Kel-Tec KSG Bullpup Pump-Action 12 Gauge Fighting Shotgun

by Jeff Quinn

photography by Jeff Quinn & Boge Quinn

February 16th, 2012

UPDATED May 26th, 2014






Click pictures for a larger version.




Kel-Tec KSG with Tan finish.









KSG holds 15 rounds of 12 gauge firepower.



Barrel on top above twin magazine tubes.



Slide (pump) release.



Crossbolt safety.



Magazine tube selector and cutoff.





Disassembly requires no tools.









Kel-Tec CNC of Cocoa, Florida is well-known for developing innovative weapons. Their 32 and 380 pocket pistols changed the market for small pocket guns, effectively giving more power in a smaller, lighter package for those who choose to carry a concealed handgun. The more recent PMR-30 22 magnum pistol packs 31 rounds of firepower into a pistol that weighs only nineteen ounces, fully loaded. The Kel-Tec RFB bullpup rifle is innovative and practical, and is the best bullpup semi-automatic 7.62mm rifle ever built. Kel-Tec’s ability to constantly introduce unique weapons to the market is sometimes frustrating to shooters who have trouble finding those weapons in their local gun store, as the demand for Kel-Tec firearms greatly exceeds the supply.

Kel-Tec introduced their revolutionary KSG bullpup twin-magazine pump shotgun at the 2011 SHOT Show in Las Vegas. It has been a long wait, but production KSG shotguns are now shipping from the factory. I have had the opportunity to handle a couple of pre-production units earlier, but now finally have had a production gun here for a few days. From the introduction almost thirteen months ago, I have been eager to get to run some ammo through a KSG, and after spending a few days with the new shotgun, feeding it a variety of ammo, taking it apart and studying the design, it has exceeded my expectations.

I have seen a couple of other magazines “review” the KSG months ago, but we like to wait for a production gun which we can actually fire before doing a review, and as expected, there have been a couple of improvements to the original design. For one, the trigger now resets independently of the slide working. The original design required that the trigger be released before the slide was cycled. On the production gun, that has been corrected, so that there is no chance of pumping in another shell and finding that the weapon is not ready to fire again. Another change is the design of the slide lock (pump) switch: the new design is ambidextrous and easily activated by the trigger finger with the hand still on the pistol grip. Kel-Tec has also added small slots in the top of each magazine tube to allow the operator to see if there are shells in the tube. Nice touch.

Shotguns are very versatile firearms, and have many sporting uses for target shooting and game hunting, and are also very useful as fighting weapons. The KSG falls into that later category. While the KSG could be used for clay target shooting or for close-range small game and non-migratory bird hunting, I doubt that many will be seen at the skeet range, nor carried afield by a tweed-clad gent while following pointers in pursuit of bobwhite quail. The KSG is purpose-built for a much more serious role: that of decisively ending a serious social conflict. Up close and personal, there is nothing quite like a shotgun to quickly take the fight out of an assailant.

There are many good fighting shotguns on the market, but none quite as short and handy, nor packing as much firepower, as this Kel-Tec KSG. By using a bullpup design, the Kel-Tec has an eighteen and one-half inch barrel to keep the Feds happy, yet still has an overall length of only twenty-six inches! That makes for a mighty handy-sized weapon to maneuver in close quarters. The length-of-pull measures thirteen inches, with a two and one-half inch trigger reach on the very comfortable pistol grip. Four decades ago, the High Standard Model 10 used a short bullpup design, but that weapon was basically a modified sporting shotgun, the Flite King. It was heavy and unreliable, but did prove the handiness of the bullpup concept for a close-quarters fighting shotgun. It held between five and seven rounds, depending upon the magazine used, but was a semi-auto for right-handed shooters only. The twin magazine tubes of the Kel-Tec KSG each carry seven twelve-gauge shells, for a total loaded capacity of fifteen shots. The empty shotgun shells eject out the bottom of the weapon, making this KSG equally user-friendly for both right-handed and left-handed operators. The manual safety pushes to the right side to fire, using the thumb of a right-handed shooter, or the side of the trigger finger for a left-hander.

The twin mag tubes offer a large loaded capacity, but another advantage is that switching from one type of ammunition to another is as quick and easy as flipping a lever. In use, one tube could be loaded with buckshot for close to moderate range work, with the other tube loaded with rifled slugs for use at longer distances. Just pushing the lever to the desired tube and pumping the slide instantly loads the preferred type of ammunition. Within a dwelling, small birdshot is very effective, yet not a lethal hazard to neighbors, losing effectiveness rapidly after passing through a wall. One magazine could be loaded with the birdshot, with the other tube stoked with buckshot or slugs, in case the additional power is needed. This unique ability of the KSG to carry various ammunition types readily available for use is an advantage shared by no other shotgun, with the exception of a double-barrel, which has very limited capacity when compared to the KSG.

Besides the short overall length, the straight-back design of the Kel-Tec makes it also well-suited for fighting. Unlike most “tactical” shotguns on the market, the KSG is not a modified sporting shotgun, shortened and painted black for fighting purposes. While most of those adapted shotgun designs also work well, the KSG handles better in close quarters, and is also easy to fire using just one hand, if needed.

