So you want to be tacticool, but break from those unoriginal so-and-so’s with their boring ARs and AKs by getting a bullpup rifle? Well…you may want to hold your horses. There are a few things to know about bullpups prior to pulling the trigger (ha!) that bear a little consideration.
First, what is a bullpup? A bullpup rifle is a rifle design that places the action behind the trigger group. The etymology of the term is lost to the mists of time, though Wikipedia attests that the word “bullpup” used to be a colloquial term for a target pistol with elaborate stock, so it may have something to do with that.
Barrel length isn’t necessarily a determining characteristic…though it also kinda is. To explain that…the attraction of the bullpup is that the design allows a rifle to have a shorter overall length despite retaining the same barrel length of a conventional, street-legal rifle.
For instance, an AR-platform rifle with a 20-inch barrel has an overall length of about 39 to 40 inches, depending on furniture and so on. By contrast, a Steyr AUG (arguably the most famous bullpup rifle) has an overall length of 31.1 inches with the same 20-inch barrel length. So you lose about eight inches in overall length while retaining the same barrel length.
Thus, you have a full-power rifle that’s only marginally bigger than a submachine gun, giving the shooter both the ability to shoot at intermediate ranges and also manipulate the weapon better in close quarters than a rifle with the traditional layout. What’s not to like? Actually, there are a few things, but we’ll get to that in a minute.
The first example was the Thorneycroft carbine, a bolt-action rifle developed in Britain as a potential new service rifle. However, it turned out to be terrible so they stuck with the SMLE.
A few others were experimented with over the years but the party didn’t really start until Steyr (then Steyr-Daimler-Puch) came up with the AUG.
Other examples followed, mostly for military markets. The British developed the SA80 rifle, then France came up with the FAMAS, the Russians made a few and so on. Since a good number of the world’s militaries seemed to like them, the gun-buying public got curious and wanted to get one.
Some of the popular bullpups du jour are the IWI Tavor and the Kel-Tec RFB and RDB series. The Tavor was selected as the primary rifle of the Israeli military, giving it rather obvious cachet for the civilian market.
The Kel-Tec KSG shotgun series is also something of a recent entry. The KSG pump shotgun is fed via dual magazine tubes, which feed into the receiver behind the trigger group. Spent shells are ejected downward, dropping free of the shooter. Tactical AND practical!
What is today’s bullpup rifle like?
Generally, it’s semiautomatic rifle chambered in 5.56mm NATO/.223 Remington, as most are military rifles adopted by a NATO country. This includes the Steyr AUG, IWI Tavor and many more. Semi-auto only models are typically created for sale in the US civilian market.
A few of this type are offered in other rifle calibers, most commonly in 7.62x51mm/.308 Winchester. Barrett, however, offers semi-auto bullpup rifles in .50 BMG such as the M82A2 variant.
However, there are also bolt-action bullpup rifles as well. Barrett offers at least two for civilian sale, their magazine fed model 95 and the single-shot model 99. The latter is available in .50 BMG and .416 Barrett.
Desert Tech also offers the Stealth Recon Scout, a modular bullpup bolt-action rifle. The SRS-A1 allows the user to swap barrels – without disturbing the zero – and the bolt to swap calibers. The SRS can be had in .308 Winchester, .260 Remington, .300 Win Mag and several more. Desert Tech’s HTI model – also a modular bolt-action bullpup – comes in some stouter loadings, including .375 and .408 Chey-Tac, .416 Barrett and .50 BMG.
All that said…are there any reasons to NOT get one? They seem to offer a lot, as they’re more compact and usually a touch lighter than, say, an AR-15. As it happens, there are some reasons.
First, while barrel length is the same relative to a rifle with a typical barrel length, sight radius is shorter. Since sight radius impacts long-range accuracy, many bullpup rifles aren’t the best long-range rifles. Some are, of course; Barrett and Desert Tech (and others) are designed specifically for long-range shooting. That said, a lot of people are going to buy a Tavor for fun at the range or home defense to begin with and .223 isn’t the best long-range round anyhow.
Then you have the ejection issues. (Bullpup rifles swear it never happened before, and they were really nervous.) The ejection port on most bullpup rifles is behind the trigger group, which happens to be right by where the cheek weld occurs. Operators of bullpup rifles often get a characteristic powder burn on the cheek. Additionally, many are not made for left-handed shooters (then again, left-handed rifles aren’t exactly all over gun store shelves anyway) which means lefties must adapt or buy a different rifle in many cases.
Another known problem is recoil control, as bullpup rifles are known for a bit more muzzle climb. Since most of the weight of the gun is behind the shooting hand, that means there’s less mass absorbing said recoil.
Another failing is how darned expensive they are. The Kel-Tec RDB is the most “reasonably” priced at just under $1,300 MSRP, though you can get into the KSG shotgun for just under $1,000 for the entry level model. And it just gets worse from there.
Granted, many an AR commands that much in sticker and more, so clearly there are people out there willing to pay for one.
So…they’re cool. Some look like they’re straight out of a sci-fi flick. They’re tacticool as all get-out. But they’re also kind of a niche unto themselves. If you want to, go for it! Have fun, and send us pictures. But the bullpup design in and of itself hasn’t reinvented the wheel.
Disagree? Let us know in the comments!