I have made it a fast rule never to write about a new Russian hunting gun until I personally see it in the shop. Too many times a “new development” failed to make it to the consumer at the last moment. That’s why, even though I’ve read and heard a lot that Baikal is working on an inertia-operated semi, MP-156, I haven’t written a word about it. But starting this autumn, you can actually buy one in a Russian gun shop. Not that it would be a good idea.
When I first read on Mikhail Degtyarev’s Facebook page about an MP-156 from the first lot to hit the stores, the first thing I asked was if it came with new style stock, or the old style stock. Mikhail replied that the stock was the last thing that worried him at the moment, and it turned out he was right.
Mikhail Degtyarev is the Editor-in-Chief of the Kalashnikov Magazine, and in my opinion the best Russian gun editor of our times. The Kalashnikov Magazine is the definitive source on Russian guns (with the focus on military arms), and must be on the reading list of anyone who cares for Russian weapons and reads Russian. And no, the Kalashniov Magazine is not the corporate media of the Kalashnikov Group that owns the Baikal brand. It is a completely independent publication, that existed long before the Kalashnikov Group was formed, and the Kalashnikov Group is seldom happy with the way the Kalashnikov Magazine covers their products.
So, Mikail and the Kalashnikov Magazine got an MP-156 for testing, and it was not provided by the factory – they bought it at a gun shop, like an average consumer would. (Do I have to tell you the gun is a 12-gauge with 4+1 magazine capacity and 28″ barrel with vent rib and screw-in chokes?) And even before the Kalashnikov Magazine crew got to the range, they became concerned about the gun’s reliability – the finish started to come off from as little as a few assembly-disassembly cycles for the sake of the photo shoot. For a gas-operated semi, that might not be a problem, but for an inertia-operated gun, they reasoned, it takes better precision in manufacturing.
A visit to the range confirmed their suspicions – they simply couldn’t get the darned thing to cycle. As a matter of fact, the gun had 28 jams per 100 shots fired, and the performance wasn’t improving over time. That is, the last five-shot series had as many jams as the first.
MP-156 is made with 76-mm (3″) chamber, and the owner’s manual states the minimum shot charge it will reliable cycle is 32 gram. To ensure reliable operation, MP-156, just as any Baikal semi, must be “broken in” with heavy loads (minimum 35 grams high velocity, according to the manual). The Kalashnikov Group brand manager Evgeni Spiridonov suspected the Kalashnikov Magazine used wrong kind of shells; in fact, they tried their Baikal MP-156 with 36 gram Fetter loads, which was enough in the past to break in Baikal MP-155 and Baikal MP-153 semis. But to be on the safe side Mikhail had another day at the range with Magnum pressure loads, and no, it didn’t work again. To cut a long story short, three trials with different ammo failed to produce acceptable reliability.
In responce, the Kalashnikov Group released a video with a perfeclty working MP-156. The spokesperson on the video said that to cycle properly, an MP-156 needs to be held correctly; with 32-gram loads you shouldn’t press it to the shoulder so hard. Later the Kalashnikov Group issued more precise instructions: with 32 gram loads you don’t press the stock to your shoulder at all, just barely touch it. “Do not be afraid of recoil”, said the instruction.
Anyway, a couple of weeks later the OrenGun gun shop (Orenburg, Russia) arranged a fast-track durability test and a face-off between MP-156 and two new inertia-operated guns by Hatsan. The battle more or less ended in a draw, because none of the guns demonstrated acceptable reliability, but with both Hatsans it was due to factory defects that could be fixed; with MP-156 it was not so simple.
With 6 shots firing over 1000 shells, the MP-156 had about 10% of jams. The jams were of all kinds – failure to eject, not breaking the primer, shell jammed in magazine, bolt not closing, you name it.
What the OrenGun test confirmed was that MP-156 is too sensitive to the way you hold it. By pressing it to their shoulders just right, some of the shooters managed to go 20-25 shot series without a jam. But when they tried to hold it differenlty… you get the picture. It goes without saying that you can keep such a uniform shooting mount only at the range, and only if you’re shooting durability test series, not really expecting to hit anything. As excitement sets in, at a hunt or a shooting contest, you’re likely to forget about the “right way” – leading to jams. You may want to try it, of course, but for me this is not acceptable.
Mikhail Degtyarev was right – the first thing you expect from an autoloader is cycle every time. If it doesn’t it’s no use talking things like stock dimensions, operator friendliness, patterns, and “where to buy?”
Why did Baikal release their new intertia-operated shotgun in such a raw state, then? Because Baikal hasn’t tested it sufficiently? Because they intended to test it on their first consumers? Because they took too long to develop the gun, and would lose in the game of corporate bureaucracy if they didn’t release it, ready or not? Or was is just a case of “nobody’s perfect”? Whatever answer you pick, the fact remains the same – MP-156 is simply not ready yet.
This is how the matters stand as of now – November 2017. I’ll keep you updated of any further development. Edit: since this post was written, the quality of MP-156 considerably improved. Details here.
All images in the story are (c) Mikhail Degtyarev and the Kalashnikov Magazine