Feature Article

Running the Bullpups: IWI, Kel-Tec, Steyr, and FN Compete

Running the Bullpups: IWI, Kel-Tec, Steyr, and FN Compete
IWI Tavor X95 XB16. The IWI was modular and offered easy caliber conversion, a feature lacking on the others.

Bullpups were designed for close-quarters battle (CQB) use in cramped environments where a longer weapon can be a liability. They are smaller and more compact than the typical AR-15 rifle. What also differs is how a bullpup functions. These firearms are configured with the action located behind the trigger group. Your nose rests above the action, not behind it like with an AR or AK. That means the magazine is aft of the trigger, not forward. Thus, your reloading technique changes. Because the action is housed in the buttstock, the overall length is reduced, yet a bullpup still deploys the same barrel length as a civilian AR-15. The balance is different with a bullpup, with the weight of the rifle in the butt, not forward of your firing hand. The ejection port is located in the butt, and each bullpup we tested had a different philosophy on how and where empty cases should be dumped. The muzzle is likewise closer, so reaching out with your support arm and pulling the rifle into your shoulder — like with an AR — is not possible, but the bullpups offer other support-grip options.

Basically, then, everything from reloading to grip and handling changes when running a bullpup, so we wanted to see which bullpup we could adapt to more easily. Our quartet of bullpups included three chambered in 5.56mm, which was the IWI Tavor X95 XB16, the Steyr AUG A3 M1, and Kel-Tec’s RDB. The fourth bullpup was the FN Model PS90 Standard chambered in 5.7x28mm. This is a nice sampling of bullpups because the AUG could be considered the Rolex of bullpups, while the Kel-Tec is the Timex at a much lower price. All performed without malfunctions, so they all took a licking and kept on ticking. One, the IWI, was modular and offered easy caliber conversion. All were optics-ready except the AUG (pronounced “A-U-G” not “awg”), which came from the factory with an optic. One, the FN, we had to study to even determine how to pick it up and shoulder it, but when we did we experienced a clear engineering solution to bad bullpup ergonomics. With the Kel-Tec, we ended up calling it the working man’s bullpup. Nothing fancy, but it kept pace with the other three. In hand, the bullpups feel like an AR-15 short-barreled rifle, or SBR, which require special tax stamps to own.

We tested all except the AUG with either a SIG Romeo4B or a Mepro Tru-Dot RDS. Both are red-dot sights that excel at close-to-medium range. At ranges out to 100 yards, the dot suffices for most targets, but a crosshair reticle would shrink groups. The Romeo4B allows the user to toggle between four different reticles: 2-minute-of-angle dot, 2-MOA dot with ballistic holds, 2-MOA/65 MOA Circle Dot, or 2-MOA/65 MOA Circle Dot with ballistic holds. The ballistic holdover points are calibrated for 5.56 NATO and 7.62x51mm NATO rounds. A feature we liked was the activated motion sensor that immediately powers up illumination when the red dot senses motion and powers down when it does not to extend battery life. The Mepro Tru-Dot RDS we like and have used it for a number tests on AR-style firearms. It features a 1.8-MOA dot reticle and is constructed with an aluminum body and tough polymer frame around a large viewing window. This sight is easy to use when shooting with both eyes open. It runs on one AA battery, and you don’t need any tools to change the battery or adjust the sight. It also turns off when not in use to conserve battery life. Both are good choices for AR applications, and as we found out, these bullpups, like ARs, have a straight comb and optics needed to be mounted high. Be aware that a bullpup is capable of hitting targets at the same ranges as an AR-15 with an appropriate optic.

Two of the bullpups — the IWI and Kel-Tec — are compatible with standard AR-15 magazines, which we appreciated since we have plenty of AR-15 magazines on hand. We used Brownells’ aluminum-body magazines (Brownells.com, $14) Magpul Pmags (Brownells.com, $12.30), and Hexmag tubes (Brownells.com, $12); all were 30-rounders. The AUG and FN used proprietary magazines. Like an AR-15, the FN, IWI, AUG, and Kel-Tec allow the operator to keep his firing hand on the grip while performing a reload with the support hand.

The three brands of AR-suitable ammunition we tested included Aguila 5.56mm NATO with a 62-grain FMJ bullet, 223 Remington Federal Fusion loaded with a 62-grain soft point, and SIG Sauer’s 223 Remington ammo loaded with a 77-grain Open-Tip Match (OTM) bullet. For the FN, we used FN 5.7x28mm 40-grain V-Max and Federal American Eagle 40-grain FMJs. We noticed big differences in recoil and muzzle blast between the 5.56 NATO and 5.7x28mm ammo. The 5.7x28mm ammo was similar to shooting 22 Magnum ammo — minimal recoil and not as much muzzle blast as the 5.56mm NATO.

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