Let’s talk a bit about bullpups right off the bat. If you want to know where the word comes from and what bulls or pups have to do with a firearm that has the action behind the trigger, you’re pretty much out of luck. If there’s an answer to the origin of the term, it hasn’t made it to the Internet yet.

But that’s exactly what a bullpup is. Why would a gun be built in such a way? Well, if you look at a typical rifle arrangement, the buttstock is mostly wasted space taken up by a hunk of wood or polymer.

Some gun designers sought to utilize this space, to make it part of the gun. The buffer tube that extends into the buttstock space on an AR is a good non-bullpup example.

IWI Tavor X95 RANGE TEST

When you move the entire action of a long gun into the buttstock, essentially making them one assembly, a few advantageous things happen.

If you want to shorten the length of a traditional long gun, you're options are to shrink the stock, fold it, or remove it, and/or cut down the barrel length, which means losing velocity—a problem for most rifle rounds.

A bullpup allows you to decrease the overall length of a firearm without shortening the barrel, allowing for full-size rifle accuracy in a firearm that’s the size of a carbine, without sacrificing all that sweet muzzle velocity.

For example, an M4 Carbine measures 29.75” – 33” long depending on the position of its adjustable stock. That’s with a 14.5” barrel.

The IWI Tavor X95, which we test and review here, is 26.4” long from buttpad to muzzle with a 16.5” barrel.

That means you could add 3.35” of barrel to the X95 and it would still be the same length as an M4 with its stock fully collapsed. That’s significant.

Steyr AUG
The Austrian-made Steyr AUG was the first widely successful bullpup rifle platform. It is still in service with the Austrian Army and has an excellent reputation for reliability.Steyr

Additionally, putting the action and most of the barrel on opposite sides of the grip gives most bullpups a natural balance, which increases maneuverability and handiness.

The platform does have its disadvantages, however. Having the mag well positioned between the shooting arm and the shooter’s body makes longer magazines and drum magazines difficult to use, and they can also make shooting from the prone position impossible, or at least, very awkward.

Also, some bullpups can be very difficult for left handed shooters to use, or to use in the field if you have to shoot from the opposite shoulder for any reason, namely because they eject spent brass right into your face. The shell deflector on the X95 does a good job of preventing that, but you still catch a bit of expelled gas.

The Tavor models can all be converted to eject brass from either side, so they can be easily used by left- or right-handed shooters, but it requires the gun to be broken down quite a bit.

Other bullpups, like the Kel-Tec KSG shotgun and the FN2000 rifle solve the problem by having spent brass eject downward instead of to the side.

bullpup shotguns
The Mossberg 835 turkey gun (middle) has an 18.5-inch barrel, the same as the Kel-Tec KSG (left) and the UTAS UTS-15 (right) bullpup shotguns, but is considerably longer overall.File Photo

The other major drawback of most bullpups is the trigger. It was simply an accepted fact for a long time that a trigger on a bullpup is a mushy mess and that’s just how things are.

On a long gun with the receiver directly above or in front of the grip, the trigger is attached right to it, interacting with the action directly.

On a bullpup, the trigger has to be connected with a transfer bar that extends half the length of the gun to the action in the buttstock, and that usually made for a less-than-crisp pull.

It took gun engineers a long time to figure it out, but triggers on bullpups have gotten remarkable better in recent years. The stock trigger on the X95 is arguably the best on the market and there are even better aftermarket triggers available. The bullpup shotguns and rifles from Kel-Tec also sport perfectly acceptable triggers.

The magazine releases on the X95 are also connected with a transfer bar because of their positioning and they also feel surprisingly crisp.

Of course, like static wood or synthetic stocks, you can’t adjust the length of pull on a bullpup simply by telescoping the buttstock. But, for shooters who have problems with the LOP on an X95, there are thinner buttpad assemblies available, and even a curved one on the market.

Now, onto the gun at hand.

X95
IWI Tavor X95 quick specs.Jeff Rife

THE X95 and TAVOR HISTORY

The Israel Weapon Industries (IWI) Tavor SAR, the predecessor of the X95, is an Israeli-made bullpup rifle, originally chambered in 5.56 NATO, with a selective fire system (on military models). Its design began in 1995 and it was introduced in 2001.

By 2009, the more compact X95 variant, also known as the MTAR or Micro-Tavor, was selected by the Israelis to replace the M16 and M4 after the Tavor beat out the AR-platform guns in a series of trials held in 2001 and 2002.

The X95 is more maneuverable than the AR platform and is easier to maintain. Plus, it can be quickly and easily converted to a 9mm submachine gun if necessary—something the AR cannot do.

The semi-auto version of the X95 has only been on the U.S. market for about three years—the SAR-21 is still available as well as the Tavor 7 - an SAR chambered in 7.62 NATO / .308 Win.

