Kel-Tec RDB Bullpup: First Impressions

Kel-Tec RDB Bullpup Rifle

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.

Firing the Kel-Tec RDB

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.

Kel-Tec RDB Bullpup OD Green Downward Ejection Port

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.

Kel-Tec M43 Bullpup Rifle

Photo of the author and Kel-Tec M43 courtesy of Oleg Volk

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…

Edward O

Edward is a Canadian gun owner and target shooter with a Bachelor’s Degree in Journalism. Crawling over mountains with tactical gear is his idea of fun. He blogs at TV-Presspass and tweets @TV_PressPass.


  • Peter_Ek

    The downward ejection is nothing new. The FN Herstal F2000 bullpup uses it.

    • bbmg

      No, the P90 does. The F2000 ejects forward:

      • Peter_Ek

        I stand corrected.

        • SP mclaughlin

          And the KSG and Ithaca 37 eject down, too.

          • Raven

            And the AR-57, that weird 5.7mm conversion upper. Takes P90 mags and dumps spent brass out of the mag well on the lower.

          • DiverEngrSL17K

            Great point about the oft-overlooked Ithaca 37 pump-action shotgun — thank you! The downward ejection makes it very useful in ambidextrous terms. And, it is a solidly-built, time-proven design that works very well indeed for both military-grade and hard general field usage. The fact that it can be cycled and fired by simply holding down the trigger and pumping the fore-end proved highly useful to many end-users, such as the SEAL teams, during the Vietnam War.

          • I like the old model 37 and always have.

          • DiverEngrSL17K

            Me too. Thanks!

    • iksnilol

      It ejects forward IIRC, the FN F2000 that id.

    • Mike the Limey

      No it doesn’t; the FN ejects forwards above the barrel, like the RFB.

    • D

      I thought the F2000 sent its spent casings forward into a tube mounted to the right of, and parallel to, the barrel, where they “dribble” out rather than being forcibly thrown?

  • Duray

    Basically a Tavor alternative with ambi ejection, traditional trigger guard, and a decent out of the box trigger. Like all of Kellgren’s stuff: pretty cool. Here’s hoping the higher price point helps get them to the ppl that really want them.

    • The “street price” better be a lot less than $2000.

  • Cornelius Carroll

    I want to believe *cue X-Files music*

    • USMC03Vet

      Love it.

  • dp

    As an enthusiast’s toy yes, as a military tool – no. So, at the end it remains just a toy. Every military rifle must provide clear view of chamber. But I understand, this is not intention here.

    • Turner

      I was just thinking about that. I think the gun and whole concept are very cool (especially the polymer and stamped variants), but I wonder what clearing double feeds, or heaven forbid the dreaded over bolt malfunction, must be like. I’m sure range reports will trickle in, but I really have nothing to worry about, since I’m more likely to have lunch with bigfoot than ever shoot one of these.

      • Giolli Joker

        I might be wrong, but I’d say that the fact that the “over -bolt” malfunction can happen in an AR-15 doesn’t mean that it can happen in every design. I’d guess that first of all you need enough clearance between the bolt head and the ceiling of the receiver. Without seeing the internals of this particular gun it’s hard to say if there’s such a risk.

        • dp

          With stretch of imagination it is possible to have part of receiver transparent. I have seen this recently of motorcycle engine head – it looks real snazzy. There are some high tensile heat-resisting polymers which can do that; just think of what car lens has to take.

        • JumpIf NotZero

          Right, but if you shoot enough, you’ll eventuslly get a neck separation, or a primer stuck in/above/around the bolt which in all guns is a valid risk.

          I wouldn’t define bolt over to be the worst thing in the world, even if this gun is “immune” it has plenty of similar issues with no good way to fix them.

          • Giolli Joker

            Well, if you have a removable dust-cover (as it seems) instead of an upper receiver with structural function, the fixing gets easier.
            Anyway, we all know we’re not talking about a candidate to replace any military issued firearm.

          • JumpIf NotZero

            True, but those military requirements are usually there for a reason I’d also find beneficial for the most part.

            I’d NEVER own a KSG. EVER. There is just no way to get to the chamber and in a shotgun that’s unacceptable. Pretty much the same thing here.

            But I agree, that’s not their market.

          • You can’t get to the chamber? How so?

      • dp

        Correct. Hickups do happen under conditions less than perfect. Having said that I do have appreciation of this effort since it solves quintessential problem of bullpups..

      • J.T.

