Boberg Is Back – The Bond Bullpup 9mm CCW by BRUCE FLEMINGS

The Bond Arms BullPup9 design is based on the previously available Boberg Arms XR9-S.  Shipments of Boberg XR9-S pistols started in the third quarter of 2011 and continued through 2016 when Bond Arms acquired Boberg Arms, including their handgun designs and patents.

After a short transitionary period, an improved XR9-S based handgun is available again.  It’s now manufactured by Bond Arms and sold under the Bond BullPup9 name.

Bond Arms’ Take on the Bullpup

Over the last 22 years, Granbury, Texas-based Bond Arms has become famous for providing their customers with any handgun they want as long as it’s a stainless steel single-action double-barreled derringer.

The company considered expanding beyond their core firearms for some time before opportunity met ambition with the Boberg Arms acquisition.  Now in their second year of ownership, Bond Arms has started limited production of the BullPup9 pistol, and processes all orders directly from their customers.  You won’t be able to find a new Bond BullPup9 at your local firearm retailer yet.

At first glance, you have to admit the BullPup9 has a strikingly different appearance.  The radical trigger-forward and mid-grip design give the first indications that there is something pretty special about this pistol.

It’s a bullpup pistol, but what does that really mean?  Bullpup pattern rifles have been in service for many years. A Bullpup is typically a design in which the trigger group is behind its action. This results in an overall shorter firearm.  The BullPup9 is the only commercially produced bullpup pattern handgun available at this time.

The BullPup9 squeezes an exceptionally long 3.35-inch barrel into a very small 5.1-inch long pistol.  To accomplish this required many changes to more traditional semi-auto handgun design.  Several of these key design elements will be discussed in detail, and are highlighted in the accompanying images. 

Review

Summarizing the pistol specifications, the Bond BullPup9 is a double-action only, hammer-fired semi-auto handgun designed for discreet concealed carry.  It features a rotating barrel locked breech and reverse feeding system unlike any other sub-compact 9mm currently available on the market.  Swimming upstream against the proliferation of polymer-framed pocket pistols, the handgun has an anodized aircraft aluminum (7075 for purists) frame paired with a bead blasted stainless steel slide.  The BullPup9 is chambered for 9mm Luger cartridges.  Bond Arms cautions that excessive use of 9mm +P ammunition could shorten the service life of the pistol.

Handling the Bullpup9 for the first time, I was very impressed with the overall fit and finish of the pistol.  The matte black anodized frame and bead blasted slide was flawlessly done.  The Bond signature rosewood laminate grips and polished stainless steel accents enhance the overall look of the pistol.  All the sharp edges on the slide and most on the grip frame have been gently beveled for concealed carry comfort.

The Controls

External controls are limited to a magazine release button and combination slide stop/takedown lever.  Both controls are located on the left side of the frame and do not add to the overall width of the pistol.  The two-piece wraparound rosewood grips are smooth on the backstrap with deeply carved scale texturing on the sides.  The ambidextrous grips have a gentle contour that functions as a palm swell on one side and thumb shelf on the other.  The grips are the widest part of the pistol.

The slide is fitted with low-profile sights that are windage adjustable in their dovetails.  The white three-dot sights are large enough for accurate shooting, but not large enough to snag when drawing from concealment.  Ample cocking serrations have been added to the rear of the slide.  In stark contrast to the XR9-S before it, Bond Arms decided to go bold and engrave the make and model on the slide of the BullPup9.

The BullPup9 does not have a magazine disconnect safety or automatic slide lock.  The takedown lever can be used as a slide lock by retracting the slide and turning the lever 90 degrees.  Turning the lever 180 degrees releases the slide from the frame.  A passive firing pin safety blocks the movement of the firing pin until the trigger is pulled.  The pistol is hammer-fired double-action only with infinite restrike capability.

Trigger Time

The trigger has a medium-wide face that has been edge beveled for comfort.  The author found the trigger to be one of the most interesting, and enjoyable, features of the pistol.  The 7-pound trigger pull is intentionally long, breaking near the back of the trigger guard.  Much like a double action revolver, the trigger must return all the way to the beginning of the trigger stroke before it can be pulled again.  In use, the trigger feels lighter than seven pounds.  Unlike most double-action revolvers, the BullPup9 trigger pull is exceptionally smooth and free of any stops, pauses, or grittiness.  Stage the trigger with your fingertip, or stroke it with the distal joint of your trigger finger.  It works equally well in both cases.

