Regular readers (all two of you) might recall an interesting gadget I posted about back in February, and an offer I made at the end of the post to try out an example of the unit, and post up my thoughts of it afterwards. Surprisingly enough (at least to me), the president of the company making those gadgets emailed me a few days after I made the post, and in May, a package arrived at my doorstep, free of charge, complete with a review unit for me to put through its paces and post about. Finally, a few months after my one-month promise to the company’s president (sorry about that), I was able to make it to the range, and my review of the gadget in question is below.
Before I go too much farther, though, I should warn you that this will probably be yet another Linoge-trademarked long-winded post, going into far more detail and attention than you probably care for… however, if you read through to the end, it might just be worth your while (especially if you happen to live in Kalifornistan, New York, Massachusetts, or any of those other states with varying degrees of bans-on-guns-that-look-evil (otherwise known as “Assault Weapon Bans”).
So what am I talking about, anywise? The Hammerhead AR-15 Rifle Grip, as produced by the Exile Machine corporation out of Dallas Fort Worth, Texas, and sent to me for free for evaluation purposes. What on earth does it do? Simply put, it is an AR-15 grip replacement that not only allows you to mount your stock into it, changing the comb of your rifle (i.e. how your cheek rests on the buffer tube), but also gives you a “traditional” or “wooden rifle” feel to your evil black rifle, regardless of what you do with your stock. As an added bonus, it can also help bypass elements of certain “Assault Weapon Bans”, though I am not a lawyer, and neither are the folks at Exile Machine, so you should probably do a little research of your own before you start staking your future on it.
And speaking of people, a big thanks goes out to Mark Gessner, the aforementioned President and CEO of Exile Machine, for not only sending me the test and evaluation unit free of charge, but also for putting up with my occasionally-stupid questions.
So how did I end up testing the Hammerhead? Well, by strapping it to B.O.M.B.E.R. and going shooting, of course. As a brief recap, the primary stock on my rifle is now a MagPul UBR (which turns out to be important later on), and I took a Command Arms Accessories Modular Buttstock along with me for secondary stock usage. The comparison grip is a MagPul MIAD Modular Grip, and everything else is either relatively vanilla AR-15, or somewhat unimportant to this particular review.
Upon arriving at the range, I broke everything out, and tried to zero my sight as best I could for not having a bipod with me, and being more than a little out of practice (moving + car accident + in-laws visiting = not much time (or money) for the range). However, shooting an AR platform is rather like riding a bicycle, and after a few magazines downrange, everything seemed more-or-less where it should be, and I felt comfortable enough with the current arrangement to provide a reasonable comparison to the Hammerhead. So, time to break out the tools.
Thankfully, the only things you really need are a flathead screwdriver (assuming you have a MagPul grip), a 3/16″ hex/Allen wrench (for the bolt included with the Hammerhead), and a stock wrench (assuming you use a stock with a castle nut). Unbeknownst to me before I headed to the range (mainly because I am too used to company’s webpages being both static and markedly unhelpful – thankfully, Exile Machine‘s is neither), there is an outstanding set of instructions online, including pictures, about how to go through the entire process. I will, however, offer a few observations… First, as always, be careful removing any normally-fixed part of an AR-15 – as with most things like it, there is a spring hiding inside your pistol grip, and, when you remove your current grip, that spring will launch out and scurry away to an impossible-to-find hiding spot if you let it. Second, if it seems like the pistol grip tabs of the Hammerhead are too tightly pinched together for your receiver, that is because they are. However, you need not get crazy with a file just yet – at the bottom of the above-linked instructions page is a clear description (including pictures) of a process for slipping your Hammerhead onto your lower without the implementation of a Dremel… a process I was thankfully able to stumble across myself at the range. Third, the anti-rotation hole in the Hammerhead can be a little snug – my VLTOR Buttstock Sling Plate took a little cranking on the castle nut to seat entirely. Fourth, if you use the oversized trigger guard that came with the MagPul MIAD Modular Grip, you had either better bring a trigger guard capable of working on its own, or just forego it for the time being (through lack of planning, I went the latter route).
