Review: Kel-Tec RFB — The Ultimate Big Bore Bugout Bullpup

By Will Dabbs published on in Firearms, Reviews

Did you ever notice that looking at a gun is like morphologically analyzing a family member? Little Timmy might have Dad’s ears, Mom’s nose, Uncle Edgar’s dour disposition, or Aunt Edna’s penchant for eating her boogers. He’s his own kid, but the raw material is drawn from a motley well. Likewise, most tactical weapons come from recognized families. Master Stoner or Comrade Kalashnikov beget the lion’s share of them. Those left over hearken from John Moses Browning or one of half a dozen lesser minds. The point is, most modern weapons simply evolved from something simpler. That is just not the case with the Kel-Tec RFB.

Will Dabbs shooting The Kel-Tec RFB from between the car door and frame

Weird, But a Good Kind of Weird

RFB stands for Rifle, Forward-Ejecting Bullpup. Bullpup, for those of you who might be new to the game, means that the action of the gun is located behind the fire controls. The origins of the term purportedly spawned from a diagnosably strange WW2-era Japanese submachine gun called the Experimental Model 2. The legend goes that American Ordnance folk were examining the odd weapon and declared it to be as strange as a bullpup, and the name stuck. The RFB is a 7.62x51mm battle rifle that occupies less space than your typical unadorned AR. It also conquers the Achilles heel of most bullpup combat rifles. It figures out what to do with the empties.

Most bullpup weapons can only be fired off of one shoulder or the other. Swap to your weak hand to shoot around an uncooperative corner, and the gun will spit hot brass into your face. As by definition, half of all the corners on the planet will not be amenable to management on your strong side, this becomes a real boon in a CQB environment.

The RFB employs an ingenious dual extractor system that ejects its rounds forward into a pressed steel ejection tube. A small dimple in the tube prevents empties from sliding backwards and jamming the action. Once about five rounds have been fired, empty cases start to spill out the front of the gun.

Kel-Tec RFB with Winchester ammunition

Tipping the rifle nose down empties the tube. An odd side effect of this system is that when you drain a magazine the last empty cartridge case remains secured to the bolt face by the aforementioned twin extractors. Dropping the bolt on an empty chamber releases that last fired case into the feed chute. In a sea of firearm designs that do things pretty much the same way, it is simply fascinating to see it done so differently.

This unconventional design is nicely sealed against the elements, but it does make it a bit of a chore to clear the rifle visually. Doing so involves locking the action open and then peering into the open magazine well from the bottom. This maneuver takes a little getting used to, but it’s a small price to pay for so much unfiltered awesomeness. The charging handle is readily reversible, and the safety is fully ambidextrous.

The bore and chamber are chrome plated, and the overall workmanship on my test piece is perfect. Recoil is fairly spunky as this is a small rifle firing battle-rifle cartridges, yet it remains thoroughly tolerable. The top rail is long enough for any reasonable optic, and there is an ingenious optional quad rail that screws directly onto the barrel for lights and lasers.

Will Dabbs Sitting in a car window wearing tactical gear shooting the Kel-Tec RFB

The RFB uses any standard metric FAL magazines. Magazine changes are fast and intuitive once you take the measure of the gun. Bullpup triggers are usually mushier than their more conventional counterparts. The unavoidable necessity of a long mechanical linkage connecting the pistol grip with the action typically takes a toll. In the case of the RFB, the trigger is simply well executed. The trigger pull on the test rifle was a bit over six pounds and pleasantly crisp.

I was curiously enraptured with this rifle. The compact envelope makes the weapon imminently maneuverable, and the 7.62x51mm round means not having to say you’re sorry under any imaginable circumstance. The thing’s not cheap, but it is incredibly cool. My copy runs like a scalded ape and is as intriguing as a pretty girl in a pair of boxers (Admit it, it’s a compelling metaphor.) The Kel-Tec RFB is a breed unto itself.

Are you a bullpup fan? Would you use the Kel-Tec RFB as a SHTF gun? Share your answers in the comment section.

