Gun Review: Kel-Tec KSG (again!)

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Revealed at last year’s SHOT show, the Kel Tec KSG (Kel-Tec Shotgun) has been one of the most sought after new guns in recent days, selling on gunbroker for sometimes 50% over MSRP. This, I’m sure pleases the dealers trying to keep them on the shelves. Recently, I was sent one to look over and evaluate, along side Phil, who also received one, and reviewed it previously.

The KSG is a 12 gauge, pump-action shotgun. What sets it apart is it has a bullpup (action behind firing hand), dual magazine design, making it very compact, and with a capacity unrivaled by most pump guns, 6+6+1, while maintaining a very short 26.1” overall length, and an 18.5” barrel. It weighs just about 7 pounds unloaded, and 8.5 lbs loaded.

The controls are fairly simple, and consist of a crossbar safety, an action release on the front of the trigger guard, the pump, and the magazine selector at the front of the receiver. The only one that is somewhat awkward to operate is the magazine selector, which requires moving a hand to the rear of the gun to operate, but isn’t difficult to do so. All of these controls can be operated ambidextrously, making the gun lefty friendly as well.

Stripping the gun consists of pushing the 2 take-down pins out of the grip assembly, which allows the grip assembly to be removed. 2 holes are provided in the grip to stow the pins while the gun is apart. After that, pull the stock out of the back of the receiver. Retract the slide, which allows the bolt to be twisted 90 degrees, and pulled out of the receiver. Personally, this is as far as I would take it down, however the manual also enumerates removing the barrel. To do this, you take a coin, quarters work best, and alternate backing out the 2 screws on the muzzle end of the magazine tubes by 1/4 of a turn, ad nauseum, until they are loose. Push the slide forward, while pushing down on the double feed eliminator link (the small loose metal piece between the underside of the magazine tubes. This should separate the barrel, top rail and pump from the magazines and receiver.

KSG Field Stripped

KSG Field Stripped

To assemble, place the double feed eliminator back where it came from, and press down on it while sliding the magazine tubes back into the pump. Now tighten the 2 screws on the muzzle end, alternating 1/4 turn at a time until they are completely tight. Retract the pump, and insert the bolt so that it sits on top of the action bar, rotate it 90 degrees so that the extractor is facing the bottom, then push the pump forward until the bolt locks closed. Then reinsert the stock. If the stock is difficult to push in, pull the firing pin towards the bottom of the receiver (This can be maddeningly difficult if you forget to pull the firing pin, as the stock simply sometimes will not seat without it.). With the stock seated, Take the grip assembly, insert the front tongue into the lug for it on the magazine tubes, then rock it back into position under the receiver. Reinsert the 2 take-down pins, and perform a function check.

At the Range

The first thing that came to mind after firing this gun is, simply put, pain. This gun recoils like an angry mule, especially with appropriate defensive loadings, like slugs and 00 buckshot. The first trip to the range with the KSG resulted in a painful bruise on my shoulder for the next several days, after having fired 11 1oz slugs and 40 rounds of cheap birdshot. Other than the pain, however, it wasn’t an uneventful range trip, as I had several feeding issues in those first 51 rounds. The majority of them, were the shell simply missing the chamber slightly, running headlong into one edge of the chamber or another, easily remedied by a short cycling of the pump. I’ve noticed this feeding issue in the Ithaca 37 as well, which has a very similar action, with the lifter serving as the ejector, ejecting from the bottom. I also had one failure to extract, leaving an empty hull in the chamber, and a fresh shell on the lifter. Clearing this the first time took me about 5 minutes, although by the end of my time with the gun, I was able to clear them in closer to 1 minute, which although faster, is still quite slow, and frustrating.

Shooting the KSG

Reloading this gun is one of the biggest challenges in its manual of arms, especially without muzzle sweeping yourself or someone else. I found the fastest and safest way for me to do it was to rotate the gun to the outside, to expose the loading gate to your support hand, dig the stock into your hip, and load each tube from there. The trigger is solidly ‘meh,’ not anything to write home about, but acceptable for a defensive shotgun. I found no issues with its accuracy, and was able to hit what I wanted to out to 50 yards, and trust that it will do fine out farther.

