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Bully Bullpup: IWI Tavor Review

by David Fortier   |  June 4th, 2013 0

The Tavor bullpup has an incredibly short overall length but sports a 16.5-inch barrel—hence it's not a federally regulated SBR. The IDF version with Mepro-21 sight is shown here.

Have you ever longed for a short-barrel rifle (SBR)? Ever wished for something super compact with a stubby barrel? While there are many advantages to a super-short carbine, for some the National Firearms Act paperwork—required for a rifle with a barrel under 16 inches—is simply too much.

It can be a bit daunting, and some just don’t want to be on another government list. Plus there is the issue of velocity drop from an abbreviated barrel. The question then becomes, Is there a viable alternative to a conventional SBR? Something that has a short overall length yet doesn’t require any NFA paperwork or tax stamp?

One possible solution is switching from a conventional rifle to a bullpup design. Bullpup-style rifles feature a layout with the action behind the trigger. Basically they do away with a conventional buttstock. This greatly reduces length, and gives us the impetus for this IWI Tavor Review.

While bullpup designs are nothing new, they have never really caught on in the United States. One design new to the U.S. commercial market is the Israeli Tavor from IWI US, Inc. I strongly suspect this design will do extremely well here in the U.S., especially among shooters looking for a very compact rifle. Why? Simply because it’s a step up from what has gone before it.

The Tavor rifle was developed from lessons learned during the 1982 Israel-Lebanon War. To this was added a decade of collaboration and testing by the Israeli Defense Forces. The end result was an entirely new domestic Israeli combat rifle. Designed by Zalmen Shebs, the new Tavor Assault Rifle-21st century (TAR-21) was intended to be better suited to modern urban combat than the 1960s-vintage M16.

A fresh 5.56×45 bullpup design built from composite materials and featuring advanced ergonomics, the Tavor was subsequently adopted and fielded by the IDF. Following a successful performance in Operation Cast Lead in Gaza, it was decided the Tavor would become the IDF’s chief assault rifle. Today the Tavor is not only the standard combat rifle of the IDF, but it has also been purchased by more than 16 other nations.

Now the Tavor is available as a semiautomatic modern sporting rifle here in the States. IWI US has just started offering this model and was kind enough to provide RifleShooter with a first look.

Let me first say that most riflemen have strong opinions on bullpup rifles. You either love or hate them, although most shooters can recognize the benefits of the design: a short overall length but long barrel in relation to that length, which shifts the rifle’s center of gravity closer to the shooter’s center of gravity.

Despite these benefits, many riflemen still dislike bullpup designs due to two main issues. For one, they are awkward and slow to reload, and they generally have mediocre triggers. Further, most bullpups cannot be readily fired from either shoulder due to the ejection path.

So with this in mind I got to work with the Tavor. Currently it’s offered in two basic models. The flattop model features a Mil Std 1913 Picatinny optics rail along its top. The second is the IDF model, which sports an integral Mepro-21 reflex sight.

Both models feature folding back-up iron sights. The IDF model features a 16.5-inch barrel and a black polymer body. The flattop model is available with either a 16.5- or 18-inch barrel and either a black or flat dark earth polymer body.

Overall length of the 16.5-inch models is just 26.1 inches while the 18-inch guns are 27.6 inches long. The 16.5-inch flattop rifles weigh in at 7.9 pounds while the 18-inch models weigh 8.1 pounds. The IDF model is the heaviest at 8.5 pounds, but keep in mind that this weight includes the optical sight.

The Tavor is built using an ordnance-grade steel receiver. Mated to this is a mil-spec, chrome-lined, cold hammer-forged barrel made from CrMoV steel (chromium/molybdenum/vanadium, a heat resistant steel). It features a 5.56×45 NATO chamber and six-groove rifling with a 1:7 right-hand twist. The bullpup’s barrel is topped with an M16A2-style flash suppressor.

Long-Stroke Gas Piston

Operation is via a long-stroke gas piston with a carrier-controlled rotating bolt. The bolt assembly is removed as a self-contained unit with a captured recoil spring. The bolt features a beefy claw extractor and plunger ejector.

It’s also interesting to note the firing pin is spring loaded. Feed is from standard M16/AR-15 magazines, and the design incorporates a last-round bolt hold-open.

The controls are well laid out and easy to manipulate. A non-reciprocating charging handle is located on the left front of the rifle. On the rifle front is a Mil Std 1913 rail section for mounting accessories. These can be swapped to move the charging handle to the right side of the rifle.

The safety lever is located at the left top of the pistol grip. This can also be switched to the right side if the user so desires.

The magazine release is very well placed and easy to manipulate. It consists of a lever mounted at the front of the magazine well. Pushing straight back on this ejects the magazine clear of the rifle.

Mounted behind the magazine well is the bolt release. Pushing up on this releases the bolt. With just a minimum of practice it is very easy to quickly eject a spent magazine and smoothly insert a fresh one while instantly releasing the bolt.

Other features include ambidextrous QD sling swivel mounts and a rubber recoil pad. The body is manufactured from a high-strength polymer. All metal parts feature a protective corrosion-resistant finish. The 18-inch models come with a Mil Std bayonet lug. As to be expected, the design is easily field-stripped for routine cleaning, and cleaning gear can be stored in the pistol grip.

I was surprised to find the Tavor with 16.5-inch barrel to be noticeably shorter than a friend’s 10.5-inch AR SBR, even with the stock fully collapsed. At just 26.1 inches long, it is short and proved to be quite maneuverable.

For accuracy testing, I used the 16.5-inch flattop and mounted an IOR 1.5-8X scope on the rail. Accuracy was excellent with groups running between 1.4 and two inches for four different loads. I had no trouble making rapid hits at 300 and 400 yards. Reliability was flawless, even with steel-case ammunition.

This is an impressive carbine with a retail price starting at $1,999. I look forward to seeing what IWI US comes up with next.

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