Previous Post
Next Post

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.

thorneycroft bullpup rifle

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.

Steyr AUG

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.

Kel-Tec RFB

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.

Kel-Tec KSG shotgun

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.

Tavor SAR

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.

Barrett Model 95

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 Stealth Recon Scout

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!

Previous Post
Next Post


    • Nope.

      Small correction to the article. Reduced sight radius only affects accuracy of iron sights. If you are running a red dot, scope, or laser it doesn’t mean a thing.

    • I’ve done rifle classes with a Tavor. You’re slower on the reload, but that’s about the worst of it. I didn’t feel tremendously outgunned or anything. I thought I was a lot slower using an OG Galil, to be honest.

  1. If you’re a lefty the Kel-tecs are probably the bees knees of bullpups available. The RDB in 5 56mm ejects downward as does the KSG. The 7.62 NATO ejects forward. And both Kel-tec rifles have damn good triggers even when NIB.
    Most new bullpups have mediocre to horrible triggers. Not the Kel-tecs.

    Also, you missed the most unusual bullpup of all (I think), the downward ejecting, double barreled DP12 from Standard Manufacturing.

      • It’s not “great” on the MDR, but it’s smooth. Feels more like the pull of a double-action revolver.

    • I had an RFB. The ergos were terrible. The grip made a Glock feel nice. The magwell was so deep in my shoulder pocket that if I wore a t-shirt that wasn’t skin tight, my shirt would prevent magazine insertion half the time. And the ejection was pure failure. It uses a trough to carry spent cases forward toward the muzzle and drops them there. The trough has a square cross section, slightly bigger than a .308 case. At the mouth, they folded the edges *in*, creating an opening that a .308 case will barely squeeze through. If there’s anything in the trough, such as a small pebble or a spent primer, it will get caught on the folded edges, jam up against the cartridge neck, and block the cases from ejecting. At that point the gun can’t cycle. I reproduced it several times unintentionally, and once intentionally. I took pictures of the issue and contacted Kel-Tec “support”, who didn’t seem to care.

      It was absolute garbage…so pretty good for a Kel-Tec.

    • Triggers on most bullpups are horrid because they have a long transfer bar between the trigger and the fire control group, and most of them push on that bar, which flexes. If you flip it around so the transfer bar is pulled on, it’s usually better, and you’ll see the ones that have decent triggers do that.

  2. The triggers may be horrid, but a bullpup as a home defense weapon is a great idea. You use both hands, are able to move around with the barrel in a shooting position, and can be more accurate than a handgun at more than 15 yards. You also can shoot heavier rounds without the difficulty you might find in a handgun.

    • Not really. 300 BLK is a marvelous round. You can shoot supersonic with bullets twice as heavy as 5.56mm rounds or subsonics with 200-240 grain bullets. Cannot even shoot subs with 5.56mm.

  3. Better to own than an SBR, because you don’t have to give prior notification to the BATFE in order to take it across state lines.

    • The same could be said about an AR-15 pistol with an arm brace.

      And for that matter, you can file the interstate travel form for a period of time up to one year.

  4. I owned an AUG for many years, and took a couple of tactical carbine courses with it. Although I really liked its futuristic appearance, it turns out that clearing malfunctions and even doing reloads with the AUG was far more difficult than with the AR15 platform.

    I ended up selling it for about three times what I paid for it, using the funds to purchase a bullpup .50 cal single shot from Bluegrass Armory. Another nice gun, and very accurate. Having that cartridge going off adjacent to your ear was jarring, to say the least. Even ear plugs AND muffs doesn’t prevent the concussion your experience from the bone conduction of having your face against the aluminum stock. Sold that one, too.

    My buddy has a Desert Tech with various barrels, and I really dislike that rifle – really poor ergonomics and an uncomfortable rifle to shoot in every way.

    Wouldn’t mind trying the Kel-Tec .308. but my DPMS G2 Recon is so compact and easy to operate, I don’t think the Kel-Tec would provide any advantage at all.

    • My brother has a Keltec RFB. Its pretty cool and moderately accurate. Super easy and enjoyable to shoot for a lefty like me. But its mildly front heavy with an empty magazine and pretty heavy with full magazine, acog and light (almost 12 lbs). Ready-up drills and a half day of room clearing suck!
      On the upside, the weight tames the 7.62 recoil well.

    • The RFB is a decent gun that’s hindered by using a FAL gas system. If it was auto-adjust, I could recommend it without a lot of reservations.

