We’ve written about the Tavor before, so I won’t go into the technical details. The Tavor looks and feels futuristic.
Posts Tagged ‘bullpup’
Earlier in January someone leaked a product sheet for two new Kel-Tec bullpup rifles named the RDB and M43. I heard Kel-Tec was pretty ticked off about the leak, but the flier circulated the gun blogs quickly. I wondered if maybe Kel-Tec was mad because the rifles didn’t exist, but sure enough, Kel-Tec unveiled prototypes of the M43 and RDB at SHOT Show 2014.
If the AR platform has a challenger going forward, it may not be the AK. Although not new, the bullpup design affords the versatility and shootability of an AR with the same length barrel, but an overall shorter length rifle. The bullpup seems to offer all of the advantages without any of the disadvantages. Last year, IWI saw success with its bullpup design—the Tavor. For 2014, Desert Tech is introducing its own bullpup—the Micro Dynamic Rifle (MDR).
The recently available Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) Tavor SAR, a bullpup rifle chambered in 5.56 NATO, is creating quite a stir among gun cognoscenti. Actual counter prices for Tavors, listed at $1,999 MSRP, are running inside a 10% markdown window from MSRP, which means that the guns are selling for a premium. It wouldn’t surprise me to hear that in some areas the Tavors are selling for MSRP. I had the loan of a Tavor TSB16 recently. Its owner bought the gun in April for $1,850 plus sales tax, or just north of $2,000 roll out.
Admittedly, I’ve never been a huge fan of bullpups. It is more than just the way they look. Much of the bullpup market relegates itself to badly fitting aftermarket conversions that take a fair amount of dremeling and hammering to make a proper fit. Even after you pick the polymer bits out of your teeth, the result usually looks less than stellar. However, just like most situations in the gun world, there are exceptions. Some of the bullpup style rifles that were born bullpups, have proven themselves in combat for the last three decades. The Steyr AUG, the FAMAS, and even that annoying SA80 in the L85-A2 variant have a decent reputation as rugged and superb firearms. If time and combat has proven the bullpup as a viable option, what can we expect to see from manufacturers? I figured it was just a matter of time until someone came up with something unique, and Micor Defense did exactly that.
Not everyone feels the need for fifteen shot capacity of the KSG. Some people however want shorter length for the tight confines of police cruisers and other vehicles. Enter the super-shorties from Keltec.
The first photos have surfaced of a new rimfire carbine made by Tanfoglio in Italy. It’s a bullpup design and will come in two flavors, .22LR and .22 WMR. Said to be fully reversible for left hand or right-handed shooters, it weighs just 4.5 pounds.
Among the most noteworthy recent handgun designs, two stand out through their original technical solutions. Mars autoloading pistol of 1900. But that’s all very recent history as far as gun designs go. It turns out that the concept of a bullpup handgun with a very low bore axis goes back much further.
This percussion revolver fires from the bottom chamber and it is a bullpup, so it is effectively a distant ancestor of both the Boberg and the Chiappa designs. Not bad for a weapon patented 154 years ago!
Having had the KSG for a year now, I’d like to provide a review to those who are considering it for themselves. Like most Kel-Tec designs, this 12-guage bullpup is unorthodox. It improves on conventional pump shotguns in a number of ways. Let’s look at the features first, then the actual performance.
The shotgun is short, just tenth inch over the minimum legal length. That means that a police officer can sling it across his chest and still sit behind the wheel in a car. The long gun becomes instantly available for firing out of the car window or for dismounted use. The center of balance is quite close to the centrally located pistol grip, allowing one-handed control. With the pivot point in the center, muzzle rise is greatly reduced as well. Most of the recoil energy goes straight back and is well moderated by the thick recoil pad. The KSG is easy to manage even for people with little upper body strength because much of the weight is borne by the body and not by the arms.
The cylinder bore barrel is 18.5-inches long. The retaining nut can be replaced with the optional choke tube adapter. The KSG is still shorter than the typical police shotgun with a 14-inch barrel, delivering higher performance with less muzzle flash and no need for a $200 tax stamp. The gun will feed and chamber 3-inch ammunition but I think 2.75-inch makes more sense to get higher capacity and lower recoil.
All controls are large and ambidextrous. The safety button moves side to side, making accidental activation by recoil impossible. All controls can be reached from the firing grip, safety and magazine tube switch with the thumb, slide release with the index finger.
Sights and other accessories go on the Picatinny rails above the barrel and on the slide. Most people put folding iron sights and possibly a red dot at the top, and a light, laser and a vertical foregrip on the forend. Keltec includes front and rear hand stops for the slide. Because the forward hand is placed further back than on a conventional shotgun, a vertical foregrip is very helpful for getting enough leverage for racking the slide. For low light use, an MVM14 or PVS14 night vision monocular can be placed behind the red dot. The eye relief is sufficient to avoid being hit on recoil. I recommend gluing a neoprene pad to the top of the receiver for a more comfortable cheek-weld.
