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Preview – Desert Tech MDR

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Photos by Straight 8 and Ben Hetland

Desert Tech Introduces an American Bullpup

Bullpups have never had much of a following in the U.S. market. Despite their obvious advantages of a rifle-length barrel in a PDW-sized package, their perceived drawbacks have always limited their mass appeal. For the most part they’re regarded as the firearms equivalent of a Ducati — a Euro affectation that looks funny, has dodgy ergos, and questionable reliability. Why would you buy a Diavel when you could have a Road King?

For decades, if you wanted to dip a toe into the bullpup world, your options comprised an AUG and, well, that was it. Various bastard conglomerations of conventional firearms were stuffed inside aftermarket bullpup shells, but apart from their deluded owners, no one ever took them seriously. Recently however, things have started to change for the better with the Tavor and Kel-Tec RDB entering the market. Desert Tech has found favor with their line of very accurate switch-barrel bullpup bolt guns and for the past couple of years have teased everyone at SHOT Show with a 3-D printed, prototype semi-auto. That prototype has just entered production, and RECOIL got exclusive access to it in its final form.

Following its debut at SHOT in 2014, the MDR languished for lack of engineering expertise. In mid 2015, things made a quantum leap forward as Corey Newman joined Desert Tech as VP of Engineering after a long and fruitful stint at SIG, and it wasn’t long before he was joined by former colleague John Meehan. Both had worked on the MCX program, refining it to meet the needs of the special operations community. Echoes of SIG’s MCX and MPX are evident in specifics such as the MDR’s gas system, which employs AR-15-style McFarland rings as gas seals, and the overall attention to detail and quality expectations of the program as a whole.

When the pair joined the project, the gun’s overall look and feel had already been established, along with general architecture and plastics, but there was still much to be done regarding its deep mechanics. “We knew the gun had a lot of potential, so long as we could get it to function as well as it felt,” Meehan said. Many sleepless nights and long days followed, fueled by high-test coffee and local microbrews, until the seventh iteration of the prototype was almost ready for production. Then disaster struck.


One weekend, a fire erupted in a building across the street from their facility. As firefighters struggled to contain the blaze, they caused a water main under the shop floor to burst, flooding the plant and causing a section of floor to collapse. Fortunately, business owner Nick Young was passing by and saw water spilling out of the doors, so he sounded the alarm, allowing their CNC machines to be saved, but the flood resulted in several hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage.

There was a silver lining, however. Forcing the plant to shut down in order to deal with water damage meant that floor space could be reallocated and processes reorganized to maximize efficiency, by separating the bolt gun and MDR production lines. As a result, the company expects to be in full production by April and able to fulfill its expected order volume.

Enough of the backstory — let’s look at the gun.

Details, Details
Desert Tech has worked on addressing many of the usual drawbacks of bullpup designs. Historically, they’ve been cursed with notoriously crappy triggers and, due to the location of the ejection port, are difficult to shoot from the support-side shoulder. In the case of the SA-80 that I carried for eight years, if you attempted to shoot left-handed, you’d lose precisely half your teeth as the cocking handle came back and smacked you in the mouth.


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