From the Steyr AUG to the X95 to Prototype Bullpup Rifles – Why and How Americans Now Love Bullpups

IWI Tavor X95 Bullpup

It’s 2016, the National Rifle Association Annual Meeting (or NRA Show) is now history, and the bullpup rifle genre is bigger than it was. American shooters and hunters now have bullpup rifle options in calibers from the always fun .22 long rifle all the way up to the .50 BMG big boy toy. Bullpup rifles are mainstream, no long oddities. How did that happen and why it matters to you are questions I’ll answer here.

1. What is a Bullpup? 

A Bullpup is a firearm design that is often described as placing the action behind the trigger group. Traditional designs like the AR-15 place the magazine well, ejection port, bolt and barrel/chamber in front of the trigger.  That leaves the buttstock with a lot of unused space. By moving the action components into the buttstock, the overall length of the design is dramatically reduced yielding a shorter, more compact gun. Most of us would consider that a win.

2. Bullpup Benefits

Compact size is the primary purpose and benefit of the bullpup design. For example, while a typical IWI X95 Tavor bullpup rifle and a typical AR-15 would both have 16 inch barrels, the Tavor is almost twenty percent shorter. Shorter yields real world benefits that overlap shooters and hunters. 

For tactical use inside buildings, a shorter gun allows you to move through doorways and halls more easily. Concealment is easier as well. A shorter gun makes for quicker handling, quicker movement from target to target. 

The shorter overall length benefits hunters, too. Getting in and out of vehicles is obviously easier. If you’ve ever slung and AR-15 on your chest while riding an ATV, you’ll really appreciate the shorter length of a bullpup. Jump off the ATV to run across a field and your knees don’t take quite the beating. If you find yourself holding your rifle at ready for extended periods of time, you’ll appreciate not having the muzzle weight cantilevered as far out. 

If a bullpup Tavor or X95 is our example, we essentially get the compact form factor of a ten inch short barreled rifle (SBR) but give up nothing in bullet velocity and the bullpup doesn’t require an NFA tax stamp. All wins, and today I see bullpups at almost every gun shop, gun show and recreational shoot. It wasn’t always that way.

Steyr Aug Bullpup

3.  History of Bullpup Rifles 

While the bullpup design is more than 100 years old and the British military has been experimenting with or using it since the 1950s, we can thank Hollywood for bringing the bullpup design to America’s attention. The Styer AUG started showing up in movies like Octopussy, Robocop and Die Hard in the 1980s. It also made appearances on TV in cult classics like Miami Vice and The X Files. It was this spotlight that first drew a young Sven Jonsson to the AUG. When he was old enough he purchased one and fell in love with the ergonomics of the short bullpup rifle. He and other like minded enthusiasts starting showing up at practical rifle events with their unusual guns. Fast forward and today we find Jonsson as the organizer of the annual Bullpup Shoot and owner of Manticore Arms. 

The 1990s saw the introduction of bullpups both big and small. Barrett gave us their .50 caliber M90/M95 while FN Herstal delivered the unique P90/PS90 in 5.7mm. The P90 gained visibility on the TV series Stargate: SG1, numerous Call of Duty games and continues to make movie appearances. The little FN gun is one of the most fun guns I’ve ever had the opportunity to shoot. I even successfully hunted hogs with it.

Even more bullups came our way after Y2K. FNH introduced the F2000/FS2000, a forward ejecting gun in 5.56mm. The American manufacturer Kel-Tec turned quite a few heads when they started selling the 7.62×51 (.308) RFB in 2009. As of this writing, their new 5.56 NATO RDB platform appears to be on the cusp of release. All these are semiautomatic rifles. 

In 2007 the Stealth Recon Scout bolt action precision rifle was unveiled by Desert Tactical Arms (now Desert Tech). An American bullpup design in .338 Lapua Magnum, this gun was a game changer. With a trigger worthy of any precision rifle, interchangeable calibers and one hole groups, it created a whole new level of respect for the bullpup genre. Not to mention new group of talented devotes. Hollywood took notice and featured the SRS in Agents of Shield, Mythbusters, The Gunman and other productions. The SRS even made it into video games like Battlefield 4, Ghost Recon, The Division, and Contract Wars. The SRS A1 Covert is one of my favorite rifles of all time.

Desert Tech SRS Covert

In 2010 the first Bullpup Shoot was organized by Mantiore Arms and Ratwox. Thirty-nine people showed up, and the event has grown from there. That first shoot was a sign of the times. A few months later Kel-Tec shook things up with the introduction of a super compact bullpup twelve gauge shotgun. The KSG has a double tube magazine creating an impressive twelve round capacity. UTAS followed with their twelve gauge UTS 15, increasing capacity to fifteen rounds. Both designs made inroads to pop culture through the Call of Duty gaming franchise. 

