The idea of the bullpup sounds nice on paper, but is hardly easy to carry out in practice in terms of making one reliable and completely accepted. Bullpup rifles often get a bad reputation due to a few perceived disadvantages displayed by certain bullpup designs used in history, and even today. I am going to look at a few bullpup designs to understand why people often feel that the bullpup has no place in a modern military or battlefield with current rifle fighting techniques.
When it comes to rifles, a longer barrel is almost always going to deliver better ballistics and effectiveness, to a point. A longer barrel might be absolutely necessary to give your caliber the range and velocity it needs in order to be effective at a variety of ranges, such as the 5.56x45mm cartridge. Given that most bullpup rifles are chambered for the 5.56, it is easy to understand why the bullpup still has an advantage to this day. If you look at current trends, people are wanting their rifles to have shorter and shorter lengths without sacrificing ballistic capability. Many times this means people must restrict their ammunition choices just to be able to reliably cycle certain ammunition through their shortened AR-style rifles. This is not necessary with a bullpup rifle. The total length of most bullpups are just above the minimum length requirement for the ATF, yet they still have 16"-20" barrels. This means that people could easily have a shorter overall length without sacrificing barrel length, meaning they ultimately retain their ballistic performance. This is very important since 5.56 is a bit sensitive to velocity drop and will start losing performance terminally once it falls below the velocities commonly delivered out of a 20" barrel. So basically, don't chop off your barrel if you want shorter length. Simply change to a bullpup for a rifle that is still as short as your chopped rifle, but while still having a full length barrel.
The ergonomics of bullpups are well known to be quite superior to conventional rifle designs. You can easily hold a loaded bullpup in your shoulder due to the weight being closer to your shoulder. Also, after spending years learning the AR-style of rifles, I found that manipulating most bullpups under pressure was alot easier in general. Your arms stay nice and close to the body and you don't even need to look down to find the magwell, or do any work space maneuvers. Some may complain about the controls for a reload not being like an AR, but this is usually from the timer queen crowd.
In terms of specific manipulations, reloads with most bullpups are not going to slow you down. Many people will make vast claims about the difficulty of learning the bullpup platform, yet they can't even shoot properly with their weapon of choice. Like any weapon system, a bullpup takes practice and time. If you think you should just miraculously be able to conduct reloads or correct malfunctions fast without going through baby steps and time, you're high. Once you learn how these certain bullpups operate, like the AUG or the IWI Tavor/X95, manipulations are a breeze compared to a conventional rifle. However, there are a few rifles like the Chinese QBZ95, British SA80, and FN2000 that give absolute validity to bullpups not being conducive to reasonably quick manipulations. These three examples either have no bolt hold open, have a concealed action that is not easily cleared, or they are just generally unreliable and unwieldy.
PROPRIETARY THIS OR THAT
In most bullpups, you are going to see proprietary magazines, parts, etc. Almost all bullpups are not only unique when compared to conventional rifles, but also when compared to other bullpups. The AUG and FAMAS for example use proprietary magazines. They are generally considered and recognized as being poor choices for militaries of today due to this limitation in compatibility with AR-style rifles, which have become quite popular. The FAMAS F1 did indeed have issues with the long term service life of their magazines, but the AUG has actually done well at being more reliable than AR-style magazines in terms of long term service and durability. However, the AUG actually does have a stock available to offer the user the ability to use STANAG magazines. I however have found that this stock only seems to work reliably with a certain magazine, still restricting the user regardless.
As far as the subject of parts is concerned, obviously not many weapons out there are going to share the same construction due to patents. Also, the designers will generally have a different idea of what a good rifle design should look like. They will have a different idea on how the gas system should work, or if there should even be a bolt hold open or not. Each bullpup is going to be different, but the majority of them are going to be very similar in terms of how you operate them, just because many of the ones available today were specifically designed in the modern era. This means most will hold the bolt open after the last shot, will have a bolt release, and will have a rail system for all your Gucci gadgets.
It is common for people who have a simple understanding of mechanical things to claim that having the chamber near your face is DANGEROUS. This is something I have not found to be all too credible unless we are talking about switching shoulders and firing left handed. In that instance, you are very likely to be dissatisfied with the results. However, as far as this fear that the rifle is going to KABOOM with your face on the source of detonation, I have yet to hear about this being a true issue. However, I have experienced the heat from my RIA VRBP100 ejecting a case that flashed while out of the chamber, as seen in the photo above. It reminded me of shooting a flintlock rifle, but with a bit more uncomfortable surprise.
For those concerned about out-of-battery detonations or slam fires, most bullpups like the AUG have safety systems that will absolutely prevent such a thing from ever happening. I would go as far as to say that the AUG is a safer rifle to use than any AR-style rifle due to it's bolt safety system and spring loaded firing pin.
Let's face it, most bullpups are probably never going to win a hair-trigger competition, even with modifications. However, this does not mean that all bullpups have triggers that result in the user being absolutely incapable of shooting accurately. I would go as far as to say that those complaining about the trigger weight on most of these bullpups still have yet to learn how to shoot well in general without some technological crutch.
With rifles such as the AUG, I have gotten nothing but good feedback and surprise on how crisp and light (~5 pounds) the trigger feels. The Tavor I had was noted as having a heavy trigger, but without being able to completely notice the weight that a trigger gauge claims. However, there are other rifles out there that have trigger pulls that have a long travel such as the QBZ95. My VRBP100 has a trigger that feels like it is about 7 pounds, but is realistically gauged at about 10-12 pounds. Given that it has very little travel, the weight seems much lower than the weight you will draw from a gauge. Hmmmm, perhaps there is a reason I don't care too much about trigger gauges, but rather the feel during a proper trigger pull.
BUT THE MILITARY....
Oh my, I cannot tell you how much it grinds my gears when people talk about militaries giving up their bullpups in favor of conventional rifles. These individuals using this argument must seriously have an inability to understand common sense. Governments and politics dictate military form, size, and shape. Even the type of weapons are going to be based on political bean-counter decisions. The militaries giving up their bullpup rifles were dragged into using foreign bullpup designs because of politics rather than function, such as New Zealand.
Some countries like France actually created their own bullpup and decided to go with a foreign made rifle to save cost in production of rifles and components, but also ammo. The FAMAS had to use steel cased ammo to function reliably with it's lever-delayed blowback. For decades France worked well with this and their own domestic weapons and ammo. France even started distributing their F2 version which used STANAG mags and NATO 5.56, but politics took over shortly thereafter. France now wants to spend less money and therefore is starting to produce less and less of their own firearms and gear, which means they looked to NATO and other countries to fill their weapon, ammo, and gear needs. It had little to do with whether the bullpup design is practical, but more to do with politics and money. France no longer has the pride it used to when it was producing it's own military equipment simply because politics is more important.
However, there are still countries like Britain, Australia, Israel, Ireland, and Austria who adopted bullpups and intend to retain them. In fact, both Australia and Austria have updated their rifles and merely made them more modular, closing the gap between the old designs and the needs of the modern soldiers using them. This is a clear indicator that the bullpup is not outdated and is still quite functional to this day, despite critics who have yet to perfect their own weapons as much as they have perfected their keyboards. I will just leave it at that.
Do It Rite
Alaska-Based Youtube Vlogger, Retired Marine, gun enthusiast, and passionate firearm and gear evaluator.