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Comments (47)

  • Rick

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    I have a first generation RFB and like yours I have had zero problems. I mounted a leupold 1-4 VXR and it is a wonderful combination. While I have more than one SBR, the Bullpup design is very appealing because you lose nothing to a shorter barrel. A couple of comments asked about an SBR stamp and left hand usage. No stamp because the barrel is over 16 in. And excellent southpaw usage as addressed in the article.

    Reply

  • Jimmy

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    This looks incredible! I have 3 Kel-Tec firearms, and the quality is unbeatable, if this is anything like them, it’s a keeper. Bullpup 7.62×51 isn’t as bad as you’d think to fire, I have a bullpup Mosin Nagant (because why not) that is still manageable.

    Reply

  • Tom Benton

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    I purchased the RDB 5.56 when it hit the market . I have fired it for two years and love the platform. The manual of arms is different for a bullpup and requires a few changes to feel comfortable with the platform. Once adapted, the RDB is a blast. Functions perfectly with standard AR mags. Equiped with a Holosun circle and dot sight it is a pleasure to shoot. I chose a bullpup for home and urban defense. The compact platform allows easy maneuvering within a home while the full length barrel permits full AR velocities. I own an AR pistol and several carbines, but for close quarter encounters, this is the winner hands down. Plus I can run a 30 round magazine and decimate an 8” inch steel target at 100 yards with every round. The only drawback is that a bullpup is not as accurate as a standard AR. So if 200 yards and beyound is your territory
    set up a quality AR. I live in a city. If I am forced to use my firearm to protect my home and family, it will be inside 100 yards, probably 25 yards. There is no other platform that will surpass the bullpup in this scenarion.
    Israelis perfected the Tavor to handle close quarter battles. The Israelis fight every day, they know what they are doing.

    Reply

  • Billy T

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    Kinda stumbled onto the RFB myself. I was in the market for a bullpup, when I saw this gun and thought “why not”.

    Now, it’s one of my favorite rifles, and when paired with a good muzzle brake, I can shoot it just as fast as any 5.56 firearm.

    The biggest problem though is its highly customizable gas system. You gotta find the right setting for the gun to cycle your desired rounds without incident. Given the right amount of prep, the gun would be a beast in anyone’s arsenal.

    Reply

  • James

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    I own one in FDE. To clarify, the “gen 2″ versions of this bullpup have a salt bath nitrided chamber and bore. Only the very first production rifles featured chrome lining.

    Reply

  • Waterhammer

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    Yes, its is a compelling metaphor. Thanks for a great article! But I’m not sure how available additional FAL mags are going to be in a SHTF situation, and if on the move avoiding SHTF style death while chasing down wounded game I prefer a lighter ammunition. I’ll still just stick to my IWI Tavor with the standard AR mags and a much lighter and controllable 5.56 round.

    Reply

    • DFWTX

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      SHTF scenarios vary. Generally speaking, if you’re having to scavenge magazines, you’ve either made the mistake of not preparing enough magazines or you’re away from home without enough magazines. In the case of the former, preparation would be the answer. In the case of the latter, you’re more likely to run out of ammunition than to require replacing the magazines you brought with you.

      I would probably agree that a much lighter, semi-auto rifle that is chambered 5.56 and using standard AR-15 magazines would make more sense in most circumstances. However, there is a place for a .308/7.62×51 rifle, particularly in situations where larger game/predators might be encountered.

      Reply

  • D.J.U.

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    This reads like it should be standered equipment for our military when in closed quarters or urban settings that require their skill. If this is a reliable weapons platform fedral, state and local law enforcement would benefit from it as much as the military. One question that came to my mind was does this require an sbr stamp? It seems pretty short. Next ? Is what does or will this platform price at.

    Reply

    • Mark Rutkowski

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      The actual barrel length is over 16 inches so no stamp needed. Hence the stupidity of that law. Ive seen these going for around $1300 on Gunbroker.

      Reply

    • Brandon Deschner

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      I don’t believe it needs a sbr stamp due to the barrel length not being short enough to fit the sbr category. Remember, the barrel hasn’t been shortened, just positioned further back.