        “I wonder what clearing double feeds, or heaven forbid the dreaded over bolt malfunction, must be like.”

        Step 1: Field strip firearm.

      • Sulaco

        As long as you are not shooting Bigfoot for lunch…..

  • USMC03Vet

    Better trigger than the ARX160.

    Yeah. I went there Beretta….

    • Did someone say Beretta? Check your optic directions!

    • Vitor

      Better than Tavor, Steyr, F2000 and most convetional rifles. But the M17S from K&M is even better trigger wise with a 3.5lbs pull.

      • DiverEngrSL17K

        Hi, Vitor :

        I’m curious, and would like to read more of your personal input on the trigger pull on the M17S for the simple reason that while we all appreciate a lighter trigger pull, we also know that lightness of pull alone isn’t the only important factor that goes into a good trigger. The overall quality of the trigger is the real concern, usually defined in terms of feel, break point, over-travel ( or the lack thereof ), trigger slap ( or the lack thereof ), crispness, etc. A heavier trigger with otherwise superior characteristics is far more desirable than a light trigger with inferior ergonomics.

        With all due respect, it would be really interesting to hear of your own experiences with the M17S ( or any other rifle — especially a bullpup ) as long as you are willing to share them. Perhaps we could all learn something from this.

        Thanks very much in advance for your patience and understanding.

        • Xanderbach

          Fondled an M17S at my LGS for a bit… It does have a great trigger for a bullpup, and a good trigger for a standard rifle. I just can’t justify the price- 2K for an aluminum extrusion full of AR parts. It’s a bit unweildly and non-ergonomic also, since all of the controls ar AR controls, just not where you can reach them easily. I like the look of the keltec M43 though, and hope it isn’t as unobtanium as the rest of keltec’s stock. 2K is a bit much still, though.

          • DiverEngrSL17K

            Thanks for your input — every bit of shared information is much appreciated!

        • Vitor

          Well, kinda impossible for me to test any gun, but the guy from MAC did an initial review of the M17S. It is also adjustable, it can be set a tad heavier for those who find 3lbs way too light.

          • DiverEngrSL17K

            Thanks for the candid reply. MAC does a pretty good job of presenting transparent, no-frills evaluations.

      • asoro

        This gun will never be better than the Tavor, at least in the durability and life of the gun, Unless Kel tec has really come a long way…..

  • Danel

    I wonder how long until they ramp production up to 2 guns a day!

    • I see my last line was well timed! 😛 Here in Canada its actually pretty easy to find most Kel-Tec guns on the shelf at MSRP. But it took a long time for that to happen.

    • salty

      my thoughts exactly, i wouldnt mind owning some of their guns, for below msrp, but alas, the old supply and demand gets ya everytime, and their fanboy always gets the first gun, and the other one is at a smelly gun show guys table that wants triple msrp…

    • parabellum

      I told Santa Claus I expect one of these under my tree no later than Christmas 2034. It will be challenging, bur Kris Kringle should do better than my distributor (still working on that Sub 2000 from 3 years ago).

    • CrassyKnoll

      High hopes.

  • echelon

    Finally, a bullpup worthy of my money.

    • JumpIf NotZero

      You must be new to firearms… Let me explain something about keltec… They are masters of vaporware because when you do finally get hands on – there will always be an issue.

      But, more than half the time those issues can be ignored because of the price.

      Don’t beleive the keltec.

      • I see that my final line was well placed 😉

      • echelon

        Nope, not new at all.

        I’ve never had a problem finding any of their firearms for sale. There’s this thing called the “internet” that helps me find things I’m looking to buy.

        Of all of the models I’ve owned I’ve not had any issues that were the fault of the gun itself.

        If you’re worried about it being vaporware, just wait, Ruger will have their “new, revolutionary gun” just around the corner for you. And you know, it’s Ruger so it’s gotta be quality. 😉

        • JumpIf NotZero

          “I’ve never had a problem finding any of their firearms for sale. There’s this thing called the “internet””

          I just wanted to quote that for posterity. You know we’re discussing keltec right? That was clear to you right?

          You’ve never had a problem finding keltec guns huh? Wow.

          • echelon

            Never have. Maybe I paid more money for one than other people were willing to spend, but I got what I wanted when I wanted it. Value is subjective but for me it usually comes down to Time vs. Money.

