Monday, March 17, 2014

IWI Tavor Review

IWI Tavor Review

I am probably the last editor on the planet to review the new in 2013 IWI Tavor, however I hope to  provide a perspective you have not read or heard before. I have actually been trained by Israeli Special Forces operators via a week long Mako Defense training. This certainly does not make me an expert at all things tactical or all the Israeli methods, however it does provide perspective and helps me understand their fighting mentality and methods and appreciate a gun that looks like a prop from a sci-fi movie. The Mossad based Mako Defense training, paired with some supplemental IWI training helped me understand the design, efficient operation, and features which I hope to convey in this review.

The Israeli firearms handling and methods are tight, no-nonsense, and efficient. There has to be a practical use for every feature on a firearm or accessory. It is my experience that Israeli based products are not short of style, however they never lose sight that "performance" is the first superseding goal of any defensive product; every feature must have a purpose. For the needs of Israel's own IDF - Israeli Defense Forces, who face constant CQB hostage and terrorist attacks, the Tavor is the ideal rifle. For me, I believe it is the ultimate home defense and patrol rifle if the user learns how to use it effectively as they should with any rifle format.

IWI was founded in 1933 under the Palestine Mandate which was roughly an agreement between Britain and Israel that put Palestine legally in the hands of Israel. Israel knew they needed the capabilities to arm and defend themselves and Israel Weapon Industries - IWI was founded. Many world renowned firearms have been developed by IWI since including the UZI sub-machine gun, JERICHO pistols, GALIL sniper rifles, NEGEV light machine gun, X95 sub-machine gun, and of course the Tavor (pronounced Ta’ Vore - sounds like "dah gore") in a variety of configurations.

Many companies have worked with IWI on manufacturing and design. Magnum Research, for example, used IWI as a design and manufacturing contractor to bring the Desert Eagle to the market.  Despite IWI not being a household name in the US, the company is well known once the name is tied to Uzi, Jericho, and the other firearms models noted above. Since the Tavor was first issued to the IDF, the US market has been begging for the Tavor and of course versions of the Uzi. Not only has the Tavor received rave reviews from the Israeli special forces operators, it has proven to be one of the best short CQB rifles on the market with a civilian legal 16.5” barrel. With limited availability and high price of most bullpup rifles, IWI USA was formed to import key parts to begin marketing a US made version of the Tavor in the US.  Since its introduction at last year’s Shot show, the Tavor was “the” hot rifle for 2013 and is still lava hot in 2014.

The idea of a bullpup design is not new by any stretch of the imagination. The concept of a bullpup design was actually first introduced in the 1901 Thorneycroft bolt-action carbine chambered in .303 British.

The idea then and now is simple; move the bolt and spring assembly forward of the breech in some way and the stock and grip forward.  The gun’s length is effectively shorted by the omission of the buttstock length. The result is an exponentially shorter gun which for all practical purposes delivers the Close Quarters Combat - CQB maneuverability of a 10” barreled AR15 all without the pesky $200 NFA tax stamp, less muzzle blast & noise, and much higher velocities/energy. It is a great trade off.

Some of the most popular recent bullpups have been the Steyr AUG A3, FN PS90, FN FS2000 and even here in the US, KelTec has a number of models as well. The concept is not new and has proven itself. The most engaging bullpup arguments are the scrutiny of the design ergonomics and the bleeding edge love-them-or-leave-them Starship Trooper designs which naturally look like weapons from outer space. Until the Tavor, there was no substantial military adoption of Bullpups beyond the limited use of the Steyr AUG’s by the Austrian army. Part of the lackluster adoption was the high cost and limited availability, however most was the skepticism of the looks and unproven design. The reality is bullpups aren’t your daddy’s rifle unless he was from Mars, however the bullpup design lives on.

The primary reason for the continued bullpup development is the shorter and ultimately more maneuverable size in the tight confines of urban defense where space is tight and corners are sharp.

The IWI design team evaluated the best historically successful bullpup designs and features; those that worked and those that were just interesting with little function. The primary design goal was to utilize new innovations in materials and manufacturing to simplify the design and maximize reliability. Ultimately the Tavor design has been noted to be far more reliable than the AR15 platform due the Tavor's piston system all in a platform delivering a civilian legal format that is an incredibly short 26 ⅛”. By contrast, your average civilian legal 16” barreled AR15 is nearly 12” longer and that slows you down and limits movement as you are moving in and out of vehicles, through your house’s hallways and around corners in a defensive environment. The short length makes it fast handling… very fast.

