Choosing the best bullpup rifle is pretty easy, if you recognize that there are simply a few designs that dominate the market landscape and you can utilize those design applications in your use case. Primarily, there have only ever been a few viable options for bullpups on the open market at any given time since the bullpup was introduced.
The best designs have so many attributes in common and the market is so small, you can almost throw a dart on the wall and pick a “best bullpup rifle” because the field is stacked, and the competition is so lacking.
That said, not all of these bullpups on this list were created equally. They were all designed to do a specific job, but they are all different and unique in their own rights. We will help you navigate the primary differences and a few of the nuances that make them what they are.
For years there has been a robust fan following for the bullpup design, but the best bullpups have both staying power, and the ability to stay current by making small tweaks. You will see this concept as you go through our choices for the best bullpup rifle.
Best Bullpup Rifle Comparison & Reviews
Steyr Arms - AUG A3 M1
This is the original design that sparked generations of imposters, and which has successfully held onto the throne in the market segment that is the “Bullpup Rifle”. It has changed only minimally since 1977 which is incredible considering that is more than 40 years ago. Most guns don’t last 40 years, let alone without major refreshes and/or campaigns to improve certain aspects for new market desires. The AUG is here after 40 years and is likely to be around for decades more.
The design is timeless and classic, and yet, it is modern and sophisticated as well. The easy to use, low recoil design also allows adequate field servicing in an easy to perform way.
- Good looking
- Famous for being the “original” bullpup rifle
- Very accurate and reliable
- Can be expensive and it is showing some age without major changes (but it doesn’t seem to affect demand)
This is best for:
Collectors, enthusiasts or other types of fanboys for the Steyr AUG. Legitimate tactical users that want the most proven design in bullpup history but don’t need the modern changes made by IWI on the Tavor or others on different platforms.
IWI Tavor XB95 Semiautomatic Tactical Rifle
The bullpup that is taking over the military world. This is the innovation that many were waiting for after moving away from the AUG earlier. Most militaries that no longer use the AUG cut ties NOT because of the ineffectiveness of the design, rather, in most cases, they wanted a different platform or wanted a different contractor. IWI has been very successful with the bullpup design and with the marketing momentum of the company it may become a long-term rival in the volume of sales and prestige in the bullpup rifle category.
- Uses the right ammunition for most allied militaries
- Durable design
- Great creature comforts
- Can tend to be pricey (though all bullpups generally command a premium)
This is best for:
Those who want something different from the AR-15 to shoot often, but still have tons of ammunition in storage.
FN - PS90 STANDARD
A crowd control favorite of agencies that want minimal overpenetration concerns while getting maximum penetration and maximum capacity of rounds. This was adopted by several agencies, most notably the U.S. Secret service for large gathering PDW use (Personal defense weapon), because the compact size can be fit under a suit jacket easily and the cartridge is nearly perfect for the use case.
It offers a bullet that is small enough and fast enough to penetrate bulletproof vests, but which is seriously disrupted at entrance into a tactical target, causing the bullet to yaw and tumble, meaning that it is virtually ineffective if it exists the target after a direct hit.
It has been adopted because it is very effective for its specific niche. It’s likely going nowhere for a long time.
- Excellent cartridge design allows for high capacity and less risk of over penetration with very good terminal ballistics
- Great durable and reliable design by the Herstal based firearms powerhouse FNH
- Still a small caliber rifle with less overall stopping power than peers.
This is best for:
Those who love the cartridge or for those who work in a line of work like personal protection or law enforcement where the round is adopted as part of the SOP’s.
LITHGOW ARMS USA - ATRAX BULLPUP F-90
A newcomer to the bullpup design, it takes a lot of design cues from existing models including the reigning champions of the bullpup arena. The company seems committed to refining the design and grabbing market share. If they can execute on a good program of refinement, they will be successful due to the relative lack of players in the bullpup space.
- The right caliber for a newcomer
- Responsive customer service and R&D teams
- An unproven company yet
- An unproven design yet
This is best for:
Those who already have other bullpup rifles and want variety.
IWI Tavor SAR FD16 Semi Automatic .300 AAC Rifle
Perhaps the newest contender for the best home defense weapon in existence if you buy into the whole .300AAC Blackout platform. It is suppressible from a sound/hearing perspective, which means in the middle of the night you don’t have to risk major hearing damage to defend yourself in your own home from an intruder. It is also lightweight and capable for a short frame. The ballistics of the .300 AAC Blackout round are spectacular for CQB.
- Excellent caliber for CQB
- Easily suppressible to maximum effect without degradation to the inherent ballistics
- Not quite mainstream yet, so ammunition is still somewhat pricey
- Suppressors are also less mainstream than they could be
This is best for:
Home defense use, by those who want the shortest, most capable gun with the best purpose-built cartridge platform.
IWI Tavor SAR FD17 FDE Semi-Automatic 9mm Rifle
For those who are good with the 9mm platform, this is an excellent gun that behaves like a carbine but loses nothing from the rifle benefits. It is a modern bullpup rifle that is a best in class.
