Reload Image

Your work space becomes smaller with a bullpup: The muzzle is closer; the magazine well is behind the trigger. Balance is different, too. The weight of the weapon is in the butt. The ejection port is also located in the butt.

Moving from an AR15-style rifle to a bullpup takes some ramp-up time. Muscle memory has to be relearned. Reloading technique changes.

The Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) Tavor X95 and Kel-Tec RDB are two best-in-breed bullpups. They are not exactly similar in operation or manipulation, but both weapons are designed for use in close, cramped environments where longer weapons can be a liability.

Bullpups are bred for CQB use; and, with a red-dot or reflex-style optic, they make a darned near-perfect setup. But that doesn’t mean a bullpup is solely a short-range weapon. Hardly. By definition, a bullpup is a firearm configured with the action located behind the trigger group. Because the action is housed in the buttstock, the overall length and weight of the weapon are significantly reduced. Even so, a bullpup keeps the same barrel length as a conventional AR15. With the appropriate optic, a bullpup is capable of the same ranges as an AR15.


The IWI Tavor X95 XB16 and Kel-Tec RDB are two bullpups with different concept philosophies. One is a no-frills, down-and-dirty performer, while the other is modular and configurable in a variety of calibers. Both are intensely functional. These are ambidextrous rifles that are small in hand and shoulder fast.

Because the weight of both bullpups is in the rear of the stock (where the action is), the center of gravity seems off, especially for those of us who train with AR-style rifles. All the semiautomatic rifles I’ve trained with—AR15s, the Beretta ARX, M1 Carbines, AKs, M1As and others—have the magazine just forward of the trigger. My ramp-up time with the Kel-Tec and IWI took awhile to adjust to, but I do see the advantage a bullpup offers over a conventional rifle.

Size is the first thing you notice. Both the RDB and Tavor X95 feel like an SBR in hand. They both meet the minimum 26-inch overall length, so they are not considered SBRs.

Bullpups are compact rifles that pack 16-inch barrels in a small package. The magazine located behind the pistol grip means a change in the standard AR magazine reload.

Getting out of a vehicle and maneuvering in tight environments is where these weapons excel. They are also slightly lighter than the typical 16-inch-barreled AR15. Part of the reason bullpups are lighter is that the action is encased in polymer. They feel light and lithe in hand.

While a lot of firearms manufacturers talk about ergonomics, with the IWI and Kel-Tec bullpups, you begin to understand why the magazine release and safety are placed where they are; why the cocking handle is designed the way it is; and so on. When running these bulls, I experienced two well-thought-out weapon systems.

Field-stripping both bullpups is simple: Push out two pins on the Kel-Tec, and it disassembles similarly to an AR15. Rotate the grip downward, and the barrel and bolt carrier can be removed from the stock/grip assembly. With the IWI, pull one pin in the butt and rotate the butt pad down. You can then pull out the recoil mechanism.

Both bulls are compatible with standard AR-15/M16 magazines. I have a box of Brownells 30-round, aluminum-body magazines, Magpul PMags and a stack of Hexmag 30-rounders (you can never have too many AR magazines in my opinion), and all worked well. Because they use AR15 magazines, the bolt design of both the RDB and X95 is similar to that of an AR15.

Israeli Ingenuity

A military version of the IWI SAR has been in Israeli military service since 2001. The IWI Tavor X95 is an upgraded and enhanced version of the battle-proven SAR design. IWI made the X95 shorter than the SAR—and, more importantly, relocated the operating handle closer to the shooter and the shooter’s center of mass. Some ergonomics considerations were deftly applied to this bullpup, making it easier to operate in cramped quarters and while wearing tactical gear. The charging handle can also be reversed on the opposite side of the weapon, depending on the shooter’s preference.

The magazine release has been relocated to operate similar to an AR15 magazine release, so there is no large learning curve with the X95 when coming from an AR15.

The forearm has Picatinny rails at the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions with removable rail covers, so adding a light, laser or grip is simple. The Tavor-style pistol grip with the large loop can be swapped out by removing one screw if a standard pistol grip with traditional trigger guard is desired. The bolt release also has a smaller, lower profile—again, for better manipulation in cramped conditions.

