For many, the Holy Grail of tactical-style shotguns is a semi-automatic that can reliably feed from a detachable-box magazine. So, how to achieve this? How about basing the shotgun on one of the most reliable rifle designs in the world? That would obviously be Mikhail Kalashnikov’s AK family of firearms.
Well, someone has actually already thought of this, namely the renowned Molot Factory in Russia with its 12-gauge VEPR 12. It is based upon the rock-solid foundation of the reinforced and strengthened RPK light machine gun receiver. However, due to draconian and arbitrary importation restrictions, the VEPR 12 can only be imported into this country in a configuration devoid of a folding stock (an appealing feature for a tactical-style shotgun) and only with a five-round magazine (any higher capacity than that would be illegal to use in it).
Well, thanks to the efforts of FIME Group, there is a solution. Starting with the sturdy VEPR 12, it installs a selection of 922r-compliance parts (upper and lower handguards, pistol grip, trigger, hammer, disconnector and gas puck) to bring the shotgun to market as a U.S.-production model and therefore legal to employ a left-side folding stock and increased-capacity magazines.
Anyone familiar with AK-pattern rifles will be right at home with the VPR-12-03. All the basics are there: the large dustcover/safety lever on the right side of the receiver, the reciprocating charging handle exposed through the ejection port, ambidextrous paddle-style magazine-release lever forward of the trigger guard and a winged front-post sight (albeit located on the gas block) mated to a notch rear unit. Interestingly, the extended magazine well allows “stick” magazines to be fed straight up into the well like an AR-15, rather than rocked in as with an AK. Also, the chrome-lined, cylinder-bore barrel features a threaded muzzle with a protecting cap.
Close inspection of the VPR-12-03 revealed the pleasant surprise of numerous ergonomic and operational enhancements over a run-of-the-mill AK-pattern firearm. The large (and usually crude) AK-style safety was modified with an additional tab at the lower rear portion above the pistol grip, as well as a matching extension on the other side of the receiver above the pistol grip (in practice I only found them to be useful for re-engaging the safety). The VEPR 12 shotgun also features an integrated bolt-hold-open system engaged by the follower of an empty magazine (while it can also be engaged by an exposed button to the rear of the magazine well). An action-release button is located just forward and right of the pistol grip.
Another enhancement is the use of an RPK-style rear sight that is windage-adjustable and (humorously for a shotgun) ranged out to 1,000 meters. To the rear of the RPK sight is a strip of Picatinny rail along the top of the receiver cover. To help mitigate some of the inherent instability of an AK top cover for optics, the cover of the VPR-12-03 is attached by a hinge to the rear-sight block for enhanced stability.
The steel folding stock itself is extremely rugged and features a polymer cheek rest that can be adjusted for right- or left-handed use. To fold the stock, push forward on an exposed button at the rear left side of the receiver, and the stock will fold to the left of the receiver and lock in place. To release it for unfolding, simply push a lever located inside the rear opening of the receiver to the left.
Since the VPR-12-03 is intended as a defensive-style shotgun, I took it to the range with a selection of buckshot and slug loads to see how it would perform. I also acquired some eight- and 10-round magazines in addition to the single five-rounder that came with the test sample. I set up a silhouette target at 15 yards and ran some Hornady 2¾-inch 00 buckshot through the shotgun. I then ran some Federal 3-inch Power-Shok slugs through it at a target at 25 yards. The buckshot grouped well within the vital zones of the target, and the slugs easily stayed within a fist-size group. This would definitely get the job done.
As far as functioning went, the VPR-12-03 cycled all the shells without incident. I did notice a slight lag on trigger reset for the first 20 or so rounds, but this cleared up and the shotgun worked fine after that. I was curious how it would handle some Winchester “Universal” 1,200 fps 2¾-inch loads and ran two boxes through it without a hiccup. To be frank, I was expecting this gun to hang up on these light shells, so I was pleasantly surprised.
All in all, the VPR-12-03 VEPR 12 from FIME Group is a great option for those looking for a tactical shotgun that is reliable, fed from a detachable-box-magazine, compact and just plain impressive looking.