The Hellion

Springfield Armory's Bullpup Has Bite!
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The question seems to come to mind naturally, at least to me — “But why?”

With the classic AR-style and design seeming to be the benchmark of a defensive rifle today, why try to gain market share with a design apparently at odds with what’s popular with shooters? I’ve spent about 45 years shooting AR-style rifles so my muscle memory is deeply rooted. I also have just a modest amount of experience shooting bullpup style rifles, so I think I might be just the right guy to review this new one from Springfield.

I didn’t start out as a fan-boy for the design and honestly had to overcome some initial doubts about the concept. I’ll just say it out loud — the Hellion looked strange to my eye and my muscles and fingers fought back when I handled it at first. But once the dust settled and I learned about the mechanics of the design, the engineering features — and learned to manipulate the rifle — it began to feel comfortable, even normal to me. I was surprised and interested and felt I had opened some entirely new doors when it came to defensive rifle ideas.

So will you.

Bullpup Vs. AR

If we distill it right down, the bullpup concept makes perfect sense. In a “regular” rifle, all the good bits are forward of the trigger, “out there” in front of you. The entire stock area is essentially unused except to rest against your shoulder. Why not put it to work? In bullpup rifles the “good bits” like the action, magazine, recoil system and such are behind the trigger and grip area, arranged in a tight, tidy assembly, which allow a longer barrel to be placed in the same overall length. In the case of Springfield’s Hellion, you get a full-length 16″ barrel in an overall 28.25″ length. An AR-style rifle with a similar 16″ barrel would hover in the 32″ to 33″ length, at least.

With the Hellion, there’s no need for a “short-barreled rifle” label to get a compact, handy package perfect for vehicle carry and tight quarters. You also get to keep the performance you can only get from a full-length 16″ rifle barrel. This is significant since .223/5.56 velocity is usually seriously affected when going to shorter barrels in the 10″ to 14″ range.

But I think one of the most significant advantages of the bullpup is the fact, at least in the Hellion’s case, you have a completely ambidextrous design right out of the box. There’s no kits you need to buy or laborious change-over mechanics. A tool-less take-down allows you to swap out to left- or right-side ejection in just a couple of minutes. And the unique angled ejection port design helps keep empties away from your face even if you’re forced to fire from the off-side in a pinch. It’s a bit of elegantly simple engineering and significant for those lefties out there. Someone listened, it seems.

History and Features

Another meaningful point is the fact the Hellion is essentially the justly famous VHS-2 bullpup service rifle designed in Croatia and used by their armed forces. Proven in battle, this platform has been modified slightly in a few key areas to make it appropriate for the U.S. market. The key parts of the Hellion are manufactured at HS Produkt, Karlovac, Croatia (that has also made the XD series for Springfield over the years). The rifles are then imported to the U.S. where Springfield does final assembly with the American-made parts added.

The Hellion is, of course, semi-auto while the VHS-2 is full auto. The Hellion feeds from AR-pattern magazines as opposed to the proprietary mag for the VHS-2. The Hellion also uses replaceable AR-style pistol grips, has M-Lok slots and six QD mounting points for slings — all features Americans generally look for.

There are some other qualities adding to the user-friendliness of this design, which might not be obvious at first glance. The Picatinny rail on the top is about 13″ long — longer than I’ve ever seen on a rifle like this. It allows a red dot, an optic, night vision/IR, laser, light, etc., especially if you use an off-set mount or two. The rail also has built-in flip-up sights of excellent design, with aperture choices allowing for almost instant ranging options from 100 to 500 meters. There are scads of possibilities there.

A 5-position adjustable buttstock manipulates easily and surely. The carrying handle is handy — once you learn to make use of it. Hey, it’s there, use it! The ability to customize the grip and use one of your favorite shooting styles fitting the AR can help make the rifle even more comfortable. It comes stock with the BCMGunfighter Mod 3 grip but swapping it out is easy.

The action itself is surprisingly conventional in design. Think classic rotating multi-lug bolt run by a short-stroke gas piston. Reliable and robust, it’s also easy to keep clean. The Hellion also has an adjustable gas block for normal or suppressor use. No tools are needed for adjusting the gas block and that’s handy.

Speaking of no tools, you honestly can take this rifle completely apart without any tool other than a cartridge tip to depress a few plungers or pins. Most are fingertip friendly and take-down is about one minute or so. The action comes out the back, very simply, including the trigger group. The forend slips right off as well as the gas assembly. Access for cleaning is among the best I’ve ever seen on any sort of semi-auto rifle of any kind.

Lefty/Righty

While you have the Hellion apart, it’s easy to rotate the bolt 120 degrees and re-install it to swap to left-handed use. You can also pin the dust cover closed on the opposite side just as easily.

