AmmoLand News’ Jim Grant gives us a review-to-end-all-gun-reviews of the Springfield Hellion Rifle.
U.S.A. -(AmmoLand.com)- Hi, my name is Jim, and I’m a gun hipster; I love uncommon, strange, and rare firearms like the Springfield Hellion. I know I have a problem, and I swear I could stop if I wanted, but my wife and bank account know better.
Don’t get me wrong, I still love your run-of-the-mill workhorse guns like my unkillable Glock 17, but there’s a certain je n’est sais pas about oddball firearms that drives my gun-lust into overdrive. In fact, I’ve been fawning over the prospect of owning a Hellion for years.
But how is that possible? The Springfield Hellion only came out last year right before SHOT Show… or did it?
Springfield Hellion Rifle Lineage
It’s true, the Hellion heritage actually dates back to 2003 when the first version of its progenitor, the HS Produkt VHS, was simply a blueprint on a computer in a Croatian engineer’s office. Back then, the gun much more closely resembled a French FAMAS F1 assault rifle. Underneath the hood, the VHS-2 is a short-stroke piston-driven automatic rifle. In a nutshell, the Croatians turned an H&K G36 into a bullpup.
It wasn’t until the introduction of the HS Produkt VHS-2 that the gun began to look more modern, replacing the FAMAS-style carry handle iron sights with a Picatinny rail for optics.
HS Produkt also added attachment points on the bottom and sides of the handguard to make the weapon easier to modify to fit specific mission parameters. The VHS-2 also changed a few other features, but for all intents and purposes, they made the gun more modular.
More importantly, the folks at Springfield decided to make a few small tweaks to the VHS-2, and import it into the United States under the Hellion moniker.
Hellion Rifle VS VHS-2 Rifle
Functionally, the two guns are the same. They both utilize the same short-stroke piston operating system and feed from stagger-column magazines. But where the original VHS-2 utilizes a G36-pattern magazine, Springfield’s Hellion uses much more common and affordable STANAG-pattern mags.
Other changes include the replacement of the integral pistol grip with an interface that allows the use of standard AR-15 style rifle grips and the use of an M-Lok handguard over the original Picatinny one. And that’s pretty much it. The engineers at Springfield did a great job of not changing too much to alter the original gun’s unique aesthetics – though the grip is a little odd-looking.
The Springfield Hellion is loaded to the teeth with features, so in an effort to make sure I don’t miss anything, we’ll start at the muzzle and work our way back.
Speaking of the muzzle, the Hellion ships with its tapered 16-inch barrel topped with a four-prong flash hider. Shooters who want to use something else will be happy to learn that underneath the muzzle device, the Hellion’s barrel sports standard 1/2×28 threads – so you’ll be able to install your favorite compensator, brake, or sound suppressor like my go-to SilencerCo Saker ASR provided by SilencerShop.
Just behind the muzzle, the Springfield Hellion sports a two-position adjustable gas regulator. The first setting is, “normal” while the second is “suppressed” and limits the amount of gas siphoned from the shot.
Beside the Hellion’s gas regulator are a pair of quick detach (QD) sling mounts, with two sets of matching mounts located under the rear sight (ideal for a single-point sling) and on the other side of the gun near the buttstock. If a shooter wants a more old-school setup, the Hellion also includes two sets of regular sling loops with the front set capable of rotating freely.
Directly back from the regulator, the Hellion features a polymer handguard with M-Lok slots on the bottom and both sides. One thing to note, the slots on the sides aren’t perpendicular to the bottom and are more of a 75-degree angle. For most accessories, this doesn’t matter, but some oversized lasers like the PEQ-15 or the PERST-4 may have a hard time laying completely flat due to the location of the optics rail.
This handguard is secured to the gun with a single push-pin which makes quick removal of these accessories very easy.
(Almost makes me wish they had additional handguards available so I could quickly swap between configurations without busting out Allen keys.)
Directly above the handguard, the Hellion uses a very G36-inspired optics rail with a large gap underneath to accommodate its ambidextrous, non-reciprocating charging handle. The handle is spring-loaded and lays flush with the rail pointing forward when not in use. At the rear of the charging handle is a small metal tab that actually functions as a forward assist. While I’m not a tremendous fan of forward assists, this is a very clever way of incorporating one in an unobtrusive way.
