December 19, 2023
I’ve had a healthy fascination with bullpup-style rifles since I was young. I daydreamed of someday owning a FAMAS, Steyr AUG, even the Bushmaster M17S. To me, the concept made perfect sense. But as the years passed, I had opportunities to handle them and became disenchanted by their horrible triggers, lack of smoothness and general refinement. Thankfully, several companies wouldn’t let the concept go away and kept working the problems.
Over the past several years, bullpups have made a big comeback with the benefits of modern engineering, CNC-manufacturing, and years of experience. The latest proven go-to in the U.S. bullpup market has been the Springfield Armory Hellion (aka, the Croatian VHS-2), which is now available in 18- and 20-inch barreled variants. I was recently given the opportunity to review the 20-inch variant, and I’m lovin’ it!
Why the longer barrel and bayonet lug?
The Springfield Hellion is based on the proven Croation HS Prudukt VHS-2 rifle, and was introduced to in the U.S. with a 16-inch barrel to keep it as short as possible while still being ATF legal. The newly released 20-inch Hellion is a close copy, albeit semi-auto, of the Croation military’s VHS-D2 rifle configuration, which sports a longer 19.68 inch (500mm) barrel, a bayonet lug, and barrel ribs to help manage heat. In fact, the commercial 20-inch Hellion barrel also measured 500mm, bolt face to crown, but we’ll round that up to 20 inches to make it simple. So, other than a full-auto trigger pack and some cosmetic differences, this is as close as you will get to a correct VHS-D2.
The barrel is hammer-forged, Chrome Moly Vanadium (CMV) rifled with a 1:7 twist, which is a great choice for bullet weights in the 62 to 90 grain range. I’m personally a fan of longer barrels. Trading a few inches of length for a few more feet-per-second in velocity makes a difference to me. The barrel has a .75-inch diameter for the first 10 inches of length, and then steps down to .60 inch towards the muzzle. A 1/2x28-threaded four-prong flash hider handles muzzle blast nicely, but the flash hider can be removed if you are running a suppressor or desire a different muzzle device. The barrel extension will look familiar to those who have seen an AR-15 extension. Unlike an AR, it has generously long feed ramps to help reliability as well as ambidextrous ramped guides designed to work with the reinforced extractor.
The two-position adjustable gas block is easy to set by pushing inward and rotating to either “S” for suppressed or “N” for normal. Since sound suppressors usually add extra pressure, they can give gas-powered operating systems problems. The “S” setting simply reduces the amount of gas entering the system, slowing things down to balance pressures appropriately.
The 6.5-inch polymer handguard is comfortable and provides seventeen M-LOK slots and two QD sling swivel sockets. A 12.5-inch Picatinny top rail with location reference markings also doubles as a carry handle. Integral, flip-up sights with a 5-position rear aperture and hooded front sight post do the job if you just want to run irons. The whole assembly attaches to the top of the piston junction with a phenolic cross pin to keep the polymers isolated from the heat. Smart!
The entire rifle is designed to be fully ambidextrous from a user standpoint. The rifle is a true mirror-image of itself when viewed from either side. At the heart of the system is a non-reciprocating charging handle. To operate, there is no alteration needed, simply rotate the handle to either side and pull back. When released, it snaps back to its original, low-profile position. The pull weight of the charging handle measured about 10 pounds (about the same as a garden-variety AR-15 charging handle) but is comfortable and intuitive with the rifle is shouldered. Being able to comfortably charge a rifle from a shouldered position with eyes on target is as good as it gets.
The bolt assembly and ejection port are configurable from right to left, with just a few minutes work. No extra tools or parts necessary. Field strip and reassemble the bolt with the extractor on the left, instead of on the right. Then remove a captive pin from the left ejection port cover and install it on the right. Fully reassemble, and you’re now ejecting brass to the left. It’s that easy.
The short-throw two-position safety switch is also ambi, with bright, colorized fire-control markings. The grip is a BCM Mod-3, with a nice trapdoor in the bottom for additional storage of ear plugs, spare batteries, etc. The grip interface is a standard AR-15 geometry, but swept forward about 9 degrees for better wrist ergonomics. Every aftermarket AR-15 grip I swapped it with fit fine, but I liked the feel of the factory option best.
The paddle-type magazine release and the bolt release are both centered at the rear of the magwell making them easy to operate with either hand. I like that I can get a grip on the magazine and release it with my thumb on the same hand, avoiding a dropped magazine tumbling in the gravel. The bolt release requires a pinch between a paddle and a rigid plate. Not sure how that would work with gloves or cold hands. Either way, the charging handle is the best way to release the bolt carrier, more fun too.
The 5-position stock is also easily accessible with either hand and extends 2-inches under spring-tension while shouldered for an optimum fit with heavy clothing or body armor. There is a QD swivel sling socket on either side so you can mount a sling where you prefer. Seems they thought of everything.
I attached a Leupold Patrol 6HD 1-6x24 to the flat top and headed to the range. With a loaded 30-round magazine, the balance-point front-to-rear is just behind the pistol grip. The entire rifle was easy to position and manipulate. Once I got familiar with the sponginess of the trigger and where the trigger-break was, shooting off-hand was intuitive and easy. The trigger took some getting used to. A relatively long take-up is about 2.5 pounds of mush, followed by a consistent 7-pound break, as measured by a Wheeler gauge. Reset and follow-up shots are easier than the first. Not the greatest, but still not bad at all for a bullpup. I felt positioning the trigger blade under my second knuckle gave me the better control compared to the pad of my fingertip, as I might do with a precision rifle. The angle of the grip was pleasant, but the safety selector was a bit of a reach with my thumb. Maybe it’s a good thing to not crowd your shooting hand, but it would be nice to have it lower. Additionally, I wish the P-Mags I used would drop free, but they needed a slight tug to remove. Standard USGI mags fell out easily when depressing the release button.
On the bench, using sandbags, the 1:7 twist barrel handled 77-grain Mk262 beautifully with five-round groups at 100 yards falling at around 1.5 inches. Even with the 7-pound pull, I was impressed. I also shot a few magazines suppressed using a Huxwrx Flow 556K. I did not need to rotate the gas system to “S”, it ran just fine on “N”. The flow-through design of the Huxwrx probably managed the added pressures enough. It’s good to have that flexibility, if needed.
Overall, I found the Hellion to be a very dependable firearm with loads of cool-guy points. If you’re on the fence about a bullpup, this might be your best option yet.
Springfield Armory Hellion 20-Inch Rifle
- Type: Piston-driven semiautomatic rifle
- Caliber: 5.56 NATO
- Finish: Black, Melonite (metal)
- Capacity: 30 (takes standard AR-pattern mags)
- Sights: Flip-up rear aperture and front post, adj.
- Weight: 8.5 lbs
- Barrel: 20.0 in., Chrome Moly Vanadium (CMV), 1:7 twist
- Overall Length: 31.5 in. to 33.5 in.
- MSRP: $2,031
- Importer: Springfield Armory, 800-680-6866, springfield-armory.com
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