Kel-Tec RDB-17, by Pat Cascio

I’ve never been a huge fan of Bullpup rifle designs – I’ve shot a few over the years, but they just didn’t ring my chimes for some reason. That has all changed, since I bought a Kel-Tec RDB-17 – my local gun shop is always getting in something that catches my attention, and the RDB-17 really opened-up my eyes for some reason. I’ve played around with the civilian version of the IWI Tavor that is being used in Israel with great success, but it didn’t do anything for me – especially the price tag – it didn’t offer anything to me over an AR-style rifle.

I’ve owned more than a few different types of firearms from Kel-Tec over the years, some were great, some were just okay. One in particular is their SU-16, it is a pretty nice little rifle, that folds in half, and fires .223 Rem ammo and takes AR magazines, but they are not super durable – not something I’d willingly take into “war” of any sort – unless it was the only rifle I had – then I’d make do! It just seems a bit fragile for heavy use. I always thought it was perfect as a trunk or truck gun – for survival purposes of emergencies. Then we have the Kel-Tec Sub2000 – nice little folding guns with variants that shoot 9mm or .40S&W ammo – and take magazines from major gun makers. Again, nice guns, a lot of fun to shoot. But taking them into “war” – nope!!! Still, if that’s all you had, you go with it and pray for the best.

Kel-Tec was started by George Kellgren, and he is a firearms design genius. Not quite as good as John Moses Browning, but the guns that Kellgren has designed over the years – all of them – are really quite unique. And, one thing I like about the line-up at Kel-Tec is the simplicity of their guns – simple is better:  Fewer parts, means less frequent breakdowns – I can’t make that any more clear. That is one of the reasons why Glock handguns are so popular, they are simple – very few parts to break, so they work all the time!

The “RDB” stands for Rifle Downward-ejecting Bullpup and the 17 is the length of the barrel – well, its actually closer to 17-1/5-inches in length. However, you can have a 20-inch barrel version if you wish. Anyway, when I spotted this RDB-17 at my local gun hang-out. It was brand-new in the box, and the price was very inexpensive!

Here in Oregon, the more “they” talk about a stupid gun control bills that they are trying the pass, the more folks run out and purchase “assault weapons” the next day. So, some days, folks are in a bit of a panic and head right out and buy an AR or an AK and clean out the shop of those guns. Then a few days later, when there is no talk in the mainstream media of the anti-gun bill, the so-called “assault weapons” sit on dealers shelves. As it stands right now, our state legislature still has a month and a half in-session, and the Dems hold a majority in the state House and state Senate, and we have a bleeding heart liberal governor too – I fear if this bills comes up for a vote, it will pass, and it will spell very bad news for gun owners. So, take heed: Get what you want now in the way of firearms or be prepared to be without them in the very near future.

Prices are ARs and similar semi-auto firearms jump all over the place – one day, super deals, give-away prices, and another day, prices are higher – supply and demand, ya know. I’m a bargain hunter, and if something isn’t a true bargain in my eyes, no matter how much I might want it (need it?) I have no choice other than to pass on it. I’m semi-retired, living on a very meager social security check each month, what I earn writing for SurvivalBlog, and whatever I can earn in other endeavors – still, its not enough. Firearm purchases come from my income – not from my wife’s but I still get “I thought you said you were done buying any more guns….” From the wife. And, I give her my pat answer “I only need one more…” and I tell her that, every time I get another gun.

The RDB-17 Design

Back to the RDB-17, it is a bullpup design, and that means most of the action is behind the trigger – not in front of it. The magazine inserts behind the trigger and the ejection port is behind the trigger. The operating rod/charging handle is up front under the barrel, and is akin to that of the H&K MP5 and similar H&K firearms – I like it. There is also an adjustable gas port on the RDB-17, easily adjustable, too.

Kel-Tec RDB-17

The ambi mag release is in front of the magazine well, and you can actually activate it by pulling your hand rearward off of the pistol grip and pressing reward on the release – and the mag falls free – even polymer mags. The mag well if of course, as mentioned behind the pistol grip. And, behind the mag well is the downward ejecting ejection port – that’s right, empty brass does not eject out of the side of the gun, it ejects downward into a nice little pile right at your feet. – very cool, indeed!

Kel-Tec RDB-17When you first pick-up the RDB-17, if somehow feels heavier than an AR, but it’s actually lighter in weight, than many ARs are – it comes in at 6.8 pounds, empty. Once you shoulder this rifle, you feel that it balances extremely well, with the bulk of the weight into your shoulder – its about as best as I can explain it – it just balances perfectly, for me. We also have a standard AR A2-style flash suppressor on the end of the barrel. When the last shot if fired, the bolt locks open, another nice feature. When you insert a fresh mag, you can either pull back on the charging handle, or use the ambi bolt release to chamber a round. The charging handle can easily be switched to the other side of the gun if you prefer it on that side. But as a right-handed shooter, I like the charging handle on the left side of the gun. The stock is not adjustable, as those are on ARs with telescoping stocks, nor do you need it, when you shoulder this weapon, your eyes are where they should be and the trigger reach is right at 13-inches – perfect for most shooters.

My oldest daughter, who does much of my photography work for my articles, is familiar with ARs, and when she saw this RDB-17, she flat out told me how “ugly” it looked. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder – then again, she hasn’t had a chance to shoot this gun, yet! I think this little gun has a space age look to it myself. And it is right at 27-inches in length – it is much shorter than most ARs – the bullpup design causes this gun to be much shorter.

