The first time you hold it, it comes as a surprise; the lightweight nature of the thing being quite unexpected for some reason. Perhaps it’s the imposing steel receiver cover or perhaps it’s the preconceived notion that such a small package capable of such big things must be dense and heavy, but whatever its cause, the effect is driven home each and every time it’s thick recoil pad is brought up to meet your shoulder: this is one weird shotgun. But it just so happens that the Kel Tec KSG is one weird shotgun that people just can’t seem to get enough of… literally.
But, once the novelty of holding such a desirable shotgun has worn off, and you’ve flipped various lever, flipped it over, poked and prodded its internals, and racked the action a few times, the gun’s lengthy design and production phase become instantly understandable. Combining the desirable size advantage of a bullpup design with not one, but two, magazine tubes, and having the whole shebang feed and eject out of a the same hole on the shotgun’s underside in the name of ambidexterity must have sounded like mission impossible to the shotgun’s designers initially. But they’ve accomplished the impossible, and the resulting firearm is something akin to a Browning BPS, with the trigger assembly moved ahead of the loading/ejection port and a second magazine tube stuck on for good measure. Even the bolt, with its bottom-hung extractor and exposed firing pin, appears to be a marriage of sorts between the design of the Mossberg 590A1’s bolt and that of the BPS. However, although there’s no shortage of existing shotgun bolts to prove a design ethos’ validity, Kel Tec’s dual magazine tubes does require an innovative solution, and for that they’ve used a pair of fingers not dissimilar from those found within the BPS or an older Ithaca. After the fired round has been ejected out of the gun and the pump has reached the rear of its stroke, these fingers hinge inward from of the receiver walls and form a sort of feed ramp for the next round, which is carried upward and towards the chamber by the fingers’ rising action and the bolt’s forward movement. Of course, they are quite a bit longer and beefier than the fingers found in either of those guns, as they need to corral a round that may be feeding out of either of the offset magazine tubes, but they’re quite robust and are obviously well protected. Furthermore, they’re sprung, rather than stiffly mounted, which allows them to be worked back independently of the action in order to clear a jam or feed problem. The nice side effect of any gun using such a feeding mechanism, as Browning BPS or Ithaca owners can tell you, is that it’s lack of forceful movement (such as an 870’s feed ramp toggling upward to lift the shell onto the bore’s axis) often makes for one slick-as-snot action.
And being a Kel Tec product, it is of course not only unique in its design, but also in its choice of materials; although polymer may be the accepted norm for handguns and even some rifles, it’s still far from common in the shotgun market. And with the KSG, there’s more of it than you think. Using polymer extensively to form the pump handle, trigger assembly, and stock (80% of which resides inside the stamped steel receiver and supports the bolt carrier and action), the KSG’s light weight is a direct result of paring down the steel usage to the minimum required, such as the barrels, magazine tubes, receiver housing and various internal parts like action bars and obvious trigger mechanism components.
As mentioned, this results in a gun that’s surprisingly light, be it on the end of a sling or shouldered. Furthermore, it gives the gun a very rear-heavy balance, with the bolt, chamber, and receiver all residing aft of the pistol grip. Even fully loaded with fourteen rounds in 2-3/4″ shells, it just doesn’t even feel muzzle-heavy, which in traditional shotgun terms makes it extremely quick handling. Having had the occasion to test the gun in possibly it’s least natural environ, a trap range, it swung onto even fast moving clays almost instantly and required quite a steady hand to avoid overshooting the target. Like all bullpup firearms, the trigger acts upon a series of rods and linkages to trip the hammer, which culminates in a bit of numb trigger. But seeing as it’s a shotgun intended to be shot at moving and nearby targets, rather than at serious yardage as would be the case with a rifle, it poses no real detriment to the gun’s usage. Breaking about as many clays as one would expect an 18.5″ open-choked barrel to, the KSG threw a good, uniform pattern, and has a solid reputation for slinging slugs in a similarly predictable and accurate fashion. For those hoping to use the gun for targets beyond bears, zombies, and other carnivores that show no deference for mankind’s position atop the food chain, Kel Tec is currently testing out a choke adapter that will thread on to the muzzle in place of the lock nut that currently fixes the sling/magazine/rail mount and will allow the KSG to be fitted with all manner of chokes. And should that product make the move from prototype to production, it is likely that it will also be made available to Canadian KSG owners as well.
