UTAS Shotguns High-End Performance in Every Model
At the turn of this century, American tactical shotguns were generally tube-fed pumps and semiautos. The few attempts at box or drum-fed scatterguns were squashed by the ATF, which classified them as “destructive devices.” At most, they held nine shells, usually fewer to keep the overall length reasonable. The South African reverse-direction pump Neostad 2000 solved that issue by going to twin switchable magazines, but the ATF forbade the importation. Around 2012, two competing designs became available almost simultaneously, the Kel-Tec KSG and UTAS UTS-15.
The Kel-Tec KSG was as conventionally American as a bullpup with twin seven-shot magazines can be. UTS-15, designed in Turkey to American specifications, was closer in layout to the Neostad, placing the magazines above the barrel and allowing manual selection of mag tubes or alternating side feed. Both guns were almost 2 pounds lighter than the Neostad and used conventional pumping direction. The UTAS UTS-15 one-upped the KSG by incorporating a light/laser controlled by a receiver switch into the forend, though only one of the two options can be used: Light and laser cannot be on simultaneously. Muzzle brake, chokes and a rifled barrel extension are also available. Received with great hopes, the UTS-15 proved better suited to science fiction movies than to combat use.
The first generation UTS-15 proved rather fragile, with the forend breaking off at times leaving the user with a shotgun and no way to unload it. The mechanism for alternating the magazine tubes took a good deal of effort to run, making pumping more work than usual. And, probably most significantly, the magazines could not be topped off until empty. The loading process was unusual, requiring manually locking the magazine follower forward and then pushing shells in. Once the magazine was full, the user would close the dust cover, and the whole shell stack would slam about 3 inches back. Sometimes, that happened with the cover open and hurt the user’s fingers. In theory, the cover could be re-opened with a partial shell stack inside, the top shell pushed forward and more ammunition added, but that was not a practical proposition. On the plus side, the entire action could be accessed by lifting the top cover over the receiver in case of a jam. Subsequent revisions of UTS-15 made it more robust and reliable, but could not address the odd manual of arms. Initially, it sold well on the strength of specifications and martial appearance. A trickle of sales continues, but I wouldn’t rate this design as a success.
The next 12-gauge shotgun from UTAS was the exact opposite: a box-fed semiauto based on the all-American AR-10 lower receiver. A streamlined, reliable weapon with a completely conventional manual of arms, the UTAS XTR-12 is one of the best fighting shotguns ever made. It solves most of the usual complaints about shotguns—hefty kick and slow reloads. The expected recoil of a full-power buck or slug is tamed by a short-stroke piston gas system and linear recoil buffer. Instead of single loading, slow and prone to fumbling, 5- and 10-round box magazines latch straight up the flared magazine well.
The manual of arms matches the AR-10 and the AR-15. A competition barrel accepting Benelli-style chokes—including rifled inserts—is available. Already accurate as a smoothbore and augmented with a rifled choke, the XTR-12 using full caliber Brenneke or DDupleks slugs can keep up with most 45-70 rifles. The AR-10-compatible UTAS lower accepts any DPMS-pattern AR-10 uppers for an even longer reach, though a lighter trigger would be a recommended upgrade going past 200 yards. In my experience, XTR-12 has been unfailingly reliable with every type of ammunition and comfortable even with magnum loads. It even feeds 23/4 or 3-inch shells from the same magazine. Between high reliability, low recoil and familiar manual of arms, UTAS hit a real home run with this model.
The Hatfield Brand
Both UTAS shotguns sold for around $1,000 when they first came out, now perhaps they sell for $100 less. The price neglected the more populous entry-level segment of the market, so UTAS introduced the Hatfield brand. Named after the UTAS marketing director and sold mainly through discount retailers, Hatfield provides functionality without thrills. That said, the guns still come with nice hardwood stocks and a modicum of decorative trade dress. Four main models are offered, from the simplest break-open single shots, to over and under, to pumps and finally a somewhat unusual short-stroke, gas-operated autoloader in hunting and tactical configurations.
