You won’t find the LA K12 Puma on the shelf of most gun stores. In fact, you won’t find it anywhere in the United States. But it’s one of the most unique shotguns to arrive in North America this year.
The Puma has a distinctive style that’s immediately recognizable to anyone familiar with the People’s Liberation Army of China. It draws its original design from the QBZ family of assault rifles, but has been refit and remarketed as a “riot gun.”
For the rest of us, that means a semiautomatic 12 gauge shotgun in bullpup configuration that feeds from a five-round box magazine. It features a flattop receiver that is ready for optics, and uses a short-stroke piston with an adjustable gas system. It shoots 2-3/4-inch shells from a 19-inch barrel, but is only 31 inches long overall. It tips the scales at eight pounds.
Looking at it, you’d be forgiven for thinking that this is another offering from Norinco, the Chinese arms company that brought the T97 back to Canada in 2014. But the Puma is actually a product of cooperation between the Canadian company Lever Arms, and the private Kuandian Shotgun Factory in Liaoning, China.
While it may have started life as a tactical solution for police, I hear “box magazine” and my mind immediately goes to 3-gun. I did get the chance to shoot several stages this summer using the Puma. I found it to be a ton of fun to shoot, but not quite ready for full competitive use.
Although the Puma uses a short-stroke piston, the charging handle assembly is attached to the bolt carrier group. This means there is quite a lot of mass there. This makes the Puma a bouncy gun to shoot, even with light target loads. There is more muzzle flip there than you’d expect from a conventional Benelli or Remington Versa Max.
I quite liked the ergonomics of the grip. The front hand grip is essentially an angled fore grip built right into the stock, and being a bullpup it balances well in my hands. But some of the mechanical manipulations aren’t quite what you’d expect. The safety is at the very rear on the left-hand side, right underneath your cheek if you’re in shooting position. It’s a 90-degree rotation from safe to fire, but if you’re moving fast you can actually rotate the safety an additional 90 degrees in either direction, which makes things confusing.
Two serious issues gave me pause.
Problem 1: It wouldn’t always cycle target loads. I was assured it was on the correct gas setting, but at least once a stage it would fail to pickup the next round and after a click with no bang, I’d have to rack the action manually.
Problem 2: It wouldn’t always knock down steel. The Puma doesn’t have thread-in chokes, and it’s just a fixed cylinder bore. There were several times where I could see shot splashing off the steel targets, but not putting them down.
Solution: To add more oomph and improve reliability, I’d be shooting heavier loads through this gun for any and all 3-gun stages. This means #4 or #6 shot at least. In theory you could have a smith remove the flash hider and thread the barrel for Remington chokes. This isn’t a bad idea either, but definitely means more money!
Alternately, some industrious Canadians have set out to build improved parts. A prototype of an improved gas valve showed promising results with light target loads—but it’s not quite ready yet. Even though there are solutions, it’s still an issue. If you buy the gun off the shelf expecting 100 percent functionality, you’ll likely experience some frustration.
The same thing applies to the magazine release. The LA K12 Puma sports an ambidextrous magazine release, with an AR-15-sized button on the right side of the gun, and a lever about the size of your pinky nail on the left side of the gun. They’re stiff, and the magazines are tight in the well. It’s not a fast gun to reload, but it could be made faster. Lots of owners are tinkering with enlarged magazine releases in order to make the gun more competitive.
It does have a last round bolt-hold-open that sits behind the magazine well. It engaged reliably, but is a bit stiff to release. A short clip of me reloading the Puma (and showing the relatively stiff controls) can be seen below.
There are two distinct reload methods for a shooter to choose when using a bullpup like the Puma: a conventional weak-hand reload or the “PLA reload.”
In a conventional reload, your firing hand stays on the pistol grip, while your weak hand removes the empty mag, retrieves a fresh magazine from the weak side of your body, inserts it, and operates the release. It’s how most shooters reload their Tavors, AUGs, and other bullpups. But when the PLA train, they use a different method.
In a PLA reload, your weak hand stays on the fore-grip of the rifle, and your shooting hand removes the spent magazine, retrieves a magazine from the strong side of your body, inserts the magazine, and releases the bolt. This breaks the rule of “fire control at all times” but can make for a smoother reload when you have small, stiff controls like on the Puma.
Overall I think the Puma is an exceptionally unique design for a sporting shotgun, and shows a lot of promise. However, I’d argue that it’s not quite ready for serious competitive use yet. That’s not stopping Canadian shooters from buying them up, though—an 899 CAD price tag (about 670 USD) puts them well below most conventional semiautomatic shotguns.
Fortunately this is only the first generation of the shotgun. It took two years for Lever Arms to get something they liked, but they’ve also been very public in saying that the Puma will evolve with time. Hopefully a second-generation model will address some of the issues and make it an excellent out-of-the-box 3-gun solution.
Images by Edward Osborne