General Kalashnikov’s Shotgun

This AK-style 12 gauge is gaining a following
among 3-gun shooters and predator hunters

Morphing rifles into shotguns is a curious business. The classic example was the German conversion of the Mauser 98 into Geha-branded, 16-gauge sporters between-the-wars. The end result was a pretty nice looking bolt-action shotgun if a bolt-action shotgun appealed to you. The action, more than any other element of these designs, make rifle-to-shotgun transformations so intriguing.

Recently, there have been two, rather interesting, contemporary adaptations. The Russian arms factory of Izhmash has developed .410, 20- and 12-gauge models based on the AK-47 action, which go by the name of “Saiga” while Eksen Arms in Istanbul, Turkey, has fielded the AR-15-looking Akdal MKA 1919 in 12 gauge. Both brands speak well for their genealogy with the Saiga being a faithful adaptation of the AK-47 mechanism while the MKA 1919 resembles an AR in cosmetics only.

I’ve not had an opportunity to work with the new MKA 1919, but the Saiga has been around for a few years, and I’ve had some experience with it.

The Russian maker, Izhmash, the Izhevsk Machine Engineering Plant, was established in 1807 by the decree of Tsar Alexander I. Izhevsk is located approximately 683 miles east of Moscow. Because it has been the small arms manufacturing center for Russia, the city of Izhevsk was a “closed city” until 1992, when, with the break-up of the USSR, travel restrictions were lifted and Izhmash was transformed into a diversified “Open Joint Stock Company” that also manufactures under the brand name “Baikal.” The Izhmash plant still produces 85 percent of Russia’s small arms, but the “Open Joint Stock Company” is also now producing automobiles, motorcycles, machinery and variety of consumer products.

ms business and to appeal to the civilian market, Izhmash developed their AK-47 based “Saiga” line of sporting rifles and shotguns. Naming their new line after the odd-looking, Roman-nosed, endangered antelope of the Russian steppes has always puzzled me, but then again, we tack the names of birds and mammals on American made firearms willy-nilly as well.

The most popular of the Saiga shotguns is the 12-gauge, which handles 2-3/4″ and 3″ shells. It has seen a dramatic rise in popularity with the advent of 3-gun matches and a growing public awareness for self-defense preparedness. It is not only popular because of its AK-47 reputation of rugged reliability, but being fed with box magazines, it’s quick to reload as well as having a fast cycling rate. Moreover, it’s an affordable semi-automatic, priced today below $600.

On the sporting side of the ledger, the Saiga is a fun gun for informal clay pigeon shoots. While not exactly designed as a handy upland game gun, it does just fine for static types of hunts, such as predator calling and the pursuit of doves, waterfowl, and turkeys, or as a slug gun when hunting from a stand.

The Saiga pictured here is a 12-gauge with a 19″ barrel, a 41″ overall length and, with an empty 5-shot magazine, weighs exactly 7-1/2 pounds on my Sunbeam scale. This popular version is being marketed by Century International Arms.

Rifle-to-shotgun conversions are among the most interesting of firearms.
The Saiga and the AK share the same size receiver.

“12/76” indicates the 12-gauge chamber is 76mm or 3". The “18, 3” gauges the bore diameter as .720"

The supplied, 5-round polymer magazine is easy to load and totally reliable.

Gas Operated

Examining it more closely, the action is truly that of an AK/AKM-47 with minor modifications to ensure proper functioning with rimmed, 12-gauge shells. It operates and disassembles like an AK for the most part. One of the interesting modifications seen in the Saiga action is a sliding dust cover that seals off the rear of the enlarged ejection port from the elements. Another is an adjustable gas valve at the end of the gas cylinder, enabling the shooter to adjust the operation of the action for standard or magnum shells. Set at numeral “1”, the gas system is adjusted for 2-3/4″ to 3″ magnum shells and at “2” for all others. Economically priced 4-position and automatically adjusting gas valves are available as aftermarket replacements.

On the left-hand side of the action is the standard, Soviet, sight mount rail which accepts a wide range of optics. While there are no Picatinny rails on the synthetic, wraparound forearm, designed to protect your hands from a hot gas cylinder, there are all sorts of Picatinny rails and even tri-rail forearms readily available for the Saiga as aftermarket accessories so you can add on lasers, flashlights and other optics easily.

The heavy-walled 19″ barrel is externally threaded at the muzzle. The Saiga comes fitted with a nut that covers and protects the threads as well as a wrench to tighten or remove the nut. The bore measures .720″, which is about .009″ tighter than an American made 12 gauge, but it’s still a cylinder bore. While no choke tubes are supplied with the gun, choke tubes, Poly-chokes, muzzlebrakes, even door breaching brakes are available as aftermarket items.

For corrosion resistance and ease of cleaning, the inside of the bore, the gas piston and the gas cylinder are chrome plated. The exterior metal is finished in a matt black.

Sporting a conventional AK system, the Saiga is fitted with a more conventional
polymer stock with a checkered grip. The awkward AK safety still graces the Saiga model.

Not only made in Russia but made by one of the largest arms makers in the world, Izhmash.
The arrow in a triangle (above) is Izhmash’s mark.

The “P in a “C” indicates the arm conforms to national manufacturing codes and certifications
while the arrow in the oval is the official stamp of the Izhevsk proof station. A sliding dust cover
was added to protect the large ejection port of the 12-gauge conversion.


The Saiga comes with one 5-round, synthetic, detachable magazine. It accepts and functions perfectly with both 2-3/4″ and 3″ shells, and. it’s easy to load. Before inserting it into the magazine well, you must pull back the operating handle and engage the bolt hold-open device which is activated by a tab at the front of the triggerguard. Pulling back again on the operating handle disengages the device and the bolt slams home, loading the round. Again, as aftermarket accessories, 2-, 8-, 10- and 12-round stick magazines are available as well as 20-round drum magazines. The 2-shot stick magazine makes the Saiga legal for waterfowling. The 20-round drum magazine, tuned for 2-3/4″ shells, turns the Saiga into a formidable lead slinger.

The only essential thing missing on the Saiga is a rubber recoil pad. It needs one if you’re going to shoot magnum shells, slugs or buckshot, and pads are readily available in the aftermarket trade.

The non-adjustable sights on my Saiga are functional with buckshot but can’t be zeroed, and are hopeless if shooting slugs. If I were going to use the Saiga as a slug gun, I would order the model with adjustable sights, possibly add a Picatinny rib or simply install an optical sight on the integral side rail.

I enjoy my Saiga. It’s an outrageous shotgun. As is, it’s a neat collectible as a unique AK variant. It’s fun to shoot. It’s practical as a self-defense and hunting arm. Given the grocery cart list of aftermarket accessories available for it, it’s one of the most modular shotguns ever put in the field. There’s just nothing quite like the Saiga.

MAKER: Izhmash, Russia
DISTRIBUTOR: Century International Arms
430 S. Congress Ave., Ste. 1
Delray Beach, FL 33445
(800) 527-1252

ACTION TYPE: Semi-automatic, CALIBER: 12-gauge 2-3/4″, 3″, CAPACITY: 2-20, BARREL LENGTH: 19″, CHOKE: Cylinder, choke tubes available, OVERALL LENGTH: 41″, WEIGHT: 7-1/2 pounds, FINISH: Matte black, SIGHTS: Fixed or adjustable, STOCKS: Black polymer, checkered, PRICE: $579.87

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