      Reply

    • Jeff

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      One note with regard to your concerns on the length. As long as the barrel is “legal” for a rifle, the overall length of the weapon doesn’t matter. Kind of infuriating in a way. The Tavor bullpup is 1/2″ shorter overall than a Sig MPX. You can shoulder the Tavor all day long, but do it with a brace on the Sig, and ATF gets their undies in a twist. The SBR rule really needs to be done away with.

      Reply

    • J

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      Strange how so many Internet commenters, hobbyists and Hollywood types love bullpups, yet when the military performs exhaustive testing under realistic conditions, the bullpups almost always wash out quickly…

      Reply

    • DFWTX

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      It has more to do with ergonomics in general. Magazine changes, malfunction clearing, and offhanded/left-handed shooting remain the shortcomings of almost all bullpups. However, once adopted, any weapon system that that remains commonly issued will have more improvements (e.g. Steyr AUG, IWI Tavor). The AUG improved into EF88 and F90 (side-ejection is still an issue). In the case of the Tavor, the X95 was a greater ergonomic improvement.

      Reply

    • Billy T

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      No, technically the rifle doesn’t fall under the criteria of a “SBR”.

      It’s max length (in my case with muzzle brake) is around 29″; SBRs have an overall length no greater than 26″.

      It’s barrel length is actually 18″. SBRs barrels are less than 16″.

      Reply

    • Jason Rye

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      No sbr required for this. The barrel starts behind the grip/trigger instead of in front of it like on every other non-bullpup firearm out there. That’s one of the best features is the compactness of the whole pkg due to the design.

      Reply

    • Clifffalling

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      @DJU
      18″ or 24″ barrel. Minimum of 26″ over all. MSRP $1900.

      Reply

    • Robert Potter

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      The barrel is 18′ and the weapon is 26′ overall. It was designed to not be classified as an SBR.

      I got mine for $1599 in Ormond Beach a couple of years ago.

      Reply

    • Sapper

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      It would never be replaced into American armed forces for CQB because it’s heavier. And ammo is heavier. When breaching you need fast accurate shots that the m4 can do better than this. Even though my RFB with the sporting barrel that’s 22 inch long is still the same length as a m4.

      Also its more expensive and can’t be mass produced like other gun makers like FN or browning or colt. They are based in Florida though. And fully made in USA. But. All the military and police have m4. And nato 5.56 mags. So just like the military has legitimately been trying for years. Nothing that has been designed has a significant advantage over the m4 to offset the massive cost to replace it all over the world.

      It does not require a stamp because the barrel on the stock gun is still 16 inch. Just as how
      My f2000 and p90 are legal

      The cost can run 1.5 to 1.7 from what I’ve seen. So in same realm as most bullpups.

      However as much as I love the rifle. One massive drawback not included at all in this review is it’s gas system. Because of the bullpup design in a much larger Caliber. There isn’t room for a buffer spring. Meaning you have a 60. Yes 60 position adjustable gas system to compensate. Which you have to fine tune so you don’t blow the bolt back too hard or too little. Not really hard to do but. You have to shoot the same anmo through it unless you want To adjust a little. Also as the gun wears into its groove and becomes smoother. You’ll have to check it’s gas system. Every now and again. Meaning to discharge a round. Annnd that’s why no one will pick this up for LE/military use. It’s super tough though.

      But all in all I love mine. Have eotech and magnifying scope. With under rails for fire grip.

      Would recommend

      Reply

    • Marc Cruz

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      This looks like a sporter model, which makes the barrel 18 inches in length. So by the letter of the law, it isn’t a SBR weapon. Sadly, there will be some law enforcement officers or just nosy people who think it is, just because of the portion that they can see. The beauty of the bull pup design is that the barrel starts just a little in front of the magazine, just like in standard rifle configurations.