I used the KSG in a local 3-gun match, and I had a few complaints about it in that role. The cylinder choke didn’t keep enough birdshot on target to knock over one of the farthest steels on the first stage, but other than that had no problem activating targets. I ran into some sticky extraction on the first stage, which devolved in the second and third (sadly, not filmed) stages into failures to extract. When I was on the clock at the match, I only ever reloaded one tube, because I never needed more than 3 tubes worth of ammo (during the second stage, If the shotgun hadn’t jammed, I wouldn’t have had to reload at all, providing that I didn’t miss).

The gun patterns fairly tightly for a cylinder bore gun buckshot holds center-mass out to 15-20 yards, after that I’d recommend using slugs.

Patterns from left to right: 5 yards, 10 yards, 15 yards, 20 yards, 25 yards, all shot with Winchester Super X 00 Buckshot

Patterns from left to right: 5 yards, 10 yards, 15 yards, 20 yards, 25 yards, all shot with Winchester Super X 00 Buckshot

Pros and Cons
The KSG is definitely an innovative gun, a fresh face in the somewhat stagnant shotgun market. It’s compactness combined with magazine capacity make it easy to tuck into a small storage compartment or case discreetly, and its magazine capacity is unrivaled in the vast majority of shotguns. The thing that strikes me the most about this gun though, is its ‘cool factor.’ It definitely won’t win any beauty contests, but It has a definite space-gun look and feel to it, and with birdshot it is quite fun to blast about with.

However, there are a quite a few detractors for me, the first being this guns hit-and-miss reliability. For the roughly 300 rounds I put through this gun, the number of feed interruptions and outright failures to extract are simply unacceptable to me. A pump shotgun should be one of the most ruggedly reliable guns in a shooter’s collection, and this one simply isn’t. I wouldn’t trust it in a defensive situation, and would hesitate to purchase it, based on that alone. The second irksome quality is its harsh, borderline obscene, recoil. As a shooter who has been known to enjoy shooting several dozen rounds out of a M91/30 for plinking, to enjoy the recoil, and busting apart a target downrange, the KSG’s recoil is downright unpleasant, especially with 00 buck and slugs. I was going to fire some 3” rounds out of it, but couldn’t work up the courage. Lesser problem factors to me include the complicated takedown/assembly procedures, which can be frustration inducing, and a possibly fragile bottom rail. I haven’t personally experienced breakage of the polymer bottom rail when using a VFG, but have seen reports of it.

Finally, a huge issue for me, is the price. At $880 $1080 (as per the Kel Tec letter posted earlier) MSRP, and examples selling for much more than that, I personally wouldn’t be able to justify purchasing this gun. If you have that kind of money burning a hole in your pocket for this gun, and you want a cool-looking range toy, go for it, but in the end, were I to be given the MSRP for this shotgun, to go spend on a pump shotgun for defensive purposes, I’d go buy an 870 Express and a Mossberg 590A1 instead of this one. The concept is cool, but the execution, sadly, just isn’t there.

Specifications
Caliber: 12 Gauge, 3” (12×76)
Barrel Length: 18.5” (47 cm)
Overall Length: 26.1” (66.3 cm)
Height: 7” (17.8 cm)
Unloaded Weight: 6.9 lbs (3.1 kg)
Loaded Weight: 8.5 lbs (3.9 kg)
MSRP: $880 $1080

EDIT: To reflect the new pricing as announced by Kel Tec

Related

Nathan B

Nathan B is a software engineer living in Maryland. He graduated from Penn State University in 2012 with a BS in Information Sciences and Technology. He has been shooting for most of his life, is a sucker for a good .22 rifle, and shoots competitively in IDPA and local 3-gun matches.


