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Reviews : Arsenal

Kel-Tec KSG Shotgun

The bullpup pump gun offers 15 rounds of 12-gauge response in a compact tactical weapons system.

November 18, 2011  |  by Lou Salseda - Also by this author

Photo: Hanzo Hattori
Photo: Hanzo Hattori

Editor's Note: This month's Arsenal review is accompanied by two video reviews from the author, so don't miss the "Kel-Tec KSG: Overview" and "Kel-Tec KSG: Field Test." We've also assembled detailed photos of the weapon in a photo gallery.

Most shooters' first impression of Kel-Tec's new KSG shotgun is that it looks like a weapon out of a video game or some sci-fi movie. But despite its unconventional bullpup design, I believe this innovative weapon will have a positive impact on the law enforcement community.

Standard police patrol shotguns are approximately 38 inches long with an 18-inch barrel. This standard size shotgun is difficult to rapidly deploy in and out of a full-size Crown Vic patrol vehicle much less the new compact police vehicles. Indoors, conventional shotguns have presented similar tactical failings. The standard police shotgun is also one size fits all. Many smaller stature officers find it difficult to work the action of the standard pump gun and maintain control during firing due to the overall length and weight distribution of the weapon.

Kel-Tec may have solved these issues with its KSG, which is based on a design by South African gun manufacturer Neostead, by knocking more than 10 inches off the standard police shotgun and centering the weight at the pistol grip. This bullpup 12-gauge measures only 26.1 inches long.

Twin Tubes

Kel-Tec incorporated many of the features shotgun shooters have long requested into the KSG. For example, the KSG has a Picatinny rail system on top of the receiver as well as on the bottom of the slide action. This rail system allows users to accessorize their shotguns with lights and optics. I found that the top rail also functioned as a heat shield to protect the shooter's hands after continued firing. There is also a designated "heat shield" on the barrel above the trigger housing group.

The most unusual features on the KSG are its twin magazine tube design and the "Magazine Selector" lever, which allows the shooter to select either magazine tube. This makes the KSG an extremely versatile weapon system, but it can be a bit tricky to use, especially the first few times. If you center the Magazine Selector lever neither tube will feed the firing chamber. You have to be familiar with the Magazine Selector in order to use the KSG under stress.

The KSG's safety also operates opposite of what I am accustomed to on the Remington 870 or Benelli. On these conventional police pump guns, the safety is engaged when extended to the right side of the receiver. The KSG safety is reversed, and I think it's actually an improvement.

Conventional police shotguns require you to use your trigger finger to push the safety off to the left and then again use the trigger finger or some other digit to reach under the trigger guard to push the safety back to the right. During this process many officers have inadvertently placed a finger inside the trigger guard looking to engage the safety and unintentionally discharged their shotguns.

In contrast, the KSG's safety is easily manipulated using the thumb of the primary hand (for right handers) to push the safety "off" to the right and the trigger finger of the primary hand to push the safety left to "on." This allows you to manipulate the safety without taking your primary hand from the KSG pistol grip. The KSG's safety is clearly marked white for "safe" and red for "fire" and when activated makes a distinct click.

The KSG ejects spent shells out the bottom and forward of the receiver very much like the Ithaca Models 37 and 87. Typical police shotguns employ a right-side ejection port on the receiver. Bottom ejection of expended shells means officers standing next to you won't be showered with your hot empties and the spent shells won't be bouncing off the walls onto the entry team members. This ejection system will also please the left-handed shooters who have had to deal with the right-side ejection ports in most pump guns.

I really like the ergonomics of the KSG. With my primary hand on the pistol grip, activation of the Action Bar Lock lever and safety is easily accomplished. Switching from one magazine tube to another, however, required some thought as to which hand to use.

I elected to keep my primary hand on the pistol grip in the firing position to control the weapon and used my support hand to reach back and move the Magazine Selector lever over toward the opposite side of the ejection port. I set the KSG up to use the right magazine tube first so the tube select lever was toward the left side of the loading/ejection port, where I could easily reach it with my support hand when I emptied the right magazine tube.

