Ever since I wrote the Norinco T97 review, people have been asking for a review on “The Tavor”. The IWI Tavor SAR/TAR-21 offers much better usability than the T97, but at 2.5X the price of one, it had better offer a whole lot more than that. Now that this rifle is being produced and sold in the US, there are plenty of reviews of the rifle from a tactical point of view on other sites and on YouTube. From a Canadian point of view, this is a compact, non restricted semi auto 223 and in my books, that makes it a contender as a handy, short range coyote rifle. Note: this is the Israeli-made TAR-21, while the version made in the US is the SAR-21.
Here’s where the Tavor crushes the T97. To be fair, it has to. This rifle is designed as a modular, usable alternative to the AR-15: which is a rifle with pretty good usability baked in. So, I’ll be comparing aspects of the Tavor as they compare to the T97 and as they compare to the AR15 platform.
- T97: Kinda crappy: you’ll learn to shoot right handed unless you like fast ejecting brass hitting you in the face.
- AR15: OK: you can transition shoulders, and purchase aftermarket bolt releases and safeties to add support for left or right or both.
- Tavor: Better: you can swap the ejection port, swap the safety, swap sling attach points, swap the charging handle, and the bolt release is ambi always. Transitions will still get brass flung at your face.
- T97: Somewhere in your right armpit, 180 degree turn, forces you to take your hand off the forend. Complete and utter fail.
- AR15: 90 degree turn with your thumb: great.
- Tavor: 90 degree turn with your thumb in a slightly easier place to get to. Ambidextrous, kinda sits under your right trigger finger on the right side of the gun. Plasticky compared with the AR15.
- T97: easy to miss under stress, but so smooth that you can ease it down and it’ll still lock. Very much out of the way and snag-proof. Reciprocating.
- AR15: could be somewhat easy to miss under stress. Not likely to snag. Non reciprocating.
- Tavor: big honking handle on the side you want it. Easy to grab a hold of, even under stress. Might snag. Non reciprocating. You can’t ease the handle down at all, you need to let it fly home.
- T97: a bit long, but light and sudden. Not bad for a bullpup!
- AR15: A bit of grit with a milspec trigger, but can be quickly improved with a range of aftermarket triggers that range from much better to completely amazing.
- Tavor: Pretty awful factory trigger. Heavy and mushy. Can be improved by replacing it with the Tavor Timney trigger. Other options are in development.
- T97: hahahaha, there is none. Cycle the charging handle like you’re a Russian soldier in the 40’s.
- AR15: simple tap on the side. Made slightly more ergonomic/faster by installing a Magpul B.A.D. lever if you’re into that.
- Tavor: takes some getting used to, but can be very fast by hitting it as you insert the mag.
Sling Attachment Points:
- T97: good locations but weird, small size loops.
- AR15: depends on how you have you rifle configured. Common placement is on the bottom of the gas block and rear bottom of the sling, making for a poor orientation when slung. That said, there are a million other aftermarket parts for different sling attach points.
- Tavor: a bit weird. The front attach point is OK, but the tube on the back is weird. Apparently, the US Tavor uses standard QD sling mounts.
- T97: tight, not very milspec-y. Some mags fit, some don’t, and some fit better than others.
- AR15: if your lower is decent quality, your mags will fit and function.
- Tavor: some issues have been found with P-Mags and the bolt hold open or in pressing on mags when in prone.
OK, OK, enough about usability, how about the rifle itself?
With a build-in flat-top rail, the Tavor is better suited as a varmint rifle than the T97. It’s easy to slap on a scope for better applied accuracy, or a red dot for fast follow up shots. On a sling the rifle is compact and stays out of your way. Off the sling, it’s also great to carry, and accommodates a few different carry styles.
This rifle was tested with 5 different types of commercial ammo. It averaged 3 MOA; turning in a 2.6″ group with 1 type that it really liked (Winchester 64 grain grey box), and failing to group American Eagle less than 4″ at 100 yards. Considering that it’s a battle rifle, that accuracy is fine, but it definitely limits the range it can humanely take a coyote at. It’s also pretty much the same level of accuracy you can get out of the much less expensive Norinco Type 97.
Bar none, this is one of the coolest rifles you can get in Canada. The technology is top notch, usability carefully considered, and reliability excellent. From a hunting perspective, it might make for a great boar slayer, but the accuracy really limits the distance you can take other smaller game like coyotes, and I’m not really a fan of using 223 for deer. The compactness would make it a great truck gun, except it’s too expensive to leave banging around behind the seat of a pickup, not to mention how many tears would be shed if it were stolen. So that’s where I’m stuck right now. It’s got a good combination of some really cool features, but I’m not sure what the best hunting application would be. If you have some ideas, leave them below in the comments.