Compact Powerhouses: The Best Bullpup Rifles in 2023
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The bullpup rifle and shotgun have been staple firearms since the early 1900s, impressing enthusiasts from military forces to home defense users.
These compact firearms can perform as well as any full-length rifle for many tasks, but — as with any firearm configuration — there are both pros and cons to the bullpup orientation.
We’ll go through some of the best bullpup rifles on the market today as well as some background knowledge on what these rifles are all about.
In This Article
Bullpup Rifle Comparison
Below is my list of the best bullpup rifles. I list the best choices in terms of value, performance, design, and cost.
Click on the name to head to the product page, read reviews and check prices or skip ahead to the list of rifles.
Our Top Picks
Displaying 1 - 1 of 5
Fit & Finish
$1950.99 at Guns.comJump to Details
A versatile, iconic bullpup rifle known for its maneuverability, modularity, and performance, with some minor caveats.
$1952.99 at Palmetto StateJump to Details
A proven performer, with carbine length and durability in a compact bullpup design, ideal for tight spaces and ambidextrous use.
$4924 at Guns.comJump to Details
A shorter, lighter bullpup rifle for long-distance shooting with manageable recoil, simple design, and single-shot capacity. Perfect for mobile shooting.
$1816.99 at Guns.comJump to Details
A compact, ambidextrous bullpup rifle with unique features, including sliding trigger and top-mounted magazine, known for stopping power and mobility.
$1699.99 at Palmetto StateJump to Details
A fun, if imperfect, rifle based on the Croatian VHS, offers a compact design, ambidextrous controls, and good accuracy, but limited aftermarket support.
Bullpup Rifle Reviews
1. Steyr AUG
2023 Awards & Rankings
Since its introduction in the 1970s, the Steyr AUG (German “Armee Universal Gewehr” — or “universal army rifle”) has been an iconic incarnation of the bullpup, eventually being adopted by more than 20 national military forces across the globe.
The future is now!
Technically the Steyr Aug A3 M1, the bullpup masterpiece is consistently among the top-of-the-line when it comes to 5.56mm bullpups and is one of the best bullpup assault rifles on the planet.
The rifle is known for its versatility in excelling in a variety of roles, maneuverability with a fully ambidextrous set-up, modularity, and lightweight — thanks to the polymer and alloy components that make up the majority of the furniture — helping it tip the scales at around nine pounds and 28.15 inches in length.
A beautifully modern performer…
The AUG A3 M1 Rifle has softer recoil despite the bullpup orientation and full length barrel due to the ring mechanism being contained in the rear of the stock. It’s a beautifully modern rifle that lets you customize it to fit your preferences.
The AUG’s 16-inch heavy barrel gives you the optimal length for 5.56mm ammunition — all while 8 inches shorter than an M4 carbine. It also vents gas by default, meaning it’ll eat any ammo you can find and run just as well with underpowered ammunition. The top Picatinny rail also gives you more than enough room for mounting optics of any sort and mounting accessories.
With its versatility and remarkable precision, the Steyr AUG is easily one of the best bullpup rifles you can find, adopted by law enforcement and military operators alike.
…with some caveats.
As with any bullpup rifle, the trigger is connected to a transfer bar, then to the hammer/sear, which can make for a spongy feel and heavier than a conventional rifle.
Also, while the AUG’s unique flash-hider does a great job of eliminating muzzle flash (which is good considering how close the muzzle is to your face) the threaded barrel uses a proprietary metric thread pitch, technically M13x1 LH, which means if you want to put a can on the AUG you’ll need to shell out for an adapter or order a 1/2-28 threaded from Steyr.
Speaking of suppression — when you suppress an AUG, the rifle is still rather loud because the excess gas generated by a suppressor will vent out to gas regulator.
Not a deal-breaker for most, but you don’t get innovative omelets without breaking a few eggs. Any gun owner would be excited to have one in their safe.
2. IWI Tavor X95 Bullpup Rifle Bullpup Rifle
2023 Awards & Rankings
The IWI Tavor 16” Bullpup Rifle is an Israeli semi-automatic bullpup assault rifle that has, since 2009, been the standard issue weapon of the Israeli Military. It’s one of the more widely adopted bullpups amongst fighting forces.
