By Jay Grazio, Shooting Illustrated
Pictured above: the TriStar KRX Tactical shotgun features AR-15-style controls and is fed through a detachable box magazine, but it provides the awesome power of a 12-gauge shotgun.
The 12-gauge shotgun is the Swiss Army knife of firearms. Load it up with birdshot and you can blast clay pigeons apart, impress your buddies with milk-jug destruction or hunt winged prey. Add buckshot or slugs to the mix and you can defend your home or hunt big game. One firearm can do many different tasks, but for a long time, low capacity has been the shotgun’s Achilles’ heel. Not only are most shotguns limited to single-digit capacities, but loading the tubular magazine can be a time-consuming, finger-busting chore.
As a general rule, pump- and semi-automatic shotguns will come with anywhere from three- to five-round tubular magazines. Defensive or tactical models might see capacity increased to seven or eight rounds through longer tubes or extended-magazine caps. Some shotguns, like the Kel-Tec KSG or Standard Manufacturing DP-12, address the capacity limitation by adding a second tubular magazine. The holy grail for shotguns has been a removable-box magazine that will feed reliably in a semi-automatic action.
For a variety of reasons, though, this has been a long time coming. Whether because of import restrictions, institutional inertia (“it’s always been done that way”) or simply because 12-gauge shells—and magazines filled with a significant number of them—are heavy, there has been a severe lack of semi-automatic, removable-box-magazine-fed shotguns on the market. The Saiga series has been around for a couple decades, and recently we’ve seen more offerings in related shotguns like the EAA MKA 1919 Match. Whether it’s increased interest in home-defense choices or perhaps the rise in popularity of 3-gun competition, the number of semi-automatic shotguns fed by removable-box-magazines is on the rise.
Despite the Saiga-12 and the AK-47-style being first to the box-fed, semi-auto shotgun market, the AR-15 platform also has its adherents. Recognizing the incredible popularity and modularity of the AR-15-style longarm, companies like TriStar are offering semi-auto shotguns that bear a more-than-passing resemblance to the AR-15. With controls located in the same position, it’s easier to pick up the TriStar KRX Tactical and know how to operate it than a pump-action shotgun that loads in a manner completely unlike that of a rifle, has a different type of safety in another location and employs different sights.
When I picked up the KRX Tactical shotgun, the first thing I noticed was how familiar the controls felt. As a fan of the AR-15-style carbine and rifle, I’m used to the safety selector being in close proximity to the thumb of my shooting hand. I expect the magazine release to be activated by simply extending my trigger finger beyond the trigger guard. When I look at the sights, I mentally prepare for a certain amount of height over the top of the receiver. All of these things are exactly as they should be on the KRX Tactical. That’s a good thing, as I don’t have to learn a second manual-of-arms for my shotgun. Now, our Shotguns editor will tell you it’s a bad thing, in that I may be tempted to treat the shotgun like an AR-15, but I’d rather worry about that than not finding the safety.
One of the next things that caught my attention was the large amount of polymer used in the TriStar KRX Tactical’s construction. I’ll admit to a little apprehension when hefting the scattergun, thinking that the plastic might not mitigate recoil. However, the Beretta 1301 is quite light and contains quite a bit of polymer, and it handles recoil just fine. Thus reassured, I took the KRX Tactical to the range to put copious amounts of lead on target.
Any lingering doubts I had about how the TriStar KRX Tactical would hold up under sustained 12-gauge fire were removed after about the third magazine of 00 buckshot. The semi-automatic operation does take a good deal of sting out of heavy 12-gauge loads, but it’s still noticeable—this is a 12-gauge, after all, not a 10/22. A couple of initial teething problems smoothed out after a few boxes, and operation using buckshot, slugs and field-grade birdshot was smooth and as expected. Also expected was the performance (or, we should say, lack thereof) using reduced-recoil birdshot loads.
Unsurprisingly, these reduced-power offerings did not have sufficient oomph to cycle the action. Again, this is not uncommon for semi-automatic shotguns. The sights are rudimentary but worked very well; at 15 yards the KRX Tactical was stacking slugs right on top of each other. Patterning at 10 yards gave about a 3-inch spread with 00 buckshot and an 8-inch spread with No. 7½ shot. When it comes to putting lead on target, it’s entirely competent.
The TriStar KRX Tactical is one of a small handful of options available for those who prefer AR-15-style semi-automatic shotguns. Fortunately, it works extremely well, with familiar handling characteristics and is capable of digesting full-power fodder with little difficulty. Whether target loads for the clay field or buckshot/slugs for defense, the KRX Tactical feeds, fires and ejects everything put into it. If you’re looking for a shotgun companion to your favorite carbine, want to increase your home-defense firepower or just want a shotgun that’s unlike the others, the KRX Tactical from TriStar definitely merits consideration.