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The AUG has set the bullpup standard for decades, and, with the A3 M1, it’s now up to date, modular and U.S. made. A“bullpup” is a carbine configured so the action is located behind the trigger group in the space traditionally reserved for the grip and stock. The biggest plus is that for the same barrel length, a bullpup will be at least 7 to 10 inches shorter than a traditional rifle, thus improving maneuverability, handling and reducing weight.

Bullpup pro and con advocates put forth a litany of reasons regarding the concept to support their respective positions. Pro advocates claim that nothing more than pointless, moribund traditionalism is stifling bullpup-style weapons from being adopted widespread, with detractors denigrating bullpup effectiveness to the point of challenging the basic raison d’être for the design.

The weapon reviewed here is the Steyr AUG A3 M1 chambered in 5.56mm NATO and featuring the integral 1.5x optic rail (more on this later).

Even with its 16-inch barrel, the Steyr AUG A3 M1 still measures only 28 inches in overall length. This rivals many short-barreled ARs.

The Steyr AUG is the recognized flag-bearer for bullpups. Designed and proofed in the late 1960s by Steyr, the AUG was selected by the Austrian Army in 1977 to replace the licensed-built FN FAL variant StG 58. Full AUG production commenced in 1978. This represented unprecedented success for the bullpup genre in terms of use by a respected military. The AUG bullpup design went on to serve in more than 20 other countries’ military, LE or special operation units.

Whereas the military AUG is a select-fire weapon, the AUG A3 M1 is semiautomatic. The AUG is operated via a short-stroke adjustable piston system firing from a closed bolt. This piston operating method, combined with the weight of the AUG’s bolt group, provides ruthless extraction and chambering—perfect for harsh environments or when weapon care is neglected for whatever reason.

The mag release is unique and is found just
behind the mag well. (Photo: Robb Manning)

The AUG’s stainless steel operation and guide rods affixed to the bolt carrier glide effortlessly inside the receiver for unparalleled smoothness in operation, as well as exceptional reliability. Dual gas-adjustment settings ensure its operation, even with the dirtiest ammunition and in adverse conditions. Ejection ports are present on both sides of the weapon and can be selected by installing the bolt with the ejector mounted on the right or on the left. The non-reciprocating charging handle is located at the front-left side of the gun.

BULLPUP NUANCES

Generally speaking, the triggers found on bullpups are not as crisp as other designs due to the linkage required between the forward-located trigger and rearward-located action. Good advice here is to treat bullpup triggers like a Glock or double-action revolver trigger. One should not try to stage the trigger; instead, work it smoothly. The AUG A3 M1 trigger took approximately 9 pounds of pressure to fire the round. A simple cross bolt safety is easily accessed, located behind the trigger. The shell of the rifle is made of nearly indestructible fiber-reinforced synthetic material called Polyamide 66. The AUG A3 M1 is designed to be fed from translucent polymer 10-, 30- or 42-round AUG magazines.

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A simple cross bolt safety is easily accessed; it is located behind the trigger.

Determining the number of rounds left in an AUG magazine is as simple as looking at it. The AUG’s translucent magazines were some of the earliest examples of polymer magazines. The AUG magazine’s 42-round capacity proved a troop favorite, with other rifles confined to 20- or 30-round magazines. Other versions of the AUG were developed at a later date that cater to AR15/M16 magazines.

The magazine release button is installed behind the magazine well, facilitating ambidextrous access. The release is oversized and easily actuated/pushed down, even when the user is wearing gloves. The hand is naturally  positioned to remove the magazine as the thumb engages the catch. Many will wax poetic about a rifle  encouraging magazine retention versus dropping magazines haphazardly on the deck. The AUG A3 M1 does have a last-round bolt hold-open feature. Prior AUGs did not. The non-reciprocating charging handle is placed on the left side of the receiver along the handguard, just as on the HK G3. Overall, the AUG design is sealed tightly, with few points for dirt or debris; even the charging handle slot is sealed.

The bolt catch is located above the mag well just
forward of the shooter’s chin. (Photo: Robb Manning)

AUG ADVANTAGE

Compactness is one of the most often-repeated positive attributes of bullpup rifles while maintaining a full-length barrel to maximize cartridge performance. The AUG A3 M1 features a 16.3-inch, hammer-forged, chrome-lined barrel while still only measuring a total of 28 inches in length. An example of this beneficial compactness would be working in and around vehicles. As a driver or passenger, you can have the A3 M1 bullpup rifle pointed, muzzle down, between your legs with the buttstock resting on the seat cushion.

Movement with the AUG bullpup inside of building structures is much easier and very similar to the size advantage offered by an SMG—but without the terminal ballistic penalty. It is easy to manipulate the AUG A3 M1 with one hand, because the center of gravity is farther back.

