The Boberg XR9 Backwards Bullpup Pistol Review

By Tom McHale

The Boberg XR9 offers a lot of bang for the size with it's bullpup-like design.
The Boberg design offers a lot of bang for the size with its bullpup-like design.
Tom McHale headshot low-res square
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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Note the "claw" that chambers the cartridge and the small slide return spring.
Note the “claw” that chambers the cartridge and the small slide return spring.

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.

Both the XR9 and XR9-L have 7+1 capacity.
Both the XR9 and XR9-L have 7+1 capacity. Note the forward sloping magazine – cartridges are loaded nose down.

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:

Screen Shot 2015-01-11 at 10.58.02 PM

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.

Specifications

  • 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

Closing thoughts

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.

About

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.

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    wayne
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    wayne

    “IF” you want a custom gun, you pay for a custom gun. “IF” all you want is a production gun, the price is a LOT LESS. For example, you can buy a KAHR (one of the low quality, known to FTE and FTF) and you get what you pay for. Something cheap is fine for “plinking”, however, when your life is on the line or your families life, you want something that goes BANG “Everytime” without the added pressure of “is this going to fire”. A Boberg is more of a custom gun that fills a “niche” than a run… Read more »

    Mike
    Guest
    Mike

    Recently purchased an XR9-L after checking them out in person. The quality is unmatched. Fun to shoot and extremely accurate. No regrets with the purchase. My wife’s favorite gun to shoot by far.

    Jake
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    Jake

    I have fired close to 100 handguns in my life and own 11. I own the 9mm. It is that much better. It is my primary carry.
    In process of purchasing .45. Shoots like not other.

    Capn Jack
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    Capn Jack

    With that price tag, are you sure this isn’t a “Bloomberg” pistol ?

    Torn
    Guest
    Torn

    No thanks, I’ll go with Kahr which also has some weird engineering. Namely an offset feed-ramp so the BBL. can set lower. A used 9mm goes for between 3 and 400 bucks not $1300. Almost every main stream carry piece goes for far less. Sig, Glock, S&W, you name it. Only thing that comes close is a custom .45

    K
    Guest
    K

    $1,349 ? Yikes. Is it really that much better than every other 9mm on the market?

    anonymous
    Guest
    anonymous

    Good quality 9mms do go for over a grand. So it is the price of the market. Custom 9mms from certain makers go for 4 grand or more.

    The Boberg you do have to break in to make it work flawlessly.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_6Ld35UUckg is a shooting video of the Boberg.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEdn23C95aQ is a review of the boberg.

    anonymous
    Guest
    anonymous

    That is pretty standard price for a good number of 9mm pistols on the market. Other 9mms can go up to 4k.

    anonymous
    Guest
    anonymous

    Boberg also makes a .45 caliber version that is also rated for the .45 super round.

    dave
    Guest
    dave

    BS. You must be affliated with the company. Most 9mm pistols are nowhere near a $1000 price tag.

    Tom
    Guest
    Tom

    To me, it’s no different than cars. Some are $10,000 and others are $50,000. They will both (generally) drive in forward in reverse, but that doesn’t mean they’re comparable. Like any consumer product, there are a wide range of prices that reflect the detail, care, machining, etc that goes into a product. If you want to “go forward only” buy a cheap car. If you want the luxury experience, but a $50,000 car. To each his own. Free market choices baby!