The KSG has slightly over twelve inches of Picatinny rail on top, and another six inches on the underside of the forearm, to accommodate sights and accessories. There are sling-mount points at the front and rear of the shotgun for attachment of a carry sling, which is included with the KSG. The KSG does not come equipped with sights, but plenty of good mechanical and optical sights well-suited for a shotgun are available. I chose to mount a Trijicon Reflex dot sight atop the KSG. The Reflex is not some cheap imported dot sight, but is built to be tough and durable, with a heavy aluminum housing. The Reflex is always “on”, and never needs batteries, with the dot illuminated by tritium and a fiber-optic light-gathering unit atop the sight, to adjust instantly to existing lighting conditions. In addition, I mounted a Crimson Trace CMR-201 universal laser atop the rail, in front of the Reflex. The laser is easily activated by the thumb of the support hand, and makes hitting with the KSG easy from any position, even from behind a barricade.

Hitting with a shotgun should be discussed a bit, as many folks seem to be ignorant on this topic. A lot of people who should know better often state something like, “Just point the shotgun in the general direction, and you will hit your target”. That is false. Across a typical room, the shotgun, loaded with birdshot or buck, with make a fist-sized hole in flesh, but will certainly not spread out and cover everything in that entire compass direction. The shotgun still must be aimed or pointed accurately, and having a proper sight, whether mechanical or optical, makes hitting the target easier.

The KSG is very simple to disassemble for basic cleaning and maintenance without the use of tools. Pushing out two large pins allows the weapon to come apart enough to keep it clean and running well. There are storage holes for the two pins in the upper portion of the pistol grip, to keep them secure while the weapon is disassembled. Loading the KSG is like loading any tube-fed shotgun, with the exception of this one having two tubes to load. The shells are pushed into one tube until that tube is full, then the lever is switched to the other tube for loading in the same manner. The KSG will fire either two and three-quarter inch or three inch twelve gauge shotgun shells. I have heard reports that it will also cycle the short mini-shells on the market, but I cannot confirm that, as I have not tried any and have no plans to do so.

The KSG is made primarily from reinforced polymer and steel. The steel is finished in a matte black which matches the polymer closely. The forearm and pistol grip have Kel-Tec’s familiar waffle texture pattern. The KSG weighs in at just a shade over seven pounds on my scale. The trigger releases smoothly with four and one-half pounds of resistance. The butt pad is a solid synthetic rubber. The slide works smoothly. At the rear of the stroke, a cartridge is released from the selected magazine tube upon the twin-armed lifter. Moving the forearm forward, the lifter raises the shell into position where it is carried forward by the bolt, which has a lug that locks into the barrel extension. Upon pulling the trigger, the hammer swings to strike the firing pin, and also unlocks the slide to begin the cycle over again. When one magazine runs empty, the operator switches the lever towards the full magazine, and cycles the action to load from that tube.

I fired the KSG using a variety of twelve gauge shotshells, from light target loads to three inch magnum turkey loads. For defensive use inside a home, as mentioned above, I like a good birdshot load using number 7 ½ or number 8 shot. These loads have light recoil, are devastating at short range, and the pellets lose velocity quickly after penetrating a wall. For offensive use or for use where over penetration is not a concern, I like the 2 ¾ inch nine-pellet 00 buckshot loads, or the Winchester PDX1 slug and buck load. If nine pellets are not enough, the KSG can also fire the three inch fifteen-pellet 00 buck load. The versatile PDX1 shell carries a payload of a one-ounce rifled slug and three 00 buck. At moderate range, it patterns well, placing the slug in the center with the three buckshot pellets surrounding that center hit. Where more precision or greater distance is needed, either a 2 ¾ or 3 inch rifled slug load packs a huge punch. As mentioned above, the magazines can be loaded with different types of shells as needed, offering instant selection of the preferred load for the particular situation at hand.

The Kel-Tec KSG handled all of these various loads reliably, with no failures to feed, fire, nor eject, with one exception. After I had been putting a lot of shells through the KSG, I started getting sticky extraction with the Federal buckshot loads. A light coating of lubricant in the back of the chamber corrected that problem, and the KSG again functioned perfectly. The KSG is a shotgun like none other on the market today, offering more firepower in a smaller package than any other shotgun. Like any tube-fed shotgun, the tubes can be loaded as needed without taking the weapon out of the fight. For that reason, I prefer a tube-fed shotgun to a box magazine shotgun for social work. The KSG is short, relatively lightweight, and very handy to use. It is ambidextrous, endearing the weapon to left-handed operators as well as right-handed. The KSG balances well for one-handed use when necessary, and has plenty of rail to accommodate mechanical or optical sights, flashlights, and lasers. The KSG is another good design from the fertile minds at Kel-Tec. The company has built a reputation on designing some of the most innovative weapons on the market, and the KSG follows in that tradition. After a long wait, the Kel-Tec KSG is now shipping, so check it out online at

Jeff Quinn

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Click pictures for a larger version.






Crimson Trace CMR-205 "Rail Master Pro" Red Laser / Tactical Light unit.



XS Sight Systems offset backup sights.



Leupold DeltaPoint Reflex sight.





Trijicon Reflex sight is a perfect choice for the KSG.





Crimson Trace CMR-201 universal laser.





Magazine tubes load through ejection port.



Magazine tubes have windows to visually check loaded condition.





Sling attachment points.



Winchester PDX1 ammo.