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The Gun Safe

Banned in the U.S.: Meet the KS-23 Russian 4-Gauge Shotgun


Given the sort of gun articles that I’ve written for 19FortyFive in the past week or so, I guess this piece could be subtitled Part IV of the Super-Crazy Big-Bore AKA Guns For Masochists Series. Part I covered a revolver (the Victorian-era British Army .577 caliber revolvers), Part II discussed hunting rifles (the .600 and .700 Nitro Express), and Part III talked about an autopistol (the .475 Wildey Magnum) made famous by a 1980s action film star.

This time, thanks to a suggestion from a loyal 19FortyFive reader who also happens to be a longtime personal friend of mine from my U.S. Air Force days, we’re going to talk about a shotgun that will appeal to the gluttons for punishment of the gun enthusiast community: the Russian-made KS-23 4-gauge – that’s right, four-gauge(!!) – shotgun.

Just How Big Is a 4-Gauge AKA 4-Bore Anyway? 

Well, okay, it’s actually 4-gauge by the European standard of measurement, but being both the Yank and Anglophile that I am, and for the sake of journalistic accuracy, I have to note that equates to 6.27 gauge going by the British and American standard of shotgun gauges. But that still makes it waaaayyyy bigger than the 12-gauge that is the most popular choice of shotgun bore size amongst American police and private citizen gun owners alike.

For comparison and contrast, Hallowell & Co. provides a handy-dandy Bore Size Table, which informs us that a 20-gauge shotgun equates to 0.615 inches, a 12-gauge is 0.729”. a 10-gauge is 0.775”, a 6-gauge is 0.919”, and a 4-gauge is 1.052”. For the benefit of our readers who are more metric system inclined, the shotgun we’re talking about here is a 23mm bore size, which makes for a convenient segue to the next segment of this article…

KS-23 History & Specifications

…The barrels for the KS-23 were made from 23mm antiaircraft gun barrels that had been rejected due to manufacturing flaws. In other words, gun barrels originally meant for hunting mechanical warbirds, not the flesh-and-blood feathery kind. This particular shotgun was designed in 1971 in the bad old days of the Soviet Union (or perhaps more accurately, even worse old days of the Soviet Union, seeing how present-day post-Soviet Russia is still plenty bad). It was created by TsNIITochMash (ЦНИИТОЧМАШ) industrial design bureau and manufactured by the Tula Arms Plant (Императорский Тульский оружейный завод/ Imperatorskiy Tulsky Oruzheiny Zavod).

According to a Military-Today article on the KS-23 penned by an author with the nom de plume BLACKTAIL, “it is possibly the most powerful tactical shotgun in use today.” The gun has a weight of 8.5 pounds (3.85 kilograms), a barrel length of 20 inches (510 millimeters), and an overall length of 41 inches (1,040 mm). It is a pump-action shotgun with a multi-lugged rotating bolt. Ammo capacity is either 1+3 shells in an underbarrel tube in the standard version, or a 5-round detachable box magazine in the KS-23K variant (a bullpup version with a radically new layout).

Besides the Russian Border Guard Service, other current users reportedly include Former Soviet Republics such as Armenia, Kazakhstan (specifically their prison guards; no Borat jokes, please), Uzbekistan’s customs service, and, yes, Ukraine (which is very consistent with the myriad of other Soviet-designed weapons that the Ukrainians are now using to fight for their freedom against the Russian invaders). It’s also reportedly in use with certain non-FSR countries that are still clinging to communism, namely Vietnam and North Korea. 

Want Your Own?

Too bad, so sad. The KS-23 is banned from sale in the USA, thanks to the embargo on Russian-made arms & ammo. Blame it on Vladimir Putin and his endless naked aggression against Ukraine. To quote BLACKTAIL again, “The unit cost and production status of the KS-23 are effectively unknown, to say nothing of its availability.”

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Christian D. Orr has 33 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011.  

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).