            Firearms, contrary to popular belief, are not commodities. If I were KelTec, and I were comfortable with the money I was making as a business and healthy as a company, probably wouldn’t expand operations either in this uncertain time. Look at all the companies that tried to get in on the firearmageddon rush and got burned…

            And just because you have legions of people on the interwebs saying they’d buy your product if only they could find one in stock does not actually mean that said people would actually fork over the cash. So once again, if they produce 20,000 RFBs or KSGs a year and sell through every single one of them and turn a healthy profit, then so be it. Seems like they have constant demand. Better that than to have a supply that is not selling.

          • JT

            The internet is full of keltec white knights. more determined and rabid than typical white knights

          • JumpIf NotZero

            Yea, it’s really bizarre!

            Like Im just supposed to pretend I didn’t see KSGs as compete vaporware for two years and when they did start showing up, it was only after people realized the obvious problems with them. It’s a range toy, which I had alway thought was clear from day1, but “reviewers” we’re talking it up while it was unavailable.

            Ha, when is the last time you heard anyone talk about one now that they are available in most local gun shops? They’re available in local shops from orders placed two years ago 🙂

          • CommonCents

            I got a ksg a few months ago, has run fine so far.

          • JumpIf NotZero

            Cool story bro!

            Take a defensive shotgun class, and let me know how the combat loads go.

          • L Cavendish

            Ever hear of anyone using 15 shotgun rounds in home defense? Me neither.

          • CommonCents

            these days multiple attackers are more common in home invasions. the capacity weapons you decide on are your choice. others have different choices.

            The same could be said for any handgun over 6 round capacity too, or any AR. Why have them? Lot’s of people decide to do so. Shotguns are no exception, other than higher cap choices are pretty new.

          • CommonCents

            combat reloading? it holds 15-25 shells, the latter being mini shells. You don’t need to reload. That’s the whole point. If you need to reload a KSG, you best be running the other way, anyway. Nearly any person off the street could get 10-15 rounds off w/ the ksg vs. the fastest reloader of a traditional lower capacity shotgun, let alone an average person needing to reload 2-3 times to equal the capacity. I guarantee any fast shotgun loader would be pretty slow when they are trying to reload and still taking fire from a higher capacity gun.

          • JumpIf NotZero

            “You don’t need to reload.”

            Oh jesus christ…. Just take a proper defensive shotgun class.

            How do you clear a malfunction? How do you go from cruiser safe to an ammo change-over?

            You’re talking about minishells with a gun where the loading port entirely covered in a bullpup, and best yet it’s a Keltec… Yea, let me know how that goes! TOO FUNNY.

          • CommonCents

            an ammo changeover? you flick a lever to change magazines. you could have buckshot in one mag, and slugs in the other. 10x faster than unloading and reloading manually. I’ve shot a couple hundred mini shells and they’ve all cycled properly. clearing a malfunction, well i havent had any yet, but its not any less access than any other gun.

            as far as reloading, its no different than having a 6round cap facing off against a 17rd capacity handgun. I don’t care how fast you can reload, given equal shooter ability, capacity would beat you every single time. Same with a shotgun.

            its friday man, chill out! LOL

          • JumpIf NotZero

            Cool. You should take a reputable shotgun class. Sounds like you could teach the instructors a thing or two!

  • LongBeach

    Alligator foreskin arm? That’s what I read the first time.

    • DaveP.

      If you’re butch enough to make your gun furniture out of alligator foreskins, do you really need a gun?

      • dan citizen

        Great, now you won’t be able to visit the everglades without a bunch of anti-circumcision-alligators swimming up to your airboat trying to give you literature.

        • Jonathan Wright

          just woke my wife up i was laughing so hard, damn you.

        • Chatterbot

          That is the funniest thing I’ve read on TFB – ever. Thank you, sir. Well played.

    • Kel-Tec’s chosen descriptor. They consider it a part of all their firearm designs. Probably comes from living in Florida and doing unspeakable things to Alligators.

  • Phil Hsueh

    Pretty nice looking bullpup but pricey, wouldn’t mind getting one if I had the money and if they actually became available.

    Btw, you’re getting your its’ mixed up. It’s the contraction for It Is, while its (no apostrophe S) is the possessive form of it. You used them pretty interchangeably throughout the article when they aren’t interchangeable.

    • That’s what I get for writing on an airplane! 🙁 To the editing suite!

      • Cymond

        Thank you for editing the mistakes. Some bloggers don’t bother to correct their grammar or spelling, even when it’s atrocious.

