The Kel-Tec RDB and M43 recently made their first public appearance at the Bullpup 2014 Convention in Kentucky. I spent the better part of an afternoon shooting both rifles from bench rest and offhand at targets ranging from 7 yards out to 300.
As a long-time Tavor shooter: I was interested, but ultimately dismissive at Shot Show 2014 when Kel-Tec presented their .223 bullpups to the world. Having now had some hands-on time, I’ve changed quite a bit from my first opinions.
The RDB is a solid contribution to the “Golden Age of Bullpups” I believe North America is currently experiencing.
The polymer RDB and the M43 (its wood & metal cousin) both use a previously unseen ejection method for this style of rifle: they spit their brass out the bottom.
The vast majority of firearms have their ammunition feeding and brass ejection occupying the same lateral space, stacked vertically atop each other. The RDB instead pulls empty brass back across the magazine well and into the rear pocket of the rifle, where it drops through a chute straight down.
While it is an ingenious solution for ambidextrous ejection, initially I had two concerns about this system.
1. Excessive bolt travel: simply because I’d never seen anything like it. The bolt covers a lot of space in here, and there’s not much space left in the rear of the rifle by the time you cycle everything back. I was concerned the rifle would “bounce” with the extra motion of the bolt carrier sliding all the way to the rear, then gliding all the way back to the chamber. Some credit must be given to the exceptional brakes in use at this event, but the RDB was a remarkably flat shooter with minimal movement or muzzle rise.
2. Brass in your gear: “You’re saying the ejected casings go down your front? I keep things there sometimes!” I imagined the shooter taking light taps to the stomach as chest rigs and dump pouches filled with spent brass. But I never noticed the ejection process happening while I shot, even when intentionally trying to focus on it. One of the knowledgable Kel-Tec guys explained that a good range day from prone can form a brass pile that means you might catch hot spots on your elbows. They’ve built a proprietary brass-catcher that holds the spent casings, and can be emptied one-handed without removing the bag from the rifle.
The trigger in the RDB bears mentioning: it’s a solid factory offering, which clocked in around 5 lbs and was unusually crisp for a bullpup. Which is good: because an aftermarket trigger would be quite a ways out.
The length of pull is a little longer than a Tavor’s, and the RDB balances well. The alligator skin fore-arm runs right up to the muzzle device, which gives you lots of grip room.
The safety is an ambidextrous 45 degree lever that’s a little different from what I’m used to, but easy enough to operate.
The charging handle is non-reciprocating, and folds. Understanding how to lock the bolt back can be challenging for first time users. It’s only a subtle lift on the charging handle when pulled to the rear. Locking up the charging handle also locks the bolt release on the rear of the rifle.
The current magazine release is probably going to be a source of complaints. The metal isn’t sharp, but it’s definitely not rounded like a Tavor. Rather than a lever with a fulcrum, the magazine release slides straight back towards the shooter. One of the demo guns we shot already had a cleverly installed layer of foam padding to make the release a little softer and a little easier to reach.
I would not be surprised to see Kel-Tec producing a polymer accessory that would slide over the factory magazine release on the RDB, or perhaps even an update to the line before its release in January 2015.
The adjustable gas system on the RDB allows for straightforward suppressor use, and barrel has an extended thread to allow for Kel-Tec’s proprietary front sight in addition to any AR-15 standard muzzle device. Personally I’m not a fan of the front blade sight, and there were none in use at this event, but I can understand using it for the “Historic Prototype” look on the M43.
The RDB’s forecasted MSRP is in the $2000 range; playing in the same pool with other modern bullpups. The down-ward ejection is its trademark innovation, but its other components and features seem solid enough to make it a serious contender. We’ll have to see whether that price and timeline changes at Shot Show this year.
Cue jokes about availability, gunbroker gouging, and NASA parts…