Being fully ambidextrous, the charging handle is centered under the carrying handle and can be pivoted to either side. You can also use the charging handle to act as a “forward assist” if needed by pushing it down to lock it to the bolt carrier. You’ll get it once you try it.

The safety is already ambi and comes to your thumb perfectly. It’s sure and easy to manipulate too. The magazine release is nift, and even though there’s only one (behind the mag), it’s easy to manipulate with either hand. A quick “press” by a thumb and the mag comes out. The mag needs to be pulled out and won’t fall free on its own accord. Frankly, I like that as I want to keep my mags out of the dirt if possible and not lose them in brush or weeds.

The bolt locks back on an empty mag and can be returned by either operating the charging handle or by “pinching” the release button just behind the mag release. If you need to lock the bolt back without a magazine, you can easily reach into the mag well with your finger and push the bolt lock up. Again, these are all simple jobs to do with either hand.

The 5-position adjustable buttstock makes LOP no problem. It also features
QD points on each side, making a truly ambi rifle out of the box!

In a nod to the U.S. market, the Hellion uses an AR-style grip. Roy found the
trigger pull long but rolled into a crisp break, negating one of the common
complaints of bullpup designs.

Shooting

I did some initial test-firing shooting casually off-hand just to become familiar with the rifle’s operation. I began to get comfortable with the unique feel very fast, to the point that when I shouldered an AR to compare, I felt as if it was too far “out there” in front of me. A strange feeling to describe but you’ll soon understand once you try both rifles.

The trigger is a sort of typical military style feel with a good deal of travel before you begin to feel things tighten up. Then it’s a sort of roll-off rather than a crisp break like a target trigger. My rifle showed an average of about 6.5 lbs. but in all honesty, I shot it just fine. It wasn’t gritty in the least, but very smooth, with an even flow to final break. You can take up the travel fast, then slow for your final pull very predictably and easily.

I’ve found in the past with most rifles, and with bullpup designs in particular, pressure on the forend can often affect groups and the Hellion seemed to be the same. It’s very slight and you’d only notice it if going for extreme accuracy at longer ranges, though.

I mounted a Meopta Meopro Optika5 2-10×42 scope on the rail and it seems “about right” for the rifle for precision work. A red dot would also be just about perfect if you were setting your rifle up for defense. The hammer-forged 4150 steel barrel has a 1:7 twist and seemed to shoot just about everything fine. Black Hills .223 55-grain, FMJ ball ammo delivered very reliable 1.5″ or just a tad better groups at 100 yards. I was, frankly, surprised by this. I had no idea this rifle could do this and would have been happy with — and expected — 2″ to 3″ groups.

I settled down and got a 1.15″ group using Federal Gold Medal Match King, a 77-grain boat-tail HP bullet also in .223. Such accuracy from a “battle” rifle is surprising and I think this has to do with the excellent barrel, full 16″ length and outstanding overall build quality of the rifle. It’s not a “cheap” rifle and it shows in real world performance.

I also ran a gamut of junk ammo I had through the Hellion, a mixed bag of 5.56 military ball of suspicious origin, partial boxes of commercial ammo, etc. and had no issues whatsoever. The rifle ran like a military rifle should, the trigger was predictable, and the accuracy was simply icing on the cake. You could in all honesty take this rifle to a busy prairie dog town and do excellent work with it while your buddies tried to keep up with you using target bolt guns. Amazing.

At the rear is the stout fold-down iron sights, along with the ever-present
QD point and the takedown button for the miles-long Picatinny rail/carrying handle.

The gas-adjustment knob is safe and secure but doesn’t need tools to set.
In fact, the entire gun can be field-stripped using only the tip of a bullet.

Final Thoughts?

I spent most of a day bouncing around in my E-Z-Go ranch vehicle dragging the Hellion along with me without the scope mounted. I wanted to see what it would be like to live with. Whenever I got out to do a chore or check something out, I took the rifle with me and let it hang using a two-point sling. I did a bit of shovel work, fed the fish in the pond, moved a tractor to another spot, towed a utility trailer to a burn pile to off-load some brush and generally “lived with the rifle” for a day.

What I found was it didn’t poke me or catch on things as much as an AR seems to, at least for me. The short overall length was exceptionally handy and made stowing it easy. It also carried without fuss and when slung on my back, the muzzle was well below my shoulders and the butt at about back pocket level.

I think the only challenge would be the transition training needed to learn this manual of arms after handling an AR-style rifle for so long. Like any defensive gun, sticking to one platform for carry makes good sense and training with it is critical. Swapping from an AR to the Hellion might confuse muscle memory so keep that in mind.

But darn if I’m not sold on this whole idea. I suspect you might be too if you gave it an honest try. The Hellion is about the price of a high quality AR — and worth the investment if you ask me.

MSRP: $1,999
Springfield-Armory.com

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