Kel-Tec RDB

Kel-Tec RDB: The Bullpup Redefined [Hands-On Review]

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It might not be pretty, but for those looking for a compact rifle to use for home defense, the Bullpup is definitely worth a look.

Is the Keltec RDB the best Bullpup in the market? Now that is the question to ask yourself when looking for a Bullpup. Another is, do you want a converted military weapon or something build from the ground up for the civilian market?

The Kel-Tec RDB was never designed for the military and has always been designed with the average consumer in mind. In other words, it’s built for civilian use. This is clearly evident in the types of RDB released over the years. It’s a version conforming to legal requirements from different states and even Canadian Federal Law.

So, if you are in the market for a good CQB or home defense rifle and are interested in adding a bullpup to your collection, then Kel-Tec’s RDB series is a strong contender.

Pros
  • Super fine-tunable gas block
  • True, full ambidextrous controls
  • Innovative downward case ejection
  • Non-reciporcating charging handle
  • Extremely accurate and short to medium range
  • Crisp 5lb trigger pull
  • Smooth recoil system
  • Simple design and easy disassembly
  • Extremely affordable bullpup rifle
Cons
  • Tends to reject metal AR mags
  • OEM forend does a bad job at dissipating heat
  • Mag release is too easy to accidentally trigger
  • Earlier models have firing pins that broke easily
  • Not exactly the most comfortable gun to shoot prone with
  • Thin pencil barrel loses accuracy when it gets too much heat

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What are Bullpups?

Kel-Tec RDB Review
Bullpup guns; Image source: Geek Prepper

Bullpups are firearms designed with the action of the rifle placed directly behind the trigger. This design makes the gun compact without sacrificing barrel length.

Additionally, this concept was first developed back in the early 20th century and gained traction during the end of World War 2 with little success. It wasn’t until the development and eventual military and commercial adoption of the Stery AUG in 1997, that the Bullpup rifle concept became a success.

The main issue with Bullpup that played a part in its delayed success is the poor balance associated with compacting the mass of action and magazine at the back of the rifle. Poor rifle balance is often due to poor shooting performance and inconsistent accuracy.

However, Kel-Tec quickly solved that problem, thanks to their careful ergonomic engineering, the main component of what makes the Kel-Tec RDB series a successful Bullpup rifle.

Quick History of the Kel-Tec

Kel-Tec RDB-S rifle
George Kellgren, owner and founder of Kel-Tec shows
off the new RDB-S rifle.

Kel-Tec CNC Industries Inc was founded in 1991 by Swedish engineer and designer George Kellgren. They’ve been manufacturing some of the best pistols and rifles since 1995. If you’ve never heard of them before, one of their better-known models is the fan-favorite compact pistol, the Kel-Tec P32.

In 1995, Kel-Tec introduced the P-11 pistol to the world. It was a 9mm chambered polymer-based pistol design specifically for concealed carry and became a major success in the US market. Since then, Kel-Tec has continued to innovate on the current and existing pistol and rifle platforms and has been recognized as one of the top weapons manufacturers in the world.

Kel-Tec is known for designing compact, original and unique weapons that appeal to both civilian and military markets. Their guns are typically known for their high-level performance and have set a high benchmark for many other weapons in their class in both aesthetics and functionality.

Who is the Kel-Tec RDB for?

The bullpup configuration is definitely not for everyone’s taste. To truly enjoy the Kel-Tec RDB, you must be in the market for a Bullpup rifle.

The Kel-Tec RDB is perfect for those looking for a compact rifle to use for home defense. They also make really cool-looking displays and tactical guns that are fun to shoot and to have in your collection. 

Types of Kel-Tec RDBs

The RDB in Kel-Tec stands for Rifle Downward-eject Bullpup and Kel-Tec has released a series of RDBs for all types of consumers.

RDB-17

What we commonly refer to as just the Kel-Tec RDB, the RDB-17 is the standard US variant out on the market. It’s chambered in 5.56 NATO and comes installed with a 17.2″ barrel with an extremely accurate 1:7 twist ratio. The threaded barrel comes with a birdcage flash hider pre-installed and the rifle is equipped with a standard Picatinny rail for all your optics and accessories. 

The RDB-17 also features a textured polymer pistol grip with a forend for a steady grasp on the weapon. The textured polymer pistol grip and handguard help maintain a firm hold on the RDB 17. Additionally, the downward ejection of spent shells eliminates the need to deal with hot brass flying in your face while using the weapon. The RDB-17 works with standard AR magazines.

RDB-20

The RDB-20 is the exact same as RDB-17 but features a 20″ instead of a 17″ barrel. This 3″ difference adds more velocity to your barrel allowing you to shoot more accurately and perform better at long range.