Due to the unusual looks, an important note to those interested in the Tavor is that it does not require special licensing and is not considered a restricted "short barreled" rifle.  The barrel is a legal 16.5" barrel in an overall 26 1/8" rifle length which poses no restriction issues according to ATF rules. For reference, rifles with barrels of total permanent length under 16” and/or a total firearm length under 26” requires a Class 3 NFA Tax Stamp and all the lovely junk that comes with that registration process. Luckily the Tavor is not one of those rifles. Unless you live in one of those wacky North Eastern states or California, you can walk in and buy a Tavor just like you would any other ordinary rifle or shotgun.

Fit and finish on the Tavor are well executed and high quality but no-nonsense. The rifle does have a leather-like texture across the entire polymer chassis and rougher texture on the pistol grip area. All the molding is of high quality and all the parts fit together as they should. Although the Tavor’s one-piece chassis design is essentially all polymer, the entire gun is extremely solid gun with no perceivable flex.

The gun feels heavier than it looks. At 7.9 lbs it is by no means lardy and in fact pretty light in the land of 8-9lb AR15s, however instead of that weight being spread out over 38” like an AR15, the weight is compacted into only 26.5”. The result is a tight solid and dense feeling rifle.  Once shouldered, the weight somehow seems to magically drop to a rifle which feels far lighter than the 7.9lbs would indicate.

One often overlooked feature is the quite long/tall buttpad. This allows the Tavor to be shouldered in a wider range of positions. As you move into various positions or shoot off the bench your start to notice how much of the buttstock you end up using.  

The Tavor features a patented piston driven system not too dissimilar to the AR15 piston systems. The Tavor’s is non-adjustable and said to automatically compensate if a suppressor is added. I had zero issues with various ammo, however I was not able to add a suppressor. The AR15 style 90-degree safety selector, unique brass ejection, and charging handle all can be user reversed for lefties by following the very detailed user instruction booklet. It is not a swap you will do in the midst of battle;  however it can be done in less than 30 minutes with minimal tools.

An interesting feature is the Tavor’s ability to convert to 9mm with an optional conversion kit. I hope to test these capabilities in a future article.  At one point Tavor also offer a 5.45x39 conversion however from my understanding that optional kit was discontinued shortly after introduction due to the reliability of the 5.45x39 surplus rounds currently in circulation. As a 5.45x39 surplus shooter, I am very disappointed this is no longer available.

IWI has integrated a forward hand stop on the Tavor for a very important reason. The rifle is so short that you could very easily overreach forward of the muzzle after a mag change. Muzzle safety is one reason the Tavor IDF operators are trained to scoop the support hand up along the trigger guard onto the forend.  One significant maneuverability versus safety trade off you make with any short rifle, bullpup, or submachine gun is that it is very easy to mistakenly get your hands in front of the muzzle especially if you are accustomed to a 3Gun style support arm being fully extended.  

The IDF issued Tavors do not have the full length top rail the US versions include. In this case, it was the right decision for US version to allow the uber picky Americans, such as myself, the ability to place our optics wherever we want. IWI also includes emergency flip up backup sights. They are quite nice and integrated into the top picatinny rail. The rear is a standard fixed peep sight, however the front handles both elevation and windage adjustment and is complete with a Tritium insert. I found the insert delivered a very subtle useable glow at night versus the stunningly bright Tritium inserts I am used to on handguns.

Depending on the left/right hand configuration the user sets, a 45 degree polymer picatinny rail is mounted to the opposite side of the charging handle and provides a perfect place for mounting lasers and lights. If you have plans on running the Tavor in 3Gun competitions the offset 45 rail would be perfect to mount a short range reflex sight to accompany a higher power top rail mounted optic.

You will notice what appears to be a button on the left hand side of the Tavor’s handguard. From the factory, the button is actually just a dust cover, however I found a $14 Anchor SW1F heavy duty momentary rubberized switch fits this space perfectly. Look for a Tavor modification article soon which includes this modification. The IDF have a switch here which controls either a light or laser.

Fire a round, and the gas pressure will push a long piston assembly to drive the integrated bolt, carrier, and spring assembly to cycle the firearm. If it happens to be the last round in the magazine, the bolt locks back and reloading commences. Once a fresh mag is inserted and the bolt released, the patented cam’ing bolt strips off a new round and locks into the barrel similar to an AR15 bolt.