Designed to provide carbine length with the muzzle velocity of traditional firearms — all while just 26-inches long with a 16.5-inch cold-hammer-forged chrome-lined barrel — the IWI Tavor X95 is a proven performer in the world of modern bullpup rifles.
The bullpup concept uses a reinforced polymer stock material and trigger guard which is durable and light –helping to keep the Tavor around 7.9 lbs and making maneuvering tight spaces quick and snappy.
This small footprint also minimizes user silhouette and maximizes effectiveness when navigating corners.
The Tavor x95 has ejection ports on both sides of the action, and while reconfiguring this for left or right-handed use requires partial disassembly, it’s a fantastic feature.
3. KEL-TEC RFB Bullpup Rifle
Well known for their bullpup shotgun, the Kel-Tec KSG, their RFB bullpup rifle, or “Rifle, Forward-ejection, Bullpup” uses a novel approach to handling hot brass. To prevent spent cartridges from being ejected into the face of left-handed shooters, the RFB has a patented forward-ejection system that uses an over-barrel tube that ejects spent cases forward, over the rifle‘s handguard, and away from the user. This is different from their RDB bullpup, or “rifle downward ejecting bullpup” which drop spent casing directly down.
The empty cases will sit in the chute until the barrel is tilted downwards, they’re pushed out by subsequent cases, or the charging handle is activated. The cases drop to the left of the barrel when they leave the chute.
In addition to the usability of the forward-ejecting system, the RFB is lightweight at only 6.9 lbs making it one of the lightest ambidextrous bullpup guns on the market.
4. Barrett M99 Bullpup Rifle
Known for its oversize pills and ability to hit targets more than a mile away, the Barrett Model 99 tries to make the normally unwieldy Barrett .50 calibers a bit more manageable. Not only is it about a foot shorter than other Barrett rifles but it’s roughly ten pounds lighter than the semi-auto Barrett M82.
While this rifle is certainly on the large side when it comes to bullpup guns (barrel length will be an issue for anything other than long-distance shooting) and is limited to a single-shot capacity, the M99 is perfect for long-distance shooting while still being fairly mobile. Plus, this rifle uses a huge muzzle brake to help reduce muzzle rise and recoil and has a remarkably simple design with very few moving parts for the ultimate in reliable long-distance dependability.
5. FN PS90 Bullpup Rifle
2023 Awards & Rankings
The FN PS90 has a unique, innovative bullpup rifle design that performs as incredibly as it looks.
Notable features of this bullpup are the unique sliding trigger, top-mounted magazine, and bottom ejection port.
This is a completely ambidextrous rifle which makes it incredibly versatile and was built from FN’s desire for a personal defense weapon (PDW) that was compact enough for land and air vehicle crews with the power of an assault rifle at 150–200 yards. Although the top mounted magazine and assocaited mag release may time some time to get used to.
To meet these requirements, the P90 uses a unique 5.7x28mm round, which is slightly larger than the standard 9mm but delivers an initial muzzle velocity of 850 m/sec – on par with the 7.62x51mm rifle round and known for destroying all but the hardiest body armor.
At 26.23 inches long overall with a 16-inch barrel, the FN PS90 is a proven rifle that provides an unbeatable mix of stopping power and mobility, ideal for self defense.
6. Springfield Armory Hellion
2023 Awards & Rankings
This Croatian-made bullpup carbine with military roots is an interesting design that performs when needed.
Based on the VHS (from the Croatian “Višenamjenska Hrvatska Strojnica” which just rolls off the tongue) rifle made by HS Produkt, the same company that makes the XD and Hellcat series pistols, the Hellion has some tweaks for the American market and to make it 922 compliant.
While the select-fire VHS forerunner has seen service with the Croatian Army (go figure) and a half-dozen other European and African militaries and police agencies, the Hellion is the first sporting version of the rifle and only hit the scenes in 2022.
The bullpup design, with the action and the magazine behind the trigger and grip, keeps the overall length on the Hellion incredibly short– 28.25 inches overall while still possessing a full 16-inch barrel. Further, the carbine uses a reliable 2-position (normal and suppressed) adjustable, short-stroke piston action. The handguard includes lots of M-LOK accessory slots while the carbine has both QD and HK-style sling attachments.
The charging handle, located forward of the grip, is centerline ambidextrous and non-reciprocating. Likewise, the safety selector switch is ambi, although it is hard to use without breaking a two-handed grip with the gun.
