The Saiga-12 Saga…

There’s been been discussion recently on other blogs and forums about Saiga-12s, their reliability, modifications required out of the box, and durability.  I was an early adopter of the platform, and started using them competitively in action shooting sports in 2006 well before it was “cool” to do so.  There were some other shooters in Texas that were using them before that including fabricating their own magazines, but it really didn’t appeal to me until AGP Arms came out with their 10 round magazines and I was able to participate in beta-testing those magazines.

I used Saiga-12s very actively from 2006-2010 as you can see in the videos below.

Saiga-12 Highlights 2007-2008

I started using Drums in 2009

Halloween Shotgun Match 2009:

Loading magazines vs individual shells proves advantageous at Tiger Valley 2010 where freezing temps and wet conditions limited dexterity:

Lots of Saiga-12 usage at Ironman 2011

Halloween Shotgun 2011:

During that time I had many Match Wins and high placements using the Saiga-12
1st Place Open Division 2006 AZ State Shotgun Match
3rd Place Trooper Division 2007 Ironman 3 Gun Match
1st Place Trooper Division 2007 Michigan State 3 Gun Match
2nd Place Open Division 2007 AZ State Shotgun Match
3rd Place Trooper Division 2007 Fort Benning 3 Gun Match
1st Place Trooper Division 2008 Ironman 3 Gun Match
2nd Place Open Division 2008 Michigan State Shotgun Match
1st Place Trooper Division 2008 Michigan State 3 Gun Match
3rd Place Trooper Division 2008 Fort Benning 3 Gun Match
1st Place Trooper Division 2009 Ironman 3 Gun Match
3rd Place Trooper Division 2009 Michigan State 3 Gun Match
1st Place Open Division 2009 Halloween Shotgun Match
3rd Place Trooper Divisions 2009 Fort Benning 3 Gun Match
3rd Place Trooper Division 2010 Ironman Match*
5th Place Trooper Division 2011 Ironman Match
3rd Place Open Division 2011 Halloween Shotgun Match

The reason I mention all this is demonstrate that I am more than a casual user of the Saiga-12 and I’ve gotten a lot of trigger time with the system and given it more than a fair chance.  I estimate that I have something around 15,000 rounds fired through Saiga-12s in total based on training sessions, test fire, and matches I have used them at.

In chronological order here is my experience with the Saiga-12 shotgun, representing 8 different guns that I have personally owned.  Names have been with held as everyone that did work on my guns made it right in the end.

Gun 1 was imported with a 17.2″ barrel…it had to be sent back to RAAC under a mandatory BATF recall.

Gun 1 comes back it is ugly as hell with this welded on choke thing. I sent it to a reputable smith to be reworked into a pistol grip configuration and have a comp put in its place.
Gun 1 comes back, it now has plastic wadding shaving into the gas system making neat little hockey puck things. It goes back and forth to the smith a couple times and he gives me a new Gun, Gun 2.

Gun 2 runs great for about 1500 rounds. Then the plate that was welded on to attach the stock starts splitting off. Off it goes to the gunsmith for repair. I sold it when I got it back and got two stock Saigas Guns 3 and 4

Gun 3 runs great, and ends up serving me for almost 3 years with 9,000 rounds fired. (I will go over the maintenance log with that one later).

Gun 4 has crooked gas ports. It has intermittent failures. I never got the opportunity to fix this one.

Gun 5 is purchased to replace Gun 4. I send it off to a different reputable smith to be converted. It comes back and doesn’t work (it did before). Gunsmith fixes it. When I get it back I shoot it for a while, but it doesn’t run as well as Gun 3, so I sold it.

Gun 6 is purchased to replace Gun 5. Gun 6 is part of a faulty batch of imported guns with only 2 gas ports. Gun 6 is sent back, and the importer sends me Gun 7.

Gun 7 only has 3 gas ports and doesn’t run that well. Out of exasperation I have my machinist press the gas block off and drill another hole. Gun runs ok now with everything I shoot through it, just like Gun 3 did.  It does like to malfunction with lighter loads when it starts getting dirty; maybe 1-3 times out of 100 rounds fired it will eject but not chamber the next round.  Simply racking the bolt fixes the problem.

Gun 3 having seen several years of use and 3 Ironman Matches is starting to look worse for the wear.
Factory fire control parts wore out at about 3,000 rounds
Recoil springs have been replaced 4 times.
surfaces on the bolt and barrel extension are peening over and have to be polished.
The rear trunion has shifted significantly and the top cover only has 50% engagement.
The gun once fired merely by turning the safety off

Gun 8 is purchased to replace Gun 3. Gun 8 is about 0.040″ smaller in the receiver width than any of my earlier guns and it pinches AGP mags so they will not feed fast enough. It works with Surefire mags though which are apparently 0.025″ smaller in width than AGPs.  After several hundred rounds fired and a few local matches I take this gun to the 2010 Ironman 3 Gun Match.  I do not have any problems until during the match; the Surefire mags themselves proved to be unreliable and could not feed fast enough to keep up with the bolt speed.  I assume that as the springs wore in they got weaker and just couldnt push the shells up fast enough.  This left me with an empty chamber several times during the match with flying clays in the air; costing me 120 seconds in penalties plus time spent racking the bolt.  In Trooper division we are not allowed to swap out equipment unless we carried it with us the whole time, I have to make do with what I have.  I download my 12 round mags to 8 rounds to make them work, which resulted in a lot more time spent on reloads.  The malfunctions with the Saiga easily cost me 2nd place.

Gun 7 still works, and I use it from time to time to train for the Ironman 3 Gun/Trooper Division.  I am reluctant to use it hard because I don’t want to wear it out and there isn’t anything else out yet that I am ready to buy.  When I do shoot 3 gun now, I often compete in Tac-Limited or Tac-Scope and use a Benelli M2 field that runs great and will easily last 100,000 rounds or more.

When Saigas, work they are AWESOME. I have won and placed in the top 3 of my division in several big matches because I was using a Saiga. I absolutely hate loading tube fed shotguns. I am however, getting sick of the maintenance cycle and going through on average 3 guns to find one that works well out of the box. If the gunsmiths can guarantee that your gun will run when you get it back from them, it may very well be worth the cost if you are lacking in patience and mechanical aptitude. All of these guns are different, even within the same batches, and you have to look at it as a project.  I would only consider using a Saiga-12 if you are a serious 3 gunner and it will help with your score.

There is a market for a quality detachable magazine fed shotgun.  Some gunsmiths and competitors are switching to the AKDAL MK1919 platform, saying it is more reliable and easier to work on.  I’m going to wait and see what happens for a while before I invest in that system.

A recent BATF study on sporting shotguns makes it clear that detachable magazines alone do not make a shotgun “unsporting”, and domestic manufacturers should no longer be scared of Destructive Device rulings.  Its time for American manufacturers to step up and make a reliable, durable, detachable magazine fed shotgun.  With the amount of money people are dumping into foreign designs to make them work and more useable, the market is definitely there.

About SinistralRifleman

I've been competing in the action shooting sports since 2002. I believe competition shooting to be an excellent way to build gun handling and marksmanship skills and encourage all gun owners to seek out some form of competition shooting. Anyone can become reasonably good at it if they devote the time and resources to do so. Winning, while nice, need not be your goal; bettering yourself through the pursuit of excellence is something we all can achieve.
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