UTAS XTR-12 Answers Shotgun Questions

By Oleg Volk

UTAS Tames the Recoil and Solves the Slow Loading Problem

The UTAS XTR-12 solves most of the usual complaints about shotguns. The expected recoil of full power 12-gauge buck and slugs is tamed by a short-stroke piston gas system and linear recoil buffer. The slow single loading has been replaced with 5- and 10-round box magazines. The manual of arms of a typical tube fed scattergun, so different from the familiar AR, now matches that of the AR-10. For those who desire rifle-like accuracy, a competition barrel accepting Benelli-style chokes—including rifled inserts—is available. With that and Brenneke or DDupleks full caliber slugs, as well as Federal or Hornady sabot slugs, the XTR-12 can keep up with any 45-70 rifle. And, if this isn’t enough, the AR-10-compatible UTAS lower accepts any DPMS pattern AR-10 uppers for an even longer reach.

The effort to shoehorn 12-gauge into rifle actions date back to the 1990s. While AK action types spawned Saiga and Vepr, the FAL and AK mixed and matched produced Origin 12, the only AR-like shotguns were the pale imitations like the Akdal MKA1919, with the outward look of an AR-15A1 and the innards largely cribbed from Remington 1100. A recent effort to introduce a proprietary 12-gauge cartridge for the AR-10 platform predictably crashed and burned at the marketing stage. Enter the victorious XTR-12, a product of three years of improvements to the original Turkish design.

From the outside, this shotgun looks like an AR-10 with a bull barrel, the only giveaway being a coverless ejection port and the distinctive texture of the bolt side. At 8 pounds loaded with a 5-round magazine, XTR-12 handles more like an AR-15 than an AR-10. The relatively thin-walled 18.5 inch barrel and the skeletonized bolt carrier make the weapon slightly less top heavy than the .308 counterpart, improving its balance and reducing perceived roll upon shouldering. The magazines, at this time 5- and 10-round stamped steel ribbed boxes with aluminum followers, are strong and slender enough to fit standard 7.62mm magazine pouches. While the length of the 10-rounder is excessive for field use, 15, 20 and 25 round drums are coming by Spring of 2018. For shotguns, sprocketed drums that protect most of the cartridges in the feed path from sideways pressure are my choice for achieving magazine capacity over 8 rounds. Impressively, the same magazine feeds 2.75-inch and 3-inch shells, which also handles roll crimped 2.75 inches that don’t always fit standard short magazines. Loading may be done with the bolt open or closed. The only down side to these magazines is the price, $49 and $69 respectively. Hopefully, it will come down as the aftermarket makers get in the game ... though the price of such robust and well-built feeding devices can only go so low without compromising quality.

Contrary to the reports I’ve read, the gas system isn’t adjustable. It’s designed to run 1 1/8oz 1250fps birdshot and stronger loads. Weak promotional birdshot loads might cycle under the ideal conditions, but are not guaranteed to work. Full power game loads work 100%, and the system is tailored for full power slugs and buckshot. XTR-12 was intended from the start to be a defensive and hunting shotgun, not just a range plaything. To that end, the standard model comes with cylinder bore barrel threaded for a heavily designed flash hider/compensator. For the younger or petite shotgunners, or for armored marksmen, the well-padded stock varies in length and may be swapped for other models if desired. QD sling openings on the front and back of both sides of the forend as well as on the buttstock provide options for transport and for supported carry. Even with 1600fps 1oz slugs, firing this weapon in a hasty sling allowed full control on rapid fire. Most of the action regulation occurs in the gas system. Compared to the AR, the buffer is light and the recoil spring is just strong enough to return the lightened bolt carrier into battery. That, in turn, makes racking the bolt to load the first round much easier.

The user interface is unremarkably AR-10, giving a typical American shooter an instant familiarity. Take-down is a little more complicated, requiring tools and a more involved process than the rifle counterpart. First, the muzzle device must be removed, then the forend loosened with a hex key and slipped forward over the muzzle. The piston assembly comes apart next, allowing the bolt and carrier group to come out of the back of the hinged upper receiver. Detailed cleaning of the bolt parts is recommended, but the gun runs cleanly and requires maintenance only at long intervals. Early XTR-12s had a weak spot on the underside of the bolt, a cartridge feed lug that could break from metal fatigue. A much wider and stronger lug was introduced along with the matching barrel extension, and many of the older shotguns were retrofitted. No issues have been reported since then.

At the range the XTR-12 behaves well, being textured in all the right places and likewise chamfered for comfort. Unlike AK based weapons, it doesn’t abrade hands even without gloves in use. While the safety levers are present on both sides, the right side paddle is shorter to keep it from impacting the top of the hand on recoil, and they may be reversed for southpaws. The accessory rear sight has an aperture and a V notch, the latter for wing shooting. Placed forward on the receiver, this sight makes for rapid express sighting on moving targets. Placed at the back of the receiver, the aperture provides more precise aiming with slugs. A head-up red dot like Vortex UH1, Leupold LCO, a Holosun with a circle-dot reticle or an EOTech, make leading for wing shooting a breeze but also provide precision with single projectiles. With either sighting system, overlapping Brenneke slugs at 25 yards is routine. Combined with a green laser as a backup sighting option, this shotgun gives very reliable aiming with any load.

The forend is ventilated, with smooth M-Lok sections in the middle of the sides and bottom, with short Picatinny rail stubs front and back on three sides and a continuous rail smoothly flowing from the receiver on the top. The absence of edged projections helps with the handling of recoil as well as with rapid mounting of the gun for clays. (I can’t wait to see the faces of the more traditional shotgunners at the trap house!)

Up close against unarmored foes, the 12-gauge has a singular reputation for effectiveness. Brenneke and DDupleks Monolit slugs also do equally well on car bodies and hog gristle plates. The real limitations of shotguns—limited effective range and heavy ammunition—are of less concern to a person defending a limited size homestead. On the flip side of the coin, the same shotgun may be run with #4 buckshot to limit penetration out of consideration for urban neighbors. The key to the popularity of shotguns is versatility, and the XTR-12 delivers it. It can even be used for low power less lethal munitions—but as a straight pull rather than an autoloader. Unlike the more traditional designs, it actually offers more conventional handling from the standpoint of an American LE officer, soldier or non-institutional user, all more likely familiar with the canonical AR interface than with the wide variety of mutually incompatible auto-loading, tub-fed 12-gauges. We only have to look at a user of the Remington 1187 trying to figure out a Benelli action under stress to appreciate the ubiquity of Stoner’s controls. As before with Japanese electronics, “made in Turkey” no longer means “Third World quality.” Designed and produced with US assistance, the XTR-12 is used world-wide and has earned a reputation for reliability and effectiveness.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V22N1 (January 2018)
and was posted online on November 17, 2017


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