After a few repetitions using this method my movements got smoother and my speed increased with minimal lag. And I also began to realize that this may not be a big concern. After all, before I needed to switch the magazine tubes in a gunfight, I would have fired seven rounds of buckshot downrange. Seven rounds of buck is a lot for most officer-involved shootings.

Loading and Unloading

Loading the KSG is easy. You rotate the shotgun upside down and cant it on its axis slightly to one side to access either magazine tube. During the loading process the Magazine Selector is pushed opposite of the magazine tube you want to access for loading. This in effect blocks the other magazine tube. The shell stops work well and are positive, both in bypassing the stop for loading and for retaining the shells under firing conditions.

The unloading procedure is almost the reverse of loading. The shotgun is inverted to access the shell stops. Pressing the shell stop will release one shell at a time into the loading/ejection port.

Kel-Tec says you can rack the action to empty the magazine tubes in the KSG's manual. Since this is an administrative function I prefer to take one shell out at a time by releasing the shell stop. Again, the magazine tube selector lever will determine which tube you can unload first.

Downloading, the process of removing a shell from the firing chamber, is performed by placing the Magazine Selector lever in the center of both tubes where there is a detent, activating the Action Bar Lock (in front of the trigger guard) with your trigger finger, then using the primary hand to cup over the ejection port and slowly bring the action open with your support hand while bracing the butt of the KSG against your chest or shoulder with muzzle up. This may sound complicated but it's not.

Chamber checking the KSG is simple. All you have to do is bring the loading/ejection port up to eye level, rotating the port toward you, releasing the Action Bar Lock and retracting the slide back about a half inch to see the brass base of the shell. Finish by closing the action sharply.

The twin magazine tubes that feed the firing chamber have small slots cut in the top and bottom of the tubes to provide a visual check of your shot shells. I could easily see brass in each of the slots when the tubes were full. If you lose count loading the KSG tubes, you can check the magazine tube slots and follow the brass. The magazine tube slot nearest the muzzle will show the white tube follower when the tube is fully loaded.

Zero Malfunctions

The KSG was very reliable during my evaluation. It worked with Winchester, Remington, and Federal slug, buck, and bird shot. I experienced zero malfunctions out of the box with no additional lube all day on a dusty range. The pump action was positive and the KSG's compact size made it easy to operate without short stroking.

It's also ruggedly constructed. There are numerous fasteners holding the KSG together and they are recessed, which should protect them during daily use. The rail on top is secured with two screws, front and back. The screws maintained their integrity after a long day of shooting. If the rail were somehow to sustain damage, it could be easy replaced.

The KSG's recoil pad is a hard rubber material that should hold up well to frequent use. But at first I wasn't a fan, as the recoil pad toe edge tended to dig into my shoulder area during shooting without a tac vest. I considered using a file to radius the toe or even using a different type of recoil pad. I soon forgot about the toe's edge because I was having so much fun shooting the KSG.

After 150 rounds of slug, 00 buck, and bird shot, I had no issues with the butt pad and no discomfort whatsoever of the shoulder area. Kel-Tec advises that an extended pad will be available in the future. 

The KSG is a little lighter than most police shotguns used today by half a pound. That may not sound like much until you have to stand on a fixed post for 10 or 12 hours or attend a few days of shotgun training to get familiar with the unique Kel-Tec system.

Drills and Results

During pattern and slug testing,I mounted the Pride Flower Industries (PFI) Spec Ops Compact Red Dot on the KSG's rail. The PFI Red Dot was easy to dial in. I got a quick zero using slug at 20 yards off hand and pattern tested using the same sight system.

I shot everything off hand at various distances with both slug and buck. Pattern testing was performed with Federal 12 gauge 2¾ inch, 9 pellet 00 buck, Tactical Load, LE132 00 (the duty load for the LAPD) at five, 10, 15, and 20 yards. 

