It’s no secret that the “holy grail” of tactical shotguns is one that precisely matches the AR-15 in form and function, with identical appearance, controls, takedown, manual of arms and, most importantly, reliability. And, like the actual Holy Grail, such a shotgun has largely proven elusive to those in its quest. At each SHOT Show (which showcases new products to FFLs and the gun press), new attempts to make an AR-style shotgun are displayed. Most designs, however, such as the MKA 1919 from EAA, are only loose renditions of the AR that adapt a tube-fed shotgun to a plastic housing with an AR-style stock, grip and handguard. They are far from satisfying for those who yearn for a “true AR shotgun” and always come with a much more complicated takedown and cleaning process than the “real deal.”
It’s not as if the industry hasn’t tried to fit a 12-gauge onto an AR-10 platform, but problems in doing so are more significant than they appear. The most critical is reliably feeding the blunt-nosed, rimmed shotshell from a box magazine that fits into an AR-10’s magwell. There’s also the ubiquitous issue with gas-operated shotguns of inventing a system that functions using a range of gas pressure and gas volume created by a wide range of shotshell loads.
Mission Arms was a short-lived company that ditched the SAAMI-spec 12-gauge shell completely with an upper receiver that only fed proprietary shells, which used a rebated rim and a conical plastic front cap to enable reliable feeding. The concept failed for obvious reasons: Ammo cost over $1 a shell, and the unit itself cost about $1,500! One of the most promising attempts was made by Rhino Arms, a now-defunct maker of ultra-accurate, high-quality AR-15s and AR-10s. Unhappily, this shotgun never made it past prototyping, because the bolt carrier created undue wear on the buffer system, and the company was experiencing internal problems.
Thankfully, other makers were not deterred from designing a 12-gauge AR-10 with Turkish firearms maker UTAS, introducing the XTR-12 at the 2016 SHOT Show, with wide distribution starting in 2017. UTAS is no stranger to making shotguns that expand the envelope in significant ways, and its UTS-15 created quite a fanfare when it arrived in 2006. A pump-action bullpup with a glass-reinforced polymer receiver to reduce weight, the UTS-15 has twin magazine tubes mounted above the barrel, each holding seven shells. This model is an out-of-the-box design that started a trend in unorthodox, high-capacity pump shotguns, followed by the Kel-Tec KSG in 2011, the Standard Manufacturing DP-12 in 2015 and, in 2018, the semiauto IWI Tavor TS12.
Unlike the UTS-15, the XTR-12 follows the conventional lines and mechanics of the AR-10, which is exactly why it is so appealing and unique among AR-style shotguns. It’s lower receiver even functions with a DPMS Oracle .308 Win. upper receiver, although UTAS does not recommend that use and instead has promised to market its own .308 Win. upper. XTR-12 uppers are not sold separately, however.
The XTR-12 is essentially a gas-piston-operated AR-10 chambered to accept 2¾-inch and 3-inch shells. Interchangeable parts between the two are the internals, grip,and buttstock, while the charging handle is proprietary. The gas system is non-adjustable and uses a short stroke design via which a piston rod impacts a tappet key on the bolt carrier, not unlike many AR-15 and AR-10 rifles. The rotating, four-lug bolt functions similarly to AR rifles but incorporates a “shell pickup” mounted at 6 o’clock that positions the shell onto the bolt face as it strips it from the magazine and also functions as a secondary extractor.
The XTR-12’s bolt also lacks the AR’s plunger-style ejector in favor of a fixed ejector mounted to the upper receiver, and its bolt carrier is lightweight. Finally, this shotgun’s upper receiver lacks the AR’s signature forward assist and dust cover.
Functioning is identical to the AR-10, with bolt hold-open after the last round, a non-reciprocating charging handle and a shell deflector to protect left-handed shooters. Like the rifle it was designed to imitate, the XTR-12 offers excellent ergonomics, along with and bilateral safety levers and magazine-release buttons. Weighing 7.8 pounds unloaded, this shotgun is lighter than most AR-10s (especially those with gas piston operation), which improves its handling. The standard XTR-12 uses an 18.5-inch barrel with no choke. Instead, it has external threading to attach an optional breeching device. A “competition barrel” can be ordered for an additional $200, or UTAS will upgrade your standard shotgun for $300. The competition barrel includes five internal chokes (Benelli crio style) and a choke wrench.
