For those looking for a compact and handy firearm that is still just as capable as a full-length 12 gauge or tactical shotgun, the quick answer that comes to mind is the bullpup shotgun.
While there are pros and cons to any firearm category, the bullpup shotgun has some interesting characteristics that make them worth exploring beyond the latest FPS video games.
Comparison of the Best Bullpup Shotguns
|Black Aces Tactical Pro Series|
|Charles Daly N4S|
|Crye Precision SIX12|
|IWI Tavor TS12|
What exactly is a bullpup shotgun?
Differing from a standard shotgun in layout and overall length, those with a bullpup configuration typically put the action of the gun behind the trigger rather than over or in front of it.
This results in a gun that is much shorter, compared to traditional guns, while keeping a standard-length barrel and magazine.
The etymology of the word as applied to firearms originally comes from an old term used for custom guns used by wildcat bench rest shooters in the U.S. in the 1930s and 40s, likening such short yet very muscular guns to bulldog puppies. The more you know, right?
Where did they come from?
Bullpup firearm designs date back to at least the 1860s with a patent by English inventor William Joseph Curtis often cited as the earliest known example. By the cusp of the 20th Century, several gun designers had similar such animals in the stable, some of which were more practical than others.
French Lt. Col. Armand-Frédéric Faucon developed his bullpupped “Fusil équilibré,” or a “balanced rifle” around 1910 to allow soldiers to be able to, if needed, better fire their rifle with a single hand.
This curiosity was later used briefly in World War I as the Faucon-Meunier rifle in small numbers. Fast forward to WWII and both the Americans and British were fast at work on assorted bullpup rifles by the end of the conflict.
Despite all this interest and the burning of lean muscle tissue by very smart men for a century, it wasn’t until 1977 that the first readily available bullpup rifle was on the market– the Austrian-made Steyr AUG.
However, a working bullpup shotgun had already been on the commercial market for over a decade when the AUG was debuted.
Enter the Model 10
In the late 1950s, police sergeant Alfred Crouch brainstormed a one-handed semi-auto shotgun that would be ideal for use as a riot gun.
At first repurposing a Remington 11-48, Crouch later took his design to High Standard Firearms who substituted their Supermatic semi-automatic gas-operated shotgun for the Remy and, sandwiching the action in a three-part plastic stock, the Model 10 bullpup shotgun emerged.
Mossberg bullpups arrive in the '80s
While the High Standard Model 10 was only in production for about a decade, vaunted shotty maker Mossberg briefly stepped up to bat with a funky but usable bullpup version of their Model 500 and 590 pump-action shotguns in the late 1980s.
Today the bullpup shotgun has fully matured, and, as we show, there are some greats ones on the market.
What to Look for in a Quality Bullpup Shotgun
1. Length & Furniture
The no-brainer of a bullpup is that the compact format makes these guns easy to maneuver, especially indoors or in CQB situations, and the pistol grip– a common trait of the type– makes them much more controllable, particularly in rapid-fire.
Further, they are faster to come up on target while at the same time creating less of a profile, for instance when shooting from cover.
When it comes to magazine capacity, bullpup shotguns are often superior to traditional 12 gauges, offering either detachable box mags or longer tubes. Such considerations make the bullpup a star when it comes to home defense scenarios, provided the user has proper training.
3. Ease of Use
One big problem to keep in mind on bullpups– either shotguns or rifles– is that they handle differently than standard longarms.
Whereas a shotgun or rifle in a normal layout is long and by extension front-heavy, with a drooping muzzle that longs to act as a dowsing rod, bullpupped guns, with their shorter barrel length, move the center of gravity towards the rear, making them “tail heavy”.
This can take a while to get used to for those more experienced with standard firearms due to a greater degree of muzzle rise.
Speaking of new things to get used to, with the action being oriented behind the grip, loading, unloading, and reloading a bullpup is altogether different and requires some significant practice to learn to do rapidly. Further, as the action is tucked in the user’s shoulder, longer mags such as drums can get super awkward super fast.
The first purchase after getting a bullpup shotgun should be to pick up some inert training shells to safely get over that muscle memory hump. During this training, be sure to work those dummy shells through the action to get a feel for the ejection angle.
This can help make sure your stance doesn’t wind up with smoking ejected hulls to the face once you switch to live ammo.
5. Building your own
The first bullpupped shotguns simply took existing commercial designs, such as the High Standard Supermatic and Mossberg 500, deleted the existing furniture, and encased the gun in a new, polymer shell that oriented the pistol grip and trigger forward of the action.
The same can be done today for owners of a popular traditional 12 gauge, as Bullpup Unlimited sells conversion kits that allow quick and easy tabletop conversion of Remington 870s, Mossberg 500s, and Maverick 88s.
No gunsmith needed
These upgrades can be done typically by those without gunsmith knowledge and the conversion is reversible should you want to hit the “reset” button down the line (if you save the original furniture).
Plus, if you started with a reliable shotgun, to begin with, odds are that you will end up with a reliable, shotgun once the smoke clears– only in a bullpup layout.
The bad news is that these kits are kind of ugly compared to factory-built models and the cost is comparable to a new bullpup of about mid-shelf quality. Food for thought.