Another cool feature of the optics rail is that it’s both numbered for easy repeatability when mounting optics, and it incorporates a pair of folding iron sights.
Sights for Sore Eyes
The Hellion’s sights are fully adjustable without the use of tools, and the rear even includes four separate aperture settings for quick engagement zeros for point-blank, 100, 200, 300, and 400 meters. And in testing, my spotter and I were able to engage man-sized steel targets out to 400 yards using the irons, but it was fair tricky given how hard it was to see missed shots. Though in all fairness, the generous sight radius on the Hellion did really help.
The sights themselves aren’t just junky plastic either. They’re made of blued steel and are spring-loaded as well as mechanically locked in place when either deployed or folded away. Also, despite the fact that there is a point-blank ‘0’ setting and a 100-to-200-meter ‘1-2’ setting, the point-blank setting worked perfectly fine out to 200 yards – but that makes sense given the trajectory of 5.56mm ammo. The biggest difference between the two settings is that the aperture on the ‘0’ setting is much larger, making it easier to quickly find the front sight. Though this also serves an interesting second function of being usable in failing light, shooters are definitely better off with either a weapon light, thermal scope, or nods and an IR laser/illuminator for those conditions.
Get a Grip on Ergos
Underneath the sights, the Hellion ships with a BCM Gunfighter MOD 3 Pistol Grip which is secured to the gun with a standard AR-15 grip bolt. So shooters can easily swap out the included grip for whichever AR grip they desire, so long as it doesn’t feature a built-in trigger guard. Though even if it does, a few minutes with a Dremel or a hand file, and those grips will fit too.
Personally, I found the angle of the grip a little awkward initially, but after some time it felt better. In the future, I will likely replace that grip with an aftermarket option that feels more natural, but the included one is very serviceable.
And while we’re on the topic of serviceable features, the safety’s angle could only be described as such. Yes, it’s very positive and unobtrusive when not in use, but the high angle of it feels wrong in the hand. Whether this is because the ergonomics don’t fit my relatively small hands, or simply a matter of how different its location is compared to an AR-15 is hard to tell. But one thing you can absolutely say about the Hellion’s safety is that you’ll never engage or disengage it by accident.
Triggered by the Trigger
That brings us to what many reviewers have bemoaned as the Hellion’s worst trait – the trigger. I’m not going to sugar-coat it, the Croatian carbine’s trigger pull is very, very long. And this isn’t a unique problem to the Hellion, but rather an endemic one that plagues virtually all bullpups. This is because all bullpups utilize some method of redirecting the force placed on the trigger to the seer a few inches back. Most designs utilize a trigger bar to do so, and this means added flex and drag, which in turn leads to a heavy, spongey trigger pull.
I’m looking at you, Steyr AUG.
The good news? The Hellion’s trigger isn’t terribly spongy and it’s not very heavy either – though certainly not a match trigger. According to my Lyman Digital Trigger Scale, the Hellion’s trigger broke at an average of 6 lbs, 9 ounces. Yikes! You might be thinking, but it’s really not all that bad since thankfully the break feels relatively crisp. And if we’re comparing apples to apples, the Hellion’s trigger is better than the AUG A3’s, and the original Tavor, but not as good as the X95’s trigger.
Springfield Hellion Rifle Magazine & Bolt Release
While we’re on the subject of bullpup-specific issues, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the gun’s magazine and bolt release. If you’re at all familiar with bullpup rifles, you probably already know that magazine changes are somewhat awkward. This is especially true for shooters who have the majority of the muscle memory built around standard configuration rifles and carbines like the AR-15.
Why? Because the shooter must reach near their shooting hand’s armpit to insert or extract a magazine. Some bullpup designs like the IWI X95 partially mitigate this by placing as many of the controls forward as they can, while others like the QBZ-95-inspired DDI PUMA say, “To hell with good ergos, that’s the shooter’s problem!”
The Hellion, on the other hand, falls between these two. It utilizes a streamlined paddle release that is outwardly similar to that on an AK-47, but functionally works like an AR-15’s by directing the force applied to the paddle to the side to disengage the magazine catch. This is actually quite good as far as bullpup magazine releases go; it’s positive and facilitates reloading with retention.
