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Bullpups are firearm configurations in which the action and magazine are located behind the trigger and alongside the shooter's face, so there is no wasted space for the buttstock as in conventional designs. This permits a shorter firearm length for the same barrel length, saving weight and increasing maneuverability in confined spaces.

Origins of the term 'bullpup' for this configuration are unclear. The word is reported as being used in the US in 1957 to denote a target pistol, particularly one with a fancy stock.


Bullpups generally allow for a 25% reduction in weapon length.

The bullpup configuration has some shortcomings. Bullpups are generally difficult for left-handed shooters to use. This limitation is due to the fact that many bullpups, and firearms in general, have the ejection port on the right hand side and eject spent cartridge casings towards the right. This means left-handed shooters must shoot off-hand, as ejected casings would otherwise spray them in the face. Certain designs, such as the FAMAS assault rifle and the Steyr AUG, overcome this limitation by allowing the bolt and ejection port cover to be swapped, turning the weapon into a dedicated left-handed version. The Kel-Tec RFB solves the problem with an ejection chute on top of the barrel, dropping the expended cartridges in a pile in front of the weapon.


The concept was first used in bolt action rifles such as the Thorneycroft carbine of 1901, although the increased distance from hand grip to bolt handle meant the decreased length had to be weighed against the increased time required to fire. It is known to have been applied to semi-automatic firearms in 1918 (6.5 mm French Faucon-Meunier semi-automatic rifle developed by Lt. Col. Armand-Frédéric Faucon), then in 1936 a bullpup pistol was patented by the Frenchman Henri Delacre.

After World War II, Western engineers drew inspiration from the German Sturmgewehr 44 assault rifle, which offered a compromise between bolt-action rifles and submachine guns, among them Kazimierz Januszewski (also known as Stefan Janson). Januszewski was a Polish engineer who worked at the Polish national arsenal during the 1930s. After being mobilized during the war he escaped German and Russian forces and made his way to England, where he was a part of the "Polish design team" at Enfield Lockmarker's Royal Small Arms Factorymarker. The factory was run by lieutenant colonel Edward Kent-Lemon As Januszewski was developing a new rifle, the "Ideal Caliber Board" was searching for a replacement for the .303 cartridge. The Board decided on an optimal 7mm cartridge on which Januszewski and the two teams working at Enfield had to base their designs. One design team led by Stanley Thorpe produced a gas-powered rifle with a locking system based on the Sturmgewehr. The design used steel pressings which were difficult to obtain, and the design was scrapped. The result of the Polish design team's efforts was the EM-2, which broke significant new ground.

The EM-2 contained some similarities to the Soviet AK-47, although Januszewski had never seen the Soviet rifle. The first significant bullpup assault rifle came from the Britishmarker program to replace the service pistols, sub-machine guns, and rifles. In the two forms of the EM-1 and the EM-2, the new rifle concept was born as a result of the experience with small arms that was gained during the Second World War. It was obvious that the modern warfare would require the infantry to be armed with a light, selective fire weapon, with effective range of fire much longer than that of a submachine gun, but shorter than that of conventional semi-automatic or bolt action rifles. The choice of bullpup design was seen as a necessity to retain accuracy while reducing overall length. With none of the firing difficulties a bolt-action bullpup achieved, giving a short, long-ranged rifle the bullpup configuration was an obvious option. The EM-2 was adopted by the UK in 1951 as the world's first (limited) service bullpup rifle, but was promptly displaced by the adoption of the 7.62x51mm (0.30 in) NATO cartridge, to which the EM-2 was not easily adapted. The decision was rescinded and a variant of the more conventional FN FAL was adopted in its place.

A 7.62 mm caliber experimental assault rifle was developed by Korobov in the Soviet Unionmarker around 1945, and a further development, the TKB-408 was entered for the 1946–47 assault rifle trials by the Soviet Army, although it was rejected in favour of the more conventional AK-47.

After these failures of the bullpup design to achieve widespread service, the concept continued to be explored (for example: a second Korobov bullpup, the TKB-022).

Widespread use

Bullpups burst onto the scene with the Steyr AUG (1977) and the slightly less widespread FAMAS (1978). The Steyr AUG is often cited as the first successful bullpup, achieving service among various services of over twenty countries, and becoming the primary rifle of countries such as Austria and Australia. It was highly advanced for the 1970s, combining in the same weapon the bullpup configuration, a polymer housing, dual vertical grips, an optical sight as standard, and a modular design. Highly reliable, light, and accurate, the Steyr AUG showed clearly the potential of the bullpup layout. The arrival of the FAMAS, and its adoption by France emphasized the slide from traditional to bullpup layouts within gun designs.

Since the capabilities and widespread usage of these new bullpups became clear, bullpup rifles rapidly gained popularity among military rifle makers. The British resumed its bullpup ambitions with the SA-80 which entered service in 1985. Due to persistent reliability problems, it was redesigned by Heckler & Koch into the L85A2, and it is now a reliable, accurate although a rather heavy assault rifle. Having entered service among some of the most militarily powerful Western countries, bullpup rifles are becoming more common. The Singaporean SAR-21 addressed one flaw of bullpup rifles by using a stiff sliding plate to improve the quality of trigger pull, and by using a shell deflector to achieve an (imperfectly) ambidextrous weapon. Having learned from extensive combat experience, IMI of Israel developed a bullpup rifle: the Tavor (TAR-21). The Tavor is extremely light, accurate, and reliable (requiring stringent reliability standards to avoid being jammed by the prevalent sand of the Middle East), and has garnered demand among other countries, notably India.

Incidentally, the Tavor shares many similarities with the SAR-21. Other bullpups have been adopted recently by the Iranian army and Chinese People's Liberation Army: the Khaybar KH2002 and the QBZ-95 respectively.

Even sniper rifles, such as the Polish Bor, use the bullpup layout.

See also


  1. The Concise New Partridge Dictionary of Slang and Unconventional English, Tom Dalzell, Terry Victor
  2. Dockery , p. 64.
  3. Dockery , p. 65.
  4. Pauly , p. 151.
  5. Westwood , p. 141.
  6. Hogg , p. ?.


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