At 20 yards the shot pattern was less than eight inches. Nine inches would have been considered good, so this result was very good for a cylinder bore barrel. At five, 10, and 15 yards the pattern sizes exceeded my expectations. Slug shooting was done with Winchester Ranger 12 gauge 2¾ inch, low recoil 1 ounce slug, RA 12RS15 at five, 10, 15, and 20 yards. The slug shot through the KSG produced consistent 10-ring accuracy from all distances.

The KSG trigger was positive, controllable, and had a distinct reset. By design you can't run through a magazine tube holding the trigger back. It took me about 10 to 15 rounds to get used to the trigger, then I ran the KSG hard using 50 rounds of buck and slug. There were no function problems and no trigger issues.

In order to find out how easy or difficult disassembly and assembly might be I solicited an individual who had used firearms previously but had never taken apart a shotgun. My test subject had no real problems taking apart the KSG or reassembling it. There are no specific tools required for either process. The only real hang up in the disassembly process was removal of the barrel assembly from the receiver. All it required was a little more muscle than finesse.

Assembly is basically takedown in reverse with the most time spent tightening the magazine nuts. With four main components-stock, barrel/forend, magazine tubes, and grip assembly-it didn't take long for my test subject to learn what goes where.  

Kel-Tec's KSG should be a wake-up call to other police shotgun manufacturers to raise the bar. There hasn't been much improvement in the standard police pump shotgun for decades, other than in the areas of aftermarket accessories or modifications. The KSG is an innovative weapon that incorporates many desirable features for law enforcement operations.

The KSG's high capacity, compact size, great balance, and integrated Picatinny rail systems may be just what contemporary officers need in their arsenals. The KSG is a grab-and-go platform that brings plenty of firepower to any lethal encounter.

Lou Salseda is a retired LAPD sergeant with 34 years of law enforcement experience. He is the chief instructor of TAC-1 Defensive Firearms Training in Santa Clarita, Calif., and is a consultant for law enforcement training and litigation.

Kel-Tec KSG Shotgun Specs:

Caliber: 12 gauge

Capacity: 14 plus one

Barrel Length: 18.5 inches

Overall Length: 26.1 inches

Weight (empty): 6.9 pounds

Height: 7 inches

Action: Pump-action with two magazine tubes

Features: Bullpup design with pistol grip, Picatinny rails, indicator holes on the magazine tubes for visually inspecting load status

Price: $880

Tags: Kel-Tec, Shotguns, Firearms Reviews

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Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

bpd3733 @ 11/22/2011 10:03 AM

Get rid of the magazine selector lever. Have the gate between mag tubes alternate back and forth between mag tubes each time it is cycled. That takes away the extra movement of manually switching mag tubes, especially under stress. I would also put the safety on top like Mossberg does.

AimFire @ 11/23/2011 5:31 AM

On the other hand, having two separate mag tubes could permit intentional selection of either slugs OR buck, depending on tactical situation. But of course i've not used the weapon, so i can't say, not knowing.

Cavdog @ 11/24/2011 12:56 PM

I like bpd3733 suggestion but it would complicate the function and introduce an unnecessary mechanism that could fail. Aimfire makes a great point implementing an ammo select option. Blow door hinges
one minute and pierce heavy material the next. This gun is next on the list for me and will be loaded in the afforementioned manner.

Aragornelessar86 @ 11/26/2011 9:17 AM

Also, the mag selector makes it civilian legal in California, as it's considered two 7to round magazines, rather than one 14of round magazine.

JEBragg @ 1/9/2012 1:46 PM

Even though I have yet to handle or shoot this weapon I cannot see a downside to it. Like the others, I would carry buck in one tube and slug or buck and ball in the other for door breaching etc. For SWAT teams it is fantastic as you not only have a shorter firearm the Shotgun man can easily go from buck to door breaching or slug to penatrate walls without changing weapons. Can't wait until I get mine.

C Young @ 2/9/2012 6:11 AM

The lower rail of the forend where a foregrip is recommended is PLASTIC unlike the upper rail which is metal. Within the first 10 shots using a sig sauer stoplight foregrip, the lower rail shattered, fragmented, and broke off. Very very disappointed. Otherwise, the gun shoots great.

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