    • Quite a while ago I had the opportunity to fire a Steyr AUG. Don’t believe the hype! The rear heavy balance made muzzle flip even with a 5.56 very noticeable, much more than a SKS or AR-15. The ring optical sight covered an area more than a yard across at 200 meters, so precise aiming was add somewhere between theoretical to impossible. And the trigger! I’ve had better triggers on water pistols.

      Given the choice between a Steyr AUG and a Colt version, I will take the latter.

      • The stock trigger on a AUG is a brick because it is not the original design. The original design made the trigger at half-pull discharge one semi-auto shot and at full pull went to auto.

        Drop in an after-market trigger like RatWorx and that problem goes away.

        • It was the Australian Army issue F88. The trigger has a button which has to be held in for the fun mode, which were not allowed to do. So the trigger was only going to the first stage.

          Still a really awful trigger. My Chinese SKS had a much better trigger.

  5. RDB has popped up a lot for under $800. I’ve not been a huge fan of kel-tec but the RDB is one of the my favorites to shoot suppressed. The gas block is actually adjustable instead of just being over gassed and slightly less over gassed.

    Malfs are a freaking nightmare though.

  6. Uh, might want to base pricing off of real world and not MSRP. KSGs are typically found at the $600 price mark now; with RDB’s having been on sale well under $1000 at places such as classic.

    • I have no sympathy for you in Kaleeforneeya. Instead of bending over like the sheeple you are, why don’t you start exerting your rights by NOT COMPLYING ?

      You subject (former citizen) types that comply with the diktats of your communist leaders and the companies that make “California compliant” firearms are the problem.

  7. You know you’ve been reading TTAG too much when you read “IWI Tavor” and your brain registers it as “JW Taylor”. Could just be dyslexic me?

    I’ve shot a 9mm Tavor. I wasn’t much for the ergos.

  8. As an Aug owner I tell you that the biggest problem with bullpups is they are either righty or left ejection
    While the Steyr Aug can be switched in about one minute without tools, it is still a hassle and you need to have the other ejecting bolt.
    The Keltecs with the downward or forward ejection seem to have solved that problem
    As for home defense, you are better served with a pistol caliber carbine like the CZ Scorpion.
    Which now has a bullpup conversion available!

    • The Desert Tech MDR has solved the ejection problem as well. The switch takes seconds with no tools and it’s not really necessary.

  9. “Since most of the weight of the gun is behind the shooting hand, that means there’s less mass absorbing said recoil.”
    That sentence makes no sense

    • It’s not the weight that is the issue, it is the balance. With nearly all the operating mass at the back muzzle rise is more pronounced.

      • ^This. With a normal rifle, most of the action weight is between your hands. Gravity pulls muzzle down, which partially counters the recoil rise. With bullpups, the weight is behind your hands, so your hands act as a pivot.
        Gravity pulling the stock down raises the muzzle and adds to recoil rise, or at least doesn’t help bring the muzzle back down.

  10. On some bullpups, like the Kel-Tec RDB, you cannot visually check the chamber without first removing the magazine and then holding the rifle upside down and peering into the mag well. On others, the Tavor for instance, you can inspect and access the chamber in the traditional manner. Take your pick.

  11. The image that is credited as a RFB is actually the RDB. Look just under the barrel where the Forward ejection should be. Not there. Look at the stock where the Downward ejection would be. Bingo.
    I love my RDB. No issues. Crisp trigger (for a bullpup, granted), accurate, not nearly as oppressively load as an SBR, and fun as hell to shoot.

  12. I’ve got the RDB at the LGS now on lay away.

    It took 18 – 21 months to come in after it was ordered… Unicorns in heat are easier to find than these guns.

    I like it because as a retired LEO I’m use to the tactical applications for firearms rather than being a target shooter or a hunter.

    I’m planning on putting on Magpul pop up front and rear sights, an inexpensive red dot /laser scope and then a Streamlight TLR – 8.

    That how it’s going to be tricked out for my use.

    Tried the trigger at the shop and it didn’t seem to bad being out of the box. It’s short and lightweight and balanced.

    Seems like a good gun to add to the “family”…

    Also have the KSB… like being able extra # of rounds as well as being able to switch between the “00” buck and slug rounds or using mini rounds.

    Not using either of these two as duty weapons, but just for home defense only.

    So hey I’ve seen good reviews overall and figured what the hell… Give them a shot.

    Like how the RDB is set up for ambidextrous use… I’m one of those weirdo lefty shooters with a rifle.

