Are you considering buying a bullpup rifle or shotgun, or just wondering what the heck they are? If so, you’ve come to the right place.
Is Bullpup Better?
Why should you consider buying a bullpup design over a more traditional rifle or shotgun? At first glance, they look distinctive. This, of course, is because the magazine and the action are both located behind the trigger. I personally like this look, but there are more reasons to consider investing in a bullpup beyond its looks.
They offer a number of advantages over traditional rifles and shotguns, but also a number of disadvantages. We’ll discuss these and give you our choices for the best bullpup rifles and shotguns that are available this year. Hopefully, by the end of this article, you’ll know if bullpup is better for you, and which one to get.
What is a Bullpup?
A bullpup is simply a firearm where the trigger, magazine, and the action are located behind the trigger guard. Consequently, the overall length (as well as the weight) of the firearm is significantly reduced. However, the barrel length is usually not reduced. The result is a rifle able to shoot at the same distances and ranges as a longer set up.
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This setup means that bullpups must be handled differently from the conventional rifles where the magazine and action are located in front of the trigger guard. You’ll need to hold a bullpup tighter against your shoulder. On the plus side, you can maneuver the weapon much easier in tight spaces.
A Short Bullpup Rifle History Lesson
Bullpup rifles have technically been around since the early 1900s. The very first bullpup was the Thorneycroft .303 carbine, a British-made bolt action rifle based on the successful Lee-Enfield design. With the Thorneycroft, the bolt was literally located behind the action and in the stock of the rifle. Similar concepts were later applied to semi-automatic and select-fire rifles as well.
However, it wasn’t before the 1970s that the bullpup design started to be taken seriously. This was when Steyr unveiled the then-new AUG assault rifle, which was adopted by the Austrian military as their standard service rifle. Many other militaries followed suit, adopting either the AUG or other bullpup assault rifles like the Enfield L85 and the IWI Tavor. Today, these rifles directly compete with more conventional designs like the AK and AR platforms.
Why Go With A Bullpup?
The biggest reason to go with a bullpup over a conventional rifle is simple. It’s shorter, and therefore more maneuverable. A bullpup rifle would be highly desirable as a home defense weapon or as a truck gun for this very reason. In short, it’s compact, portable, and easy to move around.
What’s more, is you don’t sacrifice range, muzzle velocity, or accuracy with a bullpup design either. Many people are under the mistaken belief that the shorter length of a bullpup rifle translates to a shorter barrel as well, but, as we have seen, this is not the case. Again, the reason a bullpup is shorter is because the action and magazine are located in the stock behind the trigger.
Another big benefit to the bullpup design is that, in most cases, less energy and exertion are required on your part to keep the firearm elevated. Hugging the shorter rifle closer to your body means you are less likely to tire from holding up the weapon. Remember, tactical training involves a significant amount of repeatedly raising and lowering your weapon to fire and changing magazines. This can grow physically exhausting after just a few minutes of intense training. Utilizing a shorter bullpup rifle rather than a longer one can help to keep this exhaustion to a minimum.
Why is Bullpup Bad?
For all their benefits, bullpup designs are not flawless. There are a few reasons they are not replacing traditional platforms like the AR, AK, or the Mini-14 where the magazine and action are located in front of the trigger.
With all the action at the back, they naturally end up back heavy. This means that muzzle rise when shooting a bullpup can be much higher than out of a traditional rifle or shotgun. While you can help mitigate with the aid of muzzle devices and training, it’s still something to consider.
Another potential negative, at least for all the lefties out there, is that many bullpup designs are not very friendly for left-handed shooters. Take a bullpup rifle that ejects spent shell casings out the right side of the rifle, those casings will hit a left-handed shooter right in the face. Fortunately, some bullpup rifles have ejection ports that can be switched between the right and the left for this reason.
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Another commonly mentioned negative of bullpup designs is the trigger pull. Most bullpup rifles have sloppy trigger pulls that are heavier than what you’ll experience on an AR-15. You can replace these with superior aftermarket triggers if you would like. However, we often find the factory trigger on a bullpup rifle leaves a bit to be desired.
Last but not least, you might find the magazine of a bullpup may be harder to reload. Now, this is entirely based on your shooting style, but I’m definitely faster reloading a conventional firearm. If you’re unsure about where you’d like the magazine is positioned on a bullpup rifle, go to a gun store and remove and reinsert the magazine a few times to see if you like it.
Now we at Sniper Country do like a well-designed bullpup despite its flaws. So without further ado, I’ll present our best bullpup rifles and shotguns for 2021.
The Best Bullpup Rifles For 2021
IWI Tavor X95
The IWI Tavor has firmly established itself as a competitor to the AR-15 within the last few years. Designed by Israel Weapons Industries, the Tavor was adopted as the standard service rifle for the Israeli military. It has also become popular with civilians in the United States seeking an alternative to the AR-15.
The Tavor is capable of accepting AR-15 5.56 magazines, so there are no issues with magazine commonality for people who have an AR-15 and are in the market for a more compact platform.
It is notable for having a nicer trigger than most other bullpup rifles. While not quite as crisp as the trigger of an AR-15, it still breaks at the five to six-pound mark. It’s also fully ambidextrous, you can configure it to eject empty shell casings either to the right or the left of the rifle.
We also like that the Tavor has plenty of sling attachment points and an optics rail. And lastly, the 16-inch barrel is identical in length to the carbine length version of the AR-15, so no range or muzzle velocity is sacrificed either. It was our best bullpup carbine in our Best 9mm Carbines Hands-On Test.
