By Jeff W. Zimba
In the world of shoulder-fired weapons, when you combine big projectiles and high capacity feeding devices, eyes start to open. When you can throw the phrases “low cost” and “reliable” into the mix you will own the moment.
Shotguns have been an important part of the American firearms landscape for hundreds of years. Credited primarily as a tool for many good men to feed and protect their families and flocks, they soon became popular “sporting arms” also used in competition. As firearms evolved to repeating actions from the original muzzle-loaders and early side-by-sides, the military and law enforcement began to take notice as well. While some modern shotguns still heavily resemble their original roots, others have traveled far from their family tree and look and function more like modern military arms than the scatterguns of days long gone.
Along with the continuous evolution of firearms in general, innovation in the “support role” category follows closely behind. In this particular instance, a somewhat traditional semiautomatic action of popular origin has been transformed from mild to wild with the adaptation of a detachable, high-capacity feeding device. Today we are testing the 20-round drum magazine from MD Arms, Ltd. designed for use with the Saiga-12 gauge shotgun.
Essentially a heavily modified Kalashnikov design, the Saiga firearms are available in numerous gauges and also several rifle calibers. The Saiga-12 shotgun itself will be covered in-depth in a later issue of Small Arms Review magazine as space permits.
Since the Saiga-12 is a magazine-fed semiautomatic shotgun with a 5-round detachable magazine, it had an immediate appeal over the more traditional and long available semiautomatic shotguns because the capacity was not predetermined by means of a fixed “tube” or other feeding device. Fortunately for those of us waiting for such an event it was only a short matter of time before someone stepped up to increase the capacity, and thanks to MD Arms, Ltd., it has been accomplished.
The MD-20 is a 20-round drum magazine specifically manufactured for use with the Saiga-12 shotguns. Others have manufactured hi-capacity stick magazines but this is the only production drum magazine we are currently familiar with.
The MD-20 was designed for 2-3/4 inch 12-gauge ammunition and has 3 optional back plates: black, smoke grey and clear. The clear and smoke grey plates are transparent so the user can see how many rounds have been fired and if an impending reload is looming. Since some still prefer the black cover to avoid any detection of discoloring or even round movement, it is an available option.
For some owners, the drum is ready to use right out of the package. For others, a slight modification is necessary. During the early stages of preproduction it became obvious that there were several loose tolerances in the design of the Saiga-12 and many were in the magazine locking area. Because of this large tolerance spectrum a magazine made to fit in a loose gun may not fit in a tight gun. To avoid having several magazines for the large number of different guns it was decided to make all the magazines geared toward the guns with the looser fitting magazine release and therefore they could all have the potential to fit every gun with some light fitting if necessary. Once a magazine has been fitted for a gun with tighter tolerances we understand that it will generally still function even in the very loose guns.
The fitting is only a simple removal of material from the rear locking lug of the magazine. It is clearly illustrated in the manual and with a standard bastard file it should take less than a minute to fit the drum to the firearm as on our test gun. Once fitted, the MD-20 functioned perfectly from the first test firing to the end of the testing. For those curious about the necessary fitting procedure there is a short instructional video available at the MD Arms website.
The drum is a breeze to load. It is fed from the top of the feed mechanism with each round pushing the previous round further into the drum and indexing the follower by one round as well. Loading is simple and once the drum is loaded it stays loaded and ready. Storing it in a loaded condition will have no adverse effects on function or longevity.
Inserting the drum into the firearm is performed best by using one of two methods. In the first, the bolt can be held back with the opposite hand and a full magazine easily inserted in the normal fashion. The second method is loading the magazine with only 19 rounds and easily inserting it on a closed bolt.
While expecting a “break-in period” on a new gun with a new magazine, there was none necessary with this combination. When shooting some #5 High-Brass ammo everything cycled perfectly without a single failure of any kind. Only when we switched to the ammunition specifically listed as problematic (inexpensive Winchester Bulk Pack, lo-brass ammo) did we start to experience some failure to eject problems. After switching back to high-brass ammo including slugs, buckshot, and birdshot we realized 100% feed and function again.
After returning to the office and reviewing the MD-20 literature we learned that the follower spring can be tuned down a little bit to help facilitate some lower powered ammunition but at the time of this printing we had not had the opportunity to explore this. A normal break-in period with the firearm or a little polishing of the correct gun parts can assist the function with low powered ammo as well. Ideally the drum should function as intended as shipped, and require no other alterations other than the “fitting” previously described.
The MD-20 Drum is the extra little supercharger on an already high-performance package. For scattergun aficionados, the ability to use a detachable magazine opens many doors not typically available. Having the option to carry several magazines, of a number of capacities gives the shooter an amazing amount of flexibility when deciding an appropriate round for any given situation. Whether it be a hunter who is bird hunting but would benefit with a magazine of slugs for that black bear he just encountered, or a law enforcement officer who just found himself in a situation where a magazine of less-lethal ammo would be more suitable for a situation than normal ammo, there are many positive angles to explore. The MD-20 Drum expands the firepower available to the operator and if they all fit and function as well as the combinations we tested, we think MD Arms, Ltd. has a winner. At an MSRP of $260 this writer will be ordering a spare drum or two for his working reference collection.
The Saiga-12 Shotgun In-Depth
One thing we did learn when working on this article is that there are several variations of this shotgun, even in identical model designations. There are differences in gas ports (both the number and diameter of them), and even multiple barrel lengths and configurations. Due to these differences several Saiga-12 gun services, customization specialists, parts & accessory vendors and gunsmiths have launched a number of items and companies revolving around the Saiga-12 platform. Since time and space does not permit an in-depth technical article on the Saiga-12 at this time we assure you it will happen in the very near future and we already have several parties who deal with these firearms quite anxious to help us tell the whole story. From simple function fixes to radical configuration changes, the Saiga-12 seems to offer something for almost every application and Small Arms Review magazine is happy to bring you the details.
As we were prepping this article for print we received a 12-inch Tromix SBS to test and we are even more excited about the platform now. With little time left for testing we did manage to fire a complete 100-round bulk pack of the previously troublesome ammo, with flawless feed and function from the drum with no further modifications to it. The Tromix SBS pictured below will be featured in the future Saiga-12 testing.
MD-20 12-Gauge Drum
MD Arms, Ltd.
PO Box 237
Casstown, OH 45312
Heavily Customized Saiga-12 Shotguns
405 N. Walnut, Ave #8
Broken Arrow, OK 74012
Phone: (918) 251-5640
Online forum on the Saiga-12 platform