Staff Writer (Updated: 2/16/2012):
The base Saiga-12 sports an exterior look not unlike the Kalashnikov AK-47. In fact, the body appears essentially the same and features the identifiable lever-safety along the right side and the firing action is directly descended from the legendary AK-47. The pistol grip is fitted behind the trigger guard and angular detachable box magazine. Like AK-47's, the Saiga-12 also makes use of a low-fitting barrel with the gas tube mounted above. A wrap-around hand guard protects the user from touching the hot gas tube. The shotgun system also comes off of the same assembly lines that produce the Kalashnikov AK-74M and AK-100 rifle series and are denoted with the red Izhmash triangle logo featuring an upwards-facing arrow. The Saiga-12 can be manufactured with a traditional solid buttstock (Saiga-12), extending tubular buttstock or a skeletal collapsible stock (Saiga-12S, Saiga-12K, Saiga-12S EXP-01) for increased portability while still others sport a traditional hunting rifle-style buttstock with integrated pistol grip. The system - for obvious reasons - also sports a much larger ammunition extraction hole for spent shell casings, this along the right side of the body. The overall finish is a matte black powder with a slight texture feel.
The Saiga-12 is characterized as a self-loading smooth bore 12-guage shotgun. The Saiga-12 can fire from a 2-, 5-, 8-, 10-, or 12-round detachable box magazines. Additionally, this can be replaced by a 20-round ammunition drum. The Saiga-12 is available in .30-06, 7.62x39mm, .308 Winchester, 9x53R, 5.6x39mm and .223 Remington calibers as well as 20- and .410 shot gauges. The firing operation is gas-operated, featuring a rotating bolt. The gas system is adjustable depending on the type of ammunition being utilized. Barrel options include lengths up to 24 inches and threaded/non-threaded types. One drawback of the firing system has been the lack of a hold-open bolt device after the last round is fired, resulting in a more complicated reloading process.
In action, relatively lightweight Saiga-12 is favored for its suppressed recoil action as far as 12-gauge shotguns are concerned. Considering the amount of force required to fire 12-gauge shotgun shells, this feat is no small doing and the Saiga-12 is also a semi-automatic weapon (as opposed to a manual pump-action), where in the user can fire successive rounds with each pull of the trigger without requiring any other action. As one can surmise, this semi-automatic action can have a dwindling effect to accuracy and recoil absorption. Nevertheless, for a combat weapon designed to be fired within 50 yards of the target or within enclosed rooms, the Saiga-12 does not disappoint. While traditional iron sights are standard, an optional sight leaf is made available for increased accuracy, taking into account terrain elevation and windage for use against stationary and moving targets. Russian-pattern mounts are set to the left side of the body as well and ready to take on optics. The Saiga-12's accuracy is well-known and proven while its fast and reliable cycling action (considered one of the fastest on the planet!) place it on par or even on higher ground when compared to that of traditional and highly-respected pump-action shotguns. A foregrip is also optional as are various styles of muzzle brakes.
The Saiga-12 has appeared in military and civilian hunting (mainly professional and sport game hunting) models as well as civilian home defense, each differing in magazine type and (to an extent) stock styling. As can be expected, military versions provide more bells and whistles for the buck. Many American states and other global countries ban the use of semi-automatic shotguns as they share too much commonality in scope and lethality with traditional assault weapons.
The Russian Spetnaz special forces group is a primary user of the fabulous Saiga-12 series.