The receivers are milled from 7075-T6 aluminum billet held together by two pushpins. My sample XTR-12 has a feature-laden one-piece handguard with a full-length Picatinny rail on the top; partial rails on the sides and bottom; and five integral sockets for mounting QD swivels. Newer models use a slightly different design with M-Lok slots. The receivers and handguard are finished in Cerakote and a choice of five colors.
My sample came with an evenly applied Cerakote finish, the safety activated smoothly, and the receivers fit together tightly. The magazines have steel bodies with a carefully designed aluminum follower that positions the shells at a certain angle and is key to making the system run. This shotgun comes with one five-round mag; a 10-rounder is available.
I tested the XTR-12 with the standard barrel and also switched to the upgraded competition barrel so I could install Silencerco’s Salvo 12 suppressor. Function-testing was conducted with light target and field loads, rifled slugs and magnum buckshot. I also patterned three buckshot loads using the standard barrel. My sample shotgun stopped functioning after shooting fewer than 15 buckshot rounds. The cause, according to UTAS-USA’s repair technicians, was a bent shell pickup on the bolt head, which prevented the bolt from fully closing. This problem repeated itself, resulting in two trips back for service.
UTAS-USA was very responsive to making repairs and explained that they worked with Turkish engineers to make a design correction to the bolt and lifter. They also mentioned that the XTR-12 was intended for the 3-gun shooter who would not be shooting magnum shells. Thus, testing was done with the expected loads. I requested that my sample be returned with the competition barrel after the second trip in order to allow mounting the SilencerCo Salvo 12 suppressor.
The Salvo 12 is among the more interesting suppressors made; and, according to the company, it is the only “commercially viable, modular, hearing-safe shotgun silencer on the market.” (UTAS introduced a shotgun suppressor a few years ago, but it was never put into serial production.) The Salvo 12 uses an eccentric design patterned after its Osprey pistol suppressors. Eccentric cans are intended to allow the use of standard-height sights. On the Salvo, however, you will need rifle-style sights or a raised optic to get an acceptably unobstructed sight picture.
The Salvo 12 is 12 inches long, weighs 34.5 ounces and is constructed of 12 aluminum sections secured together with two threaded steel rods. Nine smooth, round rods are evenly spaced around the circumference of the bore to guide and contain the shotshell’s wad. The Salvo 12 is completely disassembled with only an Allen wrench, which is necessary for cleaning (at no more than 1,200 round intervals) or reconfiguring to 10, 8 or 6 inches, using rod kits from SilencerCo. It is direct-thread-mounted to an extended choke and secured by a spanner wrench. SilencerCo sells adapter chokes in several constrictions to fit Saiga/Vepr-, Benelli-, Browning-, Remington-, Mossberg- and KSG-style threads.
I tested the pattern of the XTR-12 using the Federal Field and Target load with #8 shot using the improved modified choke alone, as well as with the suppressor attached. The shot pattern with just the choke was even and at the correct density for an IM choke. Adding the full-length Salvo 12 did not shift the shot pattern relative to point of aim, but it did widen the spread by 10 to 15 percent. During firing, neither the choke nor the suppressor worked loose, and there was no discernible increase in backpressure or change in function of the shotgun.
As you would expect, the XTR-12 with the 12-inch suppressor became muzzle heavy, with completely different handling dynamics, and would benefit from using a shorter configuration. However, the muzzle-heavy effect is significantly diminished if you attach the Salvo 12 to a bullpup shotgun, which I believe is its best-matched host weapon. A short-barreled shotgun would be a second choice.
The Salvo 12 proved effective at reducing sound—exactly the idea behind this unusual accessory. SilencerCo publishes a 137 dB level for the 12-inch configuration at the muzzle, which is fairly good, considering that large-bore weapons are the most difficult to suppress because the gas is more difficult to trap inside.
