Are Bullpup Guns Worth The Hype?

A popular firearm design in recent years is that of the bullpup, which uses a bit of mechanical wizardry to locate the action behind the trigger group. The practical upshot is that you get longer barrel length in a compact package, so a carbine-sized rifle or shotgun will have full-size accuracy.

The best of all worlds, or so it would seem. Bullpup rifles and shotguns look very cool and some have been adopted by various militaries, but the enthusiast faces a steep price of entry.

Are they actually worth it compared to a conventional rifle design?

What Is A Bullpup

bullpup rifle

At one point, the word "bullpup" was used to describe a target pistol with an extravagant stock, but was eventually used to describe the class of rifle design that we now associate the word with. Namely that the receiver, bolt, magazine and indeed almost the entire firing mechanism is located behind the trigger group.

The first examples actually came pretty early. Initial versions were prototyped as bolt-action rifles prior to World War I, but didn't work as well as conventional bolt-action rifle designs. A few prototype semi-automatic rifles/submachine guns were devised prior to World War II, but - obviously - weren't successful either.

The post-war period saw development begin in earnest but little success until the 1970s, when Steyr - which was formerly a much more diversified operation with activities in making small arms, bicycles and vehicles for the consumer, commercial and military markets - came out with the AUG, which arguably remains the most successful designs of the type to date.

What Are The Advantages Of A Bullpup Rifle?


There are practical advantages to the bullpup rifle design, which is why it's found favor in law enforcement and military roles. One would work for self defense too, if you picked one up.

Firstly, the receiver being located behind the trigger allows for a longer barrel in a shorter overall firearm. For instance, the Steyr AUG has an overall length of just 31.1 inches when equipped with a 20-inch barrel. By contrast, the M16 rifle - which has the same barrel length - is 39.5 inches long.

Another practical upshot is that the weapon is a little handier as a result. Since modern combat tends to take place at closer distances (usually 150 yards or closer most of the time, though hardly exclusively) than in the major conflicts of the first half of the 20th century, the bullpup is a little easier on the user in those circumstances. They are also much easier to use at close quarters.

They also look cool as heck. That's why the Steyr AUG and other bullpup rifles wind up as movie guns in sci-fi flicks. Go ahead and say that isn't the reason you want one; we will pretend to believe you.

Are Bullpup Rifles Worth It?


Something being "worth it" is relative whether that's bullpup firearms, cars, whatever you can think of.

Is a Honda Civic worth it? It's a good car, they last a long time, get good gas mileage and so on. However, if you don't make much money it isn't a good idea to get a brand new one, financing it with a 36-month loan at 8 percent APR. That would be very, very bad for you.

Some designs are not ambidextrous, meaning operation is difficult for left-handed people. Lefties, therefore, will have problems unless a left-handed model is purchased. They are out there, though, so it's not like you can't get them.

Additionally, the ejection port is located behind the grip and trigger assembly, putting it very close to the face of the operator. This leads to powder burns on the face, which has been noted with every popular bullpup design that's found a home in military service. That is something to be aware of.

They are also more difficult to design and manufacture, as the firing mechanism requires a bit more engineering to get right. As a result, bullpup rifles tend to get quite expensive.

The most cost-effective you can expect to find is the Kel-Tec RBD17, a bullpup rifle in .223/5.56mm NATO which will run you about $1,000. A Steyr AUG will run you about double that, ditto for the Tavor.

Then you have to factor in getting parts and accessories. Good luck with the hunt for spare magazines, recoil springs or other stuff.

So, they're more expensive to buy and are a bit more of a hassle than an AR.

What are most of the bullpup rifles that the typical shooter will be looking at? Mostly, they'll be for range use, with a few purposed for personal defense. Most bullpups common on the civilian market today are semi-automatic rifles in .223/5.56mm, with a few in 7.62 NATO/.308 Winchester. There are a few bullpup shotguns and some bullpup bolt-action rifles are out there as well.

Not every jurisdiction allows hunting with .223. Some only allow it for hunting of certain species, and some impose the .24 caliber minimum for basically everything outside small game. However, most people who buy a bullpup rifle probably won't hunt with it. The standard bolt gun is just better for that purpose and most modern gun owners don't hunt anyway.

Most bullpup bolt-action rifles are prohibitively heavy or chamber a round ill-suited to game hunting. They are well-suited to target work, however. What shotguns exist in this configuration...well, you probably wouldn't have it in the duck blind anyway.

So...worth it? That depends. If you can countenance spending upward of $2,000 on a range toy or competition gun - they'll do wonders in 3 Gun or other competitive shooting events - then they might be. Granted, a decent AR is easier to find, cheaper to purchase and can be kept in parts very easily...but isn't as interesting. Does that make one worth it? You'll have to figure that out for yourself.

Sam Hoober  

About The Author

Born in southeastern Washington State, Sam Hoober graduated in 2011 from Eastern Washington University. He resides in the great Inland Northwest, with his wife and child. His varied interests and hobbies include camping, fishing, hunting, and spending time at the gun range as often as possible.

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