Having used shotguns for years as a patrol and SWAT officer, they remain viable tools. Sure, like any firearm, shotguns have their limitations—some mechanical while others are operator based.But shotguns remain an effective means of stopping armed threats at close range, and improvements in ammunition have made them more effective than ever before.
Today’s self-defense and duty ammunition is reliable and relatively accurate, creating tight patterns. Even a short-barreled shotgun (SBS) will place nine buckshot pellets inside 5 inches at 20 yards.
Modern shotguns, especially semi-automatics, are reliable and accurate. Tube-fed guns require training and practice but are manageable with effort. Shotguns that use detachable box magazines can be a real game-changer, however. Most in this category are based on the AK platform and may require some work to be duty capable. Properly built, they allow for fast reloads, better control and quick follow-up shots. But operators really needed a semi-auto, AK-platform shotgun with user-friendly controls and ergonomics, and Fostech Outdoors has done just that with its new Origin-12.
The Origin-12 is built from the ground up as an AK-style shotgun with lots of polymer to help reduce weight. It’s also modular thanks to the design of the receiver and barrel/handguard assembly. This assembly includes the barrel, gas tube, gas block and handguard, making it easy for operators to change out barrels as needed.
Made of high-strength steel, the barrel is fluted for reduced weight and better heat dissipation. It also features standard Saiga/VEPR threads so it can accept several flash suppressors, muzzle brakes or standoff devices as needed—even SilencerCo’s Salvo 12 sound suppressor. And removing or installing the barrel is easy, which makes cleaning and maintenance a breeze. Users can adjust the gas system via a ported plug, allowing you to bleed off gas as needed with heavier loads. It should be noted that the Origin-12 can only be used with 2¾-inch shells.
The forend features a Picatinny top rail that lines up with the polymer top cover’s, and shorter rails on the sides and bottom make it easy to add mission-critical accessories.
Flip-up front and rear sights are included. Unlike more traditional designs, you’ll find a large dust cover on the right side that snaps open during firing or when the charging handle is cycled. Snapping it closed keeps dirt and dust out of the action.
The Origin-12 also features ambidextrous controls—including the safety—that are easy to reach with either hand. The non-reciprocating charging handle is mounted just forward of the receiver on the left side. The bolt release is a large paddle that is easy to reach with your trigger finger, and the bolt locks back after the last round is fired. The magazine release is located at the front of the triggerguard, which means you can swap magazines and, with the bolt release, drop the bolt without coming out of the “pocket.” This makes the Origin-12 perfect for 3-Gun competitions.
The mostly polymer magazine well is designed to accept a variety of magazines, including five-, eight- and 10-round versions as well as 20- and 30-round drums. These polymer magazines feature steel feed lips for rock-solid operation, and they slide straight up into the mag well; they don’t have to be rocked in like AK magazines. The magazines also drop free easily when you push the magazine release.
At the rear of the receiver, you’ll find a Mission First Tactical (MFT) Battlelink Minimalist stock fitted to a buffer tube and folding stock adapter. The stock folds to the left side of the receiver. Locked into its extended position, the in-line design of the stock makes it easy to use most sights designed for ARs, like the Shield SIS (Switchable Interface Sight) I used for testing.
One of the best aspects of the Origin-12’s design is how easy it is to change barrels. Normally, it can be a total nightmare to convert a standard AK shotgun into an SBS, especially if you want the barrel to be shorter than 14 inches. This would require shortening the gas system and some serious tuning. With a 10-inch barrel, you are often limited to full-bore, high-brass buckshot or slugs for consistent operation. These rounds work, but your shotgun will now pound your shoulder like a hammer. Luckily, Fostech’s unique design makes the process simple and painless, and the Origin-12’s gas system works well with lighter loads.
You can order the Origin-12 as an SBS from Fostech with a 10-inch barrel installed or, after completing the appropriate NFA paperwork, simply replace the 18.5-inch tube on your standard Origin-12. Since my company’s a Title 2 manufacturer, it was a simple matter of filling out a form. Swapping out barrels only takes a minute or two. Remove the barrel pin, pull out the barrel you need to replace and reverse the process with the new barrel. And it’s done. No gunsmith, no fitting. Just makes sure it all lines up by performing a function check and head to the range!
Previous testing with 10-inch-barreled AK shotguns has been both frustrating and painful. Most of these shotguns require full-brass buckshot rated for 1,350 fps or more. And while this will work in a duty scenario, it doesn’t make for much fun on the range. But the Origin-12 wasn’t nearly as punishing. The first step was installing a King Armory KA-1212 brake/breacher. Made of hardened steel, the KA-1212 reduces flash and recoil and can even tighten some patterns. I used this device for most of the testing.
I tested the Origin-12 with both 18.5- and 10-inch barrels, and I used the latter first. With 1,150-fps training ammunition and the 10-inch barrel, the shotgun worked better when cleaned, oiled and pressed very tightly against my shoulder. The reliability improved when I switched to 1,200-fps loads. So long as I kept the shotgun pressed tightly to my shoulder, it ran really well. It worked like a champ with Winchester AA (SC128) ammo rated for 1,300 fps, which closely matches the Federal Tactical buckshot that populates many police departments.
No matter how quickly I pressed the trigger, the Origin-12 never missed a beat with Federal’s 9-pellet LE127 00 buckshot. This load patterned well, and I could use it all day long without an issue. This is the same ammunition my Benelli M4 and Mossberg 955 prefer. The shotgun also ran Hornady’s 1,600-fps Critical Defense ammo as well. Yes, it was a bit more powerful, but it patterned the best with the short barrel, likely due to its Versatite wad. With the SilencerCo Salvo 12 attached, the shotgun even ran lower-velocity rounds with much less noise.
With the 18.5-inch barrel, the shotgun ran 1,150-fps training ammunition without a hitch and the patterns were very similar. Of course, today’s quality tactical buckshot holds the pellets in the wad for a distance after leaving the barrel. This makes the barrel length less meaningful. My tightest pattern—4.75 inches at 20 yards—came with the Hornady ammo. From 5 to 15 yards, I just created one large hole.
I mostly carry slugs in a spare magazine for engagements beyond 25 yards, and the Origin-12created a best five-shot group with Federal’s excellent LE127 slugs that measured 4.7 inches at 25 yards. At 50 yards, my groups were under 6 inches, which is more than adequate for duty use.
The Origin-12 is made in America, so you don’t have to worry about any annoying import restrictions. This means you can replace the stock if so desired. The controls were easy to reach and activate, and every magazine inserted and dropped free quickly. Having the bolt lock back after the last round is a boon for faster reloads.
Short-barreled shotguns are great for tactical operations, and the Fostech Origin-12 is an excellent option. Not only is it easy to add a reflex sight, but the supplied sights are very usable for those accustomed to an AR. And the rails on the forend make it easy to add lasers for even more precision.
The Origin-12 really has all you need for an entry shotgun, and it was just about as reliable in testing as it gets with a 10-inch barrel. It also costs about as much as an AK-style shotgun that’s undergone months of gunsmithing. Tactical shotguns aren’t for everyone, but for some like me, they’re excellent. If that’s you, take a close look at the Fostech Origin-12. It performs just as well as it looks.
- Gauge: 12; 2¾-inch chamber
- Barrel: 10 or 18.5 inches
- OA Length: 32 inches
- Weight: 6 pounds (empty)
- Stock: MFT Battlelink Minimalist
- Sights: Flip-up front and rear
- Action: Piston-operated semi-auto
- Finish: Matte black, hard nickel
- Capacity: 5+1