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Science-Fiction Scattergun: Smith & Wesson MP12 Bullpup Shotgun [Review]



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Smith & Wesson has been a mainstay of the American firearms industry for generations. While they now make AR-type rifles and even tried their hand at subguns in the past, pistols make up the vast majority of their original engineering inventory. 

So it came somewhat as a surprise when in mid 2021 they announced a new foray into the shotgun market — the M&P12. Straight from a SYFY channel show, the Smith & Wesson M&P12 is a pump shotgun, but nowhere near the old Remington 870 in your safe. With dual magazine tubes running parallel below the barrel, along with a bullpup configuration, the M&P12 represents a distinct shift in the Smith & Wesson lineup.

HISTORY

S&W has actually done shotguns before. In the early 1970s, they produced a pump gun, the Model 916, that was rife with issues and subject to recall due to barrels bursting. This was followed shortly by the Model 1000, a series of semi-auto sporting clay shooters they made from 1973 to 1985. Available in 12- and 20-gauge, the Model 1000 had a trap version (M1000T) and skeet version (M1000S); needless to say, if you couldn’t tell by the model names, they definitely weren’t duty guns. After this run, Mossberg took up the Model 1000 mantle.

The Model 1000 had both a trap and skeet (shown) variant.

In the weirdness of Cold War weapons development in the ’80s, S&W presented several shotgun prototypes for the DoD’s doomed CAWS (Close Assault Weapon System) program. With the “AS” (Assault Shotgun) moniker, these were select-fire, eating from box magazines, with M16 controls and layout. 

The S&W AS definitely isn’t dissimilar to what we’ve been seeing churning out from Turkey in recent years. The case could be made that the S&W AS was the right gun at the wrong time, paired with a customer who didn’t exactly know what they wanted.  

M&P12

Upon first sight of the M&P12, the KelTec KSG we covered way back in 2012 in RECOIL Issue 4 springs to mind. And indeed, it’s definitely difficult to avoid the comparison. Like the M&P12, 2011’s KelTec KSG is a dual-tube bullpup pump gun, and both have an awful lot of fasteners and polymer in the mix.

This example of the M&P12 came to us by way of an American Outdoor Brands (AOB) event held at Gunsite in Arizona, highlighting their Lockdown brand that offers a range of products to secure and organize your firearms. 

The M&P12 as configured by Lockdown…

AOB is a publicly traded corporate conglomerate consisting of 18 separate brands, including Lockdown, Crimson Trace, Caldwell, Wheeler, and Laserlyte. Smith & Wesson, along with Thompson Center and other firearms properties, split off into their own corporate entity a couple years back, but AOB still produces many items under those brands by license. 

Therefore, S&W isn’t exactly a part of it anymore, but they’re closely related. 

M and P 12 shotgun (13)
… and the post-apocalyptic makeover.

As this shotgun was specifically for Lockdown, many parts and pieces were custom coated with the lawn green color Lockdown uses for its logo and products. It’s not precisely the garish so-called “zombie green” we saw on meme products in the mid 20-teens, but it’s a kissing cousin. 

If their intention was to make the green stand out, they achieved that in spades. Needless to say, if you don’t like the accent colors of the M&P12 you see in some of the photos here, rest assured that it comes in boring black directly from the factory. 

Bullpups have an unconventional layout, with the feeding, firing, and action all taking place behind the trigger. This is done to reduce the overall length of the firearm, famously allowing for longer barrels in a smaller footprint. The M&P12 fits a choke-threaded, 19-inch barrel within the footprint of a weapon just 27.8 inches long. 

Because the action and other parts are in the rear, the center of gravity is also closer to your body. While this doesn’t remove any weight, it makes it much more manageable. We’ve read complaints of the M&P12 being a bit too hefty; while when naked and fully loaded it can reach nearly 10 pounds, it doesn’t feel like such a fatty when on your shoulder. 

Each tube of the M&P12 holds seven 2.75-inch shells or six 3-inch shells, giving you a potential capacity of 14+1 — that’s a lot of lead for the size. Notably, you can also stuff an entire box of 20 1.75-inch Aguila Minishells into it, not only cutting down on recoil but gaining another 50 percent of capacity. 

M and P 12 shotgun (8)
The dual-mag tubes run parallel and below the barrel.

The loaded chamber indicator is unobtrusive and can both be seen and felt if you want to check status at a glance. Sometimes nanny parts like these can be eyeroll-inducing, but S&W did a good job integrating them on the M&P12. 

