Review: Going 500rds with Springfield Armory's Hellion Bullpup
We've been kicking the tires on the new Hellion from Springfield Armory for a minute and have some things to say on the curious bullpup.
Announced to coincide with SHOT Show in January, the 5.56 NATO carbine is an Americanized version of the HS-Produkt-- who also makes the XD series pistols-- VHS-2 rifle made for the Croatian military.
The abridged version of the origin story behind this Balkan bullpup is that the Croatians, fans of the HK36 and having also purchased a quantity of FN F2000 (aka the "Tactical Tuna") bullpups, were eager to accept the first generation VHS rifles around 2008 to replace aging Zastava M70s inherited from the old Yugoslavia.
Now updated into a 2nd generation format, hence the VHS-2, some 20,000 have been bought by the Croatian Army while it has seen some other use in the Middle East and elsewhere in Europe, even coming in as a runner-up with the French Army to replace the FAMAS (instead the French went HK416). For a more detailed look at the history of the VHS series, which is outside the scope of this review, check out Gun Jesus's excellent video.
With that being said, let us get into the review.
Meet the Hellion
To allow for import into the U.S. as a sporting rifle, and to accommodate a more American taste, the Springfield Armory Hellion has been tweaked and arguably improved from its VHS-2 cousins. This includes an M-LOK compatible handguard, the ability to use AR-pattern magazines rather than HK G36 types, and an AR-style pistol grip.
The takeaway? The gun ate everything we put through it, suffering only one malfunction. This occurred while using a Schmeisser S60 loaded with a mix of four different factory loads. We had the failure to fully extract on round 58 of 60 in the mag, at about round 420 of the test, on a gun right out of the box with no additional lube. It should be noted that the gun was both hot and dirty when the malf hit.
We ran the Hellion out to 100 yards for starters, and it had no issue on target. While not a match-grade rifle by any stretch, we had no problems pulling down regular 2- and 3-inch groups using bulk ammo and a little concentration from standard positions. I could hit every plate and paper I could see. This is perfectly acceptable for practical use. Match ammo and shooting from a rest/bench would probably tighten that up a little. We'll get back to you on that.
Airing Of Grievances
Let me show you on this doll where the Springfield Armory Hellion touched me.
Before I get to the gripes, let me be clear and say that my 30 or so years of experience in tactical rifles is Garand/M1A and AR-heavy with a touch of Galil and FAL thrown in, and I bear a general distaste of bullpups. Don't get me wrong, I have shot (and occasionally owned) several bullpups over the years, just never liked the triggers and overall handling characteristics. In short, few bullpups felt instinctual when it came to surface controls, which didn't translate from ARs, and the longer nature of their trigger pack function gave them a mushy and creepy pull that felt more akin to an AK.
While the Hellion is much better, in my opinion, than most of the first-gen bullpups-- the Steyr AUG, FAMAS, FS2000, etc.-- the trigger and controls still aren't amazing. They work. Just not how I am used to. The selector switch is awkward at first, as is the mag release, and the trigger is still a bit creepy. Keep in mind though that you can get over most of this with training. All guns have a learning curve.
Second, and another common trait of bullpups, as the action is so close to the face, you tend to eat a bit more brass than on traditional linear format rifles if you run it from the side with the ejection port. Sure, the Hellion has an easily swappable port, but there are just times when you must move left to right, such as getting a good shot from cover or concealment be it a barricade on the range or in an actual situation. If you do, be prepared to get some hot brass-to-the-face action.
With the above all taken in mind, if the concept of a bullpup interests you even mildly, the Hellion deserves a hard look as the gun has a lot of positives going for it including its ease of maintenance, ready acceptance of suppressors and optics, and solid reliability. Plus, the Hellion has much better ergos than some other bullpups on the market. You can tell the Croatians have worked the bugs out of the platform over the past couple of decades and the customer is not the beta tester.
We'll keep working on the Hellion for another 500 rounds and touch base with a further review, so check back soon.