IWI Tavor Bullpup

By Todd Burgreen

The IWI Tavor bullpup rifle, recently introduced in the U.S., is directly traceable to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF) TAR-21 Tavor. The Tavor becoming available to the U.S. consumer is possible due to the assembling of the rifles in the U.S. from a combination of Israeli and U.S. manufactured parts to meet government compliance regulations at the IWI U.S. facility located in Harrisburg, PA. IDF Tavor development commenced in 1991 with the intention of the Tavor replacing aging M16s and Galil assault rifles. The Tavor first appeared in public in 1998, and it began field testing by the IDF during 1999-2002.

The Tavor utilizes a long-stroke piston rotating bolt action, with the non-adjustable gas cylinder located above the barrel encased by the Tavor’s polymer chassis. The rotating bolt is similar to one found in the M16 rifle and has seven lugs. Ejection ports are present on both sides of the weapon and can be selected by installing the bolt with the ejector mounted on the right or on the left; this requires a partial disassembly of the rifle and thus is not doable on the fly. The non-reciprocating charging handle is located at the front left side of the gun. Charging handle slots are cut on the both sides of the gun housing so the charging handle can be installed on either side of the weapon as well for more ambidextrous adaptability. The non-reciprocating charging handle remained on the left side for this evaluation. The Tavor can be fired from the left shoulder even when configured for a right hand shooter thanks to a brass deflector located on the chassis behind the ejection port. Thus, if a shooter is required to transition between right and left shoulders in a CQB situation, no issues are encountered. This was borne out in numerous range visits and attendance in various training courses. The Tavor has no separate receiver with all parts mounted within the high impact-resistant polymer housing, reinforced with steel inserts where appropriate. Access to the action is via a hinged buttplate.

Bullpup style rifles always generate strong opinions both pro and con. Bullpups are firearm configurations in which the action is located behind the trigger group in the space normally solely reserved for the stock. This permits at least a 7-10 inch shorter firearm length for the same barrel length thus improving maneuverability and handling. Bullpup pro and con advocates put forth a litany of reasons regarding the concept to support their position. Advocates claim that nothing more than pointless moribund traditionalism is stifling bullpup-style weapons from being adopted widespread with detractors denigrating bullpup effectiveness to the point of challenging the basic raison d’être for the design.

The IWI Tavor tested herein weighs 8 pounds and measures approximately 26 1/8 inches long with its 16.5-inch chrome lined cold hammer forged 1:7 twist barrel. An 18-inch barrel IWI Tavor model is also available. A full length Picatinny rail runs down the upper receiver with a shorter rail also present on the right side of the forend. The Tavor comes with functional iron sights that fold down into the Picatinny rail that serve well as back up iron sights (BUIS) since the rail cries out for a red dot or magnified optic. The safety selector type and location on the Tavor resemble an AR’s location behind the trigger. The shell/chassis of the rifle is made of composite polymer materials and available in Black and Flat Dark Earth colors. The Tavor is not particular about what magazines it uses as some bullpups are. It was confirmed that the popular polymer magazines from Magpul were fully functional, including the excellent 40-round Magpul variant. The Tavor ships with an IWI polymer 30-round magazine. A Yankee Hill Machine (YHM) Phantom flash hider was installed in lieu of the standard A2 type flash hider. The Phantom flash hider allows the use of the YHM Phantom suppressor.

Generally speaking, the triggers found on bullpups are not as crisp as other designs due to the linkage required between forward trigger and rearward action. Good advice here is to treat bullpup triggers like a Glock or Double-Action revolver trigger. One should not try to stage the trigger, but rather work it smoothly, thus allowing for more precise shots. The IWI Tavor trigger took approximately 9 lbs of pressure to break with a short reset facilitating better than expected rapid strings of fire. There is word that Timney Triggers is working on a drop in replacement trigger group reducing pull weight in half.

The magazine release button is installed in front of the magazine behind the trigger group making it ambidextrous. The magazine catch is oversized and easily actuated even when wearing gloves. The Tavor is configured to drop free magazines. The IWI Tavor does have a bolt hold open device. These two features are crucial for a rifle’s acceptance in the U.S. market. The Tavor’s large bolt release is also ambidextrous located behind the magazine well and can be tripped by the thumb of the off hand as the shooter inserts a magazine. Once practiced, reloads can be done in one fluid motion. Multiple sling attachment points are present on both sides of the Tavor’s frame. A Magpul MS3 Multi-Mission Sling was employed during the Tavor evaluation. The MS3 Multi-Mission Sling System was designed to give a versatile weapon retention solution for a multitude of tactical environments and missions. As a stand-alone product, the rapidly-convertible MS3 allows an operator to leverage the maneuverability of one-point attachment for direct action, or two-point attachment for stability. Single-hand adjustments and quick-release, positive-locking hardware provide flexibility and durability in a truly adaptable sling system. The MS3 enables seamless transitions into an array of shooting positions without getting bound or fouled. The Magpul MS3 Sling supported the versatility of the Tavor allowing for use to switch between shoulders as situation dictates.

