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Hunting with bullpups: The future or a fad?

While bullpup's have been in use by several prominent militaries since the 1970's, they've never gained much traction with target shooters, competitive shooters or hunters. Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself a bit here, so let's take a step back for a moment and talk about what a "bullpup" is for those who may be unfamiliar with the concept.

Above: My son shooting a pre-ban Steyr AUG in 5.56x45

Quite simply, a bullpup is a rifle that has the action behind the pistol grip or trigger guard. In essence, the action of the rifle is placed in the stock thereby shortening the overall length of the firearm. In the next image the rifle on top is a conventional bolt action rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor with a 24" barrel and manufactured by Bergara. On the bottom is a semi-automatic rifle chambered in 6.5 Creedmoor with a 20" barrel that is manufactured by Desert Tech. Both rifles have silencers affixed.

Above: On top is a Begara B14 HMR, on the bottom is a Desert Tech MDR

As you can see, the action of the rifle on the bottom sits in the stock and the magazine that feeds it is behind the trigger and pistol grip. This is the defining feature of bullpup rifles, which includes bullpup bolt action rifles such as the one seen in the next image.

The rifle on top in the image above is a Desert Tech SRS-A1 bolt action bullpup rifle chambered in .300 Win Mag with a 26"barrel. Like the MDR below it, the rifle can swap calibers with a single tool, a t-handle torque wrench, in minutes. The SRS-A1 and A2 are available in a variety of popular hunting and competition calibers. The MDR is available in .223, .308 and 6.5 Creedmoor.

Now that you've seen a conventional rifle next to a bullpup, I think the advantages are fairly clear. The bullpup allows for a smaller, handier package without sacrificing accuracy or ergonomics by moving the action of the rifle rearward into the stock. Of course some will argue that bullpups aren't as user friendly as conventional rifles, but I believe that particular criticism is the result of a lack of experience with a bullpup.

I've used bullpup rifles, both semi-automatic and bolt action, to hunt everything from Nilgai to prairie dogs. If given the choice, I will always reach for one of my bullpup hunting rifles over a conventional rifle, especially if I'm hunting from a blind, a tree stand, or even stalking game because of its smaller, handier package. They make climbing in and out of small places a breeze, they are easier to shoulder in the confines of a blind, and in general they make otherwise difficult maneuvers less strenuous. They also benefit from better balance as the weight of the rifle closer to the shooters shoulder vs. being forward of the trigger.

Above: Hunting Nilgai in South Texas with a Desert Tech SRS-A2 in .338 Lapua

I've often wondered why bullpups haven't dominated the hunting market over the years. It seems most of the development using the technology continues to center around military type firearms like the Steyr AUG, Israeli Tavor or X95, the French FAMAS or the British L85.

Hunters are a funny bunch. Among other things, hunters tend to be very nostalgic. They view hunting as a tradition and part of that tradition is the admiration of conventional hunting rifles with wood stocks, a conventional action, and and affinity for long existing calibers like 30-06, .308, .243, 22-250, etc.

How long did it take the hunting community to embrace America's rifle, the AR15? The AR15 being as prevalent as it is today in hunting circles is a relatively recent development. From the 1960's through the early 2000's hunters turned their noses up at hunting rifles based on the AR15. Even today I hear many hunters say they despise AR15's as hunting rifles and imply those who use them are either cheating or are intellectually and culturally inferior to hunters that use a traditional rifle like the Model 70 Winchester.

Above: A Nilgai harvested with a Desert Tech SRS-A2 in .338 Lapua

The lack of interest for bullpups in hunting circles not only stems from traditionalists ignoring them, but is also the result of not many companies willing to roll the dice on designing new bullpup rifles specifically for the purpose of hunting. I don't believe the world is ready for bullpup hunting rifles despite the fact they're superior in most every measurable way when compared to a rifle of conventional design. They're still too "space age" looking even for young hunters who have been using bullpups to slay adversaries in video games like Call of Duty and the Battlefield franchise for decades.

Above: My Desert Tech MDR in 6.5 Creedmoor on a Wyoming prairie dog hunt

Everyone I've let shoot my bullpup hunting rifles has walked away impressed with the size, weight, balance, recoil management, accuracy, and reliability but few... actually none... have gone out and bought one for their own use. I suspect a big part of their decision not to adopt a bullpup rifle for hunting stems from the cost of the rifles I let them shoot.

However, you can find an affordable bullpup rifle offered by Kel-Tec chambered in 6.5 Grendel known as the RDB-C that's a very capable yet affordable option, but you don't see deer hunters racing out to buy them. When it comes to affordable options, there aren't many firearms outside of those offered by Kel-Tec. Let's be honest, Kel-Tec is often times on the receiving end of jokes and unfavorable commentary about the perceived lack of quality.

IWI recently brought the new Tavor 7 in .308 to market and in my testing this rifle is an exceptional performer. However, at $1800+ a copy you're not likely going to find many hunters willing to trade in their trusty Model 700 for the futuristic looking plastic bullpup.

The best bullpup rifles on the market for hunting, by far, are manufactured by Desert Tech and for the vast majority of hunters, they're simply too expensive for a design most shooters are completely unfamiliar with. For that reason I doubt the bullpup rifle will compete against more conventional designs despite the significant advantages they offer. Even militaries that once embraced the bullpup, like France and New Zealand, have since abandon them for AR15 based rifles.

So, as much as it pains me to say it, bullpups will likely continue to be an infinitesimal niche in the massive hunting economy and will never receive the attention they deserve.

As for me? You'll be hard pressed to see me hunting with anything other than a bullpup. That's because I've seen their advantages first hand in the field and long ago embraced them as technically superior tools even though few of my peers would agree.

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