I hate to admit it, but I came to the bullpup dance a little bit late. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool fan of the AR-style of rifles, as well as the M14 (M1A) rifles. Some folks like to say I’m older than dirt – well, not quite. When I joined the Illinois National Guard in June of 1969, I was originally issued a 19-pound BAR. That didn’t cut it – I weighed only 135 pounds at the time. I quickly traded that BAR in for an M1 Garand…and as they say, the rest is history. Basic Training was my introduction to the M14, and my Advanced Infantry Training introduced me to the M16.
Upon returning to my National Guard unit, I became a full-time employee, and in short order, our M1 Garand rifles were replaced with brand-new Colt M16 rifles. Along with two other new full-time employees, I was tasked with training everyone in the battalion with the new M16 rifles. In the meantime, I joined the state rifle and pistol team and we were issued match-grade M14s and 1911 pistols that we used in competition.
So, I have a long history with the M16 and the civilian version called the AR-15 – and Colt used that name (AR-15) before a lot of other rifles makers jumped on board, and were also producing semi-auto only versions of the M16 – and even today, anything that resembles an AR-15 – by whatever name it is called is still referred to as an AR or an AR-15.
Today we’re looking at a new breed of rifle from Springfield Armory called the Hellion, and it is not an AR, no matter which way you look at it. It is a Bullpup design, and that means that the “action” portion of the rifle is behind the trigger guard, allowing for a very compact design, but it still has a 16-inch barrel to get the most out of ballistics.
Near as I can tell, very few AR parts will interchange with the Hellion – it takes a standard AR magazine, and the pistol grip is interchangeable with those that fit an AR. The Hellion is made in Croatia, and is based on their VHS-2 bullpup that has been issued to militaries all over the world.
The Hellion has a four-prong flash suppressor on the end of the 16-inch barrel, and there is a long, one-piece Picatinny rail running on top of the gun. There are integrated flip-up front/rear sights, and the rear has a diopter, so you can shoot out to 500 yards. The charging handle is under the Picatinny rail, and is ambidextrous – and is nonreciprocating. Thus, it is very similar to the German G36 rifle’s charging handle. l like this feature a lot, it is easier to chamber a round because the charging handle is forward – easier to reach it, than those found on an AR.
Another really nice feature is that the ejection port is ambidextrous – it will eject spent cases from the right or left side – and it doesn’t take any tools to change things from one side ejection to the other.
I wanted to focus on the sights, especially the rear sight with the diopter feature. The front and rear sights are strong – I’ve seen some integrated sights on rifles that are junk, and won’t hold a zero. Not so with the Hellion – and the rear sight locks those diopter openings to the setting you place it on. This setup is great for a red dot on the Picatinny rail or even a magnifying scope.
The manual safety is also ambidextrous as well – it is a slightly different design than that found on the AR, but once again, I really like it – seems like a shorter “throw” from “safe” to “fire”.
The stock is adjustable to four different positions, and the gun weighs in at 8 pounds. It seems a little bit heavy, however, when you shoulder it, it balances out perfectly and recoil or felt recoil just isn’t there for the most part.
The magazine release is a paddle-style, and on the rear of the magazine – it takes some getting used to, but fast magazine changes are possible. PRACTICE!
The handguard is an M-LOK design, and you can place accessories at the 3 – 6 and 9 positions, at three different locations. I really like the M-LOK setup.
The gas system is adjustable, two positions – one for use with a suppressor and one without – easy to adjust the system, too.
Most ARs these days come with either a 1:8 barrel twist of a 1:9 – the Hellion has a 1:7 twist, so be advised – some bullet weights will be more accurate than others with this barrel twist.
The trigger pull is mostly typical of many bullpup designs, in that the linkage causes the trigger pull to be a little long and in some cases gritty as well. The Hellion was not gritty at all – and it was a remarkable trigger pull – breaking at 7 pounds on my sample. As I shot the gun, the trigger pull smoothed out even more and lightened just a little bit – nothing to complain about near as I could tell. The trigger is more straight than curved – I like it – a lot!
To see the Hellion in action, go to the Springfield Armory website, and click on the Hellion link. In their video the operator was moving smoothly from one shooting position to another.
From Black Hills I had the following .223 ammo on-hand to test.40-gr Hornady V-MAX, 52-grain Match Hollow Point, 55-grain FMJ, 55-grain Soft Point, 60-grain Soft Point, 68-grain Heavy Match Hollow Point, 75-grain Heavy Match Hollow Point. During this ongoing ammo drought, I fired close to 300 rounds of ammo through the Hellion, and there were no malfunctions of any type – not even a slight stutter – the gun just kept perking along.
The Hellion came with one 30-rd MagPul PMAG polymer magazine. I’ve said for years, that this is the best magazine made…and not long ago, the US military finally retired the aluminum alloy magazines and now issue the PMAGs. Many troops were already purchasing PMAGs out of their own funds – that’s just how good these mags are, when an under-paid military man and woman will spend their hard-earned money, for better magazines.
My Accuracy Testing
My accuracy testing was done at 50 yards. I rested the Hellion over a rolled-up sleeping bag, over the hood of my Dodge Ram. I’ve always had great accuracy results with Black Hills 68-gr Heavy Match Hollow Point load and it didn’t disappoint me this time, either. Although it didn’t give me the best accuracy…the 68-gr load gave me 2-inch groups at 50-yards. However, the winner was the 75-grain Heavy Match Hollow Point – once again, if I did my part, it gave me groups under two inches. I know the Hellion can do better with more practice on my part. I’d venture to say that, with a scope, I could get groups around 1.5 inches or much better.
The rest of the ammo tested gave me “acceptable” groups with the open sights. Once again, with a lot more practice, I know that this little combat weapon will give me smaller groups. A lot of my shooting was simply plinking at targets of opportunity…just fun shooting, and the Hellion is a lot of fun.
The local gun shop I haunt allowed a lot of customers to handle the Hellion before I shot it – and hanging on the way, it drew a lot of immediate attention from everyone who spied the gun.
Of course, everyone wanted to know the asking price on the Hellion – it has a retail price of $1,999.00 and that’s a good chunk of change to be sure. However, I believe with all the features on this gun, it is well worth the asking price…and right now, Springfield can’t keep up with orders. I suspect in a few months, the price will come down a little bit – but who knows, Springfield told me that they can’t begin to keep up with orders – that’s a good and bad thing, needless to say.
Now, I believe that the AR-15 style of semi-auto rifles might just be the finest combat weapons on the planet. However, the Hellion will sure be a challenger to the ARs – not a doubt in my mind. Now, if I were going into combat today, I’d still choose the AR over the Hellion – mostly because I’ve had 50+ plus years behind the trigger of M16s and ARs. Give me some more trigger time behind a Hellion, and I can see myself changing my mind on this. A lot depends on the longevity of the Hellion, and the availability of spare parts. An AR is easy to work on and to replace parts – I don’t know where the Hellion will stand on these things.
I do like the compactness of the Hellion – with the bullpup design. I like the trigger pull better on an AR – but that is because my trigger finger is “trained” on the AR. The weight of the Hellion is also a little bit heavier than an AR. However, these days, AR purchasers add all many of “junk” on their ARs – making them look good, but not better than the Hellion is. The Hellion balances better once your shoulder it. Then again, in my humble opinion, there isn’t anything wrong with an AR.
If you’re in the market for latest “combat” rifle, then take a close look at the Hellion, if you can even find one at your favorite FFL dealers.