When I first started getting into the world of bullpup rifles, I was looking at the Steyr AUG but wasn't sure that it fit all my needs. The magazines were expensive and hard to come by, and the rifle was not well reviewed by those who already had a bias against bullpups. It is hard to find credible and knowledgeable reviews on bullpups anyways since few people understand the platform. However, I have found that the criticism is solely around this illusion that speed is the key to everything and intuitive function comes second to thinking lightning fast makes up for shortcomings of the more popular rifle designs. Anyways, I wanted to give an update on my experience with the Steyr AUG NATO and some of the changes I have made in how I run it and its function while shooting.
As you can see in the picture above, I have the all black NATO version with the fixed sight. My sight is only 1.5x magnification, which is the same power magnification that I had with my military issued ACOG. I have not only enjoyed the fixed sight for its durability, but also because it allows for easy manipulation of the controls. Once the sight has been properly zeroed, you can be rough and tough on it and you can trust that it will not lose it's zero. Also add in the fact that constantly removing the barrel from the receiver that the sight is fixed to will not mess with your zero. This is a quality you will be hard-pressed to find in this current market where manufacturers are wanting to copy this quick detach feature to their rifles.
As far as the handling and and controls, the Steyr AUG has a very short overall length and it is quite compact. The balance is pretty well centered and it is easy to keep the rifle in the shoulder at all times, unlike more conventional designs like the M4 platform. The front grip is not the most ergonomic and it doesn't offer the ability to maximize stability. In my analysis, it is more intended to offer protection from the venting gasses of the gas port and the heat from the fully exposed barrel. One option I have found to work pretty well, for at least two magazines of rapid fire, is folding the grip up and using the trigger guard as a sort of angled grip. It seems to stabilize the rifle very well for initial shots. However, if you intend to do slow fire and not heat up the grip too aggressively, you may find the folded grip to be a great grip, as long as you are diligent about not touching the barrel.
The controls are all very close and don't require you to extend your arm more than 90 degrees in order to reach them, save for gas plug adjustments. You can feel that all the springs in the rifle are still stiff and robust in order to last many thousands of rounds without issue. The magazine release being located where it is makes it to where you must grab the magazine in order to eject it and the button is still pretty stiff. I have found few ways to perform a tactical reload that allows you to hold both magazines, mostly because the button is stiff and the magazines will be bumping against the grip or your firing arm. Other than that, inserting a fresh magazine is intuitive and is in a natural location. On the NATO AUG I have tried using the H&K style of reloading, and it worked relatively well, but I have reverted to just inserting a new magazine and aggressively charging the rifle into action. This method saves time, is just as reliable, and does not wear down the polymer charging handle like locking it to the rear every time.
Since we are on the subject of magazine changes, we might as well talk about the magazines directly. Like the original AUG design, the NATO AUG seems to have one type of magazine that it works reliably with, and that is the Magpul and Lancer magazines. 99% of the issue is that the AUG feed ramps do not align well with other magazines, and in some cases, the magazines have so much play that they will be completely misaligned with the feed ramps. I have tried the 40 round Magpul magazine and I experienced a few failures to feed with it, so I can not vouch for its reliability until further testing has been conducted. The standard 30 round Magpul magazines have given me very few issues as long as the gas plug was set appropriately based on the ammunition used. Going from a low gas setting with M855 and going to TulAmmo 55 grain ammo on the same setting does seem to have an effect on reliability. This is the only time I had issues with the Magpul magazines, however.
On the subject of reliability, we might as well talk about the gas system, which seems to be the driving force on this subject, as long as you are using magazines like Magpul and Lancer. The Steyr AUG was designed to reliably cycle on the low gas setting with M855/SS109 ammunition. The 55 grain .223 Remington ammunition has just enough power to cycle the action on the low gas setting if the pistol is completely clean. However, after a couple of magazines of this weaker ammunition, you will most likely find yourself needing to switch the gas plug to be fully open.
In my experience, the brass ejection pattern will display how well the ammunition is being cycled. If the brass is ejecting to 3'o'clock or more forward, you should feel comfortable that you have your gas setting at the right setting. Any angle that is more to the rear is an indicator that the gas is set too low. However, with the 55 grain M193 ammunition, you will see that it does cycle the action reliably on the low gas setting, but not much better than 55 grain .223 ammunition. Of course you could always opt for keeping the gas plug in the full open position, but that may not be the best idea when using NATO ammunition exclusively unless the gas pistol has not been cleaned in over 500 rounds.
The recoil you experience with the AUG is a little more than what you may experience on the Tavor, or even a conventional 5.56 rifle. When using NATO ammunition on the low gas setting, you will find that it delivers a modest push into the shoulder, and shows a somewhat aggressive push off target. When the gas system is fully open, you will find a slight decrease in how violently the rifle moves off target, but you will definitely notice a slight increase in the vibration throughout the rifle.
When it comes to the gas system, this is going to be the dirtiest and most aggressively fouled part of the entire rifle in my experience. I make a point to clean the gas piston and plug, as well as the internal housing every time I shoot. When I was at SHOT show, I had the privilege of speaking with a veteran of the Austrian military who has years of experience with the rifle. His advice was not to clean the gas system as often, but to try and hold off until around 500 rounds. According to him, this helps prevent the sharp edges of the piston becoming rounded and extends the life of the gas key. Apparently, this build-up on the piston acts as a slight protector for the sharp edges.
In my experience, the best thing you can do with the gas system is use a good CLP instead of just a lubricant. This will not only keep it lubricated for longer, but seems to also make cleaning a whole lot easier to where you can just wipe away the fouling that built up. My preferred CLP is FUBAR CLP, but I have found that SLIP2000 EWL30 works well also, and actually withstands the heat and pressure better than any other CLP or lubricant on the market. Other than the gas system, the AUG does not really get all that dirty from firing residue, which saves time on cleaning. All the cleaning you need to worry about can be done by simply taking out the barrel, in my experience. Of course you can wipe down the bolt and the feed ramps, but it takes a while before that is even close to necessary.
The last thing to touch on is going to be the trigger pull. The trigger pull on bullpups has always been a source of critique for those interested in the platform. However, I have found that this critique is not well placed. My AUG has been put in the hands of many shooters and all have reported the trigger to be almost indistinguishable in weight to a Mil-Spec Ar15 trigger. I find that the best way to get this result is to take a fine lubricant and coat the friction points well. It literally only needs to be done once. The trigger travel is very short and there is virtually no takeup. You are MAYBE looking at a pull weight of 6 pounds.
Overall, the Steyr AUG NATO has been very satisfying for me to use. I have had to iron out my issues with the magazines, but other than that, I love this rifle and I am actually looking at getting the standard stock that takes AUG magazines. The Magpul AUG mags are finally available for the same price as regular AR mags, so this seems like the perfect time to invest. I guess I will now have the opportunity to test the standard stock and see if the rifle functions any better or if the trigger works better since the trigger packs of the standard stock and the NATO are slightly different. Time will tell.
Do It Rite
Alaska-Based Youtube Vlogger, Retired Marine, gun enthusiast, and passionate firearm and gear evaluator.