Gun Test: TriStar Compact Bullpup Shotgun

NRA Shooting Illustrated | Contributor

By Daniel T. McElrath, Shooting Illustrated

At first, the TriStar Compact shotgun resembles not so much a shotgun as a movie prop. You could be forgiven for thinking it appeared in “Starship Troopers.” Bullpups, even now, still look odd. However, that is not to say this gun lacks visual appeal; it doesn’t. Some thought was given to styling. This is one thick slab of ordnance, but it has nice lines and better-than-decent fit and finish.

That grace (for a bullpup) in styling doesn’t extend to handling. This is not a light gun and the compact size concentrates the weight. You have to think about where to grasp it when picking it up. Placing your palm under the area between the pistol grip and magazine well is the easiest way to casually heft the gun. It balances nicely at that point. If you install the included carry handle on the top rail, you have to reach far back on the handle to prevent the butt-heavy shotgun from tipping muzzle-up. Fortunately, the compact comes with well-placed sling-attachment points.

(l.) Integral, adjustable sights are incorporated into the Compact’s detachable carry handle. (ctr.) Pushing and rocking are required to seat the magazine in the Compact. (r.) Stout and sturdy, the bolt isn’t easily extracted. Takedown of the shotgun requires a bit of effort.

That carry handle incorporates built-in, adjustable sights and is just one of the value-added features of the TriStar Compact. Additionally, BUIS are included should you eschew the carry handle and opt to mount them with or without an optical sight to the gun’s Picatinny top rail. Also in the box is an angled foregrip that can be mounted to the chin rail, making it easy to snug the gun against your shoulder. Or, leave the foregrip off and mount a light and/or laser there. Furthermore, the Compact uses Beretta/Benelli Mobile threads, so you can try alternatives to the cylinder-bore tube included. (Our pre-production test gun came with a ported choke tube. Production units will have a solid tube to reduce blast and noise—a good idea for a close-quarters shotgun.)

The TriStar Compact shotgun is designed to be fired and really feels comfortable only when mounted to the shoulder. Put the thick, cushiony buttpad in the pocket of your shoulder, hold at the low ready, then lever up the gun when you’re ready to fire. A traditional mount will catch on your shirt due to the tacky surface of the buttpad.

Two five-round magazines are included with the Compact, and TriStar says it is compatible with Saiga magazines, so more capacious units are out there.

Inserting the magazines took a bit of skill and practice. They have to be rocked into place. Those familiar with AK platforms will likely have less trouble, but others will have difficulty performing fast reloads.

At the range, we experienced both the good and bad. The TriStar Compact shotgun was very good with 2.75-inch shells. It was controllable and, except for a couple of last-round stovepipes and one in-magazine jam, reliable. Such was not the case with 3-inch slugs. They’d bind in the magazine, the shell’s brass refusing to emerge and give the bolt something to grab. We couldn’t get through a magazine without it happening, and one brand of sabot slug wouldn’t work at all.

(l.) The included angled foregrip installs on the chin rail or you can mount a light and/or laser there. (ctr.) Extending from the receiver/buttstock, the safety lever blocks the trigger, hammer lever and hammer. (r.) After some takeup, the trigger offered a long, heavy and mushy break typical of bullpups.

It would be easy and not inaccurate to dismiss the need for 3-inch slugs in such a gun. Magnum slugs in the close-quarters for which the TriStar Compact was designed would offer only excess muzzle blast, recoil and the potential for overpenetration. Also, the issue was definitely the magazines. We didn’t have any Saiga mags available for testing, but they may have solved the problem. Nonetheless, it should have functioned with the included magazines, but again, ours was a pre-production test sample.

Both the rear and front sights in the carry handle are adjustable; the rear fully, and the front for elevation. The plastic adjustment wheels feel vague and imprecise, but get the job done. Loading the gun with 2.75-inch Number 4 Buck and 00 Buck, we had a pretty good time blasting away at paper zombie targets. Both loads patterned well.

You give up some ergonomics in exchange for the compactness of this bullpup design. Specifically, you have to remove your hand from the pistol grip (or reach over with your left) to rack the bolt or engage or disengage the safety. Also, the TriStar Compact shotgun is a right-handers-only proposition.

With the understanding I’d limit myself to 2¾-inch buckshot loads (at least until I located better magazines), and with some practice inserting those magazines, the TriStar would make a capable home-defense or even tactical-entry gun. It’s highly maneuverable and comfortable to shoot, and comes with a host of accessories. Needed tweaks aren’t unusual in new firearms, and a TriStar Compact with improved magazines would have a very big upside.

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