Most bullpup rifles have horrible triggers – there is always  bit of “linkage” involved in pulling the trigger and releasing the hammer to make the gun fire, thus most bullpups have a trigger pull that is less than desirable – mushy, long, creepy, gritty – take your choice. However, Kel-Tec overcame this major complain. My trigger broke right at 5-lbs – and this is about the average for this guns. There is a tiny bit of take-up, and then a crisp, but light trigger pull. That is excellent fro a bullpup.

If you aren’t familiar with how guns works, especially this type or an AR or AK, when you first break-down this gun for cleaning and lubing it, you think “man, this thing is complicated…” in reality, it is just the opposite, remember less parts are involved in this gun…after you take it apart a couple of times, you realize that this gun is much easier to field strip than an AR and easier than an AK – and fewer parts!

Shooting Tests

Now, all of the above sounds nice doesn’t it? However, if the gun doesn’t shoot well, then it’s of no use to anyone. The barrel has a 1:7 inch twist, so it’ll take the heaviest .223 Rem or 5.56mm ammo you can find. Shooting was done at 50-yards, again, none of wanted to keep hiking back and forth at 100-yards to change targets. First thing you notice is that, the recoil impulse seems very light, compared to an AR – nice! And, if sure seems like the muzzle report isn’t as loud as a typical 16-inch AR, but that  is my subjective observation.

Shooting was done with the RDB-17 rested on a padded rest, on top of a huge boulder. This offered a solid shooting position. I had the following ammo from Black Hills Ammunition: 50-gr Hornady V-MAX, 55-gr FMJ – both brand-new and factory seconds. The latter is new ammo but flagged as “second quality” – mostly with stained brass or tiny dings in the brass, 55-gr Soft Point, 60-gr Soft Point, 68-gr Heavy Match Hollow Point, and 75-gr Heavy Match Hollow Point – a good mix and the RDB-17 didn’t let me down. In all, with myself and two other testers, we fired close to 500 rounds of this assorted ammo, with zero problems.

Now, this was shooting at 50 yards and I used a red dot sight. I originally had a cheap red dot sight that worked fine, but it was later replaced with a SIG-Sauer Romeo red dot sight. My volunteer shooters, tried their hand to see how they could do in the accuracy shooting and they were impressed. For my articles, I report my own shooting results, and I got half inch groups with the Black Hills 68-gr Heavy Match Hollow Point load – that’s right, half inch groups – and I shot several groups to make sure it wasn’t just dumb luck. Everything else was either right at one inch or even less – that’s fantastic accuracy for a “combat” rifle and I think it can do even better, once I get used to it. Handling a bullpup is a different manual of arms and it takes getting used to.

I’m not going to say how little I paid for this gun, but it was far below suggested retail price – and that is around $1,200 – depending on which model you want. If you want something a little different – okay, a lot different, than an AR, then see if you can find a Kel-Tec RDB-17 at a nearby gun shop and check it out. It is a pretty impressive rifle.


  1. Great review thoroughly enjoyed reading it. I love the statement “I give her my pat answer “I only need one more…” I was laughing out loud at the local coffee shop. Thank you for a great review Mr. Cascio.

  2. Been a GK fan since he came to the states. “Genius” does describe his design abilities. When he first published hints of a 762×51 bullpup my interests were piqued. The videos of the Kel-Tec PMR-30 in its design phase came in full auto and were exceptional. There’s a lot of snickers from the brand snobs when the Kel-Tec name is brought up but by George the guns are well designed, produced and service is impeccable. Been to the facility and all of his employees are offered NRA memberships and free to carry on site.

  3. I have shot some of the Kel Tec firearms that a friend of mine has, and with both the SU16 and the Sub2000 both was constantly jamming even after trying several different mags. So when I wanted a rifle to break down and carry I chose the Ruger PC9. These are more expensive than the Kel Tec’s but the quality is much better and I have fired over 1,000 rounds thru mine with not one problem. Also with the Ruger, you can change out the mag well to change to Glock magazines instead of the more expensive Ruger mags. The RDB-17 looks interesting even I am not a Bull Pup fan.

  4. Light perceived recoil is a common benefit with the “straight line” design. I’ve always like the balance and “handiness” of bullpups, but always hated the triggers. Because of you, I’ll check out Kel-tec.

  5. Good review of the Kel-Tec Bullpup. “…George Kellgren, and he is a firearms design genius.” = Pat Cascio is right.

    I’m posting a long quote about ‘Fake News’ and firearms from >ABC News. [One of the big national news networks] We all depend on information to make our decision. ‘Our survival depends upon it.’ … Fake News can lead to the end of the USA.

    “Last night and again this morning ABC News aired shocking footage supposedly from the frontline battle between Syrian Kurds and the invading Turkish troops. The report and footage was described in shock-filled breathless language, intended to provoke the audience. ABC News anchor Tom Llamas aired the allegedly shocking footage, claiming it showed a fierce Turkish attack on Kurdish civilians.

    However, there is a very big problem. The footage is 100% fake…. it never happened.

    The footage ABC News used in their broadcast comes from a nighttime machine gun demonstration at the ~>Knob Creek Gun Range in West Point, Kentucky. The stunning propaganda effort was first caught by Twitter user PolishPatriot.”

    [The ABC News video is available at TheConservativeTreehouse, October 14, 2019. ~ABC News Busted Creating “Fake News Propaganda” Surrounding Syrian Conflict…~

    May God continue to Bless America. We have our freedoms because of the 2nd Amendment; our citizens can (and do) own good firearms and ammunition.

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