The Best Bullpup Shotguns Reviewed
Introduced in 2020, this Turkish-made semi-automatic bullpup 12 gauge uses MKA1919-style mags an adjustable cheek rest, and AR12 to include M-LOK rails, flip-up sights, and an AR-style charging handle.
It also comes with three interchangeable choke tubes and a top Picatinny rail for optics. One neat aspect of the Bulldog is that its magazines have a rail system that allows them to be mounted upside-down on the bottom of the forend as sort of an ersatz forward grip.
Florida-based Black Aces Tactical has been on the forefront of shotgun innovation in the past decade, for instance beating both Mossberg and Remington to the punch on non-NFA 12-gauge firearms, a concept the latter two wound up running away with.
Black Aces offers a bullpup design in the Pro Series, which takes MKA 1919 mags and drums. Best yet, it is a semi-automatic that works reliably with both light and heavy loads– something that sometimes hard to find.
Another Turkish import, the N4S is brought to American shores by Charles Daly Defense.
As expected, this gas-operated semi-auto uses M1919 mags and drums and includes front and rear flip-up sights. What isn’t expected is that it takes Beretta/Benelli Mobil series choke tubes
In something totally different, Crye Precision’s SIX12 is no import, being made in America of American-made components.
Besides the cry of a bald eagle in the distance, the SIX12 is unique in the respect that it is fed by a six-shot revolving cylinder held to the rear of this bullpupped shotgun.
This semi-automatic has a reliable mechanical action and the cylindrical magazines are interchangeable if desired, as are the barrels. Furthermore, it is offered with walnut furniture, something no other bullpup shotgun can match. The bad news, it isn’t available…yet.
Made by Hastan in Turkey, the Escort BTS series of bullpup shotguns have a few things that you don’t see on your typical Anatolian scatterguns. While the layout is like the ATI Bulldog, Charles Daly N4S, and others, the BTS has a detachable carrying handle, giving the guns a very FAMAS-style look.
Further, besides the basic 12-gauge model, which they sell as well, Hastan makes the BTS in mild-shooting .410 with both a flush-fit 3-shot and an extended 5-shot mag. Did we mention the .410 weighs just 6 pounds?
Another Turk, this one imported by Nevada-based G-Force Arms, the GFY-1 has all you are looking for in a $600ish semi-auto bullpup.
Using a full 3-inch chamber and standard MKA 1919 mags, it comes with a bunch of Pic rail space and factory-included flip-up sights. With an overall length of just 28.5-inches, this is one handy 12 gauge.
When it comes to setting the bar in bullpup shotguns, Israeli Weapon Industries (IWI) did that in style with their Tavor TS12 in 2018.
A gas-regulated semi-auto, it uses three underbarrel magazine tubes that give these 12 gauges a 15+1 shot capacity. Loaded with features, it has an oversized pistol grip that balances nicely, M-LOK compatible rails, a continuous accessory rail on top, and Benelli/Beretta choke tube compatibility.
All this for a gun that is only 28.34-inches overall while keeping an 18.5-inch barrel.
Hailing from Florida, the Kel-Tec KSG has a lot going for it that sets it apart.
Introduced in 2011, it is fully ambidextrous as the surface controls can be accessed by either hand and the ejection port drops empty shells straight downward, much like an old-school Ithaca 37.
Also, like the Ithaca, it is pump-action, a curious feature compared to most other bullpup shotguns which are autoloaders.
However, this beefy and reliable action gives the gun the ability to operate with a wider range of loads– something semi-auto shotguns often cannot vouch for.
Moreover, KelTec offers the KSG in a standard format, with an 18.5-inch barrel, 26.1-inch overall length, and 14+1 shot capacity, as well as in Tactical (Class III) Compact (Class III) and KSG-25 models.
The latter gets its name as it has a whopping 25-shell magazine capacity and a goose-gun length barrel that runs 30.5-inches. Oof.
Produced by the Standard Manufacturing Company in Connecticut, the DP-12 is unique as not only is it a bullpup 12 gauge, but it is also a double-barreled pump gun– the latter something that has typically just been the fodder of fictional barkeep Moe Szyslak.
Providing 16 rounds on tap, Standard says the DP-12 was “Designed for the most discerning shooters who demand extreme firepower and require consistent reliability.”
On the downside, they run about $1,500 and have an often-lengthy waiting list.
A Turkish designed shotty that has been around for a decade, the UTAS UTS-12, like the KelTec KSG, is a pump-action bullpup with dual, selectable magazine tubes.
Originally designed in cooperation with Smith & Wesson as a tactical police shotgun, it has a 14+1 magazine capacity, hence the “15” in its name. Over the years, UTAS has gotten a lot of bugs out of this sometimes-cranky pump gun, and today’s UTS-12s have gained a good reputation.
They are also available in multiple color schemes, which is a big difference from most other bullpup shotguns that come in any color you want– so long as that color is black.
- The Armourer’s Bench, The Curtis Rifle – The First Repeating Bullpup
- Reddit, Meunier 5 “Fusil Équilibré”
- Small Arms Review, The Incredible US Model 45A
- Google Patents, Mechanism to Enable Firing of Shotgun with One Arm
- Armament Research, British Thorpe EM1 automatic rifle –
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