The FN PS90 is perhaps the most unique bullpup rifle on this list. A civilian version of the P90, which is in service with numerous countries all over the world. In the US the PS90 comes installed with a much longer barrel in order to be legal for sale. It’s actually less of a rifle and more of a carbine or Personal Defense Weapon.
What really makes the PS90 unique, beyond its futuristic appearance, is its ammunition. The PS90 fires 5.7x28mm ammunition. This is the same round used by the FN Five-Seven Pistol as well as the newer Ruger 57. The 5.7x28mm is known for offering rifle-like performance out of a pistol caliber, with a flat trajectory, longer range, ability to penetrate most types of body armor up to NIJ IIIA. Furthermore, a standard-size magazine can hold more rounds than other kinds of pistols, such as 9mm Luger or .45 ACP.
The PS90 ejects shell casings in a downward motion. No flying into your face or anywhere else with this one. The integrated muzzle brake is designed to keep the muzzle rise to a minimum.
Kel Tec RDP and RFB
The Kel-Tec RDP and RFP are two more futuristic looking bullpup rifles. The RDP is the smaller variant chambered for 5.56x45mm NATO. The larger RFP is chambered for the .308 Winchester and 7.62x51mm NATO calibers.
Both the RDP and the RFB are designed to eject the spent shell casings forward instead of downward or to the side. The RFB in particular is even marketed by Kel-Tec as a hunting rifle. As a .308 caliber rifle, the RFB is more than capable of bringing down North American big game like the bear, deer, and elk. While being a much more compact package than most other hunting rifles.
As an added bonus, the RFB accepts the same magazines as the FN FAL, which are relatively affordable and easy to find. Also, take a look at our Kel-Tec RDB – The Bullpup Redefined article.
The Steyr AUG is one of the most popular military rifles in the world. As we noted in our little history lesson, it was the AUG that proved there was a place for the bullpup as a military service weapon. The AUG was first adopted by the Austrian military as their standard rifle. Later on the Australian and Irish militaries followed. Several more nations followed, and today it’s also popular as a rifle for civilians.
This bullpup AUG is a short rifle of just 28.25 inches, with a barrel length of 16 inches, making it a very compact overall design. Newer models of the AUG are designed to accept AR-15 magazines much like the IWI Tavor. However, older models of the AUG cannot. The trigger to the AUG is a single-stage that utilizes a cross-bolt safety designed to keep the trigger locked when engaged.
Perhaps the neatest feature of the AUG is its interchangeable barrel design. The barrel is quickly removed from the bullpup AUG and swapped out with another barrel (16-inch, 20-inch, and 24-inch are the most common barrel lengths). I tried, and completing this process in under a minute if you know what you’re doing, is not a problem.
The forward grip on the standard AUG is collapsible. On newer versions of the AUG, you can get a rail that allows you to easily add a forward grip as well. All the same, older versions of the bullpup AUG come with an optic (either 1.5x or 3.0x) integrated into the rifle. Newer versions usually come with a rail that makes it easy to add optics of your choice as well
The Best Bullpup Shotguns For 2021
Kel Tec KSG
The Kel Tec KSG has arguably become the most recognizable bullpup shotgun today. The shotgun is notable for its large capacity of twelve rounds. It utilizes two magazine tubes behind the trigger, which each hold six rounds. Using a selector lever on the side, you can choose whether you want the shotgun to shoot from the right or the left tube.
The KSG sports two Picatinny rails, one on the top and the other on the bottom. This makes it easy to add additional accessories such as grips, lasers, sights, or optics. The rubber butt pad does an excellent job of absorbing the recoil from the 12 gauge.
The KSG would be a highly effective home defense shotgun due to its extremely short length of just 26 inches. However, its barrel length of 18.5 inches puts it on par with competing shotguns such as the Mossberg 500 or the Remington 870, which offer the same barrel lengths in their home defense shotguns. The spread and overall effectiveness of your buckshot (or birdshot) should be the same out of the KSG as it would be out of the Mossberg or the Remington.
And yes, you could use the KSG as a hunting or clay pigeon shotgun as well if that is your jam.
The Tavor TS12 is another excellent choice for a bullpup shotgun. IWI basically took their rifle bullpup design and turned it into a shotgun, releasing it into the market in 2018. In 2020, the TS12 was the best-selling semi-automatic shotgun in the United States.
The TS12 has even greater capacity than the KSG, with a total of 15 rounds. This is accomplished with three magazine tubes, each holding five rounds. If you would like, you could load three different types of ammunition into the tubes (such as birdshot, buckshot, and slugs).
One more bullpup shotgun to consider is the ATI Bulldog. Introduced last year, the Turkish-made Bulldog is designed to somewhat replicate the action of an AR-15 (the charging handle of the ATI, for instance, is virtually the same as an AR).
The Bulldog is also notable for its three interchangeable choke tubes. A Picatinny rail on the top of the receiver makes it very easy to add optics. In addition, you can attach a spare magazine onto the forward rail of the shotgun to act as a grip. When the time comes to reload, you would strip out the now empty magazine, detach the magazine on the forward rail, and then load it into the weapon.
If you want a rifle or a shotgun that is as short and compact as possible, the bullpup design is what you’re looking for. The only alternative choice for a rifle-caliber weapon of a similar size would be to go with an AR-15 pistol, but this gives you a much shorter barrel length and therefore less muzzle velocity and overall range.
Capable of shooting at the same long distances as more conventional rifles while also being much easier to use in tight spaces, bullpups can be a good choice for home defense, tactical use, or as a car/truck gun. They may have heavier triggers and be a bit back heavy, but as long as you’re okay with this a bullpup could do more for you than what an AR-15 pistol could provide.
Are bullpups the perfect firearm? No, but if you want a rifle or shotgun that’s short without sacrificing range, they are the way to go.