The bullpup concept was gaining both acceptance and ground here in America, but it wasn’t mainstream yet. One more introduction would push us over the tipping point, though. It would come with a name most of us wouldn’t know how to pronounce. 

Maybe it was the Israeli pedigree, or its Israeli Defense Forces battle proven credentials. Perhaps it simply nailed the ergonomics better than its predecessors. The Call of Duty placement didn’t hurt. Whatever the factors, when Israeli Weapon Industries (IWI) released the Tavor (“tuh-VOR”) SAR here in the USA, American gun buyers didn’t hold back. In just two short years IWI has sold more than 40,000 Tavors. That may well be a record for any new gun model launch. In 2016, IWI released an updated and Americanized model, the X95.

At launch, the Tavor was available in America chambered in 5.56 NATO. Today you can buy a conversion kits to run 9mm or 300 Blackout through it. It’s a versatile platform. I’ve run Tavors in classes and even shot steel at six hundred yards with them. I’ve worked with trainers who brought Tavors to class in Oregon, Utah and Texas. I’ve been hog hunting with thermal optics on a Tavor. My Tavors have caused my AR15s some heartburn due to neglect. 

4. Bullpup Accessories

With the mainstream embrace of bullpups came aftermarket support. Manticore Arms got started because Sven Jonsson saw a need for an improved charging handle for his Steyr AUG. Today their Steyr accessories include multiple charging handles and a brass deflector. The popularity of the Tavor created a whole new set of opportunities for aftermarket for inventors and designers. 

Manticore Arms has created an entire line of accessories and improvements for the Tavor, literally from end to end. Their curved buttplate shortens the length of pull on the rifle and improves the point of contact for the shooter. They offer an all metal drop in ambidextrous safety lever replacement. Some people find the top rail on the Tavor to be lower than what they’re used to an AR-15 so Manticore offers their Overwatch replacement rail. It’s roughly a half-inch taller than stock, and brings AR-15 optics ergonomics to the Tavor. The stock charging handle on a Tavor protrudes and can get caught on clothing and other gear, so Manticore created their Switchback charging handle. Similar to a Bushmaster ACR charging handle, it folds parallel with the rail until you need to grab and pull to charge the rifle. The ARClight forend offers users the ability to mount accessories, including one inch flashlights, internally.  Manticore even offers its own “zero flash” muzzle device. 

RAT Worx connected with Manticore Arms to develop something I’ve wanted to play with since I first heard of it: the ZRX 9mm Tavor suppressor. When IWI started selling the 9mm conversion kits for the Tavor, the creative geniuses at RAT Works started thinking about ways to suppress it. The ZRX 9mm suppressor is the result. The baffle stack fits inside a dedicated Manticore Arms forearm which is available in Key-Mod and ARC-LOK attachment styles. Shooting this combination at the 2015 Bullpup Shoot, I was impressed. The balance of the system was superb and the suppressor is quite effective. 

Ratworx 9mm tavor suppressed

Tavor rifles can be configured to eject to the right or left. The opposite side has a plate closing the hole. Paul Reavis of Gear Head Works created the FLEx swivel, a direct replacement for the unused side ejection port cover. It both reduces the gas blast to the shooter’s face and provides an additional QD swivel socket. Considering how close that port is to the shooter’s face the FLEx swivel is a real winner when shooting a Tavor suppressed. Bullpups generally have less rail space than traditional designs so Paul created the USA mounting system to allow 90 degree accessory mounting from his Razorback top rail replacement. Want to mount a laser designator on a Tavor or AUG? You’ll want to look into this. 

5. What’s Next

With the announcement of the MDR platform, Desert Tech started stoking the embers of anticipation with their immanent entry into the semi-auto rifle world. The forward ejecting modular rifle is designed to quickly swap calibers, and we’re not just talking .223 caliber length rounds. The initial MDR release should include both a 5.56 version and a 7.62 version with sixteen inch barrels. And you can switch between those two calibers! Having shot their prototype I’ll say it showed great potential. Along with some other exciting variants, a 300 Blackout and SBR versions are already in the works and due out later in 2016.

The innovation around bullpups these days is nothing short of amazing. New shooters and old, hunters and law enforcement, weekend warriors and professionals are buying or creating bullpup rifles and enhancements like never before. It’s been said that we’re living in the golden age of the bullpup. I think we’re just at the beginning of it, and I couldn’t be happier about it! 

More on Bullpups >>>

Forget Bullpups, show me AR-15s >>>

Let’s talk Precision Rifles >>>

Tactical Hunting Newsletter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*