Going by such easily remembered model designations as USH410BY SGL 410, Hatfield shotguns are meant to deliver functionality at a decent price point. At the bottom of the line-up, single-shot break open models come with a useful feature: a hollow forend. Once broken open, the front of the action can swivel 150 degrees to fit into that hollow for a very compact storage without disassembly. The barrel opens just enough for loading and stays in place when the action hinge is new and stiff, but there’s no detent for the loading position. When broken open, the action would likely allow the barrel to point straight down. Break-open triggers are fairly heavy at 8 to 9 pounds, and the manually cocked external hammer is heavier still, making these better for adults than for kids. The guns come with a recoil pad, but their light weight makes the recoil of 20- and 12-gauge variants rather brisk. That can be mitigated with the use of Aguila Minishells®, which give a 410-like recoil with the shorter full-bore shot stack. The fit and finish are no-frills but entirely adequate. At $120 retail, these lightweight scatterguns are a fair way of getting into shotgun hunting.
Over and Under
Over and under (O/U) shotguns rise to a whole other level of performance. These extractor designs are also a bit stiff when new but come with excellent triggers and options of fancier wood and metal finish or all-weather Cerakote. In the low $300s, retail, they are quite a deal compared to even entry-level options from other brands. Heavier and equipped with more effective recoil pads, they are comfortable even with full-power slugs or buck in 12 gauge. Shooting the .410 and the 20 gauge is like diving into a popcorn bucket; before you know it, a whole case of birdshot is gone. Set up with fiber optic beads on textured ribs, Hatfield O/U proved ergonomic and handy. The safety is a slider permitting top or bottom barrel selection.
Next up, the Hatfield pump-action line is represented by two looks, hunting and tactical. The hunting guns come with nice wood, shiny metal and bead sights, looking very nice for under $200. The internal finish is very good on all moving parts, but outright rough wherever parts fit isn’t relevant. That doesn’t affect performance, but makes reassembly a little more difficult until one learns where to just push on the bolt and the action bars to get them into the receiver. The quality of bores is illustrated by slug groups in the 1-inch range at 20 yards with cheap Turkish ammunition and bead sight. All pump and semiauto Hatfields have 5+1 capacity. A slightly wider loading port on the 12 gauge would have been nice, being just right on the .410 and 20-gauge guns. Functionally, these ran pretty much the same as any other pump—simply and reliably.
Testing the Tactical Model
My friend and I put quite a bit of ammunition through the tactical version of this model set up with a synthetic pistol grip stock and a full-length ventilated aluminum heat shield with Picatinny rail on top. While the barrel has a front sight blade, it’s not visible to the shooter. The gun can be set up with AR-height iron sights or a red dot, the latter being more useful for moving targets. The heat shield isn’t my favorite; the first range session came to a halt because the red dot fell off of the gun. A closer look showed that the Picatinny rail teeth rounded off from recoil! The sight was reinstalled further forward, no problems since. The rail is easily user-replaceable, but I have not bothered to install the spare yet since the original one held up for the thousand or so shells fired through that gun since. We also discovered that screws holding the shield in place loosen over time, corrupting the sight alignment. Blue Loctite® fixed that, rendering the shotgun fit for defensive duty. The telescoping AR-style stock is well-padded and comfortable. For some reason, it comes equipped with a completely unnecessary cheek riser, easily removable to get a better sight picture. The tactical variants retail in the low $300s.
Semiauto Hatfields likewise come in hunting and defensive configurations. Based loosely on the Benelli pattern, they use short-stroke gas operation rather than the more common long stroke. The loading is different from the familiar American pattern. Closing the bolt on a directly loaded shell is done by pressing a button on the side of the receiver, not by tugging on the bolt handle. Release a shell from the magazine with a tab near the trigger guard. When fired, the trigger release also pops that tab, but it has to be pressed every time when cycling shells out of the magazine. This arrangement makes it easy to clear the chamber without having to dump ammunition from the tube—very sensible for hunting though a bit more complicated for defense. On the plus side for defense, this also permits a very rapid switchover to different ammo types, such as a slug with the tube still holding buckshot. Functionality has been impressively flawless even with lower powered ammunition, though full strength shells are recommended. The 12 gauge also comes with a second piston for 3-inch magnum shells. Fit and finish are again adequate, with well-fitted metal and quality wood. Laser checkering is functional but won’t win beauty pageants. Assembly and disassembly were easier than with pumps, thanks to the smoother internal finish. The semiauto tactical variant has none of the heat shield issues of the pump, probably thanks to reduced intensity of recoil delivered by autoloading.
At the range, several of these shotguns became crowd-pleasers, especially the over and under .410 and 12 gauge. The 12- and 20-gauge autoloaders likewise gathered their share of fans, and the pump became our go-to trainer weapon. All in all, UTAS fills two niches well—the budget offerings with Hatfield and the no-compromise fighting performance of the UTAS XTR-12.