The IWI employs a long-stroke piston system that runs clean and is reliable. Calibers can be swapped from 5.56 NATO to 9mm and 300 BLK using optional conversion kits. A gas regulator allows the user to adjust the weapon to the cartridge so a can may be used on the IWI. Empties are ejected via an eject port just under the shooter’s nose.

Keeping with the Israeli theme, I mounted a Meprolight Mepro Tru-Dot RDS with a 1.8 MOA dot reticle. The RDS is a commercial version of the Mepro M5 sights used by the Israeli Defense Forces.

Running the IWI is similar to running an AR. The controls are in similar places and work the same. It will even take any AR-style magazine, including this Magpul PMag. The ejection port is just above the magazine.

The IWI is well made, with a polymer body assembly that holds the barrel, bolt carrier and piston assembly. Disassembly of the X95 is simple, and that fact, plus the ability to swap calibers, is what sets the IWI apart from other bullpups.

Controls are pretty straightforward. The safety selector rotates similarly to an AR15, and the ambidextrous magazine release can be operated with the trigger finger. The charging handle is located on the left side of the weapon. I had plenty of leverage, so it was easy to cock the X95 with my support hand and hold the pistol grip with my firing hand.

Inserting magazines is where I spent my ramp-up time. Training myself to move the fresh magazine behind the pistol grip took some getting used to, but I did find myself adapting quickly to the X95.

I used three brands of ammunition: Aguila 5.56 NATO with a 62-grain FMJ bullet; Federal Fusion .223 Rem. with a 62-grain soft point; and SIG Sauer .223 Rem. with a 77-grain OTM Match bullet.

Starting out at 25 yards, I used a rest and found the X95 was surgical. Five-shot groups were a ragged hole. Performing fast-firing drills with magazines loaded with odd round counts, I ran the X95 for speed. A lip on the forend allows the operator to grip the rifle as far forward as possible while limiting the chance of getting too close to the muzzle. Recoil was mild, and empties were thrown well away from where I was shooting.

At first, magazine swaps were awkward while I learned the bullpup technique. The bolt release is just to the rear of the magazine and can be manipulated in one motion: Dump magazine, insert magazine and press the release to slam the bolt forward. Great ergonomics make it a joy to operate.

The trigger, notably better than the IWI SAR trigger, was still a bit heavy and broke on average at 6.8 pounds—not particularly helpful at the 100-yard range but a trigger one can adapt to. Using a red dot, I was able to get decent groups that averaged just under 2 MOA. The IWI ran strong with no malfunctions.

The X95 has BUIS that are inset in the top rail. They fold up when needed and co-witness with the Mepro RDS red dot.

Stateside Innovation

As much as the IWI X95 is modular and adaptable, Kel-Tec takes a more simplistic approach to the 5.56 NATO-caliber bullpup with the RDB. Simple and uncomplicated, the RDB uses two polymer halves around a steel action and barrel.

The RDB uses a left-side, nonreciprocating charging handle so the shooter can charge it using the support hand, keeping the firing hand on the grip. It locks against the forend when not being used, so it won’t snag.

The polymer forend wraps around the barrel and mechanism. The outside texture is a very coarse grid pattern that is comfortable and offers plenty of purchase. A Picatinny rail at 12 and 6 o’clock allow mounting of an optic on top and various accessories at the 6.

The controls consist of an ambidextrous rotating safety selector that is easily manipulated by the thumb of the shooting hand, like an AR, but only requires a 45-degree rotation. The magazine release lever is also suited for left- or right-handed users. The lever is designed so the magazine can fall free or a shooter can grasp the magazine to remove it (because their hand naturally falls on it). Like an AR15, the IWI and Kel-Tec both allow the operator to keep their firing hand on the grip while performing a magazine reload with the support hand.

The ambidextrous safety selector on the RDB is located under the thumb of the firing hand and is easy to manipulate.

The Kel-Tec uses a gas piston system and also has a gas regulator, so the user can regulate the weapon to run on all sorts of ammunition and a suppressor. The gas regulator can be adjusted with the open mouth from an empty 5.56 NATO case. It’s click-adjustable, and Kel-Tec recommends firing a few rounds after adjusting the regulator to test reliability. It comes from the factory ready to run on standard M193-type 55-grain ammo.