The rear sling mount is integrated into the stock, and the robust metal front mounts are placed on each side of the muzzle. I have not had any problems with the sling going forward of the muzzle. The entire shotgun is quite solidly constructed despite the light weight. The sample I have has seen about 1000 rounds, including much buckshot and slug.
The use of two magazines turned out to be a good idea. Tube magazines are not heavy, and using two allows much lighter magazine springs in each. They also allow you to segregate ammunition types, such as slug and buck, or 3-inch turkey loads for distance and 2.75-inch light loads for closer range. Placing the selector switch in the middle permits loading directly to the chamber. The absence of auto switching between tubes has a regulatory advantage: the KSG is legal in all 50 states.
How does it work? In a word, well. For one, it is quite accurate with slugs. Using a red dot sight, it’s easy to place regular rifled slugs into paper grocery bag (about the size of the torso target) out to 50 yards. Recoil is on par with a somewhat heavier Remington 870. For wind shooting, I found that ghost ring sights obscure the sight picture too much, as do most red dots other than EOTech. The solution: fold the sights down and point it like any other shotgun. The KSG points very well. The forend orientation is consistent enough that laser sight installed on the rail keeps zero consistently.
My example works fine with both lethal and riot control ammunition. This is where pumps are still ahead of autoloaders. Brisk cycling is recommended for running low-power roll crimped cartridges like Fiocchi tracer shot. The trigger re-sets just fine, the problem reported at 2011 SHOT show has long since been corrected. The trigger, by the way, is very good—Kel-Tec has bullpup trigger design figured out well.
The one weak side of any bullpup is the reloading. Most people are not used to loading a tube magazine with the support hand. The plus to this shotgun is that you can reload it while still shouldered. The minus is the relatively small space inside the receiver for the hand, the shell, and the two tube magazine openings. Kel-Tec built in raceways to guide the ammunition to the magazine openings, but many shooters find it easier to hold the shotgun vertically for reloading. On the plus side, two seven-shot magazines and one in the chamber add up to the total of 15. Very few real-life gunfights go past that number. My one complaint so far is that the shell latches on the magazines are fairly thin and not comfortable to the touch. Doesn’t matter when loading the shotgun leisurely or wearing gloves, but the latch presses into unprotected fingers during rapid reloads. “Fire one, load one” drill practiced with regular shotguns is slower with the KSG. Fortunately, it carries twice the ammunition load of most riot guns and so the user can concentrate on watching the enemy and spend less time keeping the shotgun topped off.
The KSG is a significant evolutionary advance over conventional pump shotguns. It has a very different manual of arms, so first-time users often look awkward with it. The same would have happened if a Springfield musket user was given a Spencer or a Winchester rifle without an explanation of its controls. Once the controls are familiar, the advantages of short length, high magazine capacity and effective recoil management become evident. The shotgun is as comfortable to left-handed shooters as to the right-handed, and works as well for those of short stature and slight build. While many formed strong opinions based on the photographs and videos, almost everyone who actually shot this weapon really likes it.
PS: From the time the prototypes were released, the design has been improved in the details. Magazines now have witness holes to show load status, the slide release is larger and moves up and down instead of front to back, and the raceways have been added to guide cartridges to the magazines. Some of the photos here show the older modifications.
In Bushmaster’s product line-up, the M17-S bullpup was always the odd one. It shared a few components with the AR-15 rifle, but remained more of a low-volume curiosity for its entire 13-year product run. This rifle has its origins in the Leader T2 rifle mentioned last week. In 1986 the Australian Army invited bids to replace the L1A1 rifle. Charles St.George submitted an improved select-fire version of the Leader T2 designated the M18. The M18 used a short stroke piston and a gas regulator, with the non-reciprocating charging handle, bolt carrier and two action rods of the T2. The plunger ejector was changed to a fixed ejector like the Stoner 63. A folding stock was added. Beta light sighting system was to be standard. The Australian army eventually adopted the Steyr AUG instead and produced it under a license as F88.
Charles re-designed the trigger mechanism and converted the M18 into a bullpup rifle named the ART30. Once fully developed it was licensed to Bushmaster as M17-S. Probably to make use of more common parts, the U.S. version used AR-15 type plunger and a further altered trigger mechanism. A heavier extruded receiver added noticeable extra weight. The lower receiver was also altered in a way which made stripping and removal of the bolt carrier assembly more difficult. Rudimentary emergency open sights were built into the “carry handle”, but it was expected that an optical sight would be used. At the time, the reliance on optics for a defensive rifle was considered a flaw by most.