Hellion’s bolt release, on the other hand, isn’t quite so great. Located behind the magazine well, the bolt release on the Springfield Hellion is a small button that must be pushed towards the muzzle-end of the gun to release the bolt. The proper manual of arms is for the shooter to pinch the button. But in either a competition or combat scenario I would suggest ignoring it altogether, and instead, simply pulling on the charging handle to release the bolt on a full magazine.
I suggest this because the release on the Hellion is relatively small, and requires fine motor skills. If a shooter’s heart is racing and their adrenaline is pumping, it because very difficult to utilize fine motor skills – this is why you see professional shooters always utilize the so-called, ‘sling-shot’ method of charging a pistol’s slide during a reload on a gun whose action is locked open.
This brings me to the bolt hold open. There is none – at least, there isn’t a manual one. The only way to lock the action open on the Hellion is to insert an empty magazine and charge the bolt rearward. And before someone corrects me, yes I know you can simply reach inside the magazine well and engage the bolt catch from inside the action. But that’s a workaround, not a true feature.
One of the most unusual features of the Springfield Hellion is its five-position, adjustable buttstock. To my knowledge, this is the only bullpup I know of that features an adjustable stock. Despite this, the gun actually has a fairly long length of pull. It’s deceptive because the rearward balance of the gun and bullpup configuration doesn’t feel very long. I suspect this is primarily because the sight rail extends a few inches behind the pistol grip whereas, on an AR-15, the two are equidistant from the buttstock. This effectively means that even shorter shooters like myself don’t have to crane their necks to get a proper sight picture/cheek weld.
In testing, I found that the gun felt most comfortable in either the fully collapsed, or one out from that position. I’m a whopping 5’9″ and I like shooting nose-to-charging-handle, so your mileage may vary.
One other nice feature of this stock is the two-position adjustable comb that allows shooters to mount a larger traditional optic like a hunting scope to the Hellion without having to resort to a ‘chin-weld’. Though I never needed this extra comb height when running any standard AR-15-height optics like the Trijicon ACOG, EoTech EXPS3 Holosight, AimPoint PRO, or the Vortex UH-1 Holosight. (<– product links below)
Lastly, the entire stock assembly can be removed to field strip the gun. To do so, remove the captive push-pin at the rear of the gun, then depress the stock’s adjustment tab while pulling rearward. After that, pull the charging handle rearward to free the bolt carrier group from the rifle and out the back. Reassembly is much the same, but I would highly suggest leaving the bolt carrier partially out of the gun to more easily align the recoil spring and guide rod prior to reassembly.
Another great feature of the Springfield Hellion is the fact that it can be configured to eject from either the left or right side to accommodate shooters. To do so, the gun needs to be field stripped as normal and then a few additional steps followed. After the bolt assembly has been removed, shooters need to drive out a cam pin retention pin with a standard 5.56mm cartridge or suitable punch. Once out, the bolt needs to be rotated with the extractor facing the opposite direction. Once rotated, simply re-install the cam pins to secure them in place.
Once the bolt has been configured to eject out the opposite side, shooters need to remove the ejection port cover from the right side by pushing out a retention pin, and then swap the two covers before reinstalling those pins. Once all that is complete, reassemble as usual and perform a safety check and you’re done. Although this sounds complicated when written out, it only takes about five minutes to actually perform and less if a shooter is familiar with the gun.
As for the rest of the controls, everything else on the gun is already ambidextrous. This includes the bolt release, magazine release, safety selector, and of course, the trigger.
OK, I admit that was a ton of information to digest. But given how unique and uncommon this firearm has traditionally been I wanted to make sure I answered as many questions as possible. With that out of the way, let’s get to the meat of the meal – performance.
As of the writing of this article, the Springfield Hellion in my possession has thus far fired 750 rounds of Tulammo-brand 5.56 steel-cased 55gr ammunition, 250 rounds of Monarch 55gr steel-cased ammunition, 250 rounds of 62gr brass-cased ZQI Turkish ammunition, and 250 rounds of 55gr Federal brass-cased ammo without any stoppages or malfunctions of any kind. Ejection patterns were consistent with all ammo tested except Tula, but given the low-quality nature of the ammo, that is to be expected. On a side note, I also shot a few dozen rounds of SIG and Hornady’s 77gr BTHP ammunition to test accuracy, and again, experienced no malfunctions whatsoever.
