Tristar Compact 12 Gauge Bullpup Shotgun – Review

Tristar Compact 12 Gauge Bullpup Shotgun - Review
Tristar Compact 12 Gauge Bullpup Shotgun – Review

U.S.A.-( Bullpups have been hailed as the “gun of the future” by many since the Steyr Aug popularized the design in the late 1970’s. In the decades since, many incarnations of the bullpup (the trigger mechanism is located forward of both the magazine and the bolt-to-breech connection point) have failed to capitalize commercially over other, more standard designs.  The Tristar Compact 12 gauge shotgun looks to elbow into the market and carves out some of the space taken up by the other bullpups out there, like the Kel-Tec KSG and UTAS-15.

Tristar Compact
Tristar Compact 12 Gauge Bullpup Shotgun

Let’s take a quick gander at the Tristar Compact’s tech specs, as per Tristar’s website:

  • 30″ Overall length
  • Two x 5-round magazines included (compatible with Saiga 12 ga magazines)
  • Includes flip up front/rear sights
  • Includes Magpul AFG
  • 20″ Barrel
  • 1x Beretta®/Benelli® Mobil Extended Cylinder Choke Tube
  • Weight: 8 lbs
  • Chambered for both 2 3/4″ and 3″ shells
  • 5 year warranty

We’re talking about a gas-operated shotgun based on the AK platform receiver.  This means the manual of arms is a little different when compared to your standard pump action shotgun, á la the Remington 870 or Winchester 1300.  The Tristar Compact does have an adjustable gas system, though it’s a little out of the way to get to.  I never expected the Compact to be extra light, and at 8 lbs it’s neither a feather nor a sack of bricks.  The weight is comfortable and appreciated to soak up some of the recoil.

I received my first Tristar Compact a few months ago.  The manufacturer recommended a 25 round break-in period using high-brass shells only.  I ran almost 100 rounds that first day, and only had one single 5 round mag function for all five consecutive rounds.  Problems ran the gamut but mostly centered around the magazines failing to bring the next round up in time (or at all).  Called the factory and they were pretty astonished, so I sent it back and received a new one quickly.

Tristar Compact
Problems ran the gamut but mostly centered around the magazines failing to bring the next round up in time (or at all).

The replacement Compact was an updated model so I was told, and now requires a 50 round high-brass break-in period.  To get that kick-started, I lubed up the Compact and spent about twenty minutes racking the bolt back and forth.  I tossed my Vortex AMG UH-1 on the shotgun and hit the range again.


I had just enough high brass shells left to get through the break-in period as prescribed.  I loaded up my first mag and… sproink!  The metal feed lips popped off the magazine and all of the rounds went flying in the air.  Not a great start.

Tristar Compact
The metal feed lips popped off the magazine and all of the rounds went flying in the air.

I stuck with the other mag for most of the remainder of the range day, but near the end I replaced the feed lips and this mag worked fine thereafter.  During the first few mags, I did experience a few failure-to-eject malfunctions, which is to be expected during a break-in.

Tristar Compact
Tristar Compact
Tristar Compact
Top, 3x Aguila mini slugs. Center birdshot. Bottom 00 buckshot.  All at 9 yards.

I spent that 50 round warm up (and another box after) hammering away at an angled steel target, a CTS mini E-type.  After that I started experimenting with low-brass bird shot and even a few Aguila mini-slugs just for fun.  Realizing I was getting low on ammo, I wanted to launch some lead at paper to see how the Tristar Compact patterned.  At 9 yards, the 00 buck kept a ~7″ circle, or about 40% of the width of my torso.  The birdshot went about double that, and the Aguila mini slugs had three in a ~5″ space.  The high brass shells ran just fine after the break-in but I still had a little trouble with some of the weaker rounds during both feeding and ejection.  The 2 3/4″ shells definitely fed better than the 3″ shells, with the 3 inchers being a common link to all the magazine related hangups.  Being Saiga mag compatible means that there are other, more proven options out there, but we’ve got to be able to run the ones that come with the gun.

The Tristar Compact is an interesting little bear.  An AK based, mag-fed bullpup shotgun is pretty easy to get excited about.  Recoil is definitely manageable, and a bit less than pump-actions with comparable barrel lengths.  That’s a testament to the tunable gas system, thick recoil pad and the semi-auto design all soaking up some of the excess energy.  The plastic body housing is a little excessive on the bulk but the gun still handles fairly well.  The vast majority of the (non-magazine) reliability issues have disappeared past the break-in period, but those mag issues remain.  I no longer have Saiga mags lyinground, so I’m daydreaming about what might have been.  In the meantime, I’m left with mixed feelings after a couple long days at the range and a big stash of 12 ga rounds reduced significantly.

If you get one that runs well, this may be one of the most fun guns in your collection.  It’s up to each shooter to decide whether or not to roll the dice.  MSRP is $700, while street price is between $500-$600.

About Rex NanorumJens Hammer

Rex Nanorum is an Alaskan Expatriate living in Oregon with his wife and kids. Growing up on commercial fishing vessels, he found his next adventure with the 2nd Bn, 75th Ranger Regt. After 5 tours to Afghanistan and Iraq, he adventured about the west coast becoming a commercial fisheries and salvage SCUBA diver, rated helicopter pilot instructor (CFII) and personal trainer, before becoming a gear reviewer and writer.”

-Rex Nanorum


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Given that it shot Aquila short slugs that are only designed for pumps says something. I have a different Tristar that set up for home defense. It is a pump and it is a great, low cost shotgun.

Matt in Oklahoma

it’s a POS that is hard to manipulate the safety quickly


Replace the safety lever, it is just $2 part from any AK supplier.