The stock is 5-position adjustable with a cheek riser while the BCM Gunfighter grip is comfortable. The “pinch” style bolt release, however, is awkward to use, especially while trying to maintain a cheek weld on the carbine with a full 30-round magazine inserted. For lefties, it also has a reversible case ejection system that can be reconfigured by the average user.
In firing 500 rounds of military surplus (Brazilian, German, and South Korean) 5.56 NATO through the Hellion, we found it to have no malfunctions.
The Hellion knocks it out of the park with onboard steel flip-up sights that include a 5-position aperture, windage adjustable rear, and an elevation adjustable front that is easy to see in bright or medium light. Plus, it has a full-length top Picatinny rail for optics.
Triggers on bullpups are crummy, a fact of the peculiar layout of the action. Springfield bills it as 6.5 pounds, but we found it to hit closer to 7.5 pounds and mushy.
The Hellion proved reasonably accurate and capable of hitting the black of 24×24 High Power rifle targets from the bench out to 300 yards with no issues while using the iron sights and milsurp ammo.
There is not a lot of support outside of Springfield Armory for the Hellion as it is produced by a niche European maker and is new to the commercial market. On the upside, it takes standard AR-15 pattern magazines and grips.
What is a bullpup rifle?
What sets bullpup guns apart from conventional rifles is the rearward-set action, which is located behind the grip. This means that the barrel, bolt, and magazine connect behind the trigger rather than in front, making for a more compact rifle with the same length barrel.
These differences change the handling characteristics of bullpup firearms and can offer several distinct advantages, over the conventional firearm — especially when applied to combat in tight spaces.
Their shorter rifle length helps them with maneuverability while maintaining the accuracy and barrel length of a standard rifle, preventing the shortcomings of a shorter barrel on other rifles or commonly seen on the AR platform.
Where did they come from?
The bullpup rifle first debuted around 1901 with the Thorneycroft carbine from Great Britain. These rifles were seldom used due to excessive recoil and rather terrible ergonomics.
Enter “The Balanced Rifle”
The French Lt. Col. Armand-Frédéric Faucon’s “Fusil équilibré,” or “balanced rifle” landed in 1910 and offered slightly better usability — even if it was intended to enable soldiers to, for some reason, fire their weapon with a single hand.
This oddity found some use in the first World War as the Faucon-Meunier rifle in select conflicts, and up through WWII both the British and Americans were trying to develop a bullpup rifle that would fit the bill — to no avail — meaning the bullpup gun was on the shelf until sufficient innovation could produce a viable candidate.
Garand Enters the Game
Interest in the design was such that even the famed John C. Garand (yes, that Garand) spent the better part of the 1940s and 1950s trying to crack the code on a viable bullpup.
His final rifle design, the T-31 bullpup rifle, fired the same cartridge as the M1, but used a bullpup orientation semi automatic rifle for the magazine & action to help avoid sacrificing barrel length.
It never got much beyond the drawing board, and when Garand retired in 1953 the T-31 was scrapped, and eventually related to the Springfield Armory Museum in 1961.
70 years later…
Despite the better part of a century of effort by some of the U.S. and U.K.’s best and brightest, it wasn’t until the mid-Seventies that the first fully functional bullpup rifle hit the market– the Austrian-made Steyr AUG.
It suits, then, that the Austrian Military of the 1970s became the first to use a bullpup rifle in military service with the AUG, and many other countries followed suit — adopting bullpup rifles post Cold War. Australia, Israel, China, The United Kingdom, France, and Singapore have all featured bullpup rifles in military combat or as standard-issue rifles.
Curiously a semi-automatic gas-operated bullpup shotgun, the Model 10 bullpup shotguns, beat the AUG on the market by a decade, but that’s a story for another day.
Do they actually see much use?
As mentioned above, armed forces the world-over use bullpup rifles and shotguns to this day. They’re designed for close-quarters work in enclosed spaces like abandoned houses or bunkers, so not exactly a solid choice for your next hunting rifle but they’ll swwp a room like nobody’s business.
The United States has yet to formally adopt bullpup weapons but they certainly have proven their viability in military operations.
Outside of the armed forces, bullpups are often embraced by everyday citizens for home defense. They are more accurate than standard shotguns and easier to maneuver as well.
