29 Nov 19


The “bullpup” design for military rifles places the action and magazine behind the trigger.

The term was first used to describe embellished target pistols, so I’m not sure how, nor when, it first came to describe this particular design for rifles.

The first example of the “bullpup” rifle pattern was the obscure British bolt-action Thorneycroft Rifle, and the similar Godsal Rifle (also British), both dating from the early 1900s. Both represented attempts to make a short military rifle, owing to the unhappy British experience with long, clumsy rifles during the Second Anglo-Boer War in South Africa.

Neither were adopted, nor ever referred to by the term, ‘bullpup.”

In 1951, the British briefly adopted the optical-sighted EM2 (Janson Rifle), which was an innovative bullpup autoloader in 280 British caliber. However, it was quickly swept-aside by the FAL in 7.62×51, at the insistence of the Churchill Administration, bowing to pressure from the USA, and the balance of NATO, to standardize on 7.62×51 caliber (308).

The term, “bullpup” was used to describe the EM2.

Modern “bullpup” military rifles, originally attractive because of their compactness (they were imagined to combine the role of rifle and SMG into a single weapon), saw popularity during the 1970s and 1980s, but have since fallen out of fashion, owing to lack of ambidexterity, poor triggers, and difficulty in reducing stoppages and performing chamber-checks.

The four current best-known military bullpup rifles are the British SA80, The Steyr AUG, the French FAMAS, and the Israeli TAVOR.

The more recent, American-made, Desert Tech MDR fits the same description, as does the Kel-Tec RFB

The Chinese bullpup QBZ95, adopted by the Chinese military in 2006, replaced their “Type-81” (Kalashnikov)

The AUG, FAMAS, and TAVOR can be converted from right-hand, to left-hand ejection, but not readily, and certainly not under active, field conditions.

The SA80 cannot be converted at all and thus cannot be shot off the left shoulder without the reciprocating bolt handle striking the shooter in the mouth.

Charging handles on the AUG and TAVOR are non-reciprocating.

On the FAMAS, the charging handle is reciprocating, but it it on top and does not impact the shooter’s face, no matter on which side he has the rifle mounted.

Because of the long distance between trigger and sear, triggers on most bullpup rifles are poor, as noted above.

The AUG was imported into the USA and had been subsequently manufactured domestically, so they are fairly common.

The TAVOR has been actively imported and marketed by IMI in the USA, so they are also common.

The FAMAS was imported briefly in the 1970s, but fewer than 200 ever reached our shores. They are very rare over here today. They can be found in France, but the civilian version is chambered for 222 Rem, as France (like Mexico) has a ban on military calibers in civilian hands

Desert Tech and Kel-Tec are both American companies and market their rifles to domestic, civilian consumers, but neither has secured military contracts for their wares

The SA80 has never been imported into the USA, and until recently its reputation in the field has been very poor. Current production quality is much better, as the entire rifle was refurbished under contract with H&K, but the rifle is still virtually unknown outside the UK.

The QBZ95 (chambered for the Chinese 5.8×42 cartridge) has never been seen outside the PRC (China).

In our DTI Urban Rifle Courses, we see an occasional TAVOR and AUG. Both are popular with the small-statured, as most of the rifle’s weight is to the rear.

What the majority of our students bring, however, are ARs, XCRs, POFs, VSKAs (Kalashnikovs), M1As, FALs, PTRs, M1 Carbines, SCARs, ARXs.

We’ve had one Kel-Tec RFB show up. We’ve yet to see a Desert Tech MDR.