Some people love these space-age replicas, while others can’t roll their eyes hard enough without suffering severe injury.
From the Steyr AUG to the Type 95, with their compact design and unusual configuration, bullpups occupy something of a niche in the airsoft world and as such can be a little trickier (and more expensive) to buy than your standard M4 clone.
To help those looking to dive into the world of airsoft bullpups for the first time, we put together this short guide that discusses their history, pros, cons and what to look out for.
What is a Bullpup Design?
A bullpup design is one in which the action or mechanism of the rifle and its magazine are located behind the trigger, towards the user’s shoulder.
This design allows the gun to be fitted with a longer barrel onto a shorter body, giving it improved accuracy and trajectory compared to weapons of a similar overall length.
The Bullpup: A Short History
Despite looking pretty modern and cutting edge, the bullpup design actually stretches all the way back to 1866 with the prototype Curtis Rifle developed by British gun designer William Joseph Curtis.
Although various gun manufacturers toyed around with different prototypes on and off throughout the 20th century, with Enfield’s EM-2, the Soviet TKB-40 and the American Model 45A being most notable, the bullpup design never really took off with most militaries and weapons manufacturing sticking with more conventional, action-forward designs.
The first truly “successful” bullpup rifle was arguably the venerable Steyr AUG, which was adopted in 1977 by the Austrian and Australian militaries.
The AUG’s reliable, light and fairly accurate nature made a big splash in the arms world and it was eventually followed by guns like the French FAMAS, the British L85, the BelgianF2000, the Chinese Type 95 and the Israeli Tavor.
Despite having a number of benefits, including longer barrel length, compact body, greater maneuverability and arguably more comfortable balance, the bullpup design has always taken a backseat to more a traditional and conventional rifle configuration.
There are numerous historical reasons for this, including a greater cost of manufacturing, greater difficulty accommodating left handed shooter (without modification they tend to eject casings to the left and and into user’s faces), higher sight positions and difficulty creating an effective and non-sluggish trigger mechanism.
But perhaps the greatest reason is that its unconventional design and manual of arms requires experienced shooters to spend time retrain much of their weapons handling and maintenance skills.
Advantages of Airsoft Bullpups
Awesome, super modern and unusual to look at
If you’re looking for something different to bring to the field, a bullpup can be a great alternative to the sea of M4s and AK airsoft replicas that are out there.
Although they’re not everyone’s cup of tea, they do tend to draw admiring stares from other players.
Compact design with full length barrel
Arguably, the greatest advantage of a bullpup is its ability to offer a full length rifle barrel in a carbine-sized body, helping deliver greater accuracy and range while still being easy to handle.
Although not as much of a factor in airsoft as it is with real steel guns, barrel length can have an effect on FPS all else being equal (piston, cylinder volume, BB weight, bore diameter. etc) as it will allow BBs more time and room to accelerate, especially with GBBRs.
Lighter in the front
With airsoft bullpups, like with real steel versions, most of the mechanical components are shifted to the back of the gun, behind the trigger.
This puts most of the weight of the gun towards the back and makes it easier to swing around (good pieing corners and doing dynamic entry in CQB) and hold over time.
Disadvantages of Airsoft Bullpups
Many of the more concerning disadvantages of a real steel bullpup, such as ejection port issues and muzzle blast proximity, aren’t really relevant with airsoft bullpups.
That said, as with anything else, they do have their issues.
Fewer models available, more expensive
Unfortunately for those looking for a good airsoft bullpup to add to their collections, there aren’t as many options out there as perhaps they would like.
There are largely two factors that contribute to this.
For one thing, with a few exceptions, most real steel rifles out there are of a standard configuration and design.
As a result, the companies that replicate them for airsoft simply make more airsoft guns overall that have a traditional configuration.
Secondly, whether bullpup enthusiasts like to admit it or not, bullpup design can be a bit polarizing.
While some airsofters like them, many do not and tend to stick to good ol’ fashioned, easily found and modifiable ARs and AKs.
With less demand, there is less incentive for companies to make and sell bullpups.
Sadly, the laws of economics tend to prevail and as there are fewer airsoft bullpups on the market they also tend to be more expensive than other airsoft rifles.
Unfamiliar handling characteristics
With bullpups, ergonomics can be awkward for those who are used to M4s and other airsoft rifle configurations to use at first.
Finding and Adjusting parts like the hop up can take a little time, as does getting used to disassembly and magazine changes.
Action is closer to the users face
Because the action on a bullpup is located further back, it is a lot closer to the user’s face and ears.
While certainly less hazardous than real steel models, it can still be somewhat distracting and even annoying in game. This is particularly true for GBBR models, whose actions tend to be a lot louder and more dynamic than the whirr of an AEG gearbox.
Things to look out for with airsoft bullpups
As with other airsoft designs, there can be a great deal of variation between airsoft bullpups, not only due to individual design differences between their real steel equivalents, but also due to the manufacturer’s own attention to detail and passion for quality control (or lack thereof).
After all, a bullpup is just a design configuration and not a universal standard, so it is important to read reviews and get opinions about individual models before buying them.
That said there are a few things to look out for if you are planning to add a bullpup to your collection.
In general, because bullpups are something of a niche product in airsoft, some manufacturers may adopt a take it or leave it approach to their models and produce rattly, unnecessarily cramped and unreliable airsoft bullpup rifles as a result, knowing that there isn’t much in the way of competition.
It almost goes without saying that it is important to therefore look for well-constructed models from manufacturers with decent reputations, especially since it can be slightly harder for the casual user to modify them due to their more unusual design.
Some things to look out for that pop up from time to time on bullpups are:
- Cheap or outdated motors, pistons, cylinders and gearboxes delivering sub-par performance (manufacturers trying to get away with V1s is a common issue)
- Poorly stamped magazine well that contribute to feeding problems and magazines catching and not fitting properly
- Limited battery compartments on AEGs preventing upgrades or mods
- The use of proprietary parts that can’t be upgraded
- Bad seams that cause leaking in GBBRs
- The use of cheap ABS or low quality metals
Although dependent on the particular model (and easily solved by aftermarket trigger kits and mosfets) many airsoft bullpups unfortunately use cheaper trigger bars and other mechanisms, which can result in far too many models out there with slushy, long pulling triggers.
This has caused bullpups to have developed something of an unfortunate reputation in this matter .
While it’s true that many real steel models do have issues with their triggers due to long linkages, airsoft bullpups, particularly AEG models, operate very differently and it’s really a matter of the components used and quality of construction more than anything.
Magazines break or get damaged from time to time, and the last thing you want is to have a nice, well-designed bullpup with nothing to fire.
As airsoft bullpups are something of a niche in the airsoft world, they tend to go in and out of stock pretty quickly (or be taken off the market altogether), and so it is important to make sure that the models they are interested in are cross-compatible with more standard magazine designs so it’s easier to get more in the future.
This is doubly true for cheaper models, where they manufacturer may not have put a lot of effort into making magazines for the gun itself.
Consequently, we suggest airsofters avoid bullpup rifles that use proprietary (or a very limited range of) magazines.
Not everyone loves the look of a bullpup, but for those that do they can deliver a unique experience on the airsoft field.
Because they are a niche item and some cheaper models are prone to some physical issues with their design, it’s perhaps more important to take your time and choose a model carefully than with more common designs.
Will Martin – Will has been into airsoft and paintball for well over 10 years, and has done it all – from upgrading and fixing gearboxes as a tech to building custom airsoft loadouts for his friends to supporting off those friends as a DM.