- Well proven
- Cheap ammunition
- May not be “enough gun” for some people
This is best for:
Fun shooting and cheap practice for the same gun platform (which can be had in the .223 and .300 AAC), even if the price tag of the gun is way to high to make it a dedicated training weapon.
Kel-Tec RFB18 Bullpup Semi-Automatic Rifle
Kel-Tec is a very innovative company that has liked the carbine and bullpup designs since they came online as a company. While many are not fans of the aesthetics of the Kel-Tec line, one cannot dispute the relative accuracy, reliability and durability of the portfolio as well as very interesting new additions to a design that most companies just copy from past successes to market.
- Well thought out design
- Massive firepower through the 7.62x51mm cartridge
- Can feel a bit cheap compared to some on this list
This is best for:
New technology adopters or those tied to the Kel-Tec way of innovation.
What is a bullpup design?
In the most simplistic summary of what a bullpup design is: it is a firearm whose action is placed behind the trigger and which offers a fixed full stock to allow shoulder firing. They are more than that though, and we can go into some of the nuance of what is known as the bullpup design. Bear in mind that bullpup fans are a rabid population of specific opinions who do not like when you deviate from their general concept of the design.
Every lover of the bullpup design will have their all-time favorites and will vehemently defend those choices online and off.
And it is true, some bullpup designs have been spectacular flops, while others have barely changed in many decades and still have premium market placement and huge demand for their offering.
The bullpup concept was beginning to be implemented as early as the turn of the 20th century, but it wasn’t in its refined form and largely didn’t make sense for most use cases. In the mid 1930’s there were some designs that forwarded the concept to a more approachable design. But, it wasn’t until the 1977 debut of the Steyr AUG (incidentally one of the best-known military style firearms in history and on our list of the best bullpup rifles) that the design was accepted.
The AUG design was so good though, that the company ended up being granted several military contracts and the gun is still in military use today in some parts of the world. The 1977 design remains largely unchanged and the demand for it is higher than ever by volume. It speaks to the timelessness of the benefits of the design and it also speaks to the inherent quality of the Steyr Arms offerings.
This also points to the unbelievable importance of military acceptance on a civilian mainstream market offering from a marketing perspective.
Why has it seen so much adaptation across the globe?
But the wide acceptance of the bullpup design is not all about marketing. In fact, it’s such a beloved concept that major armies around the world still offer infantry weapons that are in a bullpup design.
The following countries offer a mainstream bullpup design for the troops it outfits:
- The U.K.
- The Russian Spetsnaz
- The Chinese People’s Liberation Army
There are many other countries that have chosen to rely upon the benefits of a bullpup design for their main body of standing army as well.
Notable firearms are included among the offerings chosen by these prestigious armies.
Russian Spetsnaz are among the most elite groups in any military force anywhere on the globe. They chose the SVU which is an altered Dragunov design to accommodate a bullpup configuration, showing clearly, that they chose based on the underlying design but had intermediate distance needs that could only be met by a more compact rifle design, for which a carbine design was unsuitable.
Sometimes, like above, it’s about the small use case, other times it’s about the innovation, as is the case with the IWI Tavor being selected by several militaries, including their own Israeli defense forces. The company has always been on the leading edge of innovation and the Tavor released with much fanfare, highlighting the great durability of the encased design and the application of the 5.56x45mm ammunition.
One famous (FAMAS if you please) bullpup design is going to be replaced by a non-bullpup design; with France opting out of the FAMAS G1 and G2 for the AR 15 styled HK416. This signifies a tired design with little refreshment over the years being replaced by a very reliable, proven design in the AR/HK416. Not so much a change away from the design as it is a change away from MAS as a supplier in our opinion.
What is a bullpup rifle used for in the modern context?
Almost always the modern bullpup is used in CQB/CQC (Close Quarters Battle/ Close Quarters Combat) type scenarios, where building entry, short engagement and specific ballistics are the norm.
For some on the list, they work well for home defense for the same reasons – the ability to move through a hallway or turn through a door without being impeded by overall length is important for tactical use of a personal home defense weapon at times.
The short overall length makes the gun easy to manage and the balance of the design can make recoil and muzzle flip seriously less difficult to manage.
Whatever your needs are for the bullpup rifles available, we are sure you can find one that fits the bill in the list below.
Our final thoughts
The bullpup has been proven to be an effective design configuration for the rifle in the past 100 years. But it’s really only been since the 1980’s that this design took on any real weight in the marketplace. Since then, the bullpup has flourished but it remains only a small part of the overall market for the rifle.
The attributes of compact size, great handling and balance and the reliability of the makers who have made it through market ups and downs, makes the modern bullpups worthy of any shooter’s consideration if they think they can find the use case for the rifles. In the end you need to decide if bullpups are for you, and why, and then, you can easily identify the right bullpup design to ensure you get the best bullpup rifle for your needs.