By Tom McHale
USA –-(Ammoland.com)- Pistols aren’t all that great. I mean, I don’t want to get shot by one, but they’re certainly not the miracle fight stopping death ray that many think they are.
By their very nature, handguns are all about compromise. A rifle or shotgun (or in my case, an MK-19 automatic grenade launcher) would be most people’s first choice for a gun capable of stopping an altercation instantly.
However, you can’t very well carry a rifle around all the time, so you compromise. You accept the lower power and reduced fight stopping capability, of a handgun, in return for portability and convenience.
Since we’re already making compromises if we’re using a handgun, it makes sense to try to eke out every last bit of performance that we can. If you can design a handgun that gives you more bang for the buck in terms of effectiveness, ease of use and portability, then that’s a good thing. You’re making the best of an already compromised situation.
When I take a close look at a new handgun of any type, some of the first things that I try to draw out of my brain are the primary benefits of any particular design.
What things make a particular gun special? What are the design goals of that gun? What features allow it to provide that maximum bang for the buck? Without anything unique or different, there’s not much reason for a product, is there?
When I first checked out the Boberg pistol, and then spent some quality time with the Boberg folks in a Little Rock hotel bar, I quickly grasped the reason d’être.
I think there are three things that stand out with this backwards bullpup pistol design:
- The “bullpup” like design allows longer barrel length in any given overall package size. I’ll explain this in detail in a minute. A longer barrel means more velocity from any given cartridge choice. More velocity means more power and more reliable expansion.
- The “backwards” feeding operation allows use of a smaller and lighter main spring. This means that the slide is really, really easy to rack for loading, unloading and general maintenance.
- The collective sum of unique design elements means that the Boberg is a very soft shooting pistol. For any given load, you’ll feel less recoil in the hand than with most other handguns of similar size and weight.
We’ll explore these design concepts in more detail, but it makes sense to understanding the why’s behind the design before getting into the “whats” and “hows.”
A Closer Look At The Boberg Backwards Bullpup Pistol
First, the “backwards bullpup” terminology is mine – Boberg doesn’t market the pistol that way, but I think it’s an accurate way to describe the design. Let’s take a closer look.
Like most semi-automatic pistols, the Boberg feeds from a magazine in the grip. The reason I keep using the word “bullpup” is that the barrel actually extends backwards directly over the magazine. In other words, imagine the whole barrel moved backwards towards the rear of the gun. Since the chamber is further back, the barrel can be longer without adding length to the front of the pistol. The technicalities are different, but the idea is similar to that of a bullpup rifle. Move the chamber (and receiver in the case of a rifle) backwards, so you can have a longer barrel within a shorter and more compact overall package.
Given the barrel position in the Boberg XR9, if a cartridge moves straight up from the magazine, it will mash into the bottom of the barrel since the chamber entrance is roughly aligned with the cartridge rim (back) of the top round in the magazine.
To get the cartridge from the magazine into the chamber, something exotic has to happen.
Here’s the exotic part. In a normal pistol, a magazine spring presses a fresh cartridge upwards, so it’s more or less pointed at the opening of the chamber. The slide moves forward and pushes the cartridge into the chamber, usually with the aid of a feed ramp. In the Boberg XR9, as the slide moves backward under recoil, a pair of claws grabs the cartridge by the rim, pulls it backward until it moves behind the chamber of the barrel, then lifts it upward. The return motion of the slide then pushes the cartridge into the chamber.
A couple of things have to be very non-traditional for this to work. A set of tongs is attached to the rear interior of the slide. These draw the cartridge out of the magazine, then raise it into position for chambering. Since the cartridge is not jammed into the chamber while being pushed upwards by a magazine spring, no feed ramp is required – the cartridge is perfectly aligned with the barrel by the time the return slide movement starts pushing it forward. One benefit of this feed method is that the chamber can be cut to tighter dimensions, thereby preserving more of the available gas pressure.
You’ll also notice that the magazines are “reversed” in a sense. You insert cartridges nose first in a nose down orientation. It’s the rear of the cartridge that remains exposed for extraction from the magazine.