X95 vs. TAR-21

IWI Tavor
The IWI Tavor SAR-21 (top) and the X95 (bottom).IWI

So what’s different between the newer X95 and the TAR-21? Mostly small stuff, but the all add up to a big improvement.

The TAR-21 has a lever type magazine release in front of the magwell, which some shooters complained was too easy to accidentally engaged with the back of the shooting hand or on a piece of gear.

On the X95 the mag release was changed to an ambidextrous button magazine release in a position more familiar to AR shooters and activated by the trigger finger.

The non-reciprocating charging handle on the TAR-21 is at about the 10 o’clock position and quite far forward, which some found awkward. Its placement also interferes with some larger optics. The charging handle on the X95 is farther back toward the shooter and is more at the 9 o’clock spot, remaining clear from interference with optics or accessories.

Adding accessories to a stock TAR-21 can be a pain, as there’s only the top rail to work with. So, the X95’s handguard features panels all around that can be slid off, exposing accessory rail sections at the 9, 3, and 6 o’clock positions for any accessories or foregrips you might want, in addition to a top rail that also includes the integrated folding iron sights like on the TAR-21.

The TAR-21 comes with a distinctive grip featuring a "cutlass" handguard instead of a more traditional trigger guard. It was designed so shooters could have an additional point of contact on the forearm of the support arm when shouldering the rifle for added stability. It’s not quite as useful on the smaller X95, and some shooters simply don’t like it and feel it adds extra bulk—so the X95 comes with both types of grips, easily swapped by the user at their preference.

The dimensions of the stock have also been changed to make the whole gun a bit more streamlined and compact.

FIELD STRIPPING

Breaking the X95 down for cleaning is shockingly easy. Tap out the capture pin at the top of the buttpad and the hinged pad will swing down. From there you can remove the entire action assembly including the bolt. It just pulls right out.

Tapping out two more capture pins in the stock allows the gate that serves as the bolt release to swing open and the trigger pack to drop right out. From here you can deep clean the gun.

If you remove a couple screws on the top rail, it comes off, revealing most of the barrel and where it attaches to the receiver. Remove a hex bolt on the side and take out the screw that holds the pistol grip on, and the handguard simply slides off the front of the barrel, revealing pretty much everything else.

From here you can also slide out the charging handle and the rod its attached to.

Unless you're changing out the trigger, you shouldn’t have to disassemble it any further any for routine maintenance.

RANGE TEST

FUNCTION

X95
Because of it's configuration, the X95 will be an odd fit on many rifle rests.Jeff Rife

The folks at IWI were kind enough to send me an X95 to test. I live in a “compliant” state, so I had to get the restricted model, which has an 18.5” barrel, a permanently affixed muzzle brake, and ships with a 10-round magazine. Otherwise, its exactly the same as any other X95. Frankly, in .223, I’d just as soon have a plain muzzle instead of the long brake, but the rifle is still quite compact.

First off, this guns eats everything, from target ammo and high end hunting rounds to good ol’ American Eagle ball ammo and even some steel cased TulAmmo. Not a hiccup, not a stutter, not even in magazines with steel, aluminum, and brass cased ammo mixed together.

I ran it using Magpul PMags, a couple steel AR magazines, and some 10-round polymer mags from Amend2. They all functioned flawlessly and always fell free when released, unless my coat kept them from doing so, which was something I had to be conscious of for mag changes. But a little flick of the rifle to the side while hold the release kicked them right out.

The bolt release is a large paddle located right behind the magwell that pretty much disappears into the stock when the gun is in battery. So if you grab a 30-round mag by the bottom, insert it into the magwell, and then let your hand continue upward after it seats to hit it, you can insert a new magazine and release the bolt in one fluid movement, which is pretty easy to get down with very little practice.

X95
The close, tight hold on the rifle makes it feel extremely secure when firing off hand. You can really wrap yourself around the gun.Jeff Rife

The bolt release has two small wings on either side that make it easy to grab when you manually lock the bolt open.

It’s also possible to close the bolt by slingshotting the charging handle, that is, pulling it all the way back and releasing it. However, during a sequence of fire, when the bolt locks open after the last round has been fired, the charging handle will be in the forward position, so it becomes a bit impractical.

It’s much easier and faster to get used to using the bolt release, but either way works.

Having the ejection port right there in the stock makes checking the status of your gun in pretty much any lighting conditions a breeze, since its literally a couple inches from your eyes when you turn the gun to its side.

FEEL AND HANDLING

The X95 feels amazing. It’s compact and short, making it nimble and handy, which is only enhanced by the gun’s superb balance.