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  • Hawk

    The fact that the gun reviewed was less reliable than most semi-autos isn’t exactly a selling point.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Solscud007 Nicholas Chen

      I would take his issues as an exception rather than the rule. My KSG works fantastically. For full disclosure I did have a double feed once and it did take me a while to solve that problem but chalk that up to it being my first time using my KSG. I have never had that problem again but I know how to solve it quickly it it arrises. The only issues I have had, which are infrequent as I can count them on one hand, are failures to eject. After firing a round, the shell seems to get stuck and the pump wont cycle. So I end up having to rack the pump with more force than I usually do and it gets the shell out.

      • qubi

        I’m sure that Kel-Tec products that don’t work correctly are indeed the exception rather than the rule. That being said, the percentage of malfunctioning guns that Kel-Tec puts out is seemingly much larger than that of other manufacturers. In a previous post on TFB, I read one user brag in the comments that his Kel-Tec pistol didn’t start malfunctioning until 800 rounds had been fired… I don’t really understand why that’s even acceptable…

        Glad to hear you got a great example of the KSG, but there seems to be a lot of anecdotal evidence that suggests buying one is a bit of a coin flip in terms of quality. Kel-Tec puts out some interesting stuff, but they need to invest in some better tooling and/or manufacturing expertise.

      • Nathan Barndt

        Bear in mind that Phil had to send his back for repairs before his worked well at all. Not exactly inspiring.

        • Nicholas Chen

          Of course. However that can be misleading. As your experience with KSGs are 2 out of how many? But for a T&E to have issues is not a good thing. They should work flawlessly if you hand them out to people to T&E. I have only experienced mine and the one at SHOT Show this year.

  • Mike P

    Buy an 870 Remington. Problem solved.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Solscud007 Nicholas Chen

      But what if you need a compact hi capacity shotgun? 870 is a great gun but can’t match the KSG characteristics.

      • Bull

        somebody needs to start making something along these lines

        http://www.firearmstalk.com/images/3/9/0/8/3/model10hs-458.jpg

        • Sian

          I just use this. 12+1 and reloads a bunch faster. Plus I built it for just $800.

          • http://www.facebook.com/Solscud007 Nicholas Chen

            Whoa now that is pretty slick!!!

      • http://www.facebook.com/midas89 Joe Shipley

        no but you can buy about 4 of them now that keltec jacked up the MSRP another $300 (let’s not even talk about the fact that they typically go for $1600 IF you can find one).

      • qubi

        Even though I’m not a fan of the KSG, you’re absolutely right. Short of the unwieldy (and low capacity) super shorty, KSG is much more compact and maneuverable than the 870. I might guess that an 870′s sustained ROF would be slightly higher than the KSG given reloads, but I’m pretty sure most people won’t need more than 13 rounds (or even 8 for that matter) outside of a competition. If reliability is a measured characteristic, I’d say the edge goes to the 870, but some of the newer 870 expresses coming out feel pretty suspect to me… Then again, I’ve been spoiled rotten by the silky smooth action of my old police surplus Wingmaster.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Solscud007 Nicholas Chen

    Odd, I have shot my KSG at sporting clays 100 rds and no bruise. I primarily use the cheapo 100 rd box of 7 shot at Walmart. I also used my KSG at last year’s FNH 3 Gun Championship. No problems knocking down steel. But I concur, a winchoke adapter would be great for controlling the pattern at further distances.

    The only issues I have had are an occasional stuck pump grip. The shell wont extract so I have to really give the pump some due prejudice and rack it back.

    Here I shot sporting clays and used a 3″ Federal Prairie storm shell with flite control.

    Here is my first stage at FNH.

    I am guilty of paying Gunbroker price cause I had to have this shotgun. Sure I am biased. Everytime I shoot my KSG I love it.

