Current thinking seems to be that bullpups are obsolete technology that is finally dying off. In fact, more companies are developing and improving on the bullpup as a practical concept.
France has replaced their FAMAS with the H&K416. The FAMAS was a rushed design that should have never left the drawing board until it was perfected. France wanted a unique rifle that was their own. Mechanized warfare was the new big thing. Getting troops around the battlefield in armored personnel carriers was the best way to respond to the Commies when they came charging in from Eastern Europe. France found that the bullpup to do really well for them in other areas aside from just fitting in a vehicle.
When they were first adopted, the bullpup looked like the way of the future. You had a rifle that was shorter than 25-30″ in overall length, yet it had the range and functionality of a rifle that was 35-40″ long. As the Cold War died down, the days of the heavily mechanized armies died with it.
With the TAR-21(Tavor). Israel took the bullpup design to the next level. The most recent upgrade is the X-95, which is just now being sold in the US. It answers many of the issues with the bullpup design and makes the idea of going to a bullpup from a conventional rifle like the M-4, that much more tolerable. Overall, the feedback about the Tavor performance from the soldiers fighting almost daily is positive. Israel realized real quick that they needed a rifle that was good anywhere, from inside a vehicle and tight confines of urban fighting, to open fighting at medium to long range. I found this to be my reasoning for wanting a bullpup as well.
I found merging into the manual of arms for the bullpup to be quite simple, which may surprise some. When I was in the Marines, I spent so much time with an M16 or M4 that I got to learn a lot about what they are really capable of. In this list of things I learned about the M4/16, I found that the biggest issue was the size of the rifle. I didn’t see the need for the rifle to be that big, especially when it was expected to be used to clear out stone age style compounds. A lot of the time, the doors were only maybe 4 feet tall and a 1-1/2 feet wide. I would have to squeeze in with this long stick of a rifle, and I ended up having to come up with a method of holding my rifle in close quarters for these types of situations. I had to pull the stock out of my shoulder and bring the pistol grip to my shoulder with butt of the rifle over the shoulder and just resting on top. Basically, in this situation, you’re not able to accurately aim, and you don’t really have the best retention. Believe me, this is not a very fun way to clear a house, let alone a city of houses. This made a huge impact on me and changed how I feel about the M4/16 platform and conventional style rifles all together. I just remember how much I envied the Australians and Brits for having bullpups. I wanted a short rifle, but I didn’t want to lose effectiveness at range. If we had SBRs, we would basically be stuck in a 100-200 meter bubble of effectiveness. The bullpup drew my love just in the fact that i would still have that range and effectiveness but without the extra crap.
When I got out of the military, I played around with AKs, the M1A, and even a Windham Weaponry WW-15. But nothing really felt good and gave me complete and universal confidence. I finally heard about the IWI Tavor and suddenly I was reminded of my envy for the Australians and Brits with their bullpups. After a little research, I decided to get the IDF version where the sight is fixed to the gas system, making it more resistant to losing zero. This also saved me time and money since the sight runs on Tritium at night and fiber optics during the day. I wanted a rifle that would cover me in almost every avenue, from short OAL to a proven combat record. Honestly, I took a leap of faith and pulled out all the stops when I ordered the Tavor. I had never messed with one, so this was a huge $2000+ risk for me. But boy did the Tavor deliver. Right away, the rifle felt like I was putting on a glove custom tailored to my hand. The biggest thing that surprised me was how natural reloads are with the bullpup when your under pressure. After only a couple of tries, I was reloading like I had only ever worked with a bullpup. When under stress your body likes to stay tight and close, so reloads tend to be natural. I was able to reload the Tavor way faster than the M4/16 platforms. You may find that hard to believe since your M4/16 platform has a button you push and your mag will just fall out. Well, just remember that in a fight, you’re retaining your mags and reloading from retention pouches, so it ends up being the difference between the time it takes to release the bolt, which still made the Tavor the clear winner. But realistically, in my experience, it was never the time it took to reload that was important as much as it was making sure that you did it properly and were watching your surroundings. Reloads should be a task you do reflexively, not something you have to visually babysit until completed. Therefore, the reload argument never holds water with me, but it is entertaining to see how fast I am sometimes on camera. Realistically, the reload time difference between a bullpup and an M4/16 rifle is so marginal that it will get made up just by the time it takes to stow the empty magazine and get a full magazine.
Now when it comes to the Tavor, I have used it very seriously for the past couple years and I am not going to call it an angel by any means. There are things that it needs help on that the X-95 did a good job addressing, such as the bolt release redesign, lightening the trigger out of the box, and putting the charging handle on the side of the rifle instead of the front. As far as the trigger pull on the Tavor is concerned, I found the trigger to be a bit heavy at first, but it never affected my accuracy or capability. I have shot the rifle enough to where the trigger sits at around 6-8 pounds and feels even lighter. Really though, i am not a trigger critic because in my experience, you’re not going to sit there criticizing the trigger characteristics in the middle of a fight. You are going to be concentrating on other more important details. If you get out, really push yourself, and train like your life depends on it with speed and intensity, you will see this yourself as well. If you really have mastered the fundamentals of marksmanship, you will hit when you need to with whatever you are given.
Overall, I still feel that the Tavor is good enough for me, despite the few quirks. I am always looking and always advancing. If there is a newer and better design that comes out, I will give it a serious look. But in the meantime, the Tavor has given me exactly what I needed in a rifle. I do not regret ditching the AR platform, and I have a feeling that you wouldn’t either if you gave the bullpup a serious try.
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