Firearms designers have been obsessing over decreasing the size and increasing the magazine capacity of handguns for, well, forever it seems. Kel-Tec’s innovative KSG represents a successful attempt to accomplish that goal in the area of shotguns. Specifically, defensive-or tactical-smoothbores.
The 12-gauge, pump-action KSG bullpup has a 14-round capacity (courtesy of two parallel seven-round tubular magazines), a weight of 6.9 pounds and an overall length of 26 inches, including, of course, the legally compliant 18 ½-inch barrel. For purposes of comparison, in case you’re interested, an 18 ½-inch-barreled Benelli M2 Tactical has an OAL of 39 inches.
With its pistol grip; skeletonized, bullpup-style stock; and black synthetic furniture, the KSG is pretty far removed from the old-timey pump-action Ithaca 37 or Winchester Model 12 riot guns that have been a fixture in squad cars since well before Broderick Crawford swung his bulk into a 1955 Buick in the old “Highway Patrol” TV series.
Kel-Tec has been grabbing a lot of attention for innovative firearms-from its ultra-compact P-3AT .380 pistol to the 5.56 SU-16 rifle series to the forward-ejecting RFB .308 bullpup. It seems almost inevitable that the company would eventually turn its attention to what Jeff Cooper used to refer to as the “social shotgun.”
HI-CAP AND MORE
Even beyond the KSG’s truncated steel/polymer dimensions, what’s going to appeal to a lot of folks is the 14+1 total capacity. But the intriguing aspect of the two-tube setup is that you can stuff one with, say, buckshot and the other with slugs. This is significant because ammo specialization is the strong point with a shotgun, and being able to switch from one type to the other with the flick of a lever only enhances that advantage.
Tactical shotgun classes usually cover buck/slug switch-out drills, predicated on the bad guy popping up at distances from seven to 75 yards. Merely switching to a different magazine/load is a lot easier than wrangling with magazine cutoffs and fishing for the right round.
The KSG features a mil-std 1913 Picatinny on top and under the injection-molded fore-end, allowing the user to hang a plethora of AR-type accessories. I chose Troy Industries’ excellent front-folding HK-style battle sight paired with the company’s rear folding unit, which features a flip-up choice of apertures, large and small. The large one, obviously, is more suitable for a shotgun. You could, of course, install a red-dot sight as well, not to mention tactical lights and/or laser units underneath. I wanted to keep things simple, figuring -not unreasonably- that the more gizmos you hang on a gun, the more confusing things can get. Anyway, the Troy setup put me dead-on for slugs at 25 yards with no need for adjustment.
Note: The under-rail accepts a vertical fore-end grip. Installing one (which takes but a few seconds) is a good idea for two reasons: It helps you control muzzle rise, and it keeps your support/pump hand away from -well beneath and in back of- that 12-gauge muzzle. And that’s a good thing. That intimidating bore is quite a bit closer than it would be were the gun of a conventional configuration.
In this era of a bazillion different choke tube options, the KSG is something of an anomaly, a no-nonsense fixed Cylinder Bore*. A couple of guys (full disclosure: They were all coyote callers) I shot it with wished it was threaded for a wider “constriction menu.”
BUCK OR SLUGS?
But considering the fact that Kel-Tec designed the gun for a range of tactical offerings -Foster slug, buck and “less than lethal” -a flat C-choke is probably a wise choice, particularly when you stop to consider that threading it and offering a set of tubes would have driven the price point past the MSRP of around 880 bucks.
Anyway, in terms of buckshot, it’s pretty risky to crown one particular choke as the best. No.1 or No.4 buck in a particular gun may pattern better than 00 or 000 with Modified, or vice versa. In another gun, Full or IC may provide optimum patterns with whatever you’re running through it. The best bet is to tailor the buckshot load to whatever choke you have, and a fixed one -of any constriction- makes the process a whole lot less complicated. And you don’t have to subject yourself to a lengthy beat-down at the bench while you play mix-and-match with a handful of choke tubes and a satchel full of Max Dram buckshot five-packs.