  • JumpIf NotZero

    The adjustable gas system on the RDB allows for straightforward suppressor use

    Ummm, not exactly.

    The RFB also has an adjustable gas system, probably one of the worst guns I have heard suppressed. By design it almost immediately begins venting to atmosphere, it’s very loud!

    • John

      The RDB and RFB are different designs, mate.

      • JumpIf NotZero

        Oh wow, really? Care to discuss the differences in the gas system?

        Is the AUG different than the RDB too? How about the Tavor? Because they all suck suppressed.

        • thedonn007

          What sucks about shooting the Tavor suppressed?

          • JumpIf NotZero

            Ejection / action “pop” right at your ear. For the most part same issue with most suppressed bullpups.

            Also, the Tavor uses what is most similar to a pistol length gas system, it just doesn’t handle increased back pressure well.

    • Are you in a bad mood today—geez:-)

      • JumpIf NotZero

        I wasn’t actually. I’m just sick of fairytale wonderland “estimates” of how things work. Sick of people just tossing out there hat things work well when they don’t – not just to “be right” but to save people who head down that path the time and money they would waste because of poorly informed comments on the Internet.

        The comments on this site have been getting less and less informed, and I’m not sure why so largely unchecked.

        Every Bullpup I’ve ever used suppressed kinda sucks, so to read a review that says “it should suppress well – it has an adjustable regulator” is like seeing “the new Toyota Camry should race well, it has wheels and an engine”

  • Joe Schmoe

    Interesting concept, but I have a question.

    When lying down, does the bottom ejection cause the brass to bounce and fly back up into your face or the mechanism?

    • Nope! It piles nicely below you. BUT: you can burn your elbows as the pile grows bigger! Hence the brass catcher. Its got a rigid bottom that you squeeze together to open the bag without removing it from the rifle.

  • SlowWalker

    Standard AR-15 mags? I didn’t see this mentioned in the article…

    • Cymond

      It doesn’t explicitly say standard AR-15 mags, but those are Magpul PMAG M3s in the pictures.
      This is really more of an update to previous blog posts than a complete introduction to the product.

    • Sorry, that was my omission: yes, the RDB is compatible with AR-15 magazines and AR-15 muzzle devices.

  • iksnilol

    What about the 7.62×39 version?

    • Yellow Devil

      One crisis at a time…

  • Sulaco

    Standard AR magazine or just one you have to purchase from them??

  • LCON

    The Downward ejection reminds me of the FN P90

  • Hmmm… No mention of reliability.

    • On a more positive note, I thought the inclusion of a GIF really helped the article.

    • Under a hundred rounds through Kel Tec’s selected rifle? Was 100% reliable! But pretty poor place to test that sort of thing.

  • Mark Hillard

    Kel-Tec M43 , $3000 is a bit more than I want to pay for a semiautomatic rifle.

  • Luis Cabrera

    “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.”

    PS90 drops the spent shells out of the bottom

  • Secundius

    As a semi-proficient Wheelchair Driver, the less weapon you have to work with, the better. Or you going to be picking yourself off the ground a lot.

  • Squirreltakular

    It’s a shame Keltec doesn’t seem to want to get serious about their firearm production. Everything they come up with is innovative as hell, or at the very least, interesting. A design like this has all the makings of a replacement for our current service rifles. I would love to see this thing kitted out with an RCO and PEQ-16 against a MARPAT backdrop. 😉

  • Bob Cobb

    One word, Tavor.

  • LetsTryLibertyAgain

    I’m looking forward to shooting and then owning an RDB. The commie gun look of the M43 doesn’t do much for me, but I think it’s cool that Kel-Tec made that option available for those who like that look and feel.

    I should have gone to the 2014 Bullpup Convention. Next year for sure!

    Thanks for this review. Good stuff!

    Now back to your regularly scheduled Kel-Tec bashing. Every online thread or article or video has at least one rabidly frothing guy who trolls like he’s getting paid. I think the American Psychological Association should identify and name this mental illness. KTS – Kel-Tec Trolling Syndrome?

  • tiger

    Why change from the RFB design? The action seems fine.

  • Smootchie

    Keltec is a victim of their own fiscal responsibility, from what I can gather… they dont expand in order to fullfill demand unless they can fund the expansion of facilities on their own dime. Subsequently they produce firearms most of us wont see regardless of desire (unless of course you want to pay a 1000% mark-up on gunjoker).

    • vaquero

      shouldn’t they be applauded for responsible business?

      not borrowing money or seeking outside investors