Airgun Carbines or Bullpups: Which is Better?

When it comes to hunting with carbines or bullpups, veteran airgunner Jim Chapman is open minded and takes in all factors.

Airgun Carbines or Bullpups: Which is Better?

Proven small game guns from Chapman’s collection include (top to bottom) the FX Wildcat, the Brocock Compatto and the Brocock Specialist. (Photo: Jim Chapman)

I must admit that the look and feel of a traditional hunting rifle with a walnut sporter stock appeals to my sense of aesthetics. I’m also practical, and for that reason have gravitated towards carbine, or at least shorter barreled rifles. For a day out hunting in the desert or mountains where I might walk miles with my pack and rifle, or in the dense woods where space to mount and aim a rifle might be limited, a lightweight and compact gun makes a lot of sense.

But even with an ingrained preference for the traditional rifle/carbine design, I’ve been open minded in trying new rifles so long as they provide accuracy, power and reliability. When bullpups started to take the airgunning world by storm several years ago, I gave them a fair shake and went along for the ride.                

What I’ve discovered is that the design has a lot to offer. The hallmark of the bullpup is compactness while offering the performance of a full-sized rifle. Many use a standard sized reservoir or bottle that provides a high shot count, which might be compromised in a carbine. This is because when a carbine design is based on reconfiguring a rifle with an air reservoir tube below the barrel, it is necessary to reduce the length of the tube when shortening the barrel so it doesn’t overhang the muzzle. Another solution to that is replacing the shortened reservoir with a bottle under the barrel, but that needs to be done so as not to shift the gun’s balance. 

There are other potential shortcomings of the bullpup design. For example, one of the primary reasons to switch over to a bullpup is they are compact. Counterintuitively, many bullpups, especially those reconfigured from full-sized rifles, are heavier than the rifle version. Earlier bullpups had rough triggers because of the linkage system implemented to reposition the receiver/trigger assembly. That is not the case in these days of ground-up bullpup designs. While the bullpup configuration can be ergonomic, some can be clumsy to cycle because of the placement of the cocking mechanism. However, all of those potential problems can be mitigated through design and execution

What's a Carbine?

The current definition of a carbine is simply a short rifle, and that usually implies a barrel of 16 to 18 inches in length. What is not so clearly defined is the stock, but in my mind a good carbine design also scales down and removes extraneous bulk from the stock. What I like about these guns is that they tend to be lightweight and easy to maneuver in tight spaces, yet still conform to my ideal of how a hunting gun should look and feel.     

The .22 Brocock Specialist in my collection represents an outstanding carbine for small game hunting. It is accurate, adequately powered, light and compact. The air capacity is enough for squirrel or rabbit hunting where the bag limit is five to 10 per day, but falls short on a prairie dog shoot. However, the real selling point is that it is very compact and lightweight. The designers have done away with any element of the stock not required to enhance shootability of the gun.    

The semi-bullpup is a concept pioneered by Brocock, initially with the release of the Compatto and later joined by the Bantam and the Snipper models. The Compatto has supplanted the carbine in my collection of small game guns because it ticks all the same boxes as a carbine but has a full-sized barrel and air tube. The Compatto has a slightly longer overall length than the Specialist, but it is still compact, lightweight and one of my favorite guns to shoot.  

Some of the early bullpup airgun designs were built on reconfigured rifle platforms, that consisted of moving the receiver and trigger assembly to the butt of the gun and re-stocking it. That produces a much shorter overall length while retaining a full-length barrel and reservoir tube. The design challenge was the resulting need to move the repositioned trigger from the butt of the rifle to a normal position in front of the shooter’s cheek. That is accomplished by utilizing a mechanical linkage between the trigger blade in the forward position and the existing trigger assembly at the butt of the gun.

My Favorite Bullpup

While there are several bullpups I like, the FX Wildcat is probably my favorite. It’s tack driver accurate, powerful, compact, lightweight, reliable, ergonomic, shootable from virtually any position and fits me perfectly. Even though there are several bullpups that I shoot well, and think are ergonomic, I’m always aware that I’m shooting a bullpup. However, the Wildcat shoots so naturally that I forget I’m shooting a bullpup.     

Where the Wildcat really shines is on those hunts where I’ll be covering a lot of ground and engaging targets at longer range, such as prairie dog shoots on the wide-open prairies of the Dakotas. I’ll often walk several miles per day on one of these trips while loaded up with a heavy pack, and having a compact, lightweight gun is advantageous. But it must perform! Shots at the burrowing rodents can be from 25 to 125 yards taken offhand or off sticks, and the Wildcat proves itself one of the most effective guns of any type I’ve ever used in this setting.

The truth of the matter is that any of these designs, carbine, bullpup or semi-bullpup are great hunting rifles. This is not a cop-out but a simple statement of fact, it depends on several factors: Is it a well thought out and well executed design? Does it suit your needs, and does it suit your taste? My personal preference leans toward the semi-bullpup Compatto design. It has the performance with respect to accuracy and power, provides a decent shot count and is easy to cycle, though I’d prefer a sidelever. Additionally, it has a good trigger, it’s compact and lightweight, ergonomic and appeals to my sense of aesthetics.

On the other hand, I could make almost the same comments about my Wildcat and, even though it is my favorite bullpup of all time, I still prefer the look and feel of the more “rifle like” Compatto. It’s this personal bias that sways me, but if my aesthetic sensibilities leaned toward the more tactical look and feel of a bullpup, the Wildcat would be the gun for me hands down.

Of course, there are other considerations that help determine which gun I’ll pull down from the rack when gearing up for a hunt. My Compatto is a .22 that is less powerful and has a more limited range, but is a pleasure to carry when squirrel hunting in the woods where long shots are rare and the space to maneuver constrained. Conversely, the Wildcat is a much more powerful .25 that allows me to reach out for those 100-yard prairie dogs when hunting the wide-open grasslands, and I shoot this rifle especially well from a sitting or prone position.

Perhaps rather than make an argument for whether a bullpup or semi-bullpup/carbine is a better choice in a hunting gun, my position should be that either of these examples could be my choice on any given day, depending on intended application.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.