Bullpups are used by competition shooters when maneuverability is the main focus. Some courses will require you to move around a room with many obstacles and bullpup rifles provide an advantage in these environments.
Bullpups aren’t generally embraced for long-range target shooting but when you need mobility and rifle-level stopping power it’s hard to find a better option than bullpups.
Why a Bullpup Rifle
- Close Quarters Excellence. I like bullpup rifles for two interconnected reasons. First and foremost, they tend to be excellent close-quarters weapons compared to more traditional rifles of the same caliber. The AUG, for instance, packs a lot of barrels into a short package, making it easier to use in close quarters than an M4 while having a barrel length more like that of the M16 series of rifles. For their size, bullpups feel better in the user’s hands because a lot more of that weight is pulled tight into the body rather than being held outstretched in your hands.
- Full Length Barrels. Second, bullpup rifles also retain longer barrels than other, similarly short platforms. This means that the same short platform that’s so good in close quarters can often take full advantage of the round being fired. In most short-barreled rifles, you lose a lot of muzzle velocity and thus lose out on accuracy and kinetic energy delivered on target. Bullpups get around this by allowing for a longer barrel with the same overall weapon length, meaning that you can fully utilize most modern cartridges to their full potential. Between the two of these, bullpup rifles are some of the more compelling designs on the market today.
Types of Bullpups
Many shorter bullpups are meant to function as personal defense weapons or PDWs. The FN P90 is in this category of weapons. Coming out of the lessons learned from WWII, many states wanted the ability to arm rear echelon troops with something a little more stout than a pistol but more controllable than a submachine gun. Thus, you get designs like the P90, which, especially in semi-auto, are remarkably controllable and accurate for their compact size, perfect for use inside of a vehicle.
Slightly more standard-sized infantry rifles like the AUG and Tavor were meant to replace the primary combat rifle of the infantry of a national army. As such, the main goal here is reliable and accurate firepower for every person serving in a front-line role.
Here is where the compact size of the bullpup concept comes into its own, with a lot of troops loving how the shorter rifles handle. This affection has grown into the adoption of bullpups by several members of NATO, including Austria, Australia, and the UK.
There are bullpup marksman rifles and sniper rifles on the much longer end of the spectrum. Take, for example, the Barret Model 99. These are big, long, heavy rifles that hit like a truck but are still shorter than their more traditionally oriented counterparts. It’s always interesting to see old designs such as bolt actions updated for the 21st century. Bullpup sniper rifles are an incredible mix of old and new technologies that will likely be on shooting ranges and battlefields for decades to come.
Finally, some bullpups are built a little bit differently than the rest. While the P90, AUG, and Barrett guns are made by experts to perform well at their tasks, other people, not content to let sleeping dogs lie, have made their bullpups.
For instance, we’ve heard rumors of a bullpup-ified SKS with a Rube-Goldberg machine-inspired trigger that likely feels awful in hand, and a printed plastic chassis in which the rifle, removed of any sensible furniture, can be placed. While I admire the creativity, these performance art pieces being billed as firearms leave us guessing as to the purpose or practicality of such a thing.
We’ll stick with the factory models on this one, I think.
Important Bullpup Features
Compact Package. First and foremost, bullpups are known for their short overall length. Thus, for us, it’s essential to keep the rifles in this category as short as possible. Having the action that far back into the shooter’s arms makes the guns feel a lot lighter than their counterparts, and the shorter overall package makes these designs truly unique in firearms design.
Retaining the longer barrel of much larger rifles makes these much more accurate than other, similar-length rifles, which makes bullpups well worthy of your consideration if you’re in the market for a new rifle.
Trigger Feel. When looking for a bullpup, one thing to carefully consider is the trigger. Because bullups often have longer mechanical linkages than, say, an AR15, the trigger pull on bullpups can be longer and have a little more play than I like.
For some people, this is an annoyance, whereas others don’t mind it at all. This has been resolved on some older bullpup models, where newer models have trended toward better triggers as engineers have had more time and experience to make design improvements, keeping in mind lessons from past designs.
Ambidextrous Controls. For the left handed shooters out there, you’ll be more than happy to hear that many bullpups are also ambidextrous. Typically, bullpups either eject out of the bottom or, on more modern models, expel the spent shells from either side, with the end-user being able to swap the deflection side in the field. Even for right-handed folks, Ambi controls make a lot of sense to us if you have to switch hands to clear other kinds of corners, or you end up injured in combat. As usual, good design is also inclusive design.