    Now don’t get me wrong, I shot my dad’s Remington 870 Express Super Magnum over Xmas vacation and it is a great gun. Especially after I added the Magpul Stock and Foregrip. But the length, 26″ barrel, made it excruciatingly heavy and long. Coupled with the abysmal ammo capacity. 4+1. Even with an extension, im looking at the ATACS patterned Tactical 870 it is a 7+1 shotgun. I know there are aftermarket solutions like the X-rail, to increase ammo capacity. But there is something to be said about the compactness of the KSG. Everytime I shoot it, I feel like I have a NFA Short Barreled Shotgun. It is so TINY!!! That is part of the charm for me. Especially living in NY state where we cannot have fun NFA items.

    Reloads are slow, no matter what manipulation you manage. In my FNH Stage 1 video, that is the quickest method, I have found, to reload the KSG. I have tried all manners of reload techniques. You cannot do a 3 Gun 4 shell in the hand reload. The tubes are too far recessed into the ejection port and it is not smooth even with practice. I have tried to invert the KSG and do a double stack shell load. Angle is wrong. You cant do it. Same with the Open Class speed loader tubes. They hold 4 shells and you push the guide rod to get the shells in. The ange of the stock and ejection port inhibit that. I even tried loading Aguilla 1″ shells thinking that due to the short length, they could make the sharper angle, rotate and enter the magazine tube. But I was wrong. Didn’t work.

    Anyway I love my KSG. It is expensive for a Kel-Tec Product (aside from the RFB). But there are few shotguns that have its characteristics. Love it or not. Just my two cents as a proud KSG owner.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Solscud007 Nicholas Chen

    Oh yeah and here I shot slugs at 60 yds. Another stage had a 70 yd shot slug target. Like a laser beam I hit them. First time ever shooting slugs that far. Usually I shoot slugs within 25 yds at local Action Shotgun matches.

  • John Doe

    The reliability is such

    • John Doe

      a downer for me. I like the KSG. It’s cool and short.

  • Mike Knox

    Again? Why?

    • Nathan Barndt

      Kel Tec mistakenly sent both myself and Phil a KSG to review.

  • Anonymous

    After shooting my KSG, I’m convinced that the majority of feeding issues encountered with the platform can be directly attributed to insufficient force while racking the slide. When the trigger is squeezed, you must rip the slide back with extreme prejudice, and push forward smartly. I’ve seen so many people jam 500s and 870s through short-stroking, and those platforms are more forgiving of weakness than the KSG. Operated vigorously, it works fine. Anything less and a jam is guaranteed. Much like a pocket pistol, user knowledge and skill is vital to proper functioning.

    As far as recoil being excessive…well, I weigh 140 pounds. It feels like pretty much any other 12 gauge pump action does when you pull the trigger. If you attempt to hold and shoot it like a Ruger 10/22, your shoulder will suffer. If you firmly plant it in the pocket of your shoulder as any shotgun should be, it kicks no more or less than a typical Remington or a Mossberg of comparable weight.

    • http://www.facebook.com/Solscud007 Nicholas Chen

      I notice that only the last 1/2 inch of stroke is what disengages the shell catch in the mag tube. I think that may be part of the short stroking issue. If you dont rack it with gusto at the crucial last 1/2 inch, then you could incur problems.

  • A2

    Horrible review for a horrible gun.

  • http://twitter.com/360_AD the.ting

    Actually, I believe the KSG was first shown at Shot 2011, 2 years ago. When the estimated price, according to them, was to be $700. For shame.

  • gunslinger

    i want to like this gun…somehow i don’t think it’ll ever get there.

    back to the 500′s for me

  • Stevemisky

    Wife and i had no troubles shooting 80 rounds tonight with our new ksg.
    As others report you need to ensure to pull it back all the way
    to rack the next round.

    Using a fore grip is a huge help!
    Didn’t have issues wirh recoil either, the rubber pad
    On the butt softened recoil for me..

    Bought out NRA edition at our “friends of the nra” dinner dinner

  • 33Charlemagne

    If you just have to have a shotgun that you could tuck into a tight space, how about a Winchester Model 12 with a 20 inch barrel. They are all take-down guns, hold 6+1 rounds of 2 3/4 inch shells, can be slam fired.