Most modern bullpups are chambered in 5.56x45mm, offering users controllable carbine-length firearms with rifle-length ballistics. We’re seeing something of a bullpup golden age right now with more military and semiautomatic variants of these compact rifles coming to market than ever before. The last few years have seen some truly remarkable achievements in design.
One of the rifles on display at last month’s Bullpup Convention in Kentucky that’s evidence of this golden age goes much bigger than 5.56, bringing the bullpup platform into the long-range precision club. The new semiautomatic Leader 50 A1 stands alone as a man-portable .50 BMG solution, and is designed to be compact, carry-able, and affordable.
Sure, there are a few bolt-action bullpups chambered in the big Five-Oh from names like Barrett and Desert Tech. But if you start looking for semiauto, mag-fed .50 BMGs, you come up short.
The Leader 50 A1 features a 24-inch barrel, with only 39.5 inches overall length. It is fed by a Serbu/M82 pattern 10-shot magazine, and weighs only 18 pounds empty. When you compare that to the Barrett M107’s 33-pound weight, or the Serbu BFG-50A’s 25 pounds, the Leader 50 is a lightweight alternative.
Designer Charles St. George pioneered the triangular bolt design currently found in both Barrett and Serbu .50 cal semiautos, so it makes sense for the Leader 50 A1 to keep the pattern. But one of the key features being touted on the Leader 50 is its full 45-degree rotation that locks the bolt firmly in the chamber with lots of metal-to-metal contact. In comparison, the Barret rotates 37 degrees, and the Serbu 40 degrees.
It might not seem like much of a difference, but when building a bullpup in this caliber, every aspect of the design has to encourage system strength and safety of the shooter.
The Leader 50 A1 breaks from the majority of recoil operated .50 BMG rifles with its gas-operated, short-stroke piston system that features three regulator settings.
The front of the gun sports a massive proprietary brake not unfamiliar to shooters of large-caliber firearms. One of the interesting components on this brake though is a “shooter shield” that’s designed to direct some of the muzzle-blast off the shooter. Anyone who’s spent time with a .50 can attest to the uncomfortable nasal pull that can come from shooting such a concussive firearm. In a bullpup, with that much less space between the trigger-puller and the muzzle, extra shielding is a welcome addition.
The brake and the gas system help to tame the recoil and blast from the .50 BMG cartridge, a key goal when the rifle is substantially lighter than similarly-classed firearms.
The core concept is solid: an ultralight gas-operated bullpup to be used in precision or anti-materiel roles. But the rifle that seems to fill a unique niche has had a series of hurdles coming to market. The concept behind the Leader 50 A1 first came together in 2007, and has been seven rocky years in the making.
Originally introduced as the Micor Defense Leader .50, then renamed the Gatekeeper .50, Micor shuttered without putting any rifles into circulation. Then talks and contracts were signed with Sabre Defense before they too collapsed. The ATF’s raid and lawsuits at Sabre relating to import and export of AR-15 and suppressor components put the .50 bullpup on hold again.
Now designer Charles St. George is bringing his rifle to market directly, working with K&M Arms to manufacture the Leader 50 A1.
He’s literally been building guns since childhood, and had reasonable success in Australia with his Leader T2 5.56 rifle.
Charles St. George came to the United States in 1995 under a National Interest Waiver to develop firearms. He’s always preferred semiautomatic designs, but after watching several plans and deals fall apart around the Leader 50, he’s taken a more cautious tone.
“A contract is only as good as the money you’ve got to fight it with,” he said, but is pleased with the idea that his current partnership with K&M means that customers are dealing directly with him rather than licensing the design to a third-party manufacturer.
After some early setbacks, this unique firearm looks like it’s finally about to enter the public domain as a new .50 cal contender.
The first rifles should be shipping this fall, and are priced at $6,900, just under the Serbu 50’s $7,200 price tag and well below Barrett’s $12,000.
Images by Edward Osborne