SDM AK-12s Tactical: the Saiga 12 alternative
Despite economic sanctions drying up the supply of Saiga and VEPR-style auto loading shotguns, shooters and gun enthusiasts still do have alternatives: and the SDM AK-12s Tactical shotgun from Sino Defense Manufacturing is indeed a reliable one
There's no hiding it: the well is dry. SAIGA and VEPR semi-automatic, magazine-fed shotguns used to be extremely popular among civilians in Europe and north America for a plethora of purposes including, but not limited to: standard target shooting, 3-Gun competition and other practical shooting, home and property defense, as well as for some tactical and professional purposes.
We aptly say "used to be" because the embargo on the import of Russian-made firearms to Europe, the United States and Canada - established two years ago as a response to the Russian involvement in the still continuing Ukrainian crisis - has cut supply sources, forcing gun enthusiasts and distributors to revert to alternative products.
While similar shotguns are now being manufactured locally in the United States (at an undoubtedly higher cost) and while shooters looking for budget-priced magazine-fed auto loading shotguns are reverting to the products of the Turkish gun industry, the Italian distributor Prima Armi S.r.l. is now offering in Europe a solution that brings back the familiar "look and feel" of AK-based shotguns at a fraction of the price tag: it's the S.D.M. AK-12s Tactical shotgun.
A Chinese Saiga...?
Sino Defense Manufacturing (S.D.M.) is a brand of firearms manufactured in the People's Republic of China. The S.D.M. product line includes both long guns and handguns, and so far the AK-12s Tactical is their only semi-automatic shotgun.
Among some other particularly attractive entries in the S.D.M. line we find a clone of the SIG Sauer P226 semi-automatic pistol; semi-automatic centerfire rifles and carbines based on the AR-15 and AKM platforms; an M1A/M25 self-loading rifle clone in a tactical stock for long-range shooting; and the peculiar M77 Commando bull-pup .223/5.56mm carbine, based on the Chinese service QBZ-97 assault rifle. We will cover all of them on these pages.
The S.D.M. AK-12s Tactical was conceived to compete with the SAIGA and VEPR shotguns on the European civilian markets; now that those Russian products are on low supply, the AK-12s Tactical is set to become a monopolist in the field of AK-based auto-loading shotguns, at least on the European side of the Big Pond. Sure, it has a lot going for it.
The shotgun itself is massive, with a full metal construction. Only a handful of non-key components are made out of polymer - specifically the pistol grip (AK-style, but with a SAW-ish aftertaste), the two-parts ventilated handguard with ribbed bottom, and the AR-15 Crane/SOPMOD stock mounted on a tube that allows it to be extended to six different positions.
The grip is of the "Stowaway" type, with a sliding cap on the bottom, and can host small utility tools; the collapsing stock brings the full length from a minimum of 89 cm (35") when fully collapsed to a maximum of about one meter (40") when fully extended. The overall weight of this solid shooting tool tops 4.1 kilograms (9 lbs) when empty.
High capacity, high reliability
The S.D.M. AK-12s Tactical auto loading shotgun is based on an AKM-style indirect gas impingement, long-stroke piston system. In both centerfire and smoothbore long arms, this system has been providing dependable reliability in basically any environmental conditions for almost seventy years, regardless of the quality of the ammunition at hand.
A four-positions adjustable gas system makes the S.D.M. AK-12s Tactical even more versatile, supposedly ensuring reliable cycling even with the low-power ammunition - such as range practice loads or less-lethal home defense and crowd control rounds - that are known to choke or jam most autoloaders.
The magazine well accepts 5 or 10 shots magazines; twenty-rounds magazines should also be made available in the near future, but whether these will be of the stick, curved, or drum type is unknown yet. The magazines and chamber of the S.D.M. AK-12s Tactical shotgun will feed 12-gauge shotshells in either their standard 70mm (2.¾") or Magnum 76mm (3") lengths. The S.D.M. AK-12s Tactical shotgun is not compatible with "Super Magnum" 12/89 (3½") shells.
The S.D.M. AK-12s Tactical auto loading shotgun comes with a smoothbore 356 mm / 14" long barrel, with a fixed cylindrical choke and a massive three-ports muzzle device that dubs as a flash hider and as a compensator, as well as a breacher for tactical operations - allowing the use from point-blank distances against solid targets such as doors without the risk of dangerous pressure surges within the system.
A familiar design
The mag release catch is located just in front of the trigger guard, in form of a standard paddle lever, all too familiar to AK/AKM users. All other controls on the S.D.M. AK-12s Tactical shotgun - namely the reciprocating cocking handle and the manual safety switch, which also dubs as a dust cover when engaged - are also patterned after the AKM layout.
The S.D.M. AK-12s Tactical shotgun also field-strips much like an AKM-type rifle, with the breechblock, the main spring and the gas system being removable from the receiver after releasing and removing the sheet metal top cover.
Sights-wise, the top cover itself features a MIL-STD 1913 "Picatinny" rail, which makes the S.D.M. AK-12s "Tactical" shotgun optics-ready - a quite unusual sight in what one would normally see as "just a Chinese clone".
The rear sight is adjustable for elevation and distance, and is pretty much an AKM rear sight; the front sight is also adjustable, and is protected on both sides.
This shotgun is rough in all its aspects: handling the safety requires a gorilla grip, while the charging handle runs like a farrier’s rasp on a slab of coarse granite. But it is a shotgun intended for rough uses (and users) this should not surprise too much.
The trigger on the other hand is light, with a long but comparatively smooth pull and an easily predictable release.
Filling the magazine may require some practice at first, but then you get easily acquainted on how to do it. On the plus side, you don’t have any doubt when the magazine is properly loaded and when it isn’t. Properly loaded, the magazine feeds the gun reliably.
The gun comes with a 4 position adjustable gas system which - according to the manufacturer - works with any kind of load. With light 24 g loads we have always experienced jams, but we cannot grant this was not caused by the specific sample we have tested.
The finish is so spartan as to make Leonidas look a debauched epicurean. For all practical considerations a semifinished manufact. Better to put into account some basic trigger and polishing/deburring job to fully exploit the considerable potential of this interesting shotgun.
As a whole, the shotgun has impressed us positively. The detachable magazine offers faster reload capabilities than tubular ones. Anybody accustomed to the AK-47 and derivates will feel at home.
A curiosity for our U.S. readers: the S.D.M. AK-12s Tactical auto loading shotgun is very similar to the model that is on sale in the United States as the Catamount "Fury". The main differences include the overall barrel length (which in the AK-12s is much shorter than the minimum legal 18" for over-the-counter shotguns in the United States), the stock design, and other components that make the Catamount "Fury" shotguns import-legal in the U.S.
Nevertheless, the S.D.M. AK-12s Tactical shotgun is a solid alternative for those European shooters who seek a SAIGA-style shotgun that's unaffected by the sanctions, that's as tacti-cool as it can get, that's ready to roll right out of the box and ready to be fitted with aftermarket accessories at the shooter's whim and will. And at a fraction of the cost of an original: the suggested retail price for Europe is set at around 800€ - Pretty affordable!