If you attempt to run a Tavor like an AR15, you will dread the reload, swear a lot, shoot slow, potentially muzzle sweep your support hand at least once, and in general negate most of the advantages of the design. Tavor owners have to embrace the features to get down to a smooth reload safely and drive the gun effectively. The reload can be actually faster in a stressful environment than an AR15, but you would need to work with it to get proficient. To understand this let me share my first Tavor experience.

At the 2014 SHOT show media range day, I finally made it to the Tavor tent nearly at the end of the day. I shouldered the Tavor like I would with a CQB AR with the stock semi-centered on my chest and my support hand under the handguard, shot my first 5-round string, hit the release with the support hand to drop the mag, slipped in another mag and then pressed the bolt release with my support hand thumb. I put 10 out of 10 on the 8”x11” steels at 75 yards offhand however it was a slow go and it felt a bit unstable.  You cannot lock the gun into your body with the same technique as an AR-15.

I dropped the mag, charged the bolt twice, checked three points of contact on the bolt for rounds, pointed the Tavor in a safe direction and cleared the gun by pulling the trigger. Immediately Gilad from IWI (X Israeli Special Forces) asked who trained me. I noted my Israeli special forces trainers from Mako Defense. He had served with all of them and knew I was Israeli trained from how I shot and handled the gun.

That interaction lead to Gilad spending basically the last hour of the range day demonstrating and training me how to use all the features and advanced handling of the Tavor. The time was well spent understanding how to maximize the operation speed and even sling mounting and use. For magazine reloads, Israeli operators simply rotate the heal of their primary (grip) hand up to hit the magazine release while the support hand is reaching for a fresh magazine. The magazine hand thumb should be up during the reload and after the magazine is seated the hand slips up and the thumb hits the bolt release. IWI was careful to position the magazine forward enough that it remains within the primary vision of the operator during the reload.

IWI Tavor compared to Extar AR15 Pistol
The UZI was designed around a "hands-can-find-hands" design methodology which is one reason the UZI was grip magazine fed. In this case, IWI expanded that idea with the finger guard which can be used as a hand ramp to slide the hand safely up to the handguard without creating a situation where the operator over-reaches and puts a hand in front of the muzzle. Also the finger guard was designed to be a forearm support to improve off-hand shooting accuracy. Lock your wrist into the forearm/fingerguard union and your forearm down the fingerguard and the Tavor feels like someone duct taped the gun to you - very stable.

With these points in mind, Gilad stuffed a fully loaded spare mag in my front pocket, handed me another full mag for the gun and asked me to get into "ready". He wanted me to alternately engage the 75, 100, and 150-yard steels unsupported standing using my new found forearm brace and everything I had just learned... and of course speed up my reload a bit.  Gilad yelled "go" and whacked me on the shoulder. The result was a glorious 58 out of 60 rounds on the various ranged steels and it was really fast and really surprisingly easy. Gilad noted it was the best shooting he saw all day. I fell in love with the forearm brace and my new Tavor reloading tricks.  Another awesome capability is the balance of the rifle which easily allow the user to keep the Tavor shouldered and on target while using the support hand for other things like working a light or opening doors. Barrel heavy AR-15s feel very awkward performing this maneuver.  IWI’s Tavor has outstanding reliability with ergonomics that make sense if you understand the rifle.

Many editors have complained about the Tavor trigger, however I say to them “get over yourself”. Understand how to shoot the gun first. Jerry Miculek can obviously make the gun hum so it must be more than the trigger holding you back.  

Secondly, this is a defensive gun with a defensive trigger. You cannot compare this radically different firearm design to an AR 15 trigger, just as you should not directly compare a revolver trigger to that of a 1911.  The Tavor's feels closer to a striker fired handgun trigger or a light revolver trigger than an AR15 trigger. I really do not notice the trigger much on the Tavor while shooting, however if you are really picky, Timney is coming out with a drop-in Match trigger April-2014.

Routine maintenance and disassembly is amazingly simple.  For regular maintenance, just push out the one single captured retention pin and the butt pad will swing open to reveal a storage compartment. The bolt, carrier, and spring one-piece unit can be pulled from the chassis for cleaning.  No further disassembly is required for cleaning. Routine maintenance does not require trigger removal, however if you really feel compelled to remove the trigger, push out two more captive pins and the trigger unit can be slid out.

The only issue I had, was a similar issue to AR15s, where a soft handing the initial charge and easing the bolt down on a fresh round occasionally delivered a hammer strike but failure to fire. Charge the Tavor aggressively as you would an AR15 and you will have zero problems.