Ejection can be an issue with some bullpup designs. The RDB uses a unique downward ejecting system: As the bolt moves rearward, the extractor pulls the cases out of the chamber and into dual ejectors that push the case down a chute. Empties then fall at the shooter’s feet.

I mounted a SIG ROMEO4B red-dot on the RBD. Both it and the X95 are like an AR15 in that they both need a high mount for optics.

In speed testing, the RDB also required ramp-up time. The support hand does all the work when reloading. The simple metal magazine release is pressed to drop or strip away the magazine. Hot brass falls at your feet.

The trigger was not as refined as the X95 trigger but quite usable. At 25 yards using a rest, I could create one large hole in the target. “Surgical” is the term I’d use. At 100 yards, the accuracy hovered between 2.5 to 3 MOA.

The Kel-Tec is a more basic bullpup that, in my opinion, will get the job done. The IWI is more refined, with more ability for customization.

Bullpups offer better maneuverability creeping around corners, moving through doorways and rooms, and getting in and out of vehicles. The weight of the bullpup is in the rear, making it more comfortable to carry and shoulder fast.

The costlier IWI offers a more refined bullpup weapon, while the less-expensive Kel-Tec is a straightforward approach to the design. Either way, these “pups” offer uncompromised firepower from across the room or out to 100 yards and beyond.

“Simple” and “uncomplicated” best describe the Kel-Tec. It’s not fancy, but it is worthy of the bullpup name.


Seeing Red: Sig Sauer Romeo4 And Meprolight Mepro RDS

The Mepro RDS is constructed with an aluminum body and tough polymer frame around a large viewing window. This sight is easy to use when shooting with both eyes open.

It runs on one AA battery and requires no tools to change the battery or adjust the sight. It also turns off when not in use to conserve battery life.

I’ve used this sight on numerous AR15 rifles because it is also the perfect height for an AR15 and co-witnesses with BUIS. The X95 has BUIS that are inset in the top rail and fold up when needed. They co-witnessed with the Mepro RDS.

The SIG ROMEO4 has a built-in base that positions it at the perfect height for an AR or bullpup.

The reticle has four brightness settings. The unit features an integral Picatinny rail mount with QD levers. At a total weight of 10.5 ounces and overall length of 4.5 inches, the RDS is as compact as the X95. Once mounted, it was at the exact height needed for an AR platform.

The SIG ROMEO4B is small, compact and lightweight. This red dot features a dual reticle that allows a user to toggle between a 2 MOA red dot or a circle dot with a 2 MOA red dot inside a 65 MOA circle. It’s a nice reticle for close range and out to 100 yards.

The sight turns off when not in use and powers up when it senses motion. I’m notorious for not turning off red dots after use. This sight is idiot proof. The CR2032 battery offers 50,000-plus hours of battery life.

The Meprolight Mepro RDS is a commercial version of the Mepro M5 sights used by the Israeli Defense Forces. It paired well with the Tavor X95.


IWI Tavor X95 XB16 Performance











Federal Fusion MSR .223 Rem.
62-grain SP


1,132 1.7


SIG Sauer .223 Rem. 77-grain OTM Match Grade


929 1.9


Aguila 5.56 NATO 62-grain FMJ


1,195 1.8



Kel-Tec RDB Performance











Federal Fusion MSR .223 Rem. 62-grain SP


1,193 2.1


SIG Sauer .223 Rem. 77-grain OTM Match Grade


1,005 2.2


Aguila 5.56 NATO 62-grain FMJ


1,272 2.4



IWI Tavor X95 XB16


Caliber: 5.56mm NATO
Barrel Length: 16.5 inches
Overall Length: 26.13 inches
Weight: 7.9 pounds (empty)
Sights: Folding iron sights; optic-ready Picatinny rail
Action: Gas-operated, long-stroke piston
Finish: Black
Capacity: 30+1
MSRP: $1,999


Kel-Tec RDB


Caliber: 5.56mm NATO
Barrel Length: 17.3 inches
Overall Length: 27.3 inches
Weight: 6.7 pounds (empty)
Sights: Optic-ready Picatinny rail
Action: Gas-piston, semiautomatic
Finish: Matte black
Capacity: 20+1
MSRP: $1,272


Contact Information

Israel Weapon Industries, LTD. (IWI)



Federal Premium


SIG Sauer


Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the October 2017 print issue of Gun World Magazine.