The compactness is one of the most oft repeated positive attributes of bullpup rifles, while maintaining a full length barrel to maximize cartridge performance. An example of this beneficial compactness would be working in/around vehicles. As a driver or passenger you can have the IWI Tavor rifle pointed muzzle down between your legs, with the buttstock resting on the seat cushion. Movement with the Tavor bullpup inside of structures is much easier and very similar to the size advantage offered by a SMG without the terminal ballistic penalty of using a pistol cartridge or short barrel for a rifle. It is easy to use a Tavor with one hand since the center of gravity is farther back, so if you have to open a door or other similar tasks the Tavor offers you an advantage. You can effectively treat the IWI Tavor like a big pistol if situation demands. Bullpups are generally the same size of specialized short barrel rifles (SBR) without having to resort to sub-16 inch barrels to achieve this size.

It did not take an inordinate amount of time to become familiar with the IWI Tavor and its handling during T&E. The magazine sitting closer to the body took a little getting used to during reloads as well as orientating hand location when racking the charging handle during weapon manipulation. The IWI Tavor was evaluated by multiple persons, each with extensive prior experience with AKs or ARs with each commenting that the Tavor was equally fast in magazine changes as the AR; which is renowned for its ergonomics. Range tests consisted of moving around barricades and simulated cover while engaging an assortment of paper and steel targets, including automobiles located at Echo Valley Training Center (EVTC). The compact nature of the Tavor was appreciated combined with maintaining full length barrel ballistics for the 5.56mm chambering. The Tavor’s non-reciprocating charging handle found favor with evaluators who have worked extensively around vehicles where a reciprocating charging handle can be a detriment due to coming into contact with surroundings. The Tavor showed its true promise by performing not only within the 100 yard bays at EVTC engaging multiple targets, but also back at the prepared firing position line with targets placed out to 300 yards. Its compact nature makes one forget that Tavor still features a full length 16.5-inch barrel. The recoil impulse of any 5.56mm chambered rifle is minimal, however when working on sending multiple rounds downrange accurately, recoil management is important. The straight line bore axis and relatively wide buttstock found on the Tavor dampens recoil better than most 5.56mm rifles handled.

The Tavor being closer to the body, with resultant center of gravity more toward the rear due to weight of action at the butt, combined with hands being close to each other on the weapon makes the weapon seem lighter than what it is. The contributes to better handling over longer time frames due to lessoning fatigue on the arms and shoulders; an important consideration for CQB operation involving structure clearing. The compact Tavor’s superior leverage is a benefit to anyone short statured or have prior injuries to arms, back, and/or shoulders; while still maintaining proper feel to operator not impacted by such issues. Some may question effects of muzzle blast with barrel and action orientated closer than normal to a user’s face during operation. Evaluators did not find this troublesome or noticeable. It was no different than user experience with an SBR and possibly less considering the Tavor offers 16+ inches of barrel for powder burn. Even after several hundred rounds of hard use the Tavor’s action remained amazingly clean requiring only a mere wipe down. The Frog Lube lubricant was still present and viscous.

The Tavor allows for easy mounting of optics with its full length Picatinny rail. The dilemma is whether to go with a red dot optic taking advantage of the Tavor’s compact stature for CQB arena or mount a magnified optic since the Tavor is capable of long range accuracy thanks to its 16.5-inch barrel. It was decided to evaluate the Tavor with various optics. A Weaver Tactical 1-5x with illuminated MDR reticle was used along with Trijicon Reflex and RMR red dots. The Weaver Tactical 1-5x is designed for instinctive, close-range/low-magnification situations with illuminated reticles, yet allow shooters to engage targets with greater precision at longer ranges thanks to the 5x. The Weaver Tactical 1-5x scope will strike many as unconventional in terms of commonly associated optics on a military style rifle. However, for law enforcement, civilian or private security contractor it is worthy consideration as it supplements the Tavor’s performance flexibility. The Tavor mated to the variable power Weaver optic is able to handle diverse roles albeit close range engagements or further. The Trijicon Reflex and RMR red dots are natural fits with the quick handling Tavor and allow hits at ranges further than CQB distances. As many “maturing” shooters can attest to, the single focus plane associated with red dot or low powered optics is easier to shoot accurately than coordinating front and rear sights. The 5.56’s flat trajectory aids in making hits out to 250 yards without having to compensate excessively for bullet drop; especially with the Tavor’s full length 16.5-inch barrel.