The IWI is not a super-match competition 3Gun rifle… it is a highly refined combat bullpup rifle. That noted, the Tavor still delivered consistent 1” (1 MOA) 100-yard groups with a Burris Tactical 4.5-14 Mil Dot scope attached.  I used a variety of Hornady and Winchester rounds and some leftovers as well. The faster barrel twist seemed to deliver better accuracy with the heavier bullets. It had a special taste for 75gr Hornady Tap .223 rounds delivering a 5-round .8” 100-yard group.

The biggest problems that get in the way while  sitting down on the bench to shoot groups are all the features which make the Tavor awesome as you are moving and shooting on your feet. If I could have found a spare swivel stud to screw into the handguard for bipod attachment, my life would have been a bit easier when shooting groups. If you plan on mis-appropriating the Tavor as a benchrest rifle, I would opt for the 18” barrel version and add a bipod and 10-round magazine immediately.  The Eotech is a perfect fit for the rifle and allowed unsupported hits on 12” steels all the way out to 300-yards, however I would like to try out a few other options that provide low power magnification.

Feedback from my LEO and 3Gun testers were that the gun is very fast, a great CQB rifle, and pointed naturally however they noted it would take some time to get really fast and proficient with the design. Honestly this was my issue until I really worked with the Tavor. I cannot tell you how many times the AR15 muscle memory had me initially attempting to load a magazine in the handguard or overreaching the support hand. Yep, felt pretty un-cool when I did that. About ten magazines in my operation were nice and smooth.

IWI asked that I not clean the gun and run it until I had a failure. At this point I have well over 2000 rounds through the gun and have not lubed or cleaned the gun at all since pulling it from the box. Stunningly the gun runs amazingly clean and has delivered zero functional issues. It appears to be a Glock in rifle clothing. Any of my AR15s make it to that round count without failure? No way, but the Tavor has and is still going. I think IWI was playing a joke on me; not really sure I could get it to fail unless I used complete junk corrosive ammo.

I am now pretty quick with the Tavor reloads and extremely confident with my ability to connect with any 12” target unsupported within 300-yards. What Tavor has created is something special and hopefully widely used, supported, and adopted here in the US. Because of the reliability, length, and maneuverability, it makes more sense than an AR15 for home defense and as a Patrol rifle.


The TAVOR® SAR Flattop incorporates a full-length MIL-STD Picatinny top rail in addition to the standard short rail mounted at a 45° angle opposite the charging handle.
Caliber 5.56 NATO
Action Semi-auto
Operating System Closed rotating bolt, long gas stroke on piston head
Magazine Type Polymer NATO STANAG type
Magazine Capacity 30 rounds
Barrel Material Cold hammer forged, CrMoV, chrome lined
Barrel Length 16 ½"
Overall Length 26 ⅛"
Weight 7.9 lbs.
Rifling Right hand, 6 grooves, 1:7 inch twist
Stock Color Flat Dark Earth
Stock Type Reinforced polymer bullpup configuration
Sights Folding front sight (blade) and rear sight (aperture)
Restricted States Sales of this rifle may be restricted in certain states and the District of Columbia. Please check with your local authorities regarding your local firearms laws.
Optional Equipment 9mm Parabellum conversion kit with CHF barrel
MSRP - $1,999  

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Anonymous said...

While I agree with the majority of your post, I would like to note that you left off several bullpups that have been in deployment over the last 20 years. The Brits, (L85 or SA-80) the French (FA-MAS), Belgium (FS2000), and HS Arms (the origin of the Springfield XD) makes a bullpup for the Croats (how well it functions, I have no idea).

I like everything you have to say about the Tavor. As someone who got to test the micro years ago, I have been a huge fan of the rifle, and enjoy the one in my safe alot.

Autstic1 said...

I've only had my Tavor for about 2 months now.. and only had it out twice so far. After reading this and other articles that explained the purpose if the design, I "understood" why it would be a superb rifle for its intended use. This rifle was essentially designed around the ergonomic factors required for CQB. It also has taken into account the physiological stress factors using gross motor movements to operate charging, reloading, etc. The rifle really becomes part of the operator with it's close center of gravity and multiple points of support. You use larger muscle groups to support and steady this rifle. Less muscle fatigue and "shakes" when holding and aiming while freestanding. The Tavor has made a historical leap in bullpup and rifle design in general.