For optics and attachments, the M&P12 has a Picatinny rail running the forward length of the barrel; there’s also some M-LOK hiding beneath the installed vertical grip. There are some short M-LOK sections at 10 and 2 o’clock to allow easy attachment and activation of a weapon-mounted light if you have a direct mount, or the top rail could be used for either an offset WML or a rhino configuration. 

Sling attachment points are a bit of a sore spot, as there’s only a pair of QD points on either side of the rear, essentially limiting you to a single-point sling unless you add an offset point like a Magpul RSA to the top rail or a direct M-LOK socket (we did the latter).

CONTROLS & MANIPULATIONS

The controls on the M&P12 are largely ergonomic and ambidextrous with an AR-style selector lever and action release on the front easily reached with either hand. 

The support hand serves to rack the shotgun as well as operate the push-to-designate magazine selector. The grip of the M&P12 has interchangeable backstraps exactly like M&P pistols, a nice touch that doesn’t quite make up for the non-adjustable stock.

M and P 12 shotgun (5)
The followers are hi-viz orange for easy identification.

Just as with other bullpup shotguns as well as short-barreled ones, shucking should always be done deliberately. Not only should you ensure you complete a complete stroke to avoid inducing a malfunction, your support hand is rather close to the muzzle itself. The use of a vertical grip is recommended to keep your mitt safe, which is how S&W ships them from the factory. 

There’s no two ways about it — reloading the M&P12 is an exercise in patience. Standard tube-fed shotguns are already behind the box-fed curve in terms of speed, landing someplace just north of the revolver. Since the feeding tubes are located up in your armpit (because bullpup), simple actions like topping off the gun are decidedly different. 

The instructors at Gunsite Academy took some time with the M&P12 to determine the most efficient and foolproof manual of arms. Their recommendation was to unshoulder and flip the shotgun over to expose the tubes, taking careful note that the positions are flipped from this POV, and then to fill from there. It’s much easier to perform the physical loading with your firing hand, as there’s no loading guide and it’s easy to miss the tube without practice. 

While typically it’s more tactically proficient to keep your firing hand on the grip during manipulations of a fighting gun, that would take an awful lot of practice and repetition to perform with an M&P12 even when not under pressure, to say nothing of being in the mix of an active fight for your life.  

With that said, it’s not like this is a three-shell field gun. Best practice for a right-hand shooter is to feed from the right tube first, allowing the tube selector on the left side to quickly be pushed in by the support hand when it’s time to switch. Do the opposite for lefties. 

Administrative unloading of the M&P12 is easy to accomplish thanks to the external extractors, and everything can be taken out in the un-fun way without shucking and chambering every shell. 

Taking the M&P12 down requires the use of a tool to disengage an interlock, but it’s OK because it’s stored right in the grip. Barring that, the tip of a small screwdriver or knife will also work. That same tool can be used on the front takedown pin, at which point the upper and lower assemblies can be separated. 

Once apart, the bolt can be removed from the action bars for maintenance. Reassembly should be performed with great care, as it’s possible to put it all back together with the shell elevators on the wrong side of the bolt — and it’s a real PITA to fix if you do (ask us how we know). The provided manual is helpful, as are a number of YouTube videos. 

In terms of malfunction clearance, and we experienced some on the range at Gunsite while shooting in the snow, techniques can vary. After rotating to safe, attempt to open the action (we found that rotating the shotgun helped if a shell was simply stuck on the elevator) and if successful, slam it back forward to feed another.

If that doesn’t work, first depress the cover release button on the stock, then pull back the cover to gain access to the shells to clear them — the latter won’t happen quickly. Still, this is an improvement over some other pump bullpups that require complete disassembly to fix, but it adds up to the same deal breaker in a defensive situation. 

OUTFITTING & MODIFICATION

Underneath the Picatinny rail are M-LOK slots, allowing us to replace the longer factory rail with a much smaller Maxim Defense M-RAX attachment for a dot sight. M-RAX is the easiest Picatinny attachment to use with blind M-LOK slots because the securing nuts are captive and spring-loaded, ensuring you always have a secure fit. Because the nuts are captive, M-RAX sections are a little thicker than others but it’s not a problem in this application. 

The CT HRO has a generous window that works well in this application.

The latest line of Crimson Trace sights is rather impressive and robust, with their CT RAD Micro line withstanding the rigors of regularly riding a pistol slide (see CONCEALMENT Issue 21 for more on budget micro dot sights). 