  13. #1 reason to not buy a bullpup rifle:

    your girlfriend will tell you that both of you should start seeing other men

  14. I have a Tavor, FS2000, and PS90. My HD rifle is the Tavor. Once loaded it I can operate the safety and fire it with one hand. Clearing a malfunction is fairly easy. The FS2000 is a bit harder to clear, but it is a bit lighter. The PS90 is even easier, but I decided to use 5.56 as my HD round over the 5.7×28.

    • How reliable is your PS90? I’ve asked other owners and they had good reports. But I keep hearing that they can be problematic in general internet gun chatter. I’d kind of like to get one since it’s a bull pup and I think it is a neat design. If they are reliable I’ll have to talk myself into stocking another weird caliber, which isn’t working out for me very well with 5.45×39, even though it’s a great caliber and AK74s are fun to shoot.

  15. I bought a Tavor SAR-21 when they first came out and I really like it. The main drawback is the stock trigger, which was horrible. Even removing the extra spring IWI added to the trigger pack in US rifles didn’t improve things much. A Geissele Super Sabra ($250 on sale) was a big improvement, now the rifle has a mushy take up due to the slop in the trigger linkage, but the break is as good as any AR15 trigger. A Geissele Lightning Bow ($90) will take the slop out and I’ve got one, it’s just a bit of a project to actually install it. Maybe this winter I’ll get to it. Besides the trigger the only other part I’ve replaced is the butt pad. Manticore makes a scalloped replacement ($70) that reduces the length of pull along with the rifle’s effective length when shouldered. It also sits better on the shoulder.

    With a 2.5x to 3x scope my SAR-21 is a 2.5-3.5 MOA gun with 55 grain FMJ, it might do better with match ammo, but that’s not what I bought the gun for. The recoil is much more pronounced over an AR15 as well. The gun is operated by a long stroke piston and is over gassed. It’s still only a 5.56 though so it is easily managed. I think the controls are well laid out and find the gun very easy to run. Reloads are a little slower than with an AR, but that really doesn’t bother me. The mag release is really designed to reload with retention of the mag, but you can just drop them by moving your dominant hand back from the pistol grip and hitting the release.

    The newer X95 is also a nice gun. They changed the magazine release to be more AR15 like, which is probably an improvement. Overall the rifle has a more compact feel than the SAR. The factory trigger is on par with a mil spec AR, with more slop in the take up. I might add a Lightning Bow in the future, but won’t be buying a new trigger pack unless I come across a screaming deal. The only other mods I’m looking at are replacing the butt pad with a Manticore scalloped pad ($70) and replacing the Sabre Grip with an Israeli style Pistol Grip ($30). My X95 is about a 3-4 MOA gun at 100 yards using a 2 MOA red dot. I’ve heard the earlier guns like mine had uneven barrel crowns, but overall the consensus is that the X95 seems to be slightly less accurate than the SAR21, even though the barreled action is identical. I’ve never tried shooting the X95 with a magnified optic though. Like the SAR, the X95 has a sharper recoil impulse than a AR15, but it is still easily controlled.

    Both IWI bull pups can be shot from either shoulder offhand and an aftermarket shell deflector is available if the ejection pattern bothers you. The only real gotcha is the top rail height is lower than on an AR15. So if you buy a red dot with a lower 1/3 co-witness mount, it is close to the same height above the comb as an absolute co-witness mount on an AR. So, make sure you are using a taller optics mount / rings as appropriate. Gear Head Works and Manticore both make taller top rails that mimic the feel of an AR15, but I haven’t tried them. I mounted an Aimpoint T-2 with an ADM lower 1/3 QD mount on my X95 and now have a TA33 ACOG on a high Bobro mount on the SAR21. I previously had a Primary Arms 2.5x ACSS on the SAR-21 with a ADM QD ACOG mount and it worked ok, but was a little cramped.

    My newest bull pup is a Steyr AUG A3 M1 with the integral 3x scope and a 16” barrel. I just got it a few weeks ago and only have 300 rounds through it, but it seems pretty accurate. I was shooting it at 100 and 200 yards two days ago off sandbags on a bench and I was impressed with the results. It will probably end up being a 2-3 MOA gun. I think the factory scope is excellent and the 3x has traditional cross hairs surrounded by a thinner doughnut. The 1.5x just has the traditional thick Doughnut of Death reticle, which is why I passed on that model. There are also several models available with a short/low rail for red dots or a high/long rail for magnified optics. Pete Athens also has an AR15 height long rail available as does Corvus Defenso. I went for the version that uses Steyr mags, but there are also versions that take AR15 mags with the loss of the left side bolt release and the ability to use a left side ejecting bolt.