And with about 10 minutes’ worth of work at a noisy, hot range, I was able to swap out grips without too much difficulty. Easy is good.
Important pre-review disclaimer – I am a pistol grip fanboy. I find that my control over the firearm is typically better with that arrangement, I like how it feels, and it seems to give better flexibility to how the weapon is employed – those are, of course, entirely subjective observations, and wholly dependent upon the user in question, but I wanted to make them clear up front. Heck, I have even gone so far as to stick a pistol grip on my home-defense shotgun, and if I had the money, you can bet whatever you like that I would have one of these installed on my M1A. But this is all personal opinion, and while I did explain this to Mr. Gessner before he sent me the Hammerhead, he still insisted on mailing it on. So, what did this fanboy think of it?
+ The Hammerhead really does make the AR-15 feel like a wooden rifle, albeit one with a remarkably tall comb (at least in one configuration). Mr. Gessner and his company apparently did more than enough research into ergonomics and the fit of the human hand, and while the grip does feel faintly unnatural to me, just due to the weight distribution of the firearm, it works, which is a hell of a lot better than can be said for the U-15 stock. All of the edges are sufficiently radiused, the belly gives enough purchase for my middle and ring fingers to grasp it, and the tail bulge provides a good gripping point for your palm (which is entirely coincidental to it needing to be there for the stock threading).
+ Speaking of combs, Type 1 Configuration allows you to increase your comb by a little less than two inches, and keep your original butt placement, whatever that may be – basically, this means you do not have to lean your head over nearly as far. Conversely, if you shoot ARs like most military and competitive shooters, with only the lower half of your stock planted into your shoulder, you can move the entire rifle down those inches, have the full stock against your body, and keep the same head location and cheek weld. For the engineers out there, Exile Machine explains it like this:
The distance from the rifle bore axis to the top of the stock attached to the Hammerhead (as shown in the photo above) is constant (largely independent of stock choice) around 46mm. The distance from the bore axis to the lower tip of the buttpad in a free state rifle held military style high on the shoulder is on the order of 110-130mm (depends on which stock you use and how much of the lower tip of the buttpad contacts your shoulder). Torque is directly proportional to this length. So given the exact same recoil force (same ammunition), you experience approximately 2x to 3x the torque shooting a free state rifle military style as you do with the Hammerhead.
For me, I honestly did not notice a significant difference, but my form proably sucks bad enough inherently that I would not. The idea, however, is worth a thought for those high-speed low-drag folks out there, for whom every microsecond spent recovering from recoil is wasted time.
+ The fit, finish, and polish of the end product are quite impressive. Sure, we are talking about a one-piece injected-molded hunk of plastic, but, these days, even something that simple cannot automatically be assumed to be satisfactory. The threading for the stock tube matches up perfectly (though one should be me mindful of crossthreading – the Hammerhead will lose that argument), there were no rough spots whatsoever on my unit (even at the “gate”, where the plastic is injected into the mold), and while the pistol grip tabs were snug to start with, the dimensions matched up perfectly with the firearm. Just be sure to snugly tighten that bolt, especially in Type I and Type II configurations, since those make the Hammerhead an intrinsic part of your stock, and thus elemental to good accuracy.
+ Employed correctly, the Hammerhead may circumvent stupid-assed laws of authoritarian states and countries. I am not a lawyer, and neither is Mr. Gessner, so it is incumbent upon you to do your own research, and possibly even talk to a lawyer, but, at the very least, this is a good alternative for Kalifornistan residents who do not want to have to push at a bullet button like some monkey with a twig.
+ Accuracy was not at all impacted, and might have actually improved. Or, that apparent decrease in the sizes of my groupings might have been due to me testing out the Hammerhead in the latter half of my range session, and getting back “in the swing of things”. Either way, shifting from a pistol grip to a “wooden rifle grip” did not seem to cause any problems, so long as you snugged up nice and tight in both situations.