The gas system worked well with shells loaded with a minimum 3-dram-equivalent powder charge—which is consistent with what UTAS recommends. Although there were occasional failures to feed with the original barrel, functioning was otherwise good using 3-dram, 1 1/8-ounce field loads… with a slight preference in feeding Federal Field and Target load over the Winchester Universal. There were three failures to eject from a box of 25 Remington 2.5-dram-equivalent STS target loads. I tested several five- and 10-round magazines. Two of the mags proved defective, but the rest worked well. The standard barrel and original bolt did not reliably chamber the first round from the magazine by depressing the bolt catch.
Instead, chambering required retracting and releasing the charging handle. However, this issue did not reappear using the competition barrel and new bolt, and the machining within the barrel extension where the bolt lugs lock was visibly neater. Feeding also seemed smoother; however, sometimes a shell would become damaged in front and not completely chamber, leaving me wanting for a forward assist. Nevertheless, it didn’t happen often, however, making ammo selection important.
I pattered three 00 buckshot loads at 25 yards: Federal Flight Control 3-inch magnum, X-Treme plated 2¾-inch from Freedom Munitions and Winchester Super-X 2 ¾ inch. I counted pellets that shot within an 8-inch inner circle and a 15-inch outer circle. I considered pellets that shot within the 8-inch circle to be effective, center-mass hits. Those landing in the outer, 15-inch ring were considered non-lethal. It’s not a perfect method, but it does delineate how different loads shoot different patterns. About four minutes elapsed between shots, which allowed partial barrel cooling. Remember that shotgun barrels usually pattern tightest on a cold barrel.
The Federal Flight Control load scored the tightest pattern, with an average of 58 percent of the pellets landing in the 8-inch circle, compared to 43 and 39 percent for the X-Treme and Winchester loads, respectively, and a total of 82, 59 and 52 percent on average of their pellets, respectively, within a 15-inch circle. This means that on average, 18, 41 and 48 percent of the buckshot pellets landed outside a 15-inch circle. Keep those fliers in mind if you use buckshot for defensive purposes ,and always pattern your defensive shotgun.
These results also validate the theoretical outcomes of each shot shell’s design. The Federal flight control wad is the reason this load shoots tight patterns, while the copper-plated buckshot used in the X-Treme load could be the reason it shot slightly tighter than the unplated shot used in the Winchester shells.
The XTR-12 handled recoil well, except for the Federal 3-inch magnums, for which a more effective recoil pad would have been welcome. The 10-round magazines also felt a bit awkward when moving and shooting because of their length. They were also difficult to fully load. When loading shells into either magazine, inserting the shells isn’t a smooth process, so it’s a good idea to wear gloves to avoid cutting your fingers on the magazine lips when loading.
The XTR-12 is unquestionably the closest thing you can get to a 12-gauge AR, and it comes with all of that design’s ergonomic advantages, easy disassembly for cleaning and plethora of aftermarket accessories—from grips to stocks. For me, this shotgun is best suited for competition and plinking rather than home defense, for which a forward assist is advisable: Thrusting a shot shell forward from the magazine into a feed ramp risks deforming the front edge of the plastic shell, making chambering incomplete without assistance.
Plastic shot shells are also susceptible to deformation from careless handling, leading to the same result. However, the detachable magazine makes reloading rapid and switching from buckshot to slugs easy—a real advantage for those who wish to use it for tactical purposes. At an MSRP of $1,099, it’s one of the pricier Turkish shotguns imported, but it’s also nearly a “true-to-form” design for those who want an AR shotgun.
|Ammunition (00 Buckshot)||
Pattern Results Number of Pellets / Percentage of Pellets
|Federal Premium Flight Control 3-in., 12 pellet||
7 / 58
|10 / 82||
|Freedom Munitions X-Treme 2¾-in., 9 pellet||
4 / 43
|5 / 59||
|Winchester Super-X 2¾-in., 9 pellet||
4 / 39
|5 / 52||
GAUGE: 12; 3-in. chamber
ACTION: Semiauto; gas operated
OA LENGTH: 38–41.5 in.
WEIGHT: 7.8 lbs.
STOCKS: Five-position collapsible buttstock
CAPACITY: 5+1, 10+1
MSRP: $1,099; ($1,199 with non-black Cerakote)
Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.