There were no worries of a scattergun ruining the CT HRO – Heavy Recoil Optic, which looks a lot like CT’s other offerings but sealed, supersized, and further ruggedized. With a 50,000-hour runtime, shake-to-wake, and, importantly, a big-ass window, you wouldn’t want to put it on a handgun, but it’s right at home on a longarm that’ll be used up close. A circle-dot reticle instead of 2 MOA aiming point would fall into the “nice to have” category, especially for something like a shotgun. 

A forward sling swivel was added below the optic to keep us away from being stuck with a single-point, and a SureFire Mini Scout Pro was also attached to bring a white light to the fight. 

M and P 12 shotgun (2)
The included vert grip not only allows for greater leverage while shucking, but also keeps your fingers from the muzzle.

The bright green handguard serves to point out exactly how large and wide it is. Our first thought was to remove some of the extraneous plastic with a Dremel, but further inspection proved this to be a fool’s errand. 

Those polymer gull wings are more than just aesthetic and instead serve several purposes: They’re a protective housing for the tube selection mechanism, which itself is thin plastic and very breakable when unshrouded. The top/rear of the handguard activates the external extractor of the selected tube, allowing the spent shell to cycle out of the shotgun. 

Additionally, there’s an extra tab connecting the two handguards that interfaces with the slide stop/lock in the fire control unit. Needless to say, if you want to build a handguard from the ground up, great care should be taken when doing so.

So naturally, we messed with it anyway. While our original idea was to replace the entire thing with folded sheet metal for that extra apocalyptic look, instead we unfastened the bevy of screws and bolts holding both the handguard together as well as the bottom Picatinny rail to add some paint and other wasteland flourishes. 

The nominal capacity is 14 with 2.75-inch shells, but you can stuff a full box of 20 Minishells inside.

We coated the cheekpiece in Fakelite, added angle iron to the handguard, wrapped the grip in leather, and tossed in some paint here and there for some character. 

ON THE RANGE & LOOSE ROUNDS

Pump action shotguns are like AK-47s — their legendary reliability is just that, a legend. Pump guns are especially prone to human error even in the best of circumstances, so you have to train with them. 

Short stroking is the most common human error with pump guns, yet another reason why the M&P12 should always be run deliberately. Our sample would at first only intermittently load due to shells not properly sitting on the elevator, but field stripping and reassembly cured it of that gremlin. 

Bullpups aren’t known for their great triggers due to the long linkages involved, but its 5-pound, 15-ounce pull weight (by our gauge) isn’t bothersome because it’s not a sniper rifle, it’s a shotgun. In terms of recoil, the overall weight helps but it’s still a 12-gauge scattergun; you’ll feel it in your shoulder after a few boxes.

If you want to stagger loads for over-intellectualized internet points, you have 14+1 chances to do so.

In a throwback to Smith & Wesson’s first shotgun, the Model 916, shortly after the first line of M&P12s hit the market, they announced a safety recall due to concerns of cracked barrels. It should be noted that Smith stated there were only two field reports of this actually occurring, and the recall only applied to shotguns manufactured prior to October 15, 2021. Still, if you nab one on the used market, be sure to check your born-on date. 

Companies get a bad rap for recalls, but remember that recalls on firearms are entirely voluntary in the United States, as they’re not subject to regulation by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Therefore, recalls are performed to keep you, the end user, safe. Moreover, just because a company has never issued a recall doesn’t necessarily a safe product make. 

Speaking of safety, whenever a selectable-tube shotgun is released, such as the KelTec KSG, Standard Manufacturing DP-12, Tavor TS-12 (see RECOIL Issue 49), or the UTAS UTS-15, invariably someone will declare that it’s ideal for law enforcement — they’ll say “just put less-lethal beanbags in one tube and 00 buck in the other.” 

We probably don’t have to tell you that this is a tragic accident waiting to happen, as mess-ups occur even with designated less-lethal 12-gauge scatterguns that are painted bright orange. If you’re the type to stagger loads in your shotgun tubes, you can do so to your personal delight here, but the recommendation is to stick to birdshot for birds and 00 buck for more dangerous game.

A M&P12 that’s broken in, properly lubricated, with a proven track record, run by someone with sufficient training in its intricacies, will probably fare just fine. But for defensive use among the general population? If you’re looking for something in Smith’s M&P line, one of their AR-15s (or handguns) will serve better in that role. For a SYFY scattergat? Look no further. 

Smith & Wesson M&P12

  • Caliber: 12-gauge
  • Capacity: 14+1
  • Barrel Length: 19 inches
  • Overall length: 27.8 inches
  • Width: 3.7 inches
  • Height: 8.7 inches
  • Weight: 8 pounds, 5 ounces (unloaded)
  • MSRP: $1,185
  • URL: smith-wesson.com

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