Ease of Use. Finally, a lot of bullpups take some getting used to. For most shooters today, reloading an AR, AK, or some other standard rifle is second nature. With a bullpup, a lot of your muscle memory will feel backward for a while, and it’s important to note that you’re learning new skills here, so it’s likely to take a while. The reloads are the most challenging part for most people, and having to reach back rather than forward to insert a magazine can feel deeply troublesome for many experienced shooters before you learn new muscle memory.
But, once you get the hang of it, operating most bullpups is easy.
Advantages of the Bullpup Rifle
Increased maneuverability is the main advantage of bullpup weapons. Usually, these guns are more compact than standard rifles or shotguns which makes them great for close-quarters combat.
Plus, the design allows for the use of a standard-length barrel, so you won’t have to worry about sacrificing accuracy or muzzle velocity for maneuverability, which will happen with shorter barrels.
Some designers offer lighter weight both due to a smaller stock footprint and a tendency towards plastics and polys. Bullpup rifle designs also move the center of mass toward the user, which reduces the amount of torque necessary to move the rifle. This helps prevent fatigue and enables more effective use when on the move or running.
That’s a lot of hot brass right by your mug.
Bullpup rifles which eject casings directly to the left or right of the action can be tough for left-handed shooters because the hot brass can come close to the shooter’s face. There’s no shortage of stories of folks getting bouncing hot casings from their new bullpup off their cheek.
More recent bullpup designs, however, have addressed this problem with downward or forward ejection.
Another shortcoming of bullpups is that many are tail-heavy due to the rearward position of the action. Moving the center of gravity toward the user can create a natural imbalance for some people — giving a bullpup rifle more muzzle rise when fired, negatively impacting accuracy.
For this reason, new bullpup owners should plan for a significant amount of range time to master the different shooting dynamics.
Also, the magazine’s position behind the grip can make quick reloads a challenge — another reason for quality range time to master loading, unloading, and reloading the weapon.
Don’t plan on using drum mags either — tucking those into your shoulder will require a level of familiarity with contortionism beyond what most could hope to muster.
While extremely rare, a catastrophic failure with a bullpup weapon is more dangerous than with traditional rifles because the barrel and action are closer to the user’s body, head, and neck.
Admittedly, bullpups are modern rifles that can be kind of expensive compared to older, more traditional rifle designs. For around $1,500, you can find a basic Kel Tec bullpup that will perform well but might not win any beauty contests.
For around the $3,000 mark, now you can get an AUG, P90, or IWI Tavor customized to meet your needs and preferences, which make up the bulk of the bullpup market.
Now, if you, for some reason, need to punch holes in the engine blocks of moving trucks, helicopters, or through concrete walls at half a mile or so, then for about $6000 without an optic, the Barret Model 99 can be yours.
In the case of bullpups, many new designs are still a novelty and thus far from the cheapest firearms on the market. As nations adopt them as their primary arms, I expect bullpup prices to come down over time. While there are deals to be had from time to time, the newness of the bullpup design is far from wearing out, and thus I imagine that these will be somewhat expensive firearms for the near future at the very least.
Some manufacurers provide a conversion kit for various firearms, so if you’re comfortable with the idea of building your own bullpup those can be a viableoption outside of purchasing a complete rifle.
All-in-all, even the best bullpup rifle is largely a situationally-focused firearm that works incredibly well in short-ranged or urban combat.
There are drawbacks, but with sufficient range time and a quality firearm, there’s no reason top bullpup rifles shouldn’t find a home in your safe.
- The Armourer’s Bench, The Curtis Rifle – The First Repeating Bullpup
- Reddit, Meunier 5 “Fusil Équilibré”
- Forgotten Weapons, US Model 45A
- Armament Research, British Thorpe EM1 automatic rifle
- Military Wikia, Steyr AUG
- Military Wikia, Bullpup
- National Interest, Why Israel’s Tavor Rifle is a Military Wonder Weapon , September 22, 2019
- John C Garand and the T-31 Bullpup
April 4, 2023 — We’ve added the new Springfield Armory Hellion 5.56 Bullpup, which is an interesting (and frankly, cool-looking) addition to the bullpup rifle market.
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