Partly as the result of those changes, the rifle came out somewhat heavy, with a spongy trigger and tended to retain heat. The heavy weight was mitigated by the excellent balance and very low felt recoil. With right-hand only ejection, it was also an awkward fit for left-handed users. Since bullpups were new, few training materials existed and most shooters viewed the manual of arms as awkward. One major plus of the M17-S was its use of the standard STANAG magazine. During the ban years (1994-2004), AUG magazines were extremely expensive, while AR-15 magazines remained at least somewhat affordable. The rifle itself cost about two-thirds of an AR-15 because the design allowed cost-effective manufacturing.
Recently, I test-fired an M17-S modified by K&M Aerospace. The modification started with ventilating the receiver to reduce weight by half a pound and to improve air flow. Combined with the already thick barrel, the ventilation greatly improved the sustained fire capability. Use of a vertical foregrip further insulated the support hand from the barrel heat. The “carry handle” was removed and replaced with two rails, permitting the use of standard AR-15 optics and other accessories. The longer rail also provided useful separation between the front and rear backup sights. Because of the central balance of the original rifle, addition of accessories didn’t make the gun too front heavy. Fired with GRSC 1-4x scope set to 4x, this modified rifle shot at 2MOA from prone with plain American Eagle 55gr ball. Surprisingly, the mechanical noise of the operating parts was not noticeable at all.
The major issues with the M17-S —weight, trigger quality and awkward take-down—have been addressed in the next rifle designed by St.George. I will cover it in the next chapter of this tale.
On the way to SHOT Show last year, I met Charles St.George. I didn’t know who he was, but somehow the Bushmaster M17 came up in conversation and turned out that he was the original designer. It was therefore no surprise that the rifle he displayed at the 2011 show looked like a very brawny M17. The Leader 50, while internally quite different from the M17 used the same basic extruded receiver design as the .223 bullpup. But the internals of the upcoming 50BMG rifle were based on a design of which I had not heard before, the Leader T2.
Charles St.George was born on Malta but moved to England with his parents at a young age. As a child, he had a Colt Peacemaker replica which even came with full-size dummy cases loaded with caps. The gun itself was precision die cast from zinc and Charles played with it until the toy literally fell apart. When his father’s regiment, the First Cheshire, got posted to Libya, Charles tried to replicate the zinc toy in steel. After a month of work with a hacksaw and a file, he had something only slightly resembling the intended form. “The experiment helped build arm muscles, at least!” he joked.
Upon returning to England, he decided to build a .303 semi auto rifle. Scotland Yard sent an Inspector from the Hampshire Constabulary to interview me at home before granting permission. Perhaps having a military father helped. The ammunition had to be kept at the Bisley Rifle Range and used cartridges logged in a register. The rifle he built used a simple tilting lock that locked the breech bolt into the receiver tube. A friend helped machine some of the parts, the rest were fashioned by hand. At the range it would not fire. In retrospect, Charles says that was lucky, for the rifle would have blown up. He knew nothing about metals, heat treatment or the designing of real guns.
As an adult, Charles immigrated to Australia started to tinker again. He built .223 semi auto rifle prototypes until he had a beautiful select-fire weapon with an aluminum receiver somewhat like the AR15 and a non reciprocating charging handle like the L1A1. Long stroke gas system used a piston pinned to a tube which housed the return spring and held to the bolt carrier by a wedge held in place by the cam track in the receiver, a triangular breech bolt and wooden handguards. The design eventually entered production around 1978 as the Leader T2. In use, this gun has particularly mild recoil, especially when compared to an AR15. Forgotten Weapons shows the T2 disassembly process on video. They also feature photos of a pre-production sample with a wood stock made before the Zytel furniture was ready.
The Leader T2 production went smoothly because the gun was designed from the start to be extremely efficient. The receiver was based on a 16 gauge steel square tube. Dupont provided the expertise for the Zytel parts, which had not previously been used on an assault rifle. The triangular bolt design (subsequently used on the Serbu rifle, the R4 and Barrett 82A1/M107) simplified the barrel extension and the bolt broaching process. The barrel blanks from Parker Hale were rifled with a simple button rifling machine also designed by Charles. It rifled a barrel blank in about 20 seconds. While T2 resembles an AR180 superficially, it is even simpler inside. All major parts can be removed for cleaning in seconds and stay captive to simplify the take-down. It used common STANAG (M16) magazines.
T2 was shown to represenatives of Italy, Portugal and Oman. About 2000 were eventually exported to the US and a few to Africa. By the time the 1989 and 1994 bans in the US caused the cessation of the production of the T2, Charles St.George had already moved on. His next rifle is familiar to Americans as the Bushmaster M17. We will talk about that design next week.