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.
Reportedly, the select-fire “Tavor Assault Rifle, 21st century,” aka TAR-21, was named after Israel’s Mount Tabor, a strategic site in Israel’s lower Galilee region. It is believed by many Christians to be the site of the Transfiguration of Jesus.
The Israelis began developing the rifle two decades ago to fight in urban combat situations, especially when dismounting from vehicles and shooting on the move in and around buildings. Bullpup rifles have an undeniable plus: their short overall lengths, a result of having the action and magazine located behind the trigger in the buttstock, offer room-clearing maneuverability and balanced weight distribution. Overall, a bullpup is about three-quarters the length of many other battle rifles chambered for 5.56 NATO.
When fitted with a 16.5-inch-long barrel, this hot new gun measures only 26.1 inches in overall length, about the same as a 10-inch-barrel AR-15 SBR with its stock collapsed — and the Tavor isn’t NFA controlled. In contrast, a Ruger Mini-Thirty with an 18-inch-long barrel is 37.5 inches OAL. One of many M4 AR-15s, the Stag Arms Model 2T with its 16-inch barrel stretches out to 32.25 inches overall.
Other Tavors come with 18-inch barrels (TSB18 and TSFD18, wherein the “FD” means Flat Dark Earth), and other 16-inch models include the TSFD16, the TSB16L (black left-handed), and the TSIDF16, which comes with a Mepro-21 reflex sight. Pricing on all these models is the same save for the sight-supplied version, which comes in at $2,599.
Because of their build quality, it’s easy to see why there’s a lot of excitement about the Tavors. The mil-spec barrels are chrome-lined, cold-hammer-forged CrMoV (chrome-moly-vanadium) tubes with six grooves and 1:7 RH twists. They use standard AR-15/M16 magazines, and the action holds open on an empty magazine. As befits a combat rifle which needs to fit every possible soldier, it has ambidextrous configuration and operation, and optional left-hand-ejecting bolts for 5.56 NATO (TSB16L) and 5.45x39mm are available.
The Tavors come with integral folding adjustable backup iron sights with a tritium front post, integral ambidextrous front and rear quick detachable sling swivel receptacles, an integral rubber recoil pad, and a body constructed of high-strength impact-modified polymer. The polymer shell, the metal parts being treated for corrosion resistance, and the long-stroke piston operation promise low-trouble operation. And, very important to some buyers, Tavors are assembled in the U.S. from Israeli and U.S.-manufactured parts.
As a shooter, what I want to know is: How does the Tavor stack up against other bullpups and self-defense rifles? I compared the Tavor to three other 5.56 NATO bullpups I’ve tested: the Steyr AUG/A3 SA USA Bullpup Rifle; the Microtech Small Arms Research (MSAR) STG-556; and the FN FS2000 Tactical.
One of the problems with AUG-bullpups is, that without modification, the ejection ports would send spent cartridge casings into the face of a left-handed shooter. Of course, in that case the bolt and ejection-port cover can be reversed in the AUG/MSAR. In contrast, the FS2000’s design pushes spent casings out a port on the front of the rifle. The Tavor ejects forward and slightly upward from the port located in the middle of the buttstock.
On the Tavor, there are two QD swivel mounts located on each side, and the charging handle and safety can be swapped to either side, and the magazine release can be manipulated by righties or lefties. Thus, the Tavor can be fired from either shoulder, but it’s better to take advantage of its ambi nature and configure it to eject from the side of receiver opposite the shooter. To change ejection side, you’ll need a new bolt, which comes in a separate kit with a barrel wrench.
When I previously shot the bullpups, I fitted them with an Insight Tech MRDS compact optic and shot them off the bench at 50 yards. Ammunition was Monarch 223-stamped 55-grain full metal jacket boattail ammo, Federal 223 Rem. 55-gr. FMJ BP223BL, and a 62-grain FMJ cartridge from American Tactical. The Tavor was shot with an EOTech XPS2-0 Holographic Weapon Sight and what ammo I could find enough of and afford, Brown Bear (55-grain hollowpoint AB223HP), HPR (55-grain full metal jacket 223055FMJ-R), and Fiocchi (55-grain full metal jacket boattail).
Off the bench, the Tavor was middle-of-the-pack accurate compared to the earlier bullpups. It shot average group sizes at 50 yards (five shots) of 1.4 inches with the HPR rounds, 1.6 inches with the Fiocchi, and 2.0 inches with the Brown Bear. At the same distance, the MSAR fired 0.7-inch groups with the Federal, 1.1-inch groups with the AT rounds, and 1.7-inch groups with the Monarch.
In particular, I didn’t enjoy shooting the Tavor and FN off a rest because their heights, rounded forearms, and buttstock shapes made getting a comfortable position more difficult than with the AUG/MSAR. Sandbags arranged with a V-shaped crease in front and a sandsock under the butt worked much better with the Tavor. Using ProMag 10-round magazines also made bench shooting a lot easier.
For the action portion of the test, I posted an IPSC-P target at 7 yards and engaged with two shots to a rectangular zone at center mass, and then a third shot to an upper zone, clearing one 30-round magazine.
Start position was holding the dot about 4 inches below the center-mass A zone with the safety on and commencing on an audible start signal. A perfect run was two hits inside the bottom zone (20 shots total in 10 runs) and one shot in the top zone (10 shots total in 10 runs), which the Tavor delivered. Elapsed times were comparable to the other bullpups, but slower than with an AR equipped with a better trigger.
During the bench and action tests, I found that the Tavor can’t be babied. The heavy trigger (11.75 pounds, sometimes trending above the pull weight of a Lyman digital scale) requires an aggressive pull, twice what many stock ARs offer, and certainly less than what an aftermarket AR trigger can produce. Even so, the Tavor had a nominally better release and reset than the FS2000 (10.4 pounds), AUG’s 10.1-pound pull, and the heavy and creepy 11.1-pound STG-556 trigger.
Reliability with a variety of ammo and magazines, including some double-mag assemblies, was flawless with the Tavor.
Elsewhere, the bullpup design moves the center of gravity of the rifle closer to the users’ body, which should provide more instinctive aiming and improved acquisition time to target. I found that to be true for all the ‘pups, but whether it’s better than your AR or AK will depend on you and your rifle.
With a little familiarization, reloads were very fast. Even though the magwell is under the buttstock, you can index your chest and shoulder to the gun so you can drop a mag with the ambi release while holding a fresh magazine, insert the loaded mag, and instantly hit the adjacent bolt release, all without necessarily dropping the Tavor from the shoulder. You also have enough control of the gun with the front hand and shoulder to retain the empty magazine during reloading.
Like other bullpups derived from military arms, the IWI Tavor is a specialized rifle that’s asked to do a lot of difficult jobs. Many self-defense shooters will like its hardy construction, ease of use, maneuverability, and reliability.