If you’ve ever seen an action movie from the 80s or 90s, chances are you’ve seen a Steyr AUG. In terms of silver screen appearances, the AUG has been wielded by German bad guys in Die Hard, cartel members in Predator 2, and pretty much any other pre-2000 action flick that needed a futuristic looking gun for background characters to use. Movie appearances aside, the Steyr AUG was one of the most innovative rifles of its time, and is considered to be the first successful bullpup firearm. The bullpup design places the weapons action mechanism behind the trigger, the main benefit of this configuration is a shorter overall length, better ergonomics, and reduced muzzle rise. According to British firearms expert Jonathan Ferguson, the term “bullpup” is thought to come from a 1930’s colloquial term for bulldog puppies, which were often called “bull pups.” At the time, the bulldog breed was regarded as “squat, ugly but still aggressive and powerful” – this analogy found its way into the firearm industry, and is an appropriate description considering the AUG’s shape and appearance.
Similar to how the U.S. Armed Forces replaced the M14 with the M16, the AUG was a replacement to the Austrian Army’s FN FAL variation. This shift from the heavy, large-caliber battle-rifles to smaller, rapid-fire assault rifles was in response to the ever changing demands of modern warfare, where fire superiority outweighed stopping power. Since its adoption by the Austrian Army in 1978, variations of the AUG have been used around the world by various law enforcement and militaries, most notably by the armed forces of Ireland, New Zealand, Austria, and Australia. Although the select fire versions of AUG are next to impossible to find in the U.S., a civilian, semi-auto model is available Stateside: the AUG A3 M1.
Just like the select-fire version, the AUG A3 M1 utilizes a short-stroke, gas-piston operation. This mechanism allows the AUG to run cleaner when compared to rifles of the same class, as all the exhaust gasses are vented out of the front of the rifle. Gas pressure can be adjusted to enhance reliability in adverse conditions, such as when the weapon is dirty, when using poor quality ammunition, or in cold environments. This rifle can also be quickly and easily disassembled for cleaning, and the barrel can be swapped without the use of tools. The AUG A3 M1 comes in two versions – one that accepts the original Steyr magazines, and another that accepts the more commonly available STANAG/AR15 magazines.
Operational specifications aside, one of the greatest aspects of the AUG rifle series is the ergonomics. That funky, futuristic design doesn’t just look cool in movies, it offers excellent control over the whole weapon. I’m not quite sure how to describe it, but the AUG A3 M1 just feels natural to bring to your shoulder, and measuring in at a mere 28.15 inches, is incredibly pointable. These qualities, plus a foldable fore-grip make handling the AUG A3 M1 an absolute delight. The rifle’s controls are equally as impressive. The two-position cross-bolt safety is in an optimal position that’s close to the user’s dominate hand, and a large magazine release switch located directly behind the magazine allows for fast reloads even when wearing gloves. Another user-friendly feature is the charging handle which can be locked in the rearward position similar to that of an MP5. Unfortunately, there is one major drawback to the AUG A3 M1 – it does NOT come with the signature integrated optic/carry handle. Not gonna lie, that was a major letdown for me and deals a serious blow to the rifle’s “cool factor”. It does however come with a 16-slot picatinny rail for installing an optic of choice, but it just doesn’t have the same AUG silhouette that I’ve seen in the countless B-movies of the 80s and 90s. All things considered, the AUG A3 M1 is still an outstanding weapon. The ergonomics, intuitive controls, and reliability-enhancing design features makes the AUG A3 M1 an excellent alternative to an AR-platform.