      Reply

    • Chris

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      The RFB is 26.1″ in overall length with an 18″ barrel and holds 20 rounds standard

      Generally fetches around $1500 on the market

      Reply

    • Dave

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      From where the chamber (the breech where the bullet is loaded) to the muzzle, the barrel is 16 inches long. So it is not an SBR.

      Reply

    • Sgt_Rock

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      No stamp required. The barrel is a full 16 inches long, from the reciever to the end of the barrel, there by avoiding the SBR requirements.

      Reply

    • Marine armorer

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      It is a bullpup, so tge barrel is still a full 18in ideal for 308/7.62×51 instead of a stock behind the action, the back of the a tion is essentially made into the stock. European countries have used a similar action in their main infantry rifle. A year or so after this came out the USMC was very interested but it went nowhere. If you are clearing houses with this and have a malfunction, you’d simply draw a secondary weapon like the pistol on your side or maybe the shotgun on your back a remedial action drill would take to long. Where as a ar or ak type rifle with proper training can take less than 2 second to get back in the fight. One con to bullpups is, they are incredibly hard to shoot accurately, standing, and at distance. There isnt enough forward weight to hold it steady and the sight radius is shot. Take a rested shot and this will be in line with the accuracy of a service grade ar type rifl.e

      Reply

    • Lang Rogers

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      The RFB does not require a stamp as it is over the required length of 26.5”. It is a great feeling rifle although I have not had the opportunity to fire one. If I’m not mistaken, the price point is around $1300 to $1500.

      Reply

  • Michael Kimberlin

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    Be convenient to have more stats on this weapon in the article, as well as more pictures.

    Reply

  • karl

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    Sounds good-but how friendly is it for us southpaws?,what is length of pul?-I need 14.5″ l.o.p. to keep my thumb/sights out of my left retina attached eye?

    Reply

    • Mark Rutkowski

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      Shells eject out the front so its great for southpaws.

      Reply

    • Robert Potter

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      It is perfectly ambidextrous. All controls are mirror imaged on both sides. As the article states, the charging handle can be flipped to the other side in about 30 seconds.

      My LOP measures 14.25′. If that is too short for you, a recoil pad could be put on the butt stock. That might be a welcome addition anyways. After several magazines, you start to feel it pretty well.

      Reply

    • Chris

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      The RFB is the most southpaw friendly 308 on the market. Forward ejection, ambidextrous controls, except the charging handle which you can put on whichever side you want in about 10 seconds. I prefer mine on the right side even though I am right handed.

      Reply

    • Marine armorer

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      If you read the article it is fully ambidextrous even the brass falls out the front. This isnt a trap gun, so length of pull is irrelevant. If you are using a zero magnification red dot you can stick it way out on the end and a 9ft dude could shoot it. Im 6,1 with arms to match and a ar style 1-4,1-6,or 1-8 would be totally fine with id say up to a 6ft 6 guy. If you are holding the rifle properly and you mount, bore site and the look down the rifle as if you were shooting it, you will know how much “eye relief” you have. If your a Giant with ape arms use a integral scope mount rings combo that is off set. Nooo biggy. I only recommend the style of optics that i have mentioned because that is what the rifle was designed to use, you could also just ad flip up sights till you can afford a optic. I would suggest a 1-8 or 1-6 burris scope with a 308 bullet drop compensating reticle or in my opinion ideally a 3.5 magnification bdc reticle Trijicon ACOG and be able to use the sight day or night without EVER buying a battery. Perfect bug out optic. Any of those is all you need up until recently USMC scout snipers used a fixed 10 and shot a mile and the Russians used a fixed 6 and did fine. Every Marine has qualified at least to 500m in my day with a m16a2 with iron sights, now with a ACOG.

      Reply

  • Secundius

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    I don’t know about that! I have a Waffen-Gregor BAR II Bullpup chambered in .30-06, with 22-inch barrel and still measures ~31-inches in length…

    Reply

    • Marc Cruz

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      But I thought the Waffen Gregor is a kit that turns a full size BAR into a bullpup configuration. Not quite the same as a bullpup originally designed that way. That, and the BAR was quite the hefty, lovely beast to begin with.

      Reply

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