Veteran firearms instructor Paul Carlson gives us this Springfield Hellion review. He gives it a full evaluation with ammo testing, and let’s us know what roles for which it is perfectly suited.
When it comes to considering a rifle for serious work, there’s no lack of options out there — especially in the world of 5.56 NATO. But not all of those choices are good. Reliability is paramount (as always,) but since I believe we’re living in the golden age of firearms development, we have options. Today, we can have what we want right along with what we need — if we make a wise choice.
Which brings us to the Springfield Armory Hellion, a 5.56mm bullpup that is long on innovation and offers shooters a very unique option. If you haven’t been paying attention to the Hellion rifle from Springfield, let me bring you up to speed.
The Hellion is a semi-automatic “bullpup” chambered in 5.56 NATO. The rifle is built in Croatia by HS Produkt, in one of the most technologically advanced firearms manufacturing facilities in the world. It’s built by the same folks that manufacture the impressive Hellcat family of handguns. Both the Hellion and the Hellcat were developed with input from Springfield Armory engineers for the U.S. market.
Although the Hellion itself is new, its foundation isn’t. The Hellion bullpup is based off of the reliable and proven VHS-2. My research uncovered seven nations that have the VHS-2 in service. Many of these are used in locations with adverse and demanding conditions.
Springfield Armory, being who they are, didn’t settle for importing the VHS-2 in its standard form. Instead, they looked for enhancements that specifically benefited the American user. These included some excellent flip-up iron sights integrated into the top rail, an M-Lok handguard, AR mag compatibility and the use of standard AR-pattern pistol grips.
What’s a Bullpup?
The most striking aspect of the Hellion 5.56 rifle is its form factor. As I mentioned, the Hellion is a bullpup. Simply explained, a bullpup is a rifle with the action located behind the pistol grip. The result is a firearm with a standard length barrel, yet a very short overall length.
For comparison, a typical AR-15 like the Springfield SAINT Victor with a 16” barrel comes in at around 32.25” with the stock collapses, while the Hellion measures in at a diminutive 28.25”. This difference may not seem like a lot, but it can make a big difference in the real world.
The Hellion features a hammer-forged 16” barrel with a rugged Melonite coating for durability. The barrel has a 1:7” twist rate to ensure it plays nicely with a wide range of popular bullet weights, particularly the heavier ones.
The Hellion is a short-stroke, piston-driven rifle. The result is reliable function without the typical fouling that can be expected from a direct impingement gun. A full-length Picatinny rail tops the gun. That rail, along with the M-Lok-compatible handguard, ensures that you can accessorize the Hellion rifle with whatever tools you need to achieve your goal.
At each end of the top rail is a clever pop-up sight set. A simple press of the button allows you to raise or stow the sights. The front is a fine-tipped cylinder that is adjustable for elevation. The rear sight is one of five different rotating apertures you can select based on your preferred shooting distance and is adjustable for windage.
The rail and sights were wonderfully compatible with my Trijicon MRO. I mounted it with Trijicon’s low Picatinny rail mount and was pleased to see a solid co-witness, making the sights practical as back-up irons if you’re running a dot.
When it comes to running the rifle, the Hellion makes the shooter’s job easy regardless of the situation, featuring fully ambidextrous controls. The gun can even be swapped over to left-side ejection for those that want to have a lefty-dedicated rifle.
There are ample QD sling mount points on the Hellion on both sides of the gun. There are two up front, two in the rear, and two at the rear of the full-length top rail. The sling mounts ensure you can set up your sling however you want it, and that’s a good thing as the Hellion bullpup weighs in at eight pounds.
The back end of the Hellion features a collapsible stock to ensure you can set your length of pull for the optimal shooting position.
The Hellion is feature-rich, and it performs accordingly.
Range Testing the Hellion
I haven’t spent a ton of time with bullpups, as their “quirky” handling characteristics have tended to not mesh well with me. However, the Hellion proved to be the exception to that rule. It was reliable, and both easy and enjoyable to operate and shoot.
The short-stroke, piston operation ran like a dream, and the recoil impulse was soft and felt like a direct push to the rear. It was easy to control and recover for follow-up shots.
There are two “problem” areas that people tend to point out when it comes to bullpups: the manual of arms and the trigger. The Hellion didn’t leave me wanting much in these areas. Let’s talk about triggers first.
With the action located behind the grip in a bullpup, a quality trigger pull can be difficult to achieve (due to the necessary trigger linkage design). The typical result of the distance from the trigger to the action is a long, sloppy and gritty trigger press.
That isn’t the case with the Springfield Hellion rifle. The trigger press begins with a decent amount of smooth take up, then with each press I reliably hit the wall and was able to press through with a clean break. Overtravel was minimal and the reset was reasonable in distance. All in all, the trigger was just plain good. This is no easy feat for a bullpup.
The trigger pull weight averaged out at 7 lbs., 5 oz. While this might seem heavy for a carbine, that number was a surprise to me. I thought it felt lighter in practice. Also, this weight is likely, again, a side-effect of the trigger linkage required in a bullpup design.
Running the rifle is the other beef folks like to point out when disparaging bullpup rifles. This always makes me chuckle a bit. It’s like they are implying that the manual of arms of an AR-15 is simple. It isn’t. Instead, we are simply used to it. Spend a couple of weekends training with the Hellion, and you will run the gun efficiently. The fully ambidextrous controls also help out significantly.
My only gripe about the Springfield Armory Hellion is the lack of a bolt catch lever. It would be nice to have, but it can be worked around easily with an empty mag or a finger inserted into the mag well to lift the internal catch while pulling the bolt to the rear with the charging handle. It’s a little thing, but it is a thing.
My favorite aspect of the Hellion’s performance is the balance of the rifle. The Hellion 5.56 rifle is heavier than the typical AR, but you don’t know it when you’re shooting. The location of the action behind the grip places the center of the gun’s mass pretty close to the grip itself; this makes the gun easier to point, maneuver and shoot even with only one hand on the gun. That balanced weight also does a great job of absorbing recoil. Springfield’s Hellion is truly pleasant to shoot.
Hellion Shooting Results
|American Eagle 62 gr FMJ||2,958 fps||1,204 ft-lbs||2.2”|
|Hornady 55 gr GMX||2,988 fps||1,090 ft-lbs||1.9”|
|Federal Gold Medal MatchKing 69 gr BTHP||2,912 fps||1,299 ft-lbs||1.7”|
The Sweet Spot
Not every gun fills a niche well, but the Hellion certainly does. That sweet spot is for someone that’s looking for a well-balanced, compact rifle. Remember the overall length of the Hellion? That’s right, 28.25” fully collapsed. This is about 4” shorter than a typical AR at its shortest with a 16” barrel. That difference means either more maneuverability, or the ability to add muzzle devices without significant overall length. That makes the Hellion a perfect host for your favorite can.
I typically run a SAINT Victor SBR with a suppressor. That extra weight out front can really become cumbersome after a few hours of work. The length and balance of the Hellion would be a significant fatigue reducer. In addition, there is no trade-off for the reduction in length. The 16” barrel will still give the ballistic performance you need well beyond the capability of the typical SBR, but with a similar overall length.
Hellion Review Final Thoughts
The Springfield Armory Hellion is a very capable rifle in a small package. If you are looking for a reliable rifle in a small, balanced package, the Hellion is exactly what you need. This is especially true if you’re looking to run a suppressor.
Springfield Armory set the MSRP for the Hellion at a reasonable $1,999, but I’ve seen street prices closer to $1,750. Considering the reliability and the feature set of the Hellion, that’s a true value.
Bottom line? I’m a fan.
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