Automatic shotguns are incredible.

They offer sport shooters and hunters blazing fast follow-up shots and tactical shooters the fastest method of putting effective rounds on target. The only downsides are recoil and keeping them fed. The latter is addressed with external magazine-fed shotguns, but the most prolific of these, the Saiga 12, suffers from reliability and ammunition sensitivity issues.

Shotgunners had to either modify or pay a gunsmith to tweak these AK-influenced spartan shotguns to get them running. This was acceptable back when these scatterguns ran around $400.

Now blocked by executive order, these same shotguns demand a premium despite their functional shortcomings.

So late last year, Wolf Performance Ammunition began importing a competing design from a Russian company not listed in the Russian firearms import ban. Dubbed the Molot VEPR, the shotgun uses the same short stroke, piston-driven rotating bolt design and is both internally and externally similar to a Saiga shotgun.

Based on the squad automatic version of the AK-47, the VEPR’s receiver is 50 percent thicker than the Saigas. Also, instead of arriving stateside in so-called ‘sporting configuration,’ the VEPR ships with an RPK handguard, welded open folding wire stock and polymer pistol grip. Further betraying it’s LMG roots, the iron sights are classic RPK type — a more easily adjustable variant of AK post and notch sights.

Other improvements include a bolt hold open function with release button located above the trigger guard. It also incorporates a thumb safety so shooters aren’t stuck with the giant unergonomic safety level featured on AK-derived designs.In Russia, the difference between the two products is similar to buying different grades of the same firearm. The method of operation remains the same, but the heavier VEPR features better-fitted, higher quality components.

Skeptics need only work the action on both shotguns to tell the difference.

The VEPR’s price is higher than the Saiga in its heyday, and aftermarket parts are less numerous and more expensive, with factory magazines ranging from $60 to $120 each. Two American companies currently offer dependable magazines catering to different schools of thought: SGM Tactical and CS Specs. Like the majority of its products, the SGM mags are polymer, lightweight and reliable.

Unlike SGM’s modern magazines, CS Specs takes an old-world approach, building their tank-like magazines from steel stampings. Both top out around $50, but the CS Specs magazines surpass factory-build examples in both quality and durability. Their downsides are weight and some require minor fitting.

Non-OEM parts market notwithstanding, the VEPR 12 is a straight upgrade from the Saiga. Retailing for around $1000, these aggressive-looking shotguns aren’t cheap, but still represent the most affordable way to get a reliable magazine-fed shotgun without custom work.