the opportunity to now shoot high brass and low brass of most kinds 2 ¾” and 3” both ran decent and after some fine tuning I was satisfied. I went to the range for some fun with a state trooper I know and he brought along his Mossberg 590A1. First thing I noticed in comparison is the simplicity of design and function of the Mossberg. Economy of effort is big with me and the Saiga takes too many movements to get into action compared to the Mossberg.
The reason for me getting rid of the Saiga is that you cannot have this gun in Condition 3. You cannot have this gun with a magazine inserted, bolt forward, safety on and no round in the chamber. When the bolt is forward it sits too low and does not allow for the magazine to be inserted and locked into place on this firearm in the factory configuration. The purpose of this shotgun for me was to be a home defense firearm and not having the option of a magazine inserted was not acceptable. Yes I could have the bolt locked to the rear and hope that it stays locked and nothing horrible will happen, but that is just not safe to do. I also could have left the gun in condition 1 with a round in the chamber but the downward pressure that the low sitting bolt puts on the rounds in the magazine starts to deform them over time and can lead to a malfunction. Again this is not acceptable to me.A misfire or jammed round is not something we need to deal with in a serious scenario. Putting aside the life or death scenarios, this shotgun is some of the most fun you can have with your clothes on. You can modify the magwell to accept an AR15 style magazine operation, making the gun accommodating to Condition 3. You can move the trigger group and convert the gun to take anything from a side folding stock to a 6 position Ar15 collapsible stock. The aftermarket support for this gun is massive; you can go full retard quite quickly by adding a 30 round drum, full length quad rail, a door breaching barrel shroud, ambidextrous charging handles, rock n’ lock magazines etc. Try to keep in mind what your original reasoning for buying this was for in the first place. If you bought it just for 3 gun competitions or just some range fun then knock yourself out and modify it till the cows come home. But when you are done you could have bought yourself 5 Mossberg 500/590 pump shotguns or a high end Benelli M-4 semi auto. Sometimes we lose our way when trying to make our firearms reach their maximum potential. A shotgun will never be anything more than a heavy, low capacity, and short range firearm. Try not to become the person who tries to make their shotgun into an AR15; it’s not a good look.
I sold my Saiga and went back to basics; I replaced the Saiga for a Mossberg 500 Flex with XSGhost-Ring Sights. I was issued a Mossberg 500 during my time in the military so I had a bit of familiarity with this firearm already. I took the Mossberg to the range and put it through the same tests as I did for the Saiga 12 at distances of 25-50 yds. I used 2 ¾ and 3” slugs to establish zero on both guns. The Mossberg was easier to acquire proper sight alignment and sight picture in
comparison to the Saiga12. I am no shotgun guru but I was able to shoot 6” groups at 25 yds. and I shot 8” groups at 50yds. In comparison on the Saiga I was able to get a 10” group at 25 yds. It was ugly at 50 yds. The rear sight on the Saiga is terrible; there is no method of elevation or windage adjustment on the Saiga. If your shotgun is like mine and is extremely off target you are stuck with that, just make a Kentucky windage adjustment and try to remember that when your life is on the line. You can again drop some more cash into an improved set of adjustable sights. This is again your call to keep throwing money at this gun or to cut your losses and go in a different direction like I did.
Bottom line is this; are you looking for something that is fun to shoot but could cost more money than the gun is worth on modifications to make it run reliable? If you answered yes, the Saiga may be the perfect shotgun for you. On the other hand if your shotgun is for defending your life/property or tactical shooting, and you don’t want to spend all of your money on making it run as good as a gun that costs 1/3 of the price you initially paid, then maybe a shotgun such as a Mossberg 500/590 or a Remington 870 maybe is in your best interests.
Short summary on Saiga 12
•Threaded barrel for chokes, muzzle devices.
•Fantastic aftermarket support.
•Most mechanical problems can be fixed.
•Fun factor is 10 out of 10 when working properly.
•Factory sights are pure junk.
•Will not make condition 3 in factory configuration.
•Condition 1 configuration will warp shells in mag over time causing failure to fire.
•Weighing in on average of 8.5lbs unloaded is heavier than most shotguns.
•With magazine inserted this gun is awkward and not easy to maneuver with.
•Factory configuration will not feed or eject 2 ¾ inch shells in a consistent manner.
•Size of 8-10 round magazines are massive and are difficult to reload.
•Storing extra magazines in your pockets or plate carrier is near impossible.