The world Is Going To The
Pups—Bullpups That Is.
The short, compact bullpup configuration for a fighting rifle continues to win supporters throughout the world’s military powers. Think about it. Austria and Australia fielded the AUG, Britain, the SA80 and L85, FN the F2000, France the FAMAS, Russia the OTs-14 Groza, South Africa the VEKTOR CR21, South Korea the DAR-21 and the Ukraine, the Vepr.
In the civilian sporting world, semi-automatic versions of the FAMAS and more recently, the AUG, have enjoyed a certain level of popularity. Even Century International Arms lately produced a successful bullpup version of the AKM-47. Well, meet the new kid on the block—Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) semi-automatic version of the battle proven Tavor Assault Rifle-21st Century (TAR-21)—and it’s being built right here in the USA.
Since its inception, Israel Military Industries (IMI), recently privatizing their small arms division as Israel Weapon Industries (IWI), has worked hand-in-glove with the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) to develop some outstanding combat models like the Uzi and the Galil. For years, the M16 and M4 carbine were the predominant small arms in Israel’s arsenal, but beginning in 1993, IMI and the IDF formed a development team to design a more suitable domestic-made arm for close-quarter urban combat, mechanized warfare and peace-keeping missions. The result was the 5.56 NATO Tavor Assault Rifle which was first issued to the Israeli infantry brigades in 2006 and now makes up a family of mission-specific models ranging from sniper to micro-commando versions.
The bolt release is located just aft of the magazine well.
Loading a fresh magazine and hitting the bolt release with
your thumb is one swift motion.
IWI made a strategic decision in penetrating the American civilian, law enforcement and military markets. It created a USA-based manufacturing and marketing subsidiary, IWI US, Inc., under the leadership of well-known firearms importer and distributor, Michael Kassnar, whose name has been closely associated for years with the Charles Daly and KBI labels. In fact, Kassnar persuaded IWI to purchase his former KBI facility in Harrisburg, Pa. as their office, assembly, testing and warehousing complex. Kassnar also reports the Pennsylvania State Capitol State Police just adopted the Tavor, being the first law enforcement agency in the country to do so.
Using a mix of Israeli and American-made parts, IWI US is currently assembling the Tavor, the Uzi Pro pistol and both 9mm Luger and 5.45x39mm conversion kits for the Tavor.
The US manufactured Tavor is currently available as two models: the actual IDF issue version pictured here with a 16-1/2-inch barrel and standard issue Meprolight M21 day/night, illuminated reflex sight. The second model, the Tavor SAR, is offered in a factory right- or left-hand configuration with a full length, flattop, Picatinny rib, 18-inch barrel and a choice of black or flat dark earth colors. Actually, either Tavor model is completely ambidextrous by simply adding a left-handed bolt and switching over the cocking group, the safety, the short 45-degree Picatinny rib, the ejection port cover and deflector.
Here at GUNS, we requested the IDF model with the military issue Meprolight M21 reflex sight to really get a feel for the version the troopers of the IDF are carrying and fighting with.
The strong suit of the bullpup design is its compressed overall length combined with a standard length barrel, which maintains the full ballistic performance of the ammunition being used. Our IDF version is only 26-1/8 inches long with a 16-1/2-inch, hammer-forged, chrome-lined barrel. The flattop model with an 18-inch barrel is a short 27-5/8 inches in overall length. Compare those overall lengths with that of our M4 carbine. With a short 14-1/2-inch barrel and collapsed stock, the M4 measures 29-3/4 inches. The only things the Tavor and the M4 share are magazines and caliber.
Construction wise, the Tavor features a Teflon coated, 7075 aluminum receiver, shaped like a channel and bonded into a 1-piece polymer stock. The operating system is based on a long stroke, gas-driven piston attached to a bolt carrier, which also carries a captive recoil spring and guide rod. The cam-operated rotating bolt features four locking lugs, extractor and plunger-style ejector. The combined piston and bolt carrier remind me somewhat of the AK/Galil system. The channel shaped receiver with ample clearances on all sides for dirt and fouling is a bit reminiscent of the Uzi.
The Tavor incorporates flip up backup iron sights if
the Mepro-21 goes dark.
The IWI-made polymer 30-round magazine features a
round counter window. Empty magazines drop totally
free when the magazine release is depressed.
It does not use batteries; instead the reticle is
lit by fiber optic in daylight and tritium at night.
A “bullpup” is defined by the rearward location
of the receiver just in front of the buttplate.
Bullpups are notorious for their heavy triggers.
Measuring 11-3/4 pounds, the Tavor’s was no exception.
The safety lever is conveniently located on the pistol grip.
The Tavor accepts standard M16/NATO/STANAG magazines, and the polymer magazine supplied with the Tavor features a clear window stripe down its side for counting rounds. A lever just forward of the magazine well is the magazine release. When released, magazines fall completely free of the magazine well, facilitating a snappy reload, especially because the bolt is held back after the last round is fired. With the gun mounted, the location of the magazine well is perfectly positioned and accessible to the off hand. Inserting a magazine, your hand is also naturally positioned to tap the bolt release just aft of the inserted magazine. Excellent ergonomics.