RDB-C

The RDB-C is similar to the RDB-17 except for the modified handguard and a “hunter” style grip. The RDB-C was created to comply with states that have stricter gun control. It’s also why the RDB-C ships with a 10-round magazine instead of the standard 20.

RDB-S/ RDB Survival

The RDB-S is the “Survival” version of the RDB-C, sporting a unique hunter grip in place of a pistol grip. It’s equipped with folding iron sights and the shortest barrel of the RDB series at 16″. As if the previous RDB series wasn’t already a breakthrough in bullpup design, the RDB-S managed to include a built-in adjustable stock and a flush-fitting magazine. Its compact design makes it an ideal travel rifle that’s easy to store

The Kel-Tec RDB 17 Specs

Caliber.223 Rem/ 5.56 x 45 mm
Gas SystemPiston-operated
FinishBlack nitride
Weight Unloaded7 pounds
Magazine Capacity20 or any AR-15 magazine
Overall Length27.3 inches
Barrel Length17.3 inches
Twist Rate1:7"
Trigger Pull4.5 - 5.5 pounds
SafetyManual; ambidextrous
StockFixed bullpup
SightsNone; optics ready

Kel-Tec Hands-On Review

Unboxing

The Kel-Tec RDB doesn’t come in a hard case or a fancy box. Instead, it rests inside a cardboard box with cardboard flaps to secure the actual rifle. Inside, you’ll find a nice glossy catalog with some of Kel-Tec’s products, Kel-Tec company stickers, 20 round P-Mag, a nylon sling, and the actual firearm with a pre-installed muzzle break.

Appearance

The Kel-Tec RDB series are simple, compact Bullpup rifles with unique gun aesthetics. The RDB sports a rugged textured handguard and grip with many ambidextrous features for all types of shooters. It also comes with a pre-installed birdcage that adds to the tactical appeal. 

The only downside is it doesn’t come with any sights. So make sure to grab some before heading to the range.

Handling 

The rugged, rubberized texturing on the grip and handguard allows you to maintain a firm grip when maneuvering with the gun. The adjustable stock will enable you to customize your length of pull for optimal performance. The charging handle can easily be cocked with your off-hand while the ambidextrous safety doesn’t get in the way of your grip like other rifle models.

Finally, the guard provides enough room for your finger, even with gloves, and the trigger feels solid and provides a nice smooth trigger pull.

Features 

The Kel-Tec RDB series is one of the most thought-out bullpups to ever be released, with various design features that make it stand out. It comes with a short-stroke adjustable gas piston for those looking to fine-tune your rifle action to your ammunition.

This gun is also compatible with most AR platform magazines, but the key feature that sets the RDB apart is the downward ejection system. 

Taking it Apart

Thanks to Kel-Tec’s simple design, disassembling the Kel-Tec RDB is as simple as removing three pins. For a more thorough walkthrough, check out this Kel-Tec RDB takedown below.

Shooting the Kel-Tec RDB

Accuracy 

The added mobility makes it looks like you will sacrifice a lot of range. Even with full-length carbine barrels, the Kel-Tec RDB Series are still only short to medium range rifles.

You’ll get great groupings at sub 50 yards and with the right ammo. You can even snipe targets beyond 100 yards. Also, you can even get a better range using the 20″ barrel. But when the barrel gets too hot, that won’t matter since it’ll be hard to get good groups at anything past 30 yards.

Recoil 

Since Bullpups contain all the action of the rifle behind the trigger guard, you might think that you’d get harsher recoil from these compact rifles. However, Kel-Tec has managed to mitigate a lot of the RDB’s recoil down to just gentle nudges. You’re going to feel it, but with the proper forend grips, it’s easy to control and won’t be too much on your shoulders. It is back heavy though so when shooting this firearm, you really want to push the front end towards you for better control.

Performance

The Kel-Tec RDB is a go fast, gamer gun that is just really fun to shoot. They run extremely well and the well-thought-out, true ambidextrous design makes it a great option for lefthanders. The trigger pull is just super crisp and mimics a lot of the Mil-Spec AR triggers you’d find on the market.

The defining features of this bullpup work flawlessly every time. Although some people complain about the accuracy or the rifle stop action, it’s very rare. Also, the reason why some folks complain is that they’re trying to do things that the gun wasn’t really designed for.

Reliability

Just as with any other rifle, there are definitely things you need to look out for when shooting the Kel-Tec RDB. The good news is that problems with this bullpup are few and far in between.

The earlier model Kel-Tec RDB’s barrel was known to have accuracy issues. But it’s something that’s easily remedied by using a floating forend or an M-LOK style handguard. This solution gives the barrel some breathing room. However, a more common complaint is accidentally hitting the mag release while shooting or switching position.

The position of this RDB mag release system is especially problematic if you have really big palms and can be a deal-breaker. Also as a precaution, when cleaning your firearm, check your firing pins since they have a tendency to break at certain spots even though the rifle still fires.

