Bullpup Breakdown: What I Learned by 3-Gunning with a Tavor
Edward Osborne 10.09.14
I’m a beginner to 3-gun, there can be no doubt about that. My first officiated shoot was only in April of this year. But what I lack in longevity I’ve made up for in volume by attending the MGM Ironman, the Crimson Trace Midnight 3 Gun Invitational, the Kentucky Bullpup Convention, and any “local” match less than 10 hours away since my first event. I’ve shot seven matches over the summer of 2014, and put thousands of rounds through each of my primary firearms.
A constant throughout my recent series of competitions has been my Tavor. As a Canadian, I’ve owned a semiautomatic-only version of the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) bullpup combat rifle for several years, and it has firmly established itself as my go-to gun. Starting to compete with it was a natural evolution for me, after selling my last two AR-15s at the start of the year.
But is it a natural progression for other Tavor owners? Can the battle-tested bullpup stand on its own in the competition ring? Established shooters will tell you flat out “no,” and that “nothing beats a well-built, rifle-length AR with a proper brake and optics.” I disagree, and think that the right shooter could take a Tavor to a match and win it.
However, there are still hurdles to overcome, and I’ve found myself jumping over some of them recently.
If you own the rifle, or are familiar with Matt Korovesis’ review, you’ll already know the primary advantages of a Tavor (and most bullpups in general): a long barrel in a compact package, better balance, piston-driven reliability, and all those other things that made the IDF jump ship from the AR family.
The challenges arise when you take that rifle onto a particular stage and have to to do some unusual things with it.
Over the course of a 3-gun match you will be expected to engage targets in and around obstacles. If you are presented with a 9-hole wall, or a particularly tight shooting port, you’ll discover that the Tavor has a higher height-over-bore than your run-of-the-mill AR-15. My rifle has a custom short rail with an ADM mount that puts the scope nearly four inches above the bore.
If you use similarly “lifted” optics, this means you must know how your point of impact will change between five yards and 200 yards. But it also means that narrow shooting port can require substantial cant to get both your optic and your barrel inside the shooting area.
I have three potential solutions to this:
- Add a miniature offset sight that’s extra-low. There are lots of quality micro red dots and ultra-low 45-degree mounts available. Adding an extra optic means you can ignore height-over-bore issues, and use an alternate zero if that’s your kind of thing. The only caution on this is that you have to be shooting Open Class to rock multiple optics.
- Choose a low mount and optic at the outset. If you’re willing to sink right down on your rifle, a low-mounted optic can keep your height-over-bore under control. The Tavor’s factory rail is already a little lower than most AR-15 shooters expect.
- Get used to shooting awkwardly. You know you’ll eventually hit a narrow port, be prepared for it. Learn how rotating the rifle will affect your point of impact, and experiment with how you hold to make sure you’re ready for those tight spaces. Making your own 9-hole wall is not all that hard, and allows you to practice all kinds of unusual angles.
Any one of those three options should help you address height-over-bore.
Obstacles and handguards
The next challenge comes when shooting off obstacles. The Tavor’s handguard is meant to be held by a hand, not rested against a barrier. A 16-inch-barreled Tavor SAR might experience this less; but at least twice I caught myself resting my 18.5-inch barrel on an obstacle in an effort to get more comfortable and prevent my handguard from rolling off. Not ideal.
The solution to this one is a simple part upgrade. There are at least three different manufacturers of replacement Tavor forearms on the market, and they all feature a flat and squared look that better suits the rifle to rested firing.
Because my rifle sports an 18-inch barrel, I opted for a Midwest Industries Tavor XL KeyMod Handguard that allows me to lock the rifle against barriers without any slipping or sliding. When I install my 14-inch CTAR barrel, I prefer the Gear Head Works TMF.
The last situation that gives my Tavor trouble is fairly uncommon, but if you shoot enough 3-gun, sooner or later you’ll run into an off-hand stage.
The Tavor is ambidextrous, but it’s designed for left-handed users to “build” themselves a left-handed gun by swapping bolts and moving some parts around. The process takes about an hour from start to finish, and generally you won’t have the time or the parts to do that when you walk up to a stage that requires you to shoot weak-handed.
The ejecting brass can become an uncomfortable irritant. But more importantly, if you put your head in there, you can get brass bouncing off of you and back into the chamber—leading to malfunctions.
The best solution here is practice: know how to hold your rifle in your off-hand and get a view through the optic without putting your face in the ejection zone. It’s not that hard when you take the time to figure it out. But in the heat of a competition it can be easy to forget.
I’ve seen some ingenious soft shell deflectors made out of a section of Picatinny rail, a re-straightened coat hanger, and some triple-sewn webbing. I’m keen to make one of these for myself to try it out.
Those are the stage scenarios most likely to cause trouble for a 3-gun competitor with a Tavor. But there are two other upgrades that will help you shoot better when the clock is running.
One of the first things new Tavor owners seek out is a replacement trigger. Lots has been written about the Tavor’s heavy mil-spec trigger and what can be done to improve it. Again, there are three companies that produce replacement packs, and numerous tips and tricks to improve the factory unit.
I shoot a single-stage Timney trigger, with a 4.5-pound pull that is a huge improvement over the stock trigger. Geissele and ShootingSight also have replacement trigger packs available, with similar pull weights (though both are two-stage designs).
I would also recommend that prospective Tavor 3-gunners opt for an improved muzzle device. There’s nothing wrong with the A2, but because of its long-stroke piston, the Tavor will have more “bounce” than a rifle-length, direct-impingement AR. That also means that the Tavor’s overall recoil impulse will be different.
While they are threaded for the same muzzle devices, what’s best for an AR may not be what’s best for a Tavor.
I use the Ares Armor Effin-A brake on my rifle, because it allows me to open and close individual ports on the unit. This can take some time to get right, but once you’ve tuned it to your rifle, you can see real reduction in muzzle movement.
To run a Tavor and win 3-gun competitions requires more than just upgrades, however. It requires you to be a Tavor shooter from the ground up, not an AR-trained shooter experimenting with something new. If you start looking for your BAD Lever when the clock is running, or catch yourself reaching ahead to grab a magazine, your brain is fighting itself.
Ultimately it’s the shooter, not the gear, that wins the match. If your Tavor is truly your primary weapon system and your drills and holds are solid, that’s a good sign that you’re ready to take the gun into the arena and compete against others.