The Boberg has no traditional recoil spring. This is one of the reasons the slide is easy to rack. There is a small return spring who’s sole purpose is bringing the slide forward after ejection. You can shoot without it and simply push the slide forward by hand for your next shot. While a traditional recoil spring absorbs recoil by compressing, the reverse feed process is what absorbs recoil in the Boberg.
The last big difference is the rotating barrel lock design. Upon recoil, the slide and barrel travel backwards as a single unit for a fraction of an inch. The unlock block then forces the barrel to rotate, thereby unlocking it from the slide, which continues back to eject the spent case and grab a new cartridge.
Shooting the Boberg XR9 and XR9-L
I tested two different 9mm Boberg models: the XR9 and the XR9-L. The only different between the two is that the XR9-L is .85 inches longer and one ounce heavier. The extra overall length allows a short rail segment up front if you want to add a light or laser.
Fortunately, the primary benefit of the Boberg (increased muzzle velocity) can be measured objectively. During my first range visit, I set up a Shooting Chrony Beta Master chronograph 15 feet down range and proceeded to clock a variety of ammo from both the Boberg XR9 and XR9-L. Here’s what I found:
On the more subjective side, the slide racks easily as you’re only fighting the hammer and slide return spring and not a heavy recoil spring.
I found both Bobergs to be very soft shooting pistols, even with +P self-defense ammunition. The radically different recoil design did an admirable job of softening the felt recoil impulse. Energy is energy, so the force it still there, it’s just dissipated differently from the reverse feed process.
Care and feeding
With any gun, you really, really need to follow the directions and manufacturer recommendations. It’s the same with the Boberg.
The unique feeding action yanks cartridges backwards at about Warp 19 under recoil, so it’s possible (with improper ammo selection) to yank the cartridge case right off the bullet itself. It’s kind of the reverse situation of shooting heavy ammo from a lightweight revolver. In that scenario, ammo with lower case neck tension can allow the bullet to creep forward out of the cartridge case under recoil, thereby locking up the cylinder movement. You have to use the right ammo for the right application.
Without getting too geeky on bullet loading, it’s really an issue of case neck tension, not crimp, when you’re talking about straight-wall semi-automatic calibers like the 9mm used in the Boberg XR9. Ammo with weird case material can be suspect and not provide enough case neck tension to hold the bullets firmly in place. Same goes with ammo with overexpanded case mouths from the loading process.
Fortunately, there’s an easy way to know which ammo works and which doesn’t. Boberg maintains a list of “approved” ammo so you know before you buy what to feed it. I shot a half dozen or so types of ammo from the approved list and had no problems with bullet separation. The good news is that much of the inexpensive bulk ammo is on the approved list. For example, those white boxes of bulk Winchester are just fine, as is American Eagle in multiple bullet weights and shapes.
One more thing you need to know is the specific lubrication requirements. The Boberg requires a couple of dabs of non-metal anti-seize where the barrel meets the unlock block. Different design, different instructions, so read your owner’s information carefully.
- Caliber: 9mm / 9mm+P
- Length: 5.1”
- Height: 4.2”
- Width: 0.96”
- Weight: 17.4 oz with magazine
- Barrel Length: 3.35”
- Capacity: 7+1
- Action: Rotating-Barrel Locked-Breech
- Sights: Low-Profile, Dovetail Windage
- Sight Radius: 4.4″
- Trigger Pull: 7.5 lb DAO (standard)
- Safeties: 2
- Optional Accessories:
- Tritium Night Sights
- Red and Green Grips and Magazine Floorplates
- 6 LB and 9 LB Mainsprings (for lighter/heavier trigger pull)
- MSRP: $1,349.00
Looking at the testing results in terms of the three benefits mentioned earlier, increased velocity, easy slide operation and soft shooting, the XR9 is right on target. All of those criteria were plainly observed. It’s a comfortable and fun little pistol to shoot, and very concealable.
If you choose to acquire a Boberg, join the Boberg community and forum so you can keep up to date on the latest ammo choices to use and avoid. You’ll also want to be vigilant about cleaning and proper lubrication. Proper care and maintenance are the prices you pay for the benefits the Boberg design offers.
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon. You can also find him on Google+, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.