Gun Test: Bond Arms BullPup9
At the end of 2015, Bond Arms of Granbury, Texas, acquired a small semi-automatic pistol company called Boberg Arms that produced the XR9-S—a compact handgun chambered in 9 mm Luger that employed backward-feeding magazines. Although the original Boberg design suffered from some reliability issues and a hefty price tag, the Bond Arms team has spent a year-and-a-half incorporating upgrades, ironing out the kinks and trimming hundreds of dollars off the price of what is now known as the BullPup9.
The BullPup9 is a rotating-barrel, locked-breech semi-automatic designed specifically to provide a relatively long barrel despite its compact exterior dimensions. The beveled, satin-finish slide is machined from a billet of 416 stainless steel, and features rear serrations along with a set of dovetailed, metallic, low-profile, three-dot sights which are drift-adjustable for windage. The lightweight frame is machined from a billet of aircraft-grade 7075 aluminum, hardcoat anodized with a matte-black finish to give the pistol a two-tone appearance.
Inside the slide, on the left side, are a thin recoil rod and a single guide spring that look like those found within .22 rimfire rifles. The rotating barrel has three locking lugs, two of which lock into the slide, with the third connecting to the sliding unlocking block. Bond Arms has redesigned the unlocking block, treating it and the barrel with an RF85 low-friction coating, and ensured that those parts in need of heat treating have received it. These changes resolve previous reliability issues and eliminate the need to apply the thick, sticky, anti-seize grease required for the Boberg models.
The magazine well is placed directly below the barrel’s chamber (instead of behind it), with the trigger forward of the chamber. It’s the forward trigger placement that qualifies the pistol as a bullpup firearm, allowing for a shorter overall length without sacrificing barrel length. Under the firing pin is a spring-loaded pair of “tongs” that grasp the rim of the next cartridge in the magazine and extract it as the slide moves rearward after a round is fired. A small feed ramp positions the fresh round into alignment with the chamber just before the slide slams forward into battery. A lightweight recoil assembly can be used with this design because the mass of the fresh cartridge helps slow the rearward movement of the slide.
The external controls consist of a takedown lever and a round magazine-release button mounted on the left side of the frame. A smooth-faced, double-action-only trigger is set inside a generous, rounded trigger guard. The pistol’s only two safeties are its long trigger pull and a firing pin lock that prevents the firing pin from moving until the trigger is depressed. The trigger actuates a flap-like hammer that we found can slap the web of the thumb a little if the gun is gripped too high.
The trigger pull is exceptionally smooth with a unique feel. The trigger stroke is similar in length to that of a double-action revolver, but it doesn’t feel like a revolver. It’s much lighter—with a pull weight of 7 lbs., 4 ozs.—and there’s no stacking, resistance or grittiness. The pull is consistent all the way back to the frame.
The Boberg’s polymer stocks have been replaced with a handsome set of laminated rosewood stocks that feature deeply engraved fish-scale texturing and a five-pointed star. The pistol arrives with two of the unusual, rear-feeding, seven-round magazines, which have stainless steel bodies and no followers atop the springs.
Disassembling the BullPup9 is easily accomplished. Start by removing the magazine and verifying the pistol is completely unloaded. Pull the slide all the way to the rear and hold it in place while rotating the takedown lever from the 3-o’clock to the 9-o’clock position. Release the slide and press it forward off of the frame. Tip the recoil assembly out through the back of the slide. Press the barrel forward and then lift the unlocking block out of the frame. Tip the barrel, chamber up, and press the barrel out of the slide. The pistol is now fieldstripped and ready to clean.
Because the BullPup9’s operation pulls cartridges backward at high speed, instead of pushing them forward, the tightness of the ammunition’s crimp becomes a key factor. If the crimp is not tight enough, the cartridge case is literally pulled away from the resting bullet, dumping the powder into the action. Such a condition can be handled with relative ease at the shooting range, but it would be a serious problem in a defensive situation.
That is why Bond Arms provides customers with a recommended ammunition list. As of this writing, the list includes nine defense-grade loads and 20 practice-grade loads from a dozen different manufacturers that have proven to run reliably in the BullPup9. The test pistol was fired with nine loads from the approved list, all of which functioned flawlessly.
The BullPup9’s fit and finish is excellent. The grip fits comfortably in the hand, the trigger is buttery smooth and the sights are easy to see. This pistol weighs in at 19 ozs. unloaded, but it feels lighter in hand due to the gun’s unconventional balance. Racking the slide requires very little effort, similar to the force required to charge a rimfire pistol. The recoil is moderate, with more of a shove to the hand than a kick; quick follow-up shots were easy to make using one or both hands.
When compared to the original pistols, the marked improvements the BullPup9 has to offer are easy to see, and eliminating the need for the anti-seize grease makes cleaning and lubricating the pistol much more convenient. Bond Arms has successfully transformed the Boberg XR9-S from something of a pocket-sized oddity into a reliable, top-quality defensive pistol.