Conceptually, I love bullpup rifles. The idea of having an ultra-compact rifle with a full-length barrel in a package smaller than a submachine gun sounds too good to be true. Apparently Austria felt the same way, and in 1978 they deployed the first military-issued bullpup rifle: the Steyr AUG (Armee Universal Gewehr). I’ve always wanted to own one, but could never decide between one that featured a railed receiver or the iconic integrated scope. Apparently someone at Steyr Arms had the same dilemma, because their new variant allows shooters to switch between the two with a few simple tools.
Dubbed the Steyr AUG A3 M1, the newest iteration of the bullpup takes a page from the book of Eugene Stoner and opts for increased modularity. The new AUG offers shooters two different railed receiver options and two integrated optic ones. The former group varies only in height, allowing shooters to find the perfect fit for their favorite optic.
The two models with built-in optics differ in magnification and cross type. The model shown has a built-in, 3x magnification scope with a thick crosshair that thins out after piercing a 300-yard holdover ring for quick range estimates. A 1.5x model is also available, although the crosshair ring is hollow for faster target acquisition. Both are made by Steyr, and offer exceptional clarity and light reception despite their diminutive size. The scopes can easily be adjusted with a coin or screwdriver.
One cool feature about the new optics offered on the AUG rifles is their integrated Picatinny rails. The entire top surface of the scope is railed, save for the areas around the adjustment knobs, as is the last third of the right side. The top rail is for backup optics or iron sights and the side for lasers or lights. Opposite the charging handle is another rail perfect for mounting other accessories.
Another new addition to the M1 is the Vltor-made quick-detach sling loop. located forward of the charging handle, the pivoting attachment point is incredibly useful—especially when shooters need to quickly remove the weapon from their person. Unfortunately, the design still retains a standard sling loop at the rear, though this doesn’t detract from the rifle’s usability.
New improvements aside, one of the major advantages the AUG enjoys over traditional rifles is its superb balance. This balance is aided in no small part by the extensive use of polymer in weapon’s construction, in addition to its bullpup configuration. The one-piece polymer stock acts as the trigger group housing, trigger guard, buttstock, cheek rest, and ejection port—thus greatly reducing the weapon’s weight.
Tipping the scales at nine pounds unloaded, the AUG feels deceptively lighter due to that weight residing directly above the pistol grip. This makes firing the AUG one-handed or from the hip surprisingly controllable. While the usefulness and effectiveness of doing so is questionable, it is inarguably fun.
The most surprising aspect of the AUG’s action is how mundane it is. Not to say it’s not exceptionally reliable—it is. Based on its appearance, however. Most shooters would assume it uses some strange proprietary method of operation. The fact is, the Steyr AUG A3 M1 is a standard short-stroke, gas piston-driven, semiautomatic rifle chambered in 5.56mm. Two basic configurations exist for the AUG; the “standard” model and the NATO one. The NATO model accepts M16/AR-15 magazines and the standard model uses proprietary Steyr mags. I tested a standard model.
Constructed of high-impact, translucent polymer, AUG mags are flawlessly reliable and nearly indestructible. The two types of AUG magazines most commonly encountered are the standard 30-round type and the extended 42-round ones. The larger-capacity model was designed for the AUG light machinegun or LMG. While prohibitively expensive in the past, both magazines can be found online for around $20 each nowadays.
In the past, the Steyr mag was inarguably superior to any STANAG magazines on the market. Thanks to companies like Magpul and Lancer, this is no longer the case. Shooters who are heavily invested in AR-15 magazines can purchase the NATO model without having to worry about buying new mags. However, the NATO model does have one drawback: it lacks a bolt-release lever.
Which brings me to one of the biggest issues with bullpup weapons: magazine placement. While it’s very convenient and well-balanced to have a rifle’s magazine behind the trigger group, it also makes reloading more difficult for shooters accustomed to traditional weapons. To reload the AUG, a shooter has to reach behind their shooting hand near their armpit and depress a button on the bottom of the stock. This frees the spent magazine, and allows the shooter to insert a fresh one. While this action is “just” somewhat awkward while standing or crouching, it’s extraordinarily difficult to accomplish when shooting from the prone.
Reloading issues aside, the ergonomics on the AUG are surprisingly good. The trigger is stiffer than most military rifles, but not unmanageable and it lightens with use. The cross-bolt safety is strange, but very positive and tactile. Finding it in low or no-light conditions is effortless due to its close proximity to the trigger.
Reliability from the AUG was nearly flawless, with two malfunctions out of 600 rounds fired. Both were with underpowered Russian-made cartridges from Barnaul, and only occurred when firing from the hip. Thankfully, the AUG has an adjustable gas system, so I was able to tweak the weapon to run on the underpowered ammo.
The AUG is more than combat accurate with the proper ammunition. Its chrome-lined, 16-inch, 1:9 inch barrel appeared to prefer both heavier projectiles and hotter loads. It performed best with Hornady’s 75-grain TAP ammo.
Shot from the prone at 100 yards, each brand was shot in five-round groups three times and the average found.
- Hornady TAP 75-grain: 1.58 inches
- Federal XM193 55-grain FMJ: 2.1 inches
- Federal M855 62-grain green tip: 1.9 inches
- Wolf 55-grain FMJ: 2.94 inches
- Barnaul 62-grain FMJ: 3.3 inches
One really interesting feature about this barrel is how quickly it can be replaced without tools. After the shooter clears the weapon and locks the action open, they simply press a button and rotate the barrel 45 degrees, and it pulls free from the receiver.
If the AUG were acting as an LMG, this would be an invaluable feature that would allows gunners to quickly swap out overheated barrels. Additionally, the folding foregrip is attached to the barrel, so shooters don’t need a special glove to remove hot barrels without getting burned.
The AUG A3 M1 ships with one 30-round magazines and a plethora of desirable features, including an integrated foregrip and optical gunsight. Its unique appearance and robust construction have garnered it a cult following by a tight group of dedicated enthusiasts, but is unfortunately not as popular as the IWI Tavor. The only reason for this that I can surmise to explain its lack of popularity is price. The AUG A3 M1 retails for $2,099 with either rail setup and $2,499 with integrated 3x optic. While it’s not an unreasonable price for what the AUG provides, it’s more than most shooters can afford to spend on a rifle.
Note added 2-19: This article originally stated that the integrated scope was made by Schmidt and Bender. It is in fact a Steyr product. In addition, this article originally stated that the rifle ships with two magazines. We have been informed that they are now only shipping with one 30-round magazine.
Images by Jim Grant