+ I would like to reiterate that I love the subdued branding on the grip adapter… The only indication that this is an Exile Machine product is their name on the left side of the pistol taba area, and that is it – no massive billboards, no colorful stickers or seals, just a slightly upraised pair of words. As I said before, if companies want me to carry around their branding for them, like a walking poster, they should be paying me. But that is just a personal thing.
– For me, the selector switch is inaccessible by my firing hand with the Hammerhead installed, even with the CAA Modular Buttstock swapped out for the MagPul UBR. The simple solution? Get an ambidexterous safety. The magazine release button, however, remains as accessible as it always is.
– And speaking of stocks, the Hammerhead is incompatible with the MagPul UBR as the rifle’s “actual” stock in any configuration except Type IV – that sling mounting point at the very front of the buffer tube gets in the way of your thumb, and can bite on recoil. The UBR works just fine as the stock attached to the Hammerhead, but not to the rifle. That said, after swapping out that stock for the CAA unit, the situation improved, but not much – the sling plate still has enough sharp edges on it to catch your thumb’s knuckle’s attention on recoil, and does not provide the most comfortable of resting points. Better Half, with her slightly smaller hands, specifically noted those edges when we were messing around the Hammerhead at home.
– Even with the CAA stock installed, though, the VLTOR Sling Plate I used still managed to bite a little, due to its sling attachment point. There are, however, receiver end plates without those kinds of projections, and they would probably work just fine.
– Mentioning Type IV configuration brings us to the gripping features of the Hammerhead – while the fit and finish of the product is outstanding, its surface is damned smooth, to the point that my fingers were only reliably able to find purchase where its overall geometry changed (in the angles, in short). It seems, to me, that offering the option of preformed gripping patterns built into the Hammerhead would be a very good idea – granted, their online store does allow you to add skateboard tape to your order, and it further mentions creatively employing Dremels and soldering irons, but some of us are not particularly skilled at such things, and Lord alone knows what I would end up with if I tried. If I was seriously interested in such a product, I would definitely be willing to pay an additional $5-$10 for a pre-purchase stippling job.
– In the end, though, neither Better Half nor I found the Hammerhead to be particularly comfortable, especially in comparison to the original pistol-grip configuration. This is wholly subjective, and completely ignores the facts that the grip replacement works, it is quite useable, and it is having to make do with a platform that was not designed for its existance, but it did not fit either of our hands particularly well, and if I had a choice in the matter, I would still end up gravitating towards the original setup. Your hands are almost undoubtedly different, though, as are your desires, so who knows?
If you want to transform your evil black rifle into an evil black rifle that handles like a wooden rifle, then the Hammerhead is the way to do it. If you want to give your evil black rifle’s stock an increased comb, possibly yielding a more-comfortable head and sight position for you, the Hammerhead is an outstanding way to do it. If you want to make your evil black rifle more-useable or even simply legal in certain states or countries, the Hammerhead may be a perfect way to do so. However, no matter how you end up using it, and for whatever reasons, the Hammerhead is easily as durable as any other polymer accessory attached to your AR-15, and will serve you well should you want it to.
And all that said and disposed with, remember that bit at the beginning about how reading through this whole wall of text might actually be worth your while by the end? Well, even if you skipped down here to the end, here is the skinny: given that I am a pistol-grip fanboy, and, that, for all its merits, the Hammerhead was insufficient to convince me to go to the Dark Side, I am going to give away my very-slightly-used Hammerhead to an interested party. Here are the rules:
1. Write a post on your own weblog, or on a firearm-related forum you frequent, linking back to this post however you like.
2. Write a comment here, and include a link back to the post you wrote in step 1 (just so I know it exists).
3. On August 6, at 1800, I will randomly select a winner from the pool of commenters following the above rules, based on your comment number.
And that is that. This offer is available to anyone in the world (though if you are outside of the United States, I might ask that you help a little towards postage), and, of course, it is probably particuarly enticing to those folks trapped in states with stupid laws (*cough*Kalifornistan*cough*Massachusetts*cough*).