    The AUG trigger isn’t great, but is better than I thought it would be. It’s kind of Glockish. The entire trigger pack is plastic except for the springs and pins, so the feel is different than other rifles. Still shooting off the bench I didn’t feel handicapped by the trigger and I think it is acceptable for a combat rifle. Reloads are a little slower than either Tavor, but Steyr has an available 42 round magazine to make your reloads less frequent. Corvus also makes an oversized mag release to help speed things up. After all it’s only money right?

    Shooting off side is problematic with the AUG due the lack of a shell deflector and the location of the ejection port. You can get around this at CQB distances (where it’s most important) by holding the gun like a pistol away from your shoulder. I’ve mounted a Holosun red dot on top of the 3x scope and with the forward grip it’s pretty easy. I find the AUG to have slightly more recoil than a AR, but less than a Tavor on the normal gas setting. The only addition I’m going to make in the near future is the Gear Head Works Flex Swivel that replaces the takedown latch in the stock and allows you to fit a QD swivel. The stock forward QD location is unusable since it causes the sling to interfere with the charging handle.

    As you can probably tell, I’m a big fan of bull pups since I have 3 of them. I enjoy shooting them and people at the range are always curious about them. I can understand why they haven’t caught on with the proliferation of sub $500 AR15 rifles. Compared to most AR patten rifles they are rather expensive. It is also easy to build an AR that weighs less. AR15 rifles also have some of the best ergonomics out of all the common military rifles that are commonly available and they can be very accurate.

    The main attraction of the bull pup is their short overall length. The Tavor rifles are shorter than a 10.5” AR with the stock/brace fully collapsed. They are also shorter than a side folding AK like a SLR107 with the stock folded. Unlike the 10.5” AR they are also much more pleasant to shoot. The extra 6” of barrel cuts down substantially on blast and concussion. The AUG is slightly longer than the Tavor with a 16.5” barrel because the Tulip flash hider is longer than the A2 style bird cages on the IWI rifles. You can pack it in a smaller case though, as the barrel is removable and it only takes a few seconds to lock the action open and pull the barrel.

    If you want a SBR but don’t like paperwork, or a rifle that is smaller than an AR15 pistol yet still performs like a full size rifle, a bull pup is the answer. They aren’t perfect, but every design has trade offs.

  16. A Steyr AUG question –

    Since .300 BLK was developed to be a barrel-change only required for conversion, if it were possible to have a bespoke .300 BLK AUG barrel made for it, so it could run on .300 BLK?

    EDIT – It seems it is at least a possibility :

    With a can on it to tame the AUG’s infamous muzzle rise, this could be very interesting…

  17. I refuse to have a 50BMG bullpup rifle. I don’t like hand grenades going off under my face. 308 and smaller, sure.

  18. If you buy Tavor, they now FINALLY have 300 Blackout conversion kits in stock. 9MM kits and left hand kits has been there for a long time.
    Be sure to get trigger/sear kit from their two stage is better than Timney or Geissele kit.
    You can use it with Geissele trigger replacement but not necessary.

  19. I have two bullpups: a Steyr AUG and 870 bullpup. The rearward weight is a blessing and a curse. It is with anything in life. Know the strengths and weakness and the problems will be easy worked.

  20. I own the m17s in 5.56 and really like it. It was definitely a different shooting experience than my AR’s. I found that once I trained with it to learn the ergonomics of a bullpup, I found it very easy to operate. The m17s, while it is not a “battle rifle”, is a great HD gun with it’s short overall length (bullpup) and I love the fact that it is an all metal gun and a high quality build. What really shines on this gun is it’s trigger. It is not the traditional mushy kind that you find in the rest of the bullpup world, but a great adjustable crisp 3.5lb. to 5lb. adjustable Elftmann (sp.?) drop in trigger with a rigid and well supported linkage rod that puts all other bullpups to shame. Would I take this gun into battle? I would probably opt for something that is less vulnerable to the elements, like an AR or AK, but it would definitely be an excellent choice for a HD gun or CQB. Pricey, but a quality build.

  21. i have a Tavor SAR with the Geissele trigger bar and trigger pack. With both those installed the trigger is great. I also have a PS90 that is a lot of fun but expensive to shoot. Fun rifles but besides overall length not really any better than one of my AR’s.

  22. Clearly the author is a keyboard warrior and has never shot a bullpup. The most relevant thing about bullpups is that because of the distance between the trigger and bolt, most bullpup triggers feel sloppy and are horrible to use. SMH

Comments are closed.