Steyr AUG Bullpup Review: Strange, Old Space-Age Rifle Magic
I don’t know about you, but I still think of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the spacecraft that made it happen as “high-tech science.” Sure, I once owned an old Nokia brick phone that was more technologically advanced. Heck, that old phone even used a far more advanced satellite to work, but that old-school space magic still got the job done.
That’s how I felt after finally getting to shoot the first bullpup I ever saw as a kid. The futuristic Steyr AUG bullpup – designed circa 1977 – grabbed my attention the instant I saw it. It’s a gun that still offers that same fascinating blend of age and advanced thinking with some spicy retro lines. But as a rifle that has since cut its chops on the battlefield and as a darling of Hollywood films, the old AUG might have just infected me with the bullpup bug.
Well, let’s get the Hollywood love affair with the Steyr AUG out of the way because it has you covered for everything from 1983’s “James Bond” classic “Octopussy” and the unforgettable appearance in the 1989 “Die Hard” flick that made a few fans to the not so old “Call of Duty” games.
Originally finding adoption with the Austrian military in 1978, the platform continues to serve as a rifle, carbine, and squad-automatic weapon with that nation today. But it has stretched its legs a bit.
Australia adopted the Steyr AUG in a variety of formats that have since gone on to prove themselves in service, including combat in Afghanistan. The entire platform is compact – it is, after all, a bullpup – but it’s also quite modular. In fact, the gun is surprisingly modular for size, purpose, and caliber, with one of the more obvious hints coming from the fact you can pop the entire barrel out with a quick push of a lever.
In a way, the AUG is a gun that keeps on giving. It’s both old and futuristic. But it’s also now a gun that has earned a few stripes as a battle-tested platform with a very vocal following. I’d spend a few more moments arguing the merits of the bullpup design, but we actually just covered that.
While it may or may not be the next best thing to military-grade sliced bread, the AUG has qualities that are hard to ignore.
Specs & Function
Let’s start by zeroing in on the version of the gun we are looking at, which is technically a Steyr AUG A3 M1 that is notable for its long top Picatinny rail and the short rail on the right side. Also notable is the left-and-right ejection port, which can be changed by swapping out the bolt head and replacing the ejection-port cover. The charging handle even locks back to the rear to give you that classic “HK slap” when loading.
Not all AUGs are ambidextrous, but the design does lend itself to lefties, and that warrants a solid southpaw slow clap. This version came with both left and right bolt heads, and I tested them both to confirm I am still a bad left-handed shot. But suffice it to say the AUG has quite a few aftermarket parts these days.
Getting into the nuts and bolts, the gun is an adjustable, short-stroke, gas-piston design. In simpler terms, it’s fairly clean-running and offers low recoil with the 5.56 NATO or .223 Rem chamberings. In the odd event you are forced to run the gun extremely dirty – or suppressed – the gas is also easily adjustable.
The original AUG was designed for an optic well before that was standard, but this one is incredibly easy to set up with your favorite modern option. That being said, there is very little rail space compared to an AR-style platform. You can, as the previous owner of this used AUG did, pop on some short backup iron sights. Additionally, there is a rear reversible sling swivel with a front quick-detach mount point.
Again, it is nice that the AUG A3 M1 can be set up for a left-handed shooter by simply swapping out the bolt head and then reversing the cover plate over the ejection port. However, I would caution anyone against using it in anything other than the proper ejection pattern. That is a very fast way to remove pieces of teeth or your eye with a bullpup. As another note, I have noticed that the stock cover for the ejection port can be easily knocked loose.
I’ve included a few extra specs below, but keep in mind the dimensions can be misleading with a bullpup design.
It’s worth noting two things about that trigger-pull weight. On the one hand, it doesn’t feel heavy. On the other, it is clearly chonky – not merely chunky, but chonky – like an awkward fat cat in a Facebook meme. It’s also sticky, and I cannot really tell if it is stacking on weight or merely plastic friction as I pull it.
I’m now at well over 1000 rounds through this AUG, including everything from .223 Wolf steel-case ammo and Federal and Winchester brass to PMC match. The gun runs everything, and the ejection pattern is a testament to efficient engineering. I can and do hear spent casings bouncing off each other behind me. So, I have no complaints about the reliability.
The ergonomics are a bit odd, but the gun balances right over my shooting hand like a fat katana sword. That makes pivoting it around obstacles and between targets fast and easy. The short barrel length is something you have to practice with, but the gun runs and guns well in drills.
Reloads are a bit slow for me. Some of that is the simple fact that I know AK and AR platforms better. However, I cannot help but think that for every hour you spend getting faster reloading a bullpup, you would be even faster reloading an AR-style rifle. That said, I don’t see that knocking this gun off of my go-to list.
Given the action and the caliber, the recoil is minimal, but the accuracy and speed are great. I did a quick 10-shot zero and was punching holes in the chest of a man-sized target at 200 yards standing with my next 20 shots. I wouldn’t call it my next match gun, but the AUG has shooting chops despite its trigger.
Speaking of the trigger, I will admit that it was both unimpressive in how it felt and yet somehow impressively effective in practical shooting. Again, as a bullpup, the design requires linkages to connect the front trigger to the rear action. When I put it to hitting steel against some nicer AR rifles, I found my lack of experience behind bullpups slowed me down more than the trigger.
Still, if you are accustomed to even basic mil-spec AR triggers, I can guarantee this one will make you feel like you were spoiled. Haters are going to hate, but I can’t claim I dropped any shots in practical shooting because of the trigger. Still, even my Midwestern politeness won’t let it pass without saying that it’s not great.
Pros & Cons
In all honesty, I would love to spend some extra time talking about what I really liked about this gun. But I can sum that up by saying it shot well, hit steel at 50-100 yards as well as some nicer AR-style rifles, and was 100-percent reliable. I would have spent a bit more time complaining about the unique magazines, but that is specific to this gun and many AUGs will take standard AR-style mags. So, I’ll break it down into some easy nuggets
Size and balance
Accuracy and soft recoil
Clean running with adjustable gas
Fun to shoot with a cool factor
Unique feel you have to learn
Ambi ejection ports can be an issue
Limited rail space
Not AR-mag compatible – however, many AUGs are
Squared, simple safety
I have shot and handled only a few bullpups over the years, but I have shouldered more ARs and AKs than I can remember. The AUG is one of those guns that I can honestly say I will not soon forget. In fact, it’s pretty easy to see it sneaking into my own collection when the time is right.
Reliable, practical, fun, compact, battle tested, historic, and just plain cool…I mean, what more can you really want? No, it’s not ready to host every accessory that the internet has to offer, but it does the job as well in the 2020s as it did in 1978.