Differences

With the basics out of the way, here’s where things take a turn for the different.  With most other semi-auto pistols, the slide pushes cartridges from the magazine, up a feed ramp, and into the barrel chamber.  The BullPup9 magazine is positioned under the barrel so cartridges are pulled from the magazine, and lifted to chamber height before they are pushed by the slide into the barrel chamber.  The positioning of the magazine and loading sequence are the design features that allow the BullPup9 to have the longest barrel of any handgun of similar overall length.  Pictures detail the tongs pulling cartridges from the magazine and the lifter positioning them for loading into the barrel chamber.

BullPup9 magazines have a stainless steel body with a polymer base plate.  Generous witness holes provide great visibility of rounds loaded in the magazine.  Cartridges are loaded directly on top of the magazine spring.  It’s weird, but it works.  Eliminating the unnecessary magazine follower allows the short magazine to hold seven cartridges when other magazines of similar size hold only six.  Empty magazines drop freely from the magazine well when the magazine release is pressed.  Magazines with cartridges remaining must be pulled from the frame when the magazine release is activated.

The Design

The BullPup9 is a rotating barrel locked breech design.  An unlock block mates with a lug on the barrel to control the rotation of the barrel as the slide cycles.  After firing, slide momentum pulls a fresh round from the magazine, ejects the fired case out of the action, activates the lifter, and pushes back the hammer so the slide can pass over it.

All this activity eats up much of the recoil energy generated by the fired cartridge.  The recoil energy is still there, but it gets used up performing the loading sequence.  Which brings me to the last big difference between the BullPup9 and similarly sized sub-compacts.  The recoil spring assembly.

With the unlock block positioned under the barrel, the recoil spring had to be moved to another location in the frame.  With so much recoil energy being used for the loading process, a very thin and light recoil spring was used.  It is positioned on the left side of the frame.  The recoil spring absorbs very little recoil.  Its primary purpose is to push the slide back into battery.  The light resistance of the spring makes retracting the slide very easy.

Both the barrel and unlock block are stainless steel.  Without proper lubrication, the barrel lug and unlock block could gall with the heat and pressure of sustained firing.  Boberg recommended a moly-based anti-seize paste for this lubrication application.  It was messy and could cause functional failures if too much, or too little paste was applied.  Bond went in another direction and now applies a permanent RF85 coating on the barrel and unlock block.  It provides the necessary lubrication with only the occasional drop of gun oil required.

Reliability

Bond Arms has made additional changes to the original XR9-S design to enhance the reliability of the BullPup9.  XR9-S pistols often required several hundred rounds of break in shooting before all the parts mated and satisfactory reliability was achieved.  Bond BullPup9s are reliable right out of the box with no extensive break-in period required.

MYTHS AND MISCONCEPTIONS

Due to the two-step, pull from the magazine then push into chamber, feeding system of the BullPup9 not all brands of 9mm ammunition will work with this design.  This has been a point of discussion and misinformation across the internet.  Bond Arms is very forthcoming with this information on their website and has published a list of ammunition that is known to work, as well as a short list of ammunition to avoid.  The same ammunition recommendation information is also included in the Owner’s Manual.

It’s important to note that the majority of commercially produced ammunition will work in the BullPup9.  For the excluded brands, it’s all because of the amount of taper crimp the manufacturer applies to hold the bullet in the cartridge case.  Without sufficient taper crimp, the rearward force of the tongs pulling the cartridge from the magazine can cause the bullet and case to separate.  When that happens, the bullet stays in the magazine, the empty cartridge case tries to load into the chamber, and powder gets dumped into the magazine and lifter mechanism.  Stick with the approved ammunition list, like I did, and you will avoid this unpleasantness.

With that said, I did push my luck a bit and tried Black Hills 124-grain XTP JHP and SIG Sauer 115 grain V-Crown JHP ammunition in the BullPup9.  They weren’t on either the approved, or avoid, lists and both worked fine for me.  Which brings us to range time.

ON THE RANGE

The BullPup9 operates just like any other semi-auto handgun.  Once you train yourself to load the magazines correctly, with the bullet nose going into the magazine first, it’s pretty much business as usual.  The seven round magazines are easy to load to full capacity after you practice on the first few.  You won’t feel like you need a magazine loading tool for assistance.  Magazines filled to capacity lock easily into the magazine well.  No slamming required.