Ammunition tested with the Tavor was a combination of Black Hills Ammunition and Federal loads. The Tavor kept all loads tested under 2.25 inches at 100 yards with multiple Black Hills loads – 50 grain TSX and 77 grain Match – producing just over MOA groups out to 200 yards. Premium loads from American Eagle/Federal and Speer were also tested with the IWI Tavor. American Eagle 55gr FMJ and 50gr Tipped Varmint was used along with Speer LE Gold Dot 64gr GDSP. Accuracy test protocol consisted of three five-shot groups with each ammunition type. Group sizes were averaged. Velocity figures ranged from 2,700fps to 3,000 fps over RCBS chronograph.

One question encountered during research of this article was if the Tavor was indeed ambidextrous. For example, is a shooter able to transition between shoulders without catching ejected empty brass in the face? Range tests indicate that the Tavor can be fired from either side allowing cover to be maximized. Interesting articles and videos from Suarez International CEO Gabe Suarez further supports these findings. Suarez International’s training cadre are proponents of the bullpup style rifle. Gabe’s insights should be referenced by anyone interested in exploring bullpup advantages. For example, even though explored with a bullpup other than the Tavor, Gabe makes a sound case of how the bullpup’s compactness with hands closer together allows one to manipulate it like a handgun if the need arises in a CQB situation especially in terms of transitioning to the “off” shoulder. Another interesting concept from Suarez is that bullpups such as the Tavor can utilize SMG based methods of sling tension during CQB actions when formal transitioning to off shoulder would take too much time in a dynamic encounter. In essence, Suarez points to a “face index” versus shoulder in such environments with muzzle thrusting at target via hands when taking a left handed corner firing on target at extension similar to a pistol. Suarez is finding that the bullpup rifle, when used properly, will give you options and advantages that no other platform offers.

Experience has made it obvious that modern warfare requires a light, compact weapon, with effective range of fire much longer than that of a submachine gun, but shorter than that of a main battle rifle. The bullpup design retains accuracy and full ballistic potential of a cartridge while reducing overall length compared to a more traditional design. In truth, the bullpup is not “new” with impetuous on development going steady since WWII with most sources pointing to the British being at the forefront of development. The German StG 44, the father of the assault rifle genre of weapons, prompted this by showing the capability of high-capacity detachable magazine, select-fire capability, and 7.92x33 Kurz cartridge. The British saw in the bullpup design the ability to get rifle like ballistic performance out of a weapon the size of a SMG. The emphasis was to find one platform to replace multiple patterns of submachine guns and battle rifles. The Tavor carries on this design impetuous.

There are shooters that ignore the bullpup design citing various reasons. Some of these reasons are that they can't get past the looks and "strangeness" in terms of ergonomics. It seems more of an issue of ingrained conservatism than anything else why more countries/civilians have not taken a liking to bullpups. Today, the Tavor is not only the combat rifle of the IDF, but it has also been purchased by 16 other nations. IWI U.S. is making this service proven bullpup available to the U.S. consumer with conversations and visit to the Harrisburg, PA facility indicating they are producing the Tavors as quickly as possible to satisfy demand. Nearly 7,000 Tavors have been shipped to distributors since going operational in March 2013. The IWI Tavor’s position in the U.S. market is gaining strength with the rise of after market accessories in the form of drop-in triggers, railed forends, and other products. The Tavor’s close association to the IDF’s issued service rifle inspires confidence of not only having a unique weapon, but also one that works as advertised. Many will find the Tavor desirable due to its compactness, reliability, and accuracy. This is a combination hard to argue against in terms of utility for any user. The tide seems to be slowly changing in terms of bullpup acceptability.


IWI US, Inc.

P.O. Box 126707
Harrisburg, PA 17112

Trijicon Inc.
49385 Shafer Ave
Wixom, MI 48393

Federal Cartridge Company
900 Ehlen Drive
Anoka, MN 55303
(800) 831-0850

Magpul Industries, Corp.
PO Box17697
Boulder, CO 80308
(877) 462-4785

Weaver Optics
1 ATK Way
Anoka, MN 55303

Echo Valley Training Center

Black Hills Ammunition
PO Box 3090
Rapid City, SD 57709
(605) 348-5150

This article first appeared in SmallArmsReview.com on December 20, 2013


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