The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Chairman Pow

Photos by We Plead the Second

The legal history of magazine-fed shotguns in the United States is, to put it lightly, kind of a mess. The Gun Control Act of 1968 defined Destructive Devices as firearms with bores over 0.5 inch, except for shotguns with sporting purposes. Shotguns that didn’t have a sporting purpose would have to be registered with the ATF, with all applicable taxes.

Importation restrictions on firearms also reference “sporting purpose” language, and at the time these laws were written, sporting purposes meant hunting or traditional shooting sports like trap and skeet. At least one lawsuit related to the USAS-12 being banned from import and declared a DD tried to make the argument that they were particularly useful for action shooting sports, but the government countered that these were “combat games” and not traditional sporting purposes.

The Federal Assault Weapons Ban in effect from 1994 to 2004 listed detachable magazines as one of the combinations of features that made a shotgun an assault weapon; if it had any other features, like a pistol grip, a folding, or telescoping stock, or a magazine capacity over five rounds, it was illegal to manufacture or sell to average citizens during that time.

The Saiga-12, based on the Kalashnikov platform, was designed and imported during the federal ban years with five-round magazines and a non-pistol grip stock. Until the ban sunset in 2004, the Saiga-12 went largely unnoticed; there wasn’t much advantage to a detachable magazine-fed shotgun limited to five rounds, versus tube fed guns that could have as many as could fit (so long as it didn’t have other features). And besides, it was Russian, poorly finished, and ugly as sin.

With the ban gone in 2004, over the next several years, magazine-fed shotguns became more desirable. Multiple manufacturers started making Saiga magazines with higher capacities domestically. A cottage industry of converting imported “sporting” variants back into their original configurations popped up, and once that fire was lit, more foreign manufacturers and importers got into the game of selling magazine-fed shotguns.

sds imports lynx 12 shotgunsds lynx 12 shotgun

In 2011, the ATF conducted a study on the importability of various shotguns, determining that detachable magazines weren’t inherently unsporting. They also said that sporting purpose may change over time, acknowledging the existence of three-gun and other action shooting sports that use shotguns, but stated it was beyond the scope of the study to determine if this was indeed a sporting purpose.

After this study and subsequent rulings, manufacturers started importing detachable magazine-fed shotguns with pistol grips and fixed stocks. Following Russia’s involvement in Ukraine toward the end of the Obama administration, importation of Izshmash and Molot produced firearms (makers of the Saiga-12 pattern guns) was banned as part of economic sanctions. The Trump administration has thus far reaffirmed the importation ban.

I started using Saiga-12 shotties in 2006 for three-gun competition. The speed and consistency of reloading was appealing — when they worked, they were awesome and helped me to place in the Top 3 at many matches. When they didn’t work, they were worse than using a pump.

I went through a total of eight Saiga-12s to get three that worked; back then you’d need three of them to complete a competition season, assuming you were hitting a major match every month. Quality control was pretty bad on a lot of these, though you could make them work. Sometimes.

The ones that worked required significant maintenance every 2,000 to 3,000 rounds — cleaning up rough edges, and replacing worn parts and springs. My longest-lived Saiga retired with 9,000 rounds on the clock. The VEPR-12 I switched to in 2012 was a significant improvement (see RECOIL Issue 12). It worked out of the box and had a lot of improved features over the original Saiga, but after five years and 5,000 shells, factory components on it started failing, and it too is now in need of a rebuild. No one can say that we don’t take our testing seriously here at RECOIL, and after more than a decade of hard use, here’s what we know.

In the best of circumstances, mag-fed AK-based shotguns are ammo sensitive and usually run better on hotter ammo. They need to be cleaned every 200 to 300 shells to remain reliable. Lead, plastic, and carbon fouling build up in the gas port. These shortcomings are all tolerable because the speed advantage of reloading with magazines is so huge in the competitive arena.

All this sets the stage of reasonable expectations for an AK-based, magazine-fed shotgun. SDS Imports sent over their new Lynx-12, one of the first 20 imported. It may not necessarily be fully representative of the final product — hell, it didn’t even include a manual, as they’re still working on the English-language version.

SDS Imports LYNX 12

For the rest of this article, subscribe here: RECOIL Issue 36

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