As a result, if you have to open a door or other similar task, the bullpup offers you an advantage. You can effectively treat the AUG A3 M1 as a big pistol if the situation demands. Bullpups are generally the same size as specialized short-barreled rifles (SBR) without having to resort to sub-16-inch barrels to achieve this size. Citing various reasons, there are shooters who criticize, or even completely ignore, the bullpup design. Some of these reasons are that they can’t get past the looks and “strangeness” in terms of ergonomics. Shooters’ hesitation to adapt to the bullpup stems from its manual of arms, compared to those of traditional rifles, with which most of us have more experience.

For example, bullpup magazine changes are different, combined with the action not being as readily visible. The action is contained in the stock and thus, out of view, in most bullpup designs; the AUG is included in this category. Another point raised is that some bullpups are not as ambidextrous as others.

“The AUG’s stainless steel operation and guide rods affixed to the bolt carrier glide effortlessly inside the receiver for unparalleled smoothness in operation, as well as exceptional reliability.”

Despite the advantages, very few standing armies have taken a liking to the bullpup design. More than anything else, it seems to be an issue of ingrained military conservatism/institutionalism within the “old guard.” The U.S. civilian market has mostly echoed that thinking.

RANGE TIME … LIVING UP TO THE AUG REPUTATION

I put more than 400 rounds through the Steyr A3 M1 using various courses of fire I experienced while attending training focused on operating around vehicles, as well as CQB techniques. In addition to the Federal, American Eagle and SIG ammo that was tested for performance, Hornady TAP 55 grain and Black Hills 69-grain OTM were used for reliability testing. In these tight quarters, I quickly found a key benefit: The AUG’s exterior is “slick,” with virtually no projections to hang up on straps, lines, vehicle interiors, vegetation or anything else. A 30-round magazine protrudes only about 4 inches below the stock.

It did not take an inordinate amount of time to become familiar with operation and handling during the testing and evaluation. Despite the radical design difference, it was no different than switching between an AR and an AK. The magazine sitting closer to the body took a little getting used to during reloads, as well as orientating hand location when racking the charging handle during weapon manipulation.

“When it comes to effectiveness, the handling advantages of SBR rifles are often touted as the difference-makers.”

Range tests consisted of moving around vehicles and simulated cover while engaging an assortment of paper and steel targets; these included automobiles located at the Echo Valley Training Center (EVTC). The Steyr AUG showed its true promise by performing well—not only within the 100-yard bays, engaging multiple targets, and in CQB scenarios in the 360-degree range, but also at the 300-yard prepared firing position line. The AUG A3 M1 proved to be very accurate. In fact, it’s so compact that it makes one forget it still features a full-length, 16-inch barrel. The AUG feels lighter than it actually is, because the weight distribution is heaviest toward the rear of the carbine. The AUG’s center of gravity— without a loaded magazine—is at the firing hand grip, which makes it a very balanced rifle. It also places most of the weight close to the body, which means you’re supporting the weight of the rifle with your large core muscles. Traditional rifles require smaller muscles for support, because the weight extends farther from your body. With the AUG, this also equates to better handling over longer time frames due to lessening fatigue on the arms and shoulders—an important consideration for CQB operation involving structure-clearing.

The AUG A3 M1, shown here in the traditional OD Green, can be had with an integral optic rail, short rail or long rail for mounting optics of the user’s choice. (Photo: Steyr Arms)

Some might question the effects of a bullpup’s muzzle blast, because the barrel and action are orientated close to a user’s face during operation. However, evaluation did not find this troublesome or noticeable. It was no different than the muzzle blast users experience with an SBR—and possibly less, considering the Steyr AUG offers 16 inches of barrel, allowing the powder to burn fully.

One of the less-appreciated/-touted aspects of the AUG design is its modularity. As in so many ways, it was ahead of its time. Switching out barrels of different profiles and lengths is easily accomplished via one button located at the front of the forend: Just press the button and twist the barrel about 10 degrees. Steyr has followed along with the times by now offering users the ability to forego the integral optic by removing it and replacing it with Picatinny rails, allowing for the mounting of red-dots or other optics-of-choice. The AUG A3 M1 is available in a short-rail version and high-rail version, as well as an integral optic version with either a 1.5x or 3x scope. The scope tube on the integral optic version has exceptionally bright and clear optical elements and is modernized with the addition of Picatinny rail sections. The rail and optics platforms on all three AUG A3 M1 versions are interchangeable via the three base screws that thread from the underside of the top of the receiver.

I decided to use the 1.5x integral optic version for this review in order to experience a more-traditional AUG  profile. The low-powered, magnified optic with “doughnut” reticle was another feature found on the AUG that was ahead of its time upon its introduction in the late 1970s. I have read that both Meopta and Swarovski manufacture the integral optic for Steyr. The optic-and-reticle setup is intended as a combat sight. It contains a simple black ring reticle with a basic rangefinder that is designed so that at 300 meters (984.3 feet), a man-sized target (180 cm/5.9 feet tall) will completely fill it, giving the shooter an accurate method of estimating range.