Charging the pistol for firing will require some attention the first time you do it.  The slide pulls back easily at the start as the hammer is pushed back by the slide.  With the hammer fully extended, the slide becomes very easy to retract until it hits a stopping point.  You might think you are done pulling back the slide at this point, but the stop you feel is the activation point of the lifter that raises rounds to chamber height.

Give the slide another tug and it pulls back another eighth of an inch and the lifter activates.  You can now release the slide and first round will load into the chamber.  Once you see how the loading process works, briskly pulling back the slide in one motion is the best way to charge the pistol for firing.  You just need to be sure to pull hard enough to activate the lifter.

Getting a Grip

Stepping up to the firing line you really start to appreciate the hand filling grips and the way the pistol balances in your hand with the grip forward design.  Most will be like me and will only be able to get two fingers on the front strap.  I got a solid two finger grip and curled my pinkie under the magazine base pad.  There is plenty of room on the grip for your support hand.  If you have a habit of hooking your support hand index finger on the front of the trigger guard, don’t do it.  There really isn’t room for it and it will be dangerously close to the muzzle.

Manageable Recoil

In my experience, sub-compact and micro 9mm handguns can be pretty punishing in the recoil department.  That’s not the case with the BullPup9.  With the forward grip, more of the frame rests on the web of your thumb.  As the pistol recoils, there is less muzzle whip and less of that uncomfortable feeling you get when the trigger guard slaps your trigger finger.  Spent case ejection is brisk.  You will find your empties about 10 yards behind your right shoulder.  Each case will be deeply dinged and most likely unfit for reloading.  Better to leave them where they land.

Advantages on the Firing Line

The main advantage of the bullpup design is squeezing a longer barrel into a short pistol.  After running several different varieties of ammunition over the chronograph, I was pleased to see several of the self-defense loads moving across the sky screens at over 1100 feet per second.  Without getting into a long discussion on the terminal performance of handgun ammunition, I’ll just net it out that speed is a good thing for hollow point expansion performance.

I’ve previously mentioned the very smooth double action trigger on the BullPup9.  It makes it very easy to wring the accuracy out of the pistol.  Accuracy testing was done standing off-hand at 10 yards.  I felt this was a fitting test for a concealed carry pistol.  Using my no BS accuracy test target, I fired four test groups using four different self-defense loadings.  Measuring to the outside edge of each group, the average group size for the four loads tested was just under 1.7 inches.  That will work.

I had the opportunity to get the BullPup9 out to the range several times during this review.  Every trip was as uneventful as it was enjoyable.  I didn’t experience a failure of any kind in over 400 rounds run through the pistol.  If I kept my targets within 25 yards or less, I felt confident and comfortable with my ability to hit the target.  That’s really what you want in a carry pistol.  Something that inspires confidence and you feel comfortable shooting.  If you find that combination, you might find yourself practicing more often.

COMING ATTRACTIONS

Bond Arms believes in continuous incremental improvement.  They are following that approach with the BullPup pistol.  After setting up BullPup9 production, and on-going service support for previously produced Boberg Arms pistols, Bond is now turning their attention to the future.  The company plans to introduce additional finish options, grip choices, and night sights for the BullPup9.  They will also re-introduce the Boberg XR9-L and XR45 models with similar improvements to those they applied to the original Boberg XR9-S design.  Bond Arms is committed to the BullPup.  So much so that they recently registered a trademark on the Bullpup name.  It will be very interesting to watch the future development of bullpup pistols under the leadership of Bond Arms.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of your willingness to embrace a bullpup pistol for your own needs, you have to admire the innovative thinking, engineering, and problem-solving that went into the development of the BullPup9 pistol.  Arne Boberg’s patented design has been taken to the next level by the folks at Bond Arms.  I give credit to Bond Arms for staying true to the original design while enhancing reliability, eliminating required break-in, simplifying maintenance, and reducing the base price of the pistol.

The BullPup9 should have the greatest appeal with buyers looking for something different that offers more value than just being a range toy.  Throughout the review, the BullPup9 demonstrated the reliability and accuracy buyers should expect from a handgun designed primarily for concealed carry and personal protection.  If this review has piqued your interest, head on over to the Bond Arms website for more information about ordering your own BullPup9.

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