However, while the bullpup layout may pay dividends in regards to both the KSG’s envious weight and handling characteristics, it does make certain tasks more difficult. For example, plugging rounds into the KSG is nowhere near as easy as on a traditional shotgun. First off, the awkward location of the loading port reduces the amount of dexterity at your disposal while the gun is shouldered, while the complex internal structure through which the rounds must be fed means it’s almost obligatory to turn the gun over and watch what you’re doing. While an 870, Mossberg, or similiar guns loading ports are basically funnels into which the shells are placed, the KSG is quite the opposite as its receiver gives the operator lots of little edges and devices upon which a shell can get caught upon on its way into the magazine tube if you aren’t watching. Inducing further head scratching was the magazine selector lever. Although quite prominent and easily manipulated, once one magazine tube had been filled to capacity, it proved impossible to simply slide the magazine selector over to begin filling the next tube as the loaded magazine tube’s shell stop kept the first shell parallel to the lever. This meant that loading the next tube required I use one thumb to depress the rounds in the loaded magazine tube slightly while sliding the selector lever over atop the first hull.
And once it’s fully loaded, there can be no denying that the KSG’s got just a wee bit more going on internally than other pump action shotguns, which conspired against our test gun as it proved quite unwilling to reliably cycle rounds from either magazine tube. Reminiscent of either a chamber in need of polishing or a badly machined extractor, fired rounds remained resolutely in the chamber the vast majority of the time, with either the action typically locking up after firing only to move rearward with some heavy handed persuasion. Unfortunately, most of the time that persuasion still wasn’t enough to coax the fired hull out of the chamber, as the beefy looking extractor’s grip on the fired hulls seemed tenuous at best. However, it still proved quite capable of freeing the next round from a magazine tube, so there were a few situations in which the KSG ended up with a fired round stuck in the chamber and a fresh round rattling around in the receiver behind it. Eventually, with a bit of practice, these jams were quite easy to clear, and turning the gun sideways while reefing on the pump seemed to put an end to the extractor’s unwillingness to pull fired hulls from the chamber. However, even after sampling a variety of admittedly low brass loads, it always required an undue (read: take it off the shoulder and crank on the pump like it owed you money) amount of force to work the action.
But, even with the unfortunate reliability record Calibre’s test KSG provided during our short tenure with it, it would be foolish to write the KSG off as a half-baked, underdeveloped piece of crap. Because the fact of the matter is, although combining Kel Tec’s favoured polymer construction with such an innovative design as the KSG may have reduced the margin of error for both the gun’s manufacturer and operators, it shows a huge amount of promise and Kel Tec’s already proven their commitment to seeing the KSG through. Producing a polymer pistol takes very little real talent, as the groundwork has already been laid by all manner of companies, designers, and engineers. But pairing that same style of polymer construction with a bullpup shotgun requires a high degree of innovation and engineering; there are no footsteps in which Kel Tec could follow in designing the KSG. And having already responded to those calling for a beefier pump handle so as to provide a sturdier mount for vertical grips and the like, Kel Tec is pro-actively adapting the design to meet the market’s demands. Furthermore, such issues as was experienced with Calibre’s test gun are reportedly few and far between, with the unanimous verdict being that any and all Kel Tec products afflicted with any issues are being readily and effectively dealt with by the warranty centres and providers. Besides, if there’s one thing that’s proven to be a constant in the firearms market, it’s the teething problems association with new designs. But, when the overall design is good, those teething problems are typically ironed out quite rapidly, and the result can end up becoming a world standard. Just ask Eugene Stoner.