Trying to appreciate the Kel-Tec KSG

There’s little doubt that Kel-Tec is an extremely forward thinking gun manufacturer that pushes the envelope of innovative design with products such as the .308 bullpup RFB, .22 Mag PMR30 pistol and the 12ga 14+1 shot KSG shotgun. Each of these designs offers something unique in the marketplace and they standout against the backdrop of endless blasé AR15 variants that pour forth from an ever increasing number of manufactures. Kel-Tec’s designs are refreshing and the demand for their high-tech wonders remains stratospheric. If you’re lucky enough to find a PMR30, RFB or KSG for sale you can expect to pay way over MSRP to put one in your safe.
On my birthday I was able to land a KSG 12ga shotgun from my local gun shop.  Because it was my birthday they gave me a good price on one of two KSG’s Brown had delivered earlier that afternoon. I was excited to finally get my hands on one, I had been waiting over a year for the privilege.

I hoped my KSG would be free of functional issues, after all my friend Hickok45 had pretty good luck with his. Sure, he had a few hiccups in the beginning but by his KSG Part 2 video all seemed to be well. I had hope.As I was completing the 4473 form and waiting for a response to the NICS background check call, my mind wandered back to my experiences with my RFB .308 bullpup. The rifle feels good, looks good, but has never functioned properly. Initially the rifle wouldn’t fire two rounds without a failure of some kind, usually a failure to feed due to the bolt/carrier not getting enough gas despite the port being at the widest setting. 500+ rounds down range and a good scrubbing of the gas system seemed to mostly cure this issue, but the rifle still just barely cycles with the gas port in the wide open position. The problem that persists is the rifles inability to chamber a fresh round upon reload without failing to feed. These reload feeding failures occur 100% of the time causing mag changes to take far longer than they should.
I took the KSG home and stripped it down to learn more about it. I wasn’t impressed with the build quality, it’s clear every possible corner is cut in an effort to reduce production costs. This didn’t concern me though, plenty of historical firearms that were manufactured as cheaply as possible went on to earn stellar reputations for reliability. Guns such as the Sten, Owen or M3 Grease Gun come to mind.
The first day I could get to the range was a Sunday which means my local gun shop was closed. That meant my 12ga ammo options would be limited. I found 200 rounds of Federal low brass game loads at my local Wally World which has given flawless service in my Remington 870 and Benelli Super 90. Yes, my semi-auto Super 90 can rock the cheap stuff if I shoulder it tightly.
I headed over to my in-laws house early for dinner so I could do a little shooting before we ate. My brother in-law joined me in the backyard with the KSG to make some noise. I documented my first range session with the KSG in this Military Arms Channel video.
My first range session was a depressing experience, to put it mildly. My hopes of having a solid performing bullpup 12ga shotgun to complement my Tavor 5.56mm rifle were effectively dashed. After 200 rounds of frustration I came to the stark realization my $1,000+ high-speed bullpup shotgun was a finicky range toy.
Even if the KSG begins operating more smoothly, I still have issues with the overall design of the shotgun. For a “tactical” weapon, I feel it has a number of potentially fatal flaws in the design that would make it a poor choice over more contemporary designs such as the Remington 870 or Mossberg Model 500.I’m currently working to smooth the action out on the shotgun to hopefully improve the feeding reliability. I’ve been walking around the house for days pumping the action of the shotgun endlessly, wearing my arm out, trying to break the gun in. I hope the next time I take it to the range my efforts will have paid off and it will operate more smoothly.
The feeding system is awkward. While I appreciate the KSG’s ability to hold 14 rounds in the two magazine tubes, I fail to understand the logic in having a manual selector lever with the ability to shut both tubes off completely. I would much rather have the ability to feed from both tubes in an alternating fashion similar to the Turkish UTS-15 vs. having the shut-off feature. Being able to manually select a tube isn’t a bad idea, but not having the ability to feed all 14 rounds without first having to run the gun dry, hear a click, manually switch tubes, hit the bolt release, pump a fresh round in the chamber so you can resume shooting is a poor design.
The magazine shut-off exists so you can stop the shotgun from feeding from both tubes thus allowing you to more easily single load the shotgun. There are two problems with this. The most prominent issue is that single loading the KSG, even with the cut-off functionality, is a clumsy proposition. Heck, just reloading the shotgun at all while on the move or under stress is a clumsy endeavor because of the dual tubes sitting side-by-side and large opening in which they reside. The second issue with the selector is that you can inadvertently shut the feeding off without knowing it until you attempt to use the shotgun.
The construction of the KSG is flimsy in a number of areas. The trigger bar is a mere .042″ thick strip of sheet metal. The hammer sits precariously on a pin which allows for ample side-to-side movement when disassembled. Care must be taken not to accidentally damage the lower receiver, which is all polymer, while the weapon is field stripped or while field stripping it. The locking tab that holds the polymer lower in the shotgun seems as though it could be snapped off during disassembly if care isn’t taken to pull it straight up and out. This isn’t much of a concern for a recreational firearm, but for a service grade weapon intended for self defense in a SHTF situation or for a cop on patrol, this might be a problem. I wouldn’t classify the KSG as a “military grade” firearm.The pump action on the KSG is not smooth. It will likely never be as smooth as my 870 regardless of how much I break it in. The shotgun requires a deliberate pump stroke and allows for no variance. If you don’t do it just right, expect problems. The 870 is FAR more forgiving in this regard. This can be an important point in a high stress life-or-death situation where motor skills can become labored and imprecise. If anything interrupts the pump stroke, such as dirt/debris, an obstacle you may bump into while pumping on the move, firing from an awkward position, etc. you can expect a failure to feed with the KSG. This might not be true with all examples of the KSG, but it is clearly the case with my copy.
One of the biggest issues I have with the KSG is the location of the ejection port. In the video above you can see that firing the KSG without something protecting your wrist is a painful experience. If I were the lead engineer at Kel-Tec responsible for the KSG, I would move to fix this problem posthaste.
The final quirk that grinds on me, perhaps more than it should, is the absence of QD mounts for a sling. The uber-modern 21st century bleeding edge of technology KSG is only capable of using loop slings. This is a real head scratcher for me…Another minor quirk is the KSG’s rail is too short to use conventional apature back-up sights for rifles (such as Troy, Magpul, MI, Diamond Head, etc.). The rear sight sits too far forward for a proper sight picture. You will either need to find a BUS that has a larger A2 style combat apature or you will need to use pistol sights.
Despite the issues I have with the KSG I still think the design has merit. There’s little doubt the shotgun has massive potential if its evolution were to continue. Having 14+1 rounds of 12ga on tap in a package that’s only 26″ in length is amazing. I haven’t given up hope on my KSG just yet, I plan to work with it more to see if I can iron the kinks out. However, there are pesky issues both with the quality of construction and the overall design that would keep me from giving it serious consideration as my primary shotgun.


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