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Preview – Molot Vepr-12 – An AK Shotgun That Works?

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These Smoothbores Have a Cult Following Among Those Who Know Enough Voodoo to Get Them to Work. Molot Vepr-12 Needs Less Black Magic Than Most.

Photography by Henry Z. De Kuyper

I purchased my first Saiga-12 in 2006 as a solution for dealing with high round count shotgun stages in three-gun matches. When Saiga-12s work, they are awesome, and using one contributed to some match wins and top-three finishes. The higher the round count of a stage, the more advantage gained when using magazine-fed shotguns.

The key words there are “when Saiga-12s work” — because when they don’t (which is often), you end up wishing you had a pump gun. I have personally owned eight Saiga-12s, and of those eight, only three worked correctly.


Champagne Tastes, Vodka Budget
Earlier imported Saiga-12s generally displayed better construction and reliability than later models, after demand for them increased. I can’t speak to the quality of currently imported guns, but the previous ones often had gas-system issues. The number of gas ports drilled in the barrel seemed to vary from day to day and how close to vodka o’clock it was. You could never be sure if they’d be aligned with the gas block. These issues could be solved by a gunsmith or a well-motivated individual with a BFH, but this imposed an additional cost on top of the initial purchase. While more tolerable when Saiga-12s were priced under $500, this is completely unjustifiable at current market prices.

Saiga-12s also did not come with usable iron sights. Some were equipped with bead sights that were less than ideal, being mounted to the gas piston tube rather than directly to the barrel (an impossibility with the AK-style design). Others were equipped with crude pistol-style sights that could occasionally be zeroed for shooting slugs, but you could never rely on them. Adding aftermarket irons, or better yet a red-dot, was the best alternative, either using the side rail or attaching an aftermarket mount to the gas tube. The Aimpoint mount by RS Regulate was the best mount I found — it sat close to the bore, could be centered over the bore, and did not need to be removed to disassemble the gun for cleaning.

In addition, inserting magazines on a closed bolt is significantly harder with the Saiga-12 than traditional AK designs. The shooter must push up and forward to keep the front magazine tab in place, as the top shell compresses against the bolt and rocks into the locked position. I grew accustomed to doing this, but many shooters remained dependent on holding the bolt back with their hand or a manual bolt hold-open device to reload consistently.

The longer I used the Saiga-12, the more issues I experienced related to long-term durability. The gun that ran the best for me had close to 9,000 rounds on it when I retired it. The factory fire control had worn out once, and the edges of the bolt had peened over several times, requiring some filing to clean up. In the end, the rivets at the rear trunnion were angled backwards and the dustcover had less than 50-percent engagement at the front of the receiver.

I used my Saiga-12 for the final time at the 2013 Ironman 3-Gun Match, where I started experiencing intermittent malfunctions during the long courses of fire. I was also once again losing the reloading race against Saiga-12s that had been upgraded with magwells and drop-free magazines, or the AKDAL MK1919-style shotguns. It was time to

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