The sight cannot be set to a specific range but can be adjusted for windage and elevation for an initial zero and is designed to be calibrated for 300 meters. When so set, aiming at the center of a target will produce a hit at all ranges out to 300 meters. Obviously, this arrangement is geared toward combat applications and not sub-MOA T&E results. The 5.56’s flat trajectory aids in making hits out to 300 yards without having to compensate  excessively for bullet drop—especially with the full-length AUG A3 M1 barrel.

 

HAZARD 4 SMUGGLER SLING PACK

Nothing is as individualistic as deciding how to carry immediate-action items such as a handgun, weapon magazines (handgun and rifle), medical IFAK, radio and whatever else is needed in high-risk environments. Factors such as accessibility, adaptability, fit, weight-to-mobility ratio, retention and space constraints all come into play. Let’s face it: The world is becoming a more dangerous place—not only overseas, but here in the United States, as well.

Hazard 4 is a company that is helping to equip our military, law enforcement, private security contractors (PSC) and civilians. The Hazard 4 Smuggler Sling Pack has been in use supporting my various article projects for the last several months. The convenience of easy adaptability for carrying multiple weapons and ancillary gear  (ammunition, optics, suppressors) is much appreciated.

The Smuggler is a large Evac Series sling pack specifically designed to accommodate carbines up to AK47/AR length. However, the Smuggler is designed so that users do not feel that items are jammed in. I found it easy to accommodate the Steyr AUG with no issue. Shooters can transport their rifles with a magazine inserted and/or optics mounted. Additional external pockets can carry magazines, a cleaning kit, extra parts and everything you need for transporting your work gun or hauling around urban gear.

A folded, padded sleeve is included with the Smuggler that can be used as padded support for any items you might want to place inside the compartment; alternatively, it can be used to hold a rifle inside. This means you can place a rifle inside the folding sleeve, itself, to provide a little cushioning for it. The folding sleeve can also be taken out of the bag and used as a shooting mat. The Smuggler Pack has evolved into one of my favorite weapon transport cases.

THE “DIFFERENCE-MAKER”

Arms aficionados will find the Steyr AUG A3 M1 bullpup intriguing compared to typical standard-pattern rifles and might want one based on this uniqueness. Many will find the AUG A3 M1 desirable due to its compactness, reliability and accuracy. After all, this is a combination that’s hard to argue against in terms of utility for any user. When it comes to effectiveness, the handling advantages of SBR rifles are often touted as the difference-makers. Why not enjoy this advantage while retaining barrel length that optimizes ballistic performance? This is what the Steyr AUG bullpup offers. Remember: The individual is the key to effectiveness, not the weapon. An operator with this type of mindset will surely appreciate the Steyr AUG A3 M1.

Shown next to the barrel/gas cylinder is the gas operating system (left to right): the piston spring, gas piston and gas regulator. Note that above and to the right, the right thrust rod of the bolt carrier is used to push the piston assembly out of the cylinder.         (Photo: Robb Manning)

STEYR ARMS AUG A3 M1 (OPTIC VARIANT)

SPECIFICATIONS


CALIBER: 5.56x45mm/.223 Rem.

OPERATION: Adjustable, short stroke, gas piston, semiautomatic

RECEIVER: Hard Eloxal-coated aircraft aluminum

BARREL: 16.375 inches, chrome-lined CHF; six grooves 1:9 RH

OVERALL LENGTH: 28 inches

WEIGHT: 8.8 pounds, empty (as tested — 1.5x optic version)

SIGHTS: Integral 1.5x optic with “doughnut” reticle (also available: 3x optic, 11-slot short rail or 16-slot high rail)

TRIGGER: 9 pounds, 8 ounces; single stage

FURNITURE: Polymer with foldable vertical front grip

MAGAZINE: AUG, translucent, detachable box, double-stack, 30 rounds (also available in 10 and 42 rounds)

COLORS: Black, White, OD Green, Mud (tested)

MSRP: $2,099

CONTACT INFORMATION


STEYR ARMS

BLACK HILLS AMMUNITION

FEDERAL PREMIUM AMMUNITION

HORNADY

SIG SAUER

STONEWALL ARMS

ECHO VALLEY TRAINING CENTER


 

PERFORMANCE RESULTS

Load

Velocity (fps)

Accuracy (inches)

Average

Best

SIG Sauer Elite 77- grain OTM

2,615 2.66

2.33

Federal Gold Medal Match 69 grains

2,620

2.75

2.50

American Eagle 62-grain FMJ

2,890

3.33

3.00

NOTES: Velocity average was based on five rounds fired over an RCBS Shooting AmmoMaster Chronograph. Accuracy results were determined via three five-round groups at 100 yards. 

Various ammunition from SIG Sauer, Hornady, Black Hills and American Eagle was tested with the Steyr A3 M1.

 

Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the February 2018 print issue of Gun World Magazine.