By withdrawing a single pushpin, the rubber recoil pad of the Tavor swings down, allowing the complete bolt carrier/piston/recoil-spring assembly to be removed as one unit for cleaning and maintenance. Having withdrawn the unit, you can clean the chamber, bore, bolt, piston, gas cylinder and receiver channel from the breech with the IWI maintenance kit provided with instructions from the best owner’s manual I have ever seen. Similarly, the complete hammer and sear assembly can be removed quickly as a single unit by withdrawing two pushpins. In short, the Tavor is a cinch to strip, maintain and repair in the field. It just falls apart. Love it!
The challenge in any bullpup design is the trigger. How do you mechanically link a forward mounted trigger to a rear mounted sear and still maintain an acceptable trigger pull? It’s a tough issue. The 2-stage Tavor trigger measured 11-3/4 pounds on my Lyman electronic scale. To put what seems like a very heavy pull in perspective, I went back and reviewed my experience with three other current bullpups: the AUG, FN FS2000 and Century International’s AK bullpup.
The Tavor performed best with bullets in the 52- to
the Lyman scale, the FS2000, 9-1/2 pounds and CIA’s bullpup, 11-1/2 pounds. It’s a trigger pull that just has to be mastered. Off the bench, it’s easy to press the Tavor trigger to the point of release. Offhand, I found if I took up the slack of the first stage, I could call my shots with a controlled jerk release.
The military issue Meprolight M21 illuminated reflex sight is a marvel of engineering. It’s always on. It requires no batteries. It transitions automatically from fiber optic illumination in daylight to tritium illumination under dim light conditions or at night. It’s weatherproof, tough as nails and has been Israel’s primary close quarter combat sight for almost 2 decades. The IDF estimates the M21 has a life cycle of 10 to 14 years. Some have lasted 20 years. If the light does go out, the Tavor features a set of adjustable, flip-up backup iron sights. You, too, can own a genuine M21 sight for approximately $560. Without having to worry about battery failure, it’s worth every penny of that.
The M21 is offered with a choice of four CQC reticles: a triangle, open X, bull’s-eye or a 4.3- or 5.5-MOA dot. The reticle glows orange in a field of green and is visible under all lighting conditions.
The reticle of the M21 on our test rifle was the “bull’s-eye” reticle, which consists of a fine dot surrounded by a circle. As a close quarter combat reticle, I like it. As a target sight, it’s a bit of a challenge because of the large area it subtends at 100 yards. Let’s call it “minute-of-head-shot” reticle at 100 yards. On the other hand, for testing at the range, I did find one target that fit the reticle perfectly. It’s Birchwood Casey’s Dirty Bird Splattering Target with a 17-1/2-inch black bull’s-eye with a 4-1/2-inch red center. At 100 yards, the M21 bull’s-eye reticle surrounds the 17-1/2-inch bull’s-eye with just a sliver of white showing around the perimeter to keep your sight picture centered.
With the removal of three pushpins, the Tavor
disassembles for maintenance and repair.
How does the Tavor handle and shoot? Being short, chunky and weighing a hefty 9-1/2 pounds fully loaded, I found the Tavor to be an unusually stable shooting platform in offhand, kneeling and prone. It really settles down, snuggles into your body and balances nicely between your hands. The comb proved a bit high for my face, and I had work at it to get an assuring center hold in the M21 sight. In a reflex sight, you may not need to, but I like it that way for precise target practice. The heavy bullpup trigger must be mastered. If you’re benching the Tavor, I would recommend swapping out the 30-round magazine for a shorter 20-rounder. Recoil is minimal, but with your ears being closer to the muzzle, the Tavor, like all bullpup breeds, barks.
With its 1:7-inch twist barrel, I expected the Tavor would turn in its best performance with 62- to 77-grain match loads. It was not to be. A classic target handload of 26.2 grains of 748 and Sierra’s 52-grain Matchking (2,832 fps) as well as a stock 55-grain FMJ loading by CorBon (3,031 fps) produced 3-shot groups running from 1-1/2 to 2-1/4 inches. PMC’s 62-grain M855 (2,925 fps) and Black Hills’ 69-grain Matchking (2,655 fps) loadings ran from 3 to 3-1/2 inches while Black Hills’ 77-grain open tip match load (2,751 fps) generated 3- to 4-inch groups at 100 yards. This performance is not unusual. I’ve worked with other 1:7-inch twist barrels that thrived best on 52- to 55-grain loadings, and note those sterling velocity levels delivered by the 16-1/2-inch barrel of the compact bullpup!
Love ’em or hate ’em, the bullpups are a whole ’nother breed. My hunch is we’ll be seeing more of them in the future. Maybe, just maybe, someday, someone will come up with a crisp, light trigger for the pup.
By Holt Bodinson
FOR FURTHER READING
The World’s Assault Rifles by Gary Paul Johnston and Thomas B. Nelson, hardcover, 1,216 pages ©2010, $74.95, available from: A&J Arms Book Sellers, 4731 E. Cooper St., Tucson, AZ 85711, (520) 512-1065, www.ajarmsbooksellers.com