While the Hellion wasn’t picky about what ammo it was fed – at least in terms of reliability – the same couldn’t be said for magazines.
Good Taste in Magazines
Presumably, due to the magazine well dimensions, some magazines were extremely tough to insert and extract from the Hellion. That said, it was limited to very specific brands and no-name magazines. But from my testing, the Hellion had no problem functioning with the following magazines I tried.
- Magpul PMAG Gen2 / Gen 3 (didn’t have any Gen 1’s on hand to test)
- Magpul D-50 Drum
- Tapco Intrafuse 30-round polymer
- Colt USGI Aluminum 20-round
- Okay Industries 30-round aluminum
- ETS Translucent Polymer
- Lancer L5AWM 20 and 30-round
- C-Products DuraMag 30-round
- HexMag Polymer 30-Round
- Daniel Defense polymer 32-round
- MFT Gen 2 Polymer 30-round
- RRA Polymer 30-round
- KCI 50-round Drum and 100-round Drum (Although the latter is difficult to extract)
- Korean Steel 30-round (SHK)
The older so-called ‘Asian Military’ magazines I tried were extremely difficult to insert/extract, and some even when fully inserted had bad magazine catch dimensions and thus couldn’t lock up in the gun at all. Likewise, CETME-L magazines did not fit at all (They are roughly STANAG-pattern, and run in many AR-15s.) and several pre-ban magazines I had kicking around from my days in a ban-state either didn’t insert or failed to lock up in the Hellion. This might sound bad when written out like this, but the reality of it is that 99% of magazines out there will run flawlessly in the gun.
To be honest, when I first saw the shots of the Hellion on other websites sporting a Nightforce LPVO, I was left scratching my head. The Hellion, like the VHS-2 it is derived from, is not a DMR or a precision weapon platform. It’s a compact combat rifle designed for urban, or vehicular use. I had read reports online for years about the VHS-2 performing well in the field, but without any real metrics published, so I wanted to personally test the gun’s capabilities.
The result? The Hellion consistently grouped around 1.9-2 MOA all day long. Some groups were smaller, around 1.75 MOA with match-grade ammo, while Tula groups were larger at about 2.3 MOA. In either case, this gun is easily capable of hits out to 500 yards. But where it really shines, is at the 15-75 yard range. At those distances, the Hellion is lighting-fast to transition from target to target.
Springfield Hellion Verdict
Now that you know literally everything you could ever want to know about the gun, it’s time to make a decision: is the Springfield Hellion worth its $1,999 MSRP?
To me, as someone who owns several bullpups and very capable rifles in standard configuration, it’s a tough call. Objectively, I certainly don’t need another gun in my arsenal. But from a collector’s standpoint, 1,000% yes. It’s a unique gun that I’ve always wondered about and was completely surprised by its announcement just prior to the last SHOT show.
But what about your average consumer who is looking for a solid, reliable carbine?
For them, I would argue yes, the Hellion is worth the money. Yes, it’s not the cheapest gun on the market by any stretch, but as a unique bullpup with flawless reliability, respectable accuracy, and phenomenal balance and handling characteristics, the Hellion is a great companion. One that would serve a shooter well as a bedside gun, truck gun, survival weapon, or even just a fun range toy.
Like the Gear & Accessories seen in these reviews? Here are some fast links to products:
- Springfield Hellion Rifle
- Elcan SpectreDR 1-4x Scope
- AimPoint Pro
- EoTech EXPS3 Holosight
- Vortex UH1 Gen 2 Sight Holosight
- Trijicon VCOG (battery powered)
- SilencerCo Saker ASR 30 Suppressor
- Lyman Digital Trigger Scale
- BCM Gunfighter MOD 3 Pistol Grip
About Jim Grant
Jim is one of the elite editors for AmmoLand.com, who in addition to his mastery of prose, can wield a camera with expert finesse. He loves anything and everything guns but holds firearms from the Cold War in a special place in his heart.
When he’s not reviewing guns or shooting for fun and competition, Jim can be found hiking and hunting with his wife Kimberly, and their dog Peanut in the South Carolina low country.