Barring a few rare and minor issues, the Kel-Tec RDB is a reliable gun and can handle a lot of abuse. It might not be the toughest bullpup on the market, but for a sporting rifle, it can handle a beating.

Competition

IWI Tavor X95

For a lot of people, the IWI Tavor X95 is the Creme de la creme of bullpup rifles. The X95 is a Semi-automatic, combat-ready, combat-proven bullpup issued by many different military groups around the world.

Compared to the Kel-Tec RDB, the IWI Tavor X95 is built tougher and was designed specifically for the military before being converted for civilian use. It has built-in emergency sights, extremely soft recoil, and excellent gas adjustments for your suppressor. However, the X95 lacks the modern innovations you will find on the Kel-Tec RDB, even though the X95 performs better overall.

On paper, the two guns are very similar with almost identical specs but the engineering design on the X95 gives you a much longer range with the Kel-Tec RDB. Unfortunately, the X95 has probably one of the worst triggers on a bullpup rifle. However, with an abundance of aftermarket triggers to choose from, it’s almost not an issue.

If you’re looking to shoot at plus 100 yards, then slap a scope on the IWI Tavor and get to shooting. But if you’re looking for a home defense bullpup, then grab a Kel-Tec RDB for almost half the real-world price of the X95.

Steyr AUG A3 M1

The Steyr AUG A3 M1 is another military first bullpups that came out during the late 1970s. It’s the updated, semi-automatic variant of the Austrian Military’s AUG A3 SF. This is probably one of the more iconic bullpups to have come out. It has been featured in films such as Die Hard and popular modern games like Call of Duty.

Like the Tavor X95, you will get a better range with the AUG A3 M1 than the Kel-Tec RDB. However, that’s pretty much where the differences in performance end.

Although the AUG is more balanced, the RDB is definitely the more ergonomic of the two. The trigger is a lot more refined on the RDB, benefiting from being a true ambidextrous bullpup. The RDB is also the better suppressor host, and you’d be able to find it at $1000 cheaper than the AUG A3 M1.

If you’re looking for a gun that’ll last you decades, that’s where the AUG A3 M1 shines. But if you’re looking for a bullpup that’s just as reliable for less, then the RDB is the ideal choice.

With a long track record and combat-proven history, it’s hard to argue that the Kel-Tec RDB would even come close to the AUG A3 M. If you can find an RDB below 1200, it’s not even a question of which one to go for.

Accessories

Even though the RDB is an innovative bullpup in its own right, you’re still going to need a few more pieces before you can confidently take this gun out to the range.

Vortex Optics Crossfire Red Dot Sight

The Vortex Optics Crossfire Red Dot Sights is a low-cost optic for your Kel-Tec RDB. It’s the perfect, simple, no-frills, point and aim sights that are perfect for CQB and home defense scenarios.

As a standard, it’s waterproof, shockproof, nitrogen purged with over 50,000 hours of battery life and 2-night vision settings. The 2 MOA dots are quick to acquire while small enough to maintain accuracy. It is a cheap, great sight that just works.

Magpul PMAG D-60

Want to spend more time shooting and less time reloading? The Magpul PMAG D-60 is the perfect magazine to complement your shooting needs. This 60-round capacity, polymer drum magazine is impact resistant. It also comes with a dust cover to protect your magazines and your rifle.

Keep in mind that this magazine at full capacity will add a lot of weight to your bullpup. Unfortunately, if you live in some of the stricter areas, this mag won’t be available for you.

RDB M-LOK Forend

As mentioned earlier, a lot of the hot barrel-related accuracy issues associated with the Kel-Tec RDB can be mitigated with a better forend. Luckily, years after its initial launch, Kel-Tec heard our woes and released the RDB M-Lok forend.

This aluminum forend is easy to install. It’s M-LOK compatible and will dissipate heat faster than the OEM polymer handguard. The only thing that could have made it better is if it was a true, free-floating barrel.

The Verdict

No matter what model gun you pick, Kel-Tec is always going to get a lot of resistance from the community, some justified, others not so much. One thing that Kel-Tec always does better than a lot of other manufacturers is innovating for their consumers. The company also fixes issues with its earlier models.

Kel-Tec RDB is definitely one of the best and the most thought-out sporting bullpups that I’ve seen in recent years. They have a legal bullpup configuration for just about every market, including areas with stricter gun restrictions like California (RDB-C) and Canada (RDB-20). It’s not going to be anything like the higher-end military AUGs or Tavors. But keep in mind, it was never designed to be that way.

On its own, the Kel-Tec RDB is an accurate and reliable gun. With the right upgrades, you can expect a significant boost in performance. And when push comes to shove, you’re not going to get another bullpup with the same features and does what the RDB does at around $1000.

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