When I first shot the X95 when it was debuted to the U.S. market at SHOT Show, one of the Israeli instructors on hand told me to shoulder the gun and shoot it with one hand. With a 16.5” barreled AR, this would be an awkward, wrist torquing, shaky endeavor. With the X95, I hit the plate 9 shots out of 10 and felt comfortable and in control doing it.

X95
The extraordinary balance of the X95 means it can be wielded and even fired accurately with one hand.Jeff Rife

I shot a few mags this way during my test with similar results. In a defensive situation, this is an incredibly valuable trait to have in a rifle, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

This compact and well balanced firearm is perfect for any close quarters conditions. Also, the ability to not only hold the gun, but fire it accurately with one hand makes it great for home defense, allowing the support hand to open doors, or flip on lights switches if necessary. The short rifle is also much easier to take around corners and harder for anyone else to grab and take away from you.

I love the way this gun shoots. When I shoot an AR off hand for a while, I eventually get fatigued, my groups open up, and I either rest or get down on a bench or bipod.

I simply forgot to stop shooting the X95 off hand. It was that comfortable. Perhaps it fits me really well, but my shooting buddy had pretty much the same reaction.

X95
The IWI Tavor X95 on the range.Jeff Rife

Another tip I got at the range from the IWI pros was to use the cutlass guard when shooting offhand. If you kind of let the angled front of the guard ride the inside of your forearm on your left arm (if you’re a righty), it provides a huge point of contact for more precise aiming and lets you hold the rifle surprisingly steady. While the guard on the X95 is a bit more vertical than the one on the SAR, it still works well this way.

Additionally, the inline design of the rifle sends any recoil straight back, much line an AR, meaning there’s very little muzzle flip. And on my test model with that big ol’ brake on the front, there was hardly any.

DOWNSIDES

The groups I got out of the X95 were not what I had hoped for from a rifle with an 18” barrel. And, as expected, they opened up the more I shot.

There’s a well known reason for this. The factory forend is secured to the barrel with a thick, ring-like Teflon spacer as well as a Teflon sleeve on older models. This means the barrel is always in contact with the handguard, much like an AR with a two-piece handguard and a delta ring, something that can impair accuracy a bit.

Overall, I was getting 2 to 3 MOA with this gun from a rest, roughly 4 inch groups at 50 yards off hand with irons, and 3-4 inch groups with a 1x optic, regardless of the ammo. Acceptable for the battlefield, but not for many shooters these days.

That is really the only criticism I have of this rifle—other than the MSRP, which can make your eyes water a bit ($1,500-$2,000 depending on features and barrel). With a price tag like that, you might feel cheated if you don't get MOA accuracy out of the box, but that just goes to show you how spoiled we've become, and how much better precision factory rifles and optics have become in the past couple decades. Also, that's not what the X95 is designed for. It was designed for close quarters engagements, and in that arena, it excels.

UPGRADES

X95
The Cantilever Forend and top rail from Manticore Armsallows the barrel to float free, improving accuracy, and also provides an M-LOK accessory mounting system. The higher optics rail also makes it easier to use AR sights and optics on the X95.Manticore Arms

While I find the X95 comfortable enough, I still have some upgrades planned. Manticore Arms makes some excellent products that add rail space, make AR optics and sights easier to use with the X95, and a charging handle that is easier to operate and stays out of the way when you don't need it.

Most importantly, the MA aftermarket forend, which is surrounded by M-Lok slots, allows the barrel to float freely, which will hopefully tighten up the rifle’s groups a bit.

I’ll be installing all of these aftermarket parts soon and hitting the range before checking back in with the results.

TAKEAWAY

This is a fantastic, fun to shoot rifle that, in my opinion, makes a perfect home defense gun when paired with the right ammunition—but, as with any rifle, over-penetration must be considered.

It can use any AR box magazine and some drum mags without any trouble, its not finicky about ammo at all. It’s reliable, easy to maintain, easy to maneuver, compact with a lot of muzzle velocity, and has plenty of room to attach any accessory you would need for home defense.

If you want more a precision, long-range rifle, this is not the gun you're looking for. The X95, and all Tavor variants, were designed for combat, and as such, you’re going to be getting 2-3 MOA accuracy out of them without modifications, making it a short to mid-range rifle.

IWI TAVOR X95 SPECS
Caliber: 5.56 NATO
Action: gas piston, semi-auto
Operating System: closed rotating bolt
Magazine Type: AR style mags
Barrel: chrome-lined, cold hand forged
Barrel Length: 16.5", 18.5", 13" SBR
Rifling: 1:7" R
Overall Length: 26.125"
Weight: 7.9 lbs.
Stock: reinforced polymer
Sights: folding front blade sight and folding rear aperture sight with tritium
MSRP: $1,999

video by Jeffrey Rife