The Saiga 12: The Bygone Russian Beast

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Once a common and inexpensive shotgun choice in America, Saiga 12s have surged in value since they were banned from importation in 2014. Are they still worth it?

What Are Saiga Shotguns?

  • Made At Izhmash Factory (Now Kalashnikov Concern) In Russia
  • Semi-Auto AK-Style Action
  • Made In 12-Gauge, 20-Gauge, And .410 Bore
  • Several Different Models Imported
  • Currently Only Available Secondhand

The American firearms market in the early 2000s was very different from what it is today. While there are a plethora of magazine-fed shotgun options available now, the shotgun world back then was still mostly dominated by tube-fed traditional designs. So, when Russia began exporting reliable, semi-automatic, magazine-fed shotguns based on the AK’s long-stroke piston system, it definitely turned a few heads.

Now that almost seven years have passed since their importation was banned, are Saiga shotguns still worth looking at?

Saiga 20 hunter
20-Gauge Saiga, hunting model.

History

Saiga shotguns began their life shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s. Designed originally as a sporting and hunting shotgun for the Russian commercial market, its popularity quickly surged as people realized its potential for tactical applications. Shortly after, Izhmash began modifying the design to optimize it for police and military use. These changes included moving the trigger assembly forward to allow for the installation of standard AK furniture, including a folding stock. They also began making larger magazines for them, shortening their barrels, and adding the option for select-fire capabilities. These tricked-out variants were mostly employed by Russian SWAT-style police units, like those attached to the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs).

While the Saiga 12 caught the eye of some American police agencies as well, they mostly procured semi-auto versions. Police agencies from several other countries have bought Saiga shotguns as well.

Saiga 12K
Saiga 12K, customized Russian police version. Photo:Wikipedia

What To Look For

Over the years there were a plethora of Saiga shotgun models imported into the U.S. The most significant distinction between all of them, however, is the location of the trigger assembly. On the original hunting variants, which is the most common variant stateside, the trigger is as the bottommost part of the receiver, compatible with the hunting-style rifle stock. The other models have the trigger in the normal AK location, allowing for the use of standard furniture. Some of the hunting models in the U.S. have been converted, however, so if you are inspecting a Saiga with a standard AK pistol grip check for weld marks where the original pin holes may have been covered up. If done professionally, this is not a problem and generally raises their value and desirability.

Saiga Conversion
Converted Saiga 12. Notice the filled-in pin hole circled in red. Photo:User JakesGunReviews on Reddit

When Saiga 12s were first imported and still relatively unknown, they would sell for about $350. By 2009, the price had gone up by about $200 and people were discussing whether they were still a good buy or not. Now after almost seven years since the last one entered the country, they sell for closer to $1,000 for even a basic, unconverted model.

Right Choice For You?

Saiga shotguns in any chambering are great, reliable guns. Their design left a serious impact on the tactical shotgun world and inspired many copies. So, if you want a semi-auto, magazine-fed shotgun, are Saigas still worth considering? At their current price, unfortunately probably not due to the abundance of similar designs on the market today. Buying a Saiga today is very much an investment. With no more Russian guns to likely ever be imported again, all Russian AK variants have begun demanding a premium for their collectability. If that’s what you’re interested in doing, no problem, but for those looking for a shooter in 2021, it's probably best to look at some similarly designed guns that were not made in Russia.

For more information on Saiga shotguns, please visit kalashnikovconcern.com. Note that the manufacturer's site lists their current Saiga model offerings, many of which were never imported to the U.S.

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