Daystate Pulsar air rifle available from Surplus Store

You may have come across the term ‘bullpup’ through your search for a new air rifle or airsoft rifle. In fact, we have many bullpup rifles for sale in our store, including the excellent Daystate Pulsar air rifle; but what does the term mean? We have looked at it in some more detail below:


The first bullpup design is said to have originated in England in 1901, and went against the traditional set up of rifles at the time. In most rifle configurations, the trigger is positioned directly underneath or very close to the firing action meaning the barrel starts where the trigger is.

However, this new design had the concept of having the trigger ahead of the action, which was named the bullpup. The first rifle designed to operate in this manner was the Thorneycroft carbine, which was designed for a .303 rifle cartridge and held five rounds inside an internal magazine. It was 7.5 inches shorter and 10% lighter than the standard Lee Enfield rifle; the standard British military rifle of the time.

[caption id="attachment_1228" align="aligncenter" width="412"]Thorneycroft carbine bullpup schematics from 1901 Schematics for the Thorneycroft carbine, from 1901[/caption]

However, it is safe to say this first attempt at a bullpup rifle did not work out as planned… The Thorneycroft rifle suffered from recoil and ergonomic issues and was not adopted for military service. Inventors continued to work on improving the design, including some French inventors during 1920s and 1930s, but they were not widely accepted.

Enfield tried their hand at a design and came out with the EM-2 after World War II, but since it was not designed to use NATO calibre ammunition, it faded very quickly soon after. The British did not give up on the bullpup configuration, however, and later designed the L85 assault rifle in 1985, which is the current standard British military rifle.

But it was not the British who came out with the first successful bullpup configured rifle, with that honour going to Austria. The Steyr AUG came out in 1977 and was later adopted by over 25 other countries. What set the Steyr AUG apart from other attempts was the fact it was extremely accurate, reliable and light, showing off the advantages of a bullpup configuration. It was also built to accommodate the 5.56×45mm NATO ammunition; something many of its predecessors had failed to do.

France soon followed with their new standard infantry rifle, the FAMAS, in 1978, with the UK bringing out their L85A1 and L85A2 in the 1980s and early 1990s respectively. Soon, many countries followed suit by designing their own bullpup rifles, such as the SAR-21 from Singapore, the TAR-21 from Israel and the QBZ 95 from China.

Pros and cons

The bullpup rifles have been designed in a way to make a weapon that is easier to manoeuvre in confined spaces. Since the design had the trigger ahead of the action, it means the action sits close to the back of the stock and closer to the user’s face, meaning the length of the weapon is reduced.

This means the overall length of the weapon is reduced. Also, since the stock contains part of the barrel and the action, the stock is much smaller and hence, a bit lighter than a conventional rifle. This smaller, lighter rifle is why many countries have adopted the bullpup design in their own military.

But it isn’t without its drawbacks, with one of the earliest complaints being that the ejection port of the rifle sits closer to the user’s face. Since most rifles eject their spent cartridges to the right, those who shoot left-handed would have to switch their style to avoid a face full of hot metal! Some rifles, such as the FAMAS and Steyr AUG, got around this issue by allowing users to easily swap the bolt and ejection cover around so left handed shooters could make the rifle eject to the left. Other rifles solved this issue by ejecting the spent cases downwards or forwards.

Other issues with bullpup configurations are that the firing noise appears louder as the firing chamber is closer to the ears of the users, and the magazine changes take a little longer, due to the ergonomics of the configuration, but these issues are not too much of a problem when it comes to non-live firing weapons.