The Ultimate Firearms Destination for the Gun Lifestyle

Modern Bullpup Rifles: The Ultimate Truck Gun?

Photos by Zack Podell & RECOIL Staff

Driving is an inevitable part of everyday life for the average American; nearly everywhere we go requires some form of motorized transportation.

According to the Department of Transportation, modern Americans spend over 370 hours per year in their automobiles. Needless to say, there’s a strong argument to be made for vehicle-based emergency preparedness measures within this ever-changing environment.  

Defense when traveling isn’t a new concept — the security of individuals and goods in transit dates back to the earliest days of humanity. The weapons used for this purpose must be multifunctional, given the cramped environment of the vehicle, but also flexible in their ability to engage at various ranges. Not to mention also accommodating modern accessories like optics, slings, and lights. 

Enter the bullpup rifle. The modern bullpup sparks a mixed emotional response with many shooters. While they’re more common in the global market, they haven’t seen military service, or even widespread commercial acceptance, here in the United States. 

The bullpup traces its roots back to 1866, with the Curtis Bullpup and its successor, the Thorneycroft; the latter became the first bullpup to make it into military trials in 1902. The bullpup is rife with advantages and disadvantages, given its fundamental design. 


Bullpup rifle designs place the action (the bolt carrier group and sear) behind the weapon’s grip and physical trigger. This is what makes the bullpup so unique and also underlies its primary advantage over traditionally configured rifles: compactness.

The barrel of a bullpup typically ranges from 16 to 18 inches, providing increased muzzle velocity compared to similar-sized conventional rifles equipped with shorter barrels. This barrel length can produce longer effective range and better terminal ballistics with an overall length closer to short-barreled rifles and some PDWs (personal defense weapons). 

A SCAR 16 with a 10″ barrel is roughly the same overall size as a Tavor with a 16″ barrel.

Because the heaviest internal parts and magazine are located just in front of the buttstock, bullpups are rear-heavy. While this may seem to be a disadvantage, it makes wielding the weapon less physically taxing — the weight is in your shoulder rather than above and beyond your primary hand. 

Since the amount of weight forward of your hands is significantly reduced, bullpups often feel more “pointable” or easier-to-drive across multiple lateral targets. The perceived recoil may also be reduced; since the weapon’s mass is already up against the shoulder, the length of the force lever between reciprocating mass and your body is greatly shortened. Bullpup actions cycle over your arm, not your hand, when fired. 

Since we control push-pull motions with our arms, not our hands, these types of rifles can be easier to control. 


These benefits are, of course, not without trade-offs. There are some negative aspects to the bullpup design. Perhaps the most glaring issues that stand out are changes to the manual of arms. Manipulating a bullpup, such as for reloads or malfunction clearance, is entirely different than any conventionally designed rifle. 

The departure from traditional norms of ergonomics gives pause to many who have invested extensive amounts of time learning how to efficiently run traditional rifle controls. 

Editor Tom Marshall putting in work. Note placement of support hand — short guns run out of room quickly, so be careful not to run into a self-correcting problem.

You’re forced to relearn all of the reloads, immediate action drills, and other skills and associated mechanisms that come with extended time and repetition. This turns many shooters away from bullpups almost outright from the beginning of the discussion. 

Another problem often discussed is the trigger. Those who are used to the AR platform have become accustomed to match-grade or custom triggers. 

The plethora of aftermarket triggers allows you to upgrade your AR to whatever trigger fits your budget or personal preference. Furthermore, the AR-15, like other traditional rifle configurations, permits direct engagement between the trigger and the sear. This enables companies to produce lightweight, crisp triggers, with very precise amounts of pre- and over-travel. 

The bullpup design must use a connecting bar or cable to bridge the trigger with the sear. The extension of the trigger mechanism has led to lackluster, heavy, mushy triggers and is a detriment to a precise trigger/shooter interface. 


So why choose a bullpup if there are known issues with the manual of arms and low-performance triggers? It’s important to fairly evaluate the intersection of equipment and situations that you may find yourself in. 

Choosing the right tool for the job becomes more apparent when selecting a weapon and supporting kit for specific use cases — in this instance, the “truck gun.” To standardize, we’ll define the truck gun as a rifle-caliber weapon that must facilitate two primary tasks. The first is a reliable and accurate platform capable of engagements ranging from point contact (3 to 5 meters) to standoff (200 to 300 meters). 

