That bullpups are the rifle of the future and they always will be is a joke you often hear when discussing the concept. Bullpup is a term used to refer to a weapon in which the action and magazine are rearward of the trigger.
Although bullpup rifles are often associated with the future, they’ve been around for more than a century. The first was the Thorneycroft rifle invented in 1901. The Thorneycroft was a bolt-action bullpup rifle designed by an English gunsmith, but it didn’t see much success.
Numerous countries have nowadays adopted the bullpup as a rifle design.
Around the Cold War, the concept gained significant ground, and we saw a massive increase in the number of countries adopting bullpup rifles. The British, Irish, Israelis, Chinese, French, and many more adopted one bullpup platform or another. Heck, the Department of Homeland security famously adopted the Steyr AUG.
So today, we are going to talk about the pros and cons of bullpup rifles.
Why Bullpup Rifles Rule?
The biggest advantage to a bullpup platform is that it takes a traditional rifle and shrinks it without losing ballistic capability. For example, the 16-inch carbine variant of the AUG measures out to 27.2 inches while the M4 with its 14.5-inch barrel measures out to 29.75 inches with the stock completely collapsed and 33 inches with the stock deployed.
With a standard rifle, you have to trim the barrel back more and more to get anywhere near the same length as what a bullpup provides. When you start trimming the barrel on a rifle caliber, then you start to lose ballistic capability. Bullpups are perfect for close-quarters combat, and they work well in and out of vehicles and aircraft. At the same time, the barrel is long enough to ensure you can reach out and touch a target at longer ranges.
Bullpup rifles are also very easy to store. It’s a small win, but it does count.
Further, they also tend to be easier to use with one arm. With most of the weight tucked closer to the body and less weight beyond your dominant hand, it’s much easier to hold up the rifle and keep on target. At the same time, the weight is located closer to the body thus making a bullpup much easier to shoot or even run with.
The recoil impulse of bullpup rifles often does nothing to reduce recoil, but with the weapon tied closer to the body, the muzzle flip is reduced. Firing one rapidly or controlling it in full auto is much easier to do than with a standard carbine.
Where Bullpups Fail
The downside of most bullpup rifles is that they tend to be less ambidextrous. Most will eject cartridges out of the right side of the gun and are designed for right-handed shooters. This makes many unsuitable for lefties. While some companies allow the rifle to be configured for lefties, this still makes it difficult to rapidly switch shoulders if necessary. A few bullpup rifles, like the KelTec RDB, eject spent cartridges downward, thus resolving the issue.
Bullpup triggers also tend to suck. The necessity of a trigger linkage adds weight, grip, and full length. Some companies, like Timney, produce bullpup trigger packs that make things a little better.
Also, reloads can be awkward due to the ergonomics of the magazine being so close to your body. Reloading a bullpup will never be as fast as reloading a conventional rifle.
The magazine and action location also make solving failures a little tougher. It’s not as intuitive as just looking forward and checking the chamber. You’ll need to manipulate your rifle a fair bit more. Bullpup rifles also have a short sight radius when iron sights are used, albeit, in the age of optics, this hardly matters.
Lastly, in the event of a catastrophic failure, the user’s face and head are right beside the action. The chance of a facial or head injury is higher. Nonetheless, with modern rifles and quality ammunition, this is hardly a concern.
Short and Sweet
Bullpup rifles provide a short and sweet option for shooters who want to combine easy handling with excellent ballistic performance. They can be extremely handy for close-quarters fighting and are seemingly perfect for home defense.
Are bullpup rifles for you? Well, let me know in the comments below! What’s your favorite bullpup? I’m admittedly partial to the Steyr AUG.