Our test gun would only handle 2 ½-inch shells, but according to a company spokesman, production models will handle three-inchers. If you opt for the three-inch, the capacity of each magazine will be cut by one round. But I can’t see fooling with three-inch ammo in a gun like this. All the cutting-edge loads –low-recoil slugs and buck, not to mention Winchester and Centurion “buck and ball” combos- are all 2 ½-inch. If the Zombie Apocalypse ever comes to pass and three-inch shells are all you can get a hold of, then fine. But why sacrifice magazine capacity and subject yourself to heavier recoil? Anyway, there are a lot better candidates for Turkey Gun of the Year out there. The KSG is a compact, high-capacity defensive tool. And a pretty well-thought-out one at that.
The only way you’re going to approach the KSG’s OAL with a conventional pump and still maintain a legally acceptable barrel length is with a stock-less pistol-grip model. And as cool as they look in the movies, they’re difficult to hit with, and the felt recoil on your firing hand can be painful. The center of gravity on the KSG is, as the company claims, right over the pistol grip, which does make handling easier.
The controls -ambidextrous safety, action bar lock (or bolt release) -all sit in close proximity to the trigger, allowing something approximating a “hand finds hand” ergonomic advantage. The safety is ambidextrous, as is the action bar lock, a twin-paddled arrangement in front of the triggerguard that can be accessed with the forefinger. It requires a downward push to disengage.
The magazine selector is a bit farther back, just forward of the loading/ejection port. I think that with practice I could’ve flicked the selector switch to the second magazine faster, although I must confess I unshouldered the gun and turned it sideways to see what I was doing at first. You push the indicator toward the tube you want to load first. Once it’s loaded, push the indicator toward the other one. The gun will first work on whatever tube the indicator points to. To load the chamber, in order to get that 15th round, put the se lector indicator at the midway point, then ease the pump back to open the chamber and depress that forked shell carrier, pretty much like single loading a bottom-ejecting Ithaca 37 or Browning BPS.
The KSG’s downward ejection design, incidentally, kicked the empties far enough out to avoid bouncing them off my knees. And work that slide hard -like with any pump. If you don’t, you’ll run the risk of short-stroking it.
We shot the KSG with a variety of loads, including Wolf No. 8 Target, Winchester Xpert Steel 7s, Federal Premium Sporting Clays 8s, Winchester Supreme PDX1 (that’s a one-ounce Foster slug with three 00 buck pellets), Federal Low-Recoil Tru-Ball, Hornady 00 Buck and Nobel Sport 00 Buck.
I ran several birdshot loads through the gun to familiarize myself with it without beating myself up with the serious loads. Then I set up a large (15 inch) Birchwood-Casey Shoot-N-C target at 25 yards to shoot some slugs from a sandbag rest. The Winchester PDXl was impressive. With a dead-center hold, that big one-ounce Foster slug pretty much stayed in -or around- the X-ring, and those three 00 pellets splashed 10 to 12 inches around it.
My best effort with the Federal Low Recoil Tru-Balls yielded a five-shot group with two shots inside the X-ring and the final three moving things out another two inches to the left. Moving up to 12 yards, I tried the Hornady 00 Buck, which kept me in the black-all eight pellets in a six-inch cluster. I then moved back to 25 yards and tried Nobel Sport Law Enforcement 00 buck (a 12-pellet load) on a large sheet of butcher paper with a 3D-inch circle in the middle. Ten of the 12 stayed within the 3D-inch circle.
“Innovative” may be the world’s most overworked term in describing a new gun, but the KSG deserves it. With its rails, pistol-grip stock and modular design, it’s going to appeal to the AR set. Folks who’ve seen it are already conjecturing on an auto version. But a pump makes sense for a lot of reasons-simplicity, economy and reliability among them. Kel-Tec should be congratulated.
Note: We’ve received news that Kel- Tec will eventually offer the KSG with choke tubes.