We define a 300-meter maximum due to the limited ability to distinguish between threats and non-threats at that distance positively. The second is the ability to maneuver in constrictive spaces. If you’re using a truck gun, you must think both laterally and vertically in the potential field of engagement. 

Life isn’t a flat range, so you won’t just be engaging downrange but instead understanding the dynamics of a multitude of cramped shooting positions while also being aware of what you’re hiding behind. 

When engaging from barricades or around automobiles, you’ll likely be dealing with fragmentation from your cover/concealment, so it’s important to be able to set up and shoot and then maneuver quickly. To do this rapidly and repeatedly, you’ll need a rifle that handles nimbly in a wide array of positions and movements — balanced against also producing enough accuracy and energy. 

Typically, you can’t have lightweight, short barrels and ease of movement without surrendering some velocity and potentially giving up some amount of terminal ballistics or accuracy.

For these reasons, the bullpup has great potential for vehicle-based defense in urban environments. It allows for easy movement, a light front end, and better muzzle velocity/energy compared to shorter-barreled rifles of similar overall length. 

In fact, over the last two decades, development in bullpup designs has allowed for improved triggers, AR-15-inspired controls, and better overall designs that can satisfy even the most scrupulous of AR snobs. 

Weapons like the Tavor family of rifles, the MDRX, and the Springfield Armory Hellion provide a truly ambidextrous application, use AR magazines, and have excellent ergonomics. There are several other modern bullpups not mentioned here — do your research and look at the pluses and minuses of each weapon to determine what platform works best for you. 

Another consideration when assessing what weapon platform will work best in and around vehicles is its overall shape and form factor. You should assess not only the weapon but what will be attached to it. 

Vehicles are restrictive environments with many obstructions and snag hazards; your primary concern is being able to access a firearm quickly and effectively engage a threat when either in or around the vehicle. Weapons with folding stocks are undoubtedly handy, but when stocks are folded, their width doubles. 

Then, there’s the issue of effectively employing the weapon when inside the vehicle. Folded stocks provide zero support. Thus, you must stabilize the weapon with just your muscular structure. 

This isn’t an issue for a bullpup. The short overall length, combined with the integrated stock and receiver, allows easy storage and deployment. Furthermore, you can shoulder the weapon while inside the vehicle, allowing for well-placed shots, no matter how remote this scenario may be. The slim width and short stature of bullpup rifles make for a user-friendly platform for vehicle-based tactics.

A short platform places the support hand closer to the end of the barrel. Having an awareness of where the muzzle sits — both in relation to your support hand and the vehicle’s windows — is vital when dealing with door frames, side mirrors, bumpers, and hoods. 

Choosing the correct hand stop or forward grip is pivotal for control and the safety of your support fingers. 

The closed environment of automobile interiors and the space immediately around the outside of a vehicle is delicate. 

When choosing a muzzle device, consider glass and plastic parts as well as those around you. A linear compensator or blast diffuser is a good idea; these devices direct blast energy forward and away from the sides of the weapon’s muzzle. The effect is two-fold; the blast is directed away from the windows that the shooter is next to, mitigating shattered glass and fragments. It also lessens the blast felt by others nearby. 

One of the downsides to moving the action to behind the pistol grip is a lack of rail space for accessories. Hence the VFG.

The drawback of these two devices is slightly increased felt recoil. Still, the minimal amount of increased recoil is a fair trade compared to the other issues that come with shooting in and around vehicles. 

Another consideration is choosing a sling for your rifle. When selecting a sling for a bullpup, note that the magazine is further into your shoulder. This equates to more slack needed on two-point slings, and the manual of arms changes slightly. 

Often, if a two-point sling is adjusted to provide more support during offhand shooting, the sling won’t offer enough room for a rapid magazine change. Single-point slings provide greater flexibility when manipulating the firearm but don’t facilitate improved stability when working hands-free. 

At the end of the day, personal preference greatly contributes to weapon selection, and the “forward momentum” of familiar controls can be difficult to overcome. The bullpup isn’t for everyone, but it’s a combat-proven design with some very real benefits for vehicular use, albeit not without some substantial trade-offs in terms of man-hours invested for re-training.

The necessity for mobility and flexibility when working from vehicles makes the bullpup a rational and robust choice. 

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