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Review: Dissecting The Q Honey Badger

[This article originally appeared in CONCEALMENT #25]

Dissecting the Honey Badger: Q’s Brand-New Trigger and March Optic’s 1-10x Shorty Make the Honey Badger SD a Potent Pair

It’s time to don a pair of latex gloves and lay the Q Honey Badger bare. That’s right, we’re giving Mellivora capensis the full-on anatomy and physiology treatment. So, mask up and try not to pass out as we get into the guts of a badass firearm that don’t give a shit.

TAXONOMY

We have an exciting specimen in front of us. It’s a somewhat rare subspecies of the Honey Badger, the Honey Badger SD. This little guy is a two-stamp gun that branches directly off from the original Advanced Armament Corporation Honey Badger PDW. AAC’s 300 Blackout Honey Badger was designed to meet a 2011 U.S. Special Operations Command requirement that called for a replacement of its stalwart close-quarters battle subgun, the Heckler & Koch MP5-SD.

In 2011, SOCOM’s Army component was looking for something with the same or smaller footprint of the aging German Maschinenpistole that was easier to take care of. Not that there’s anything wrong with the MP5, but getting parts for the 40-year-old, bespoke platform was reportedly wearing on SOCOM’s armorers. Plus, SOCOM’s Navy component had recently adopted 300 AAC Blackout, piquing interest in the versatile round’s prospects when combined with a new CQB platform.

While developing and submitting the first Honey Badger samples to SOCOM, AAC was sold to Remington, where the program became part of Remington Defense. RemDef submitted the second round of Honey Badgers for SOCOM’s consideration, but its efforts were ultimately bested by SIG Sauer’s MCX variant, informally called the Black Mamba, which won the SOCOM Low Visibility Assault Weapon contract.

This should’ve been the end of the Honey Badger, but as we all know, the Honey Badger don’t give a shit. At the time, internal politics between Remington and AAC overshadowed efforts to bring the Honey Badger to market, and the core team who went from AAC to Remington pulled the ripcord and all ended up working at SIG before re-teaming up to form Q LLC in 2016, when they decided to resurrect the Honey Badger project for the commercial market.

That’s an admittedly gross simpli¬fication of events, but it explains how Q engineer Ethan Lessard is the voice of both the original AAC Honey Badger PDW as well as that of the reborn Q Honey Badger in our story. (For more background, read “Kevin Brittingham- The Original Honey Badger” in RECOIL Issue 25)

Despite only appearing behind closed doors and never being offered for sale, the Honey Badger PDW was a constant source of discussion and speculation across the internet. AAC shrewdly promoted the gun in the ¬ rearm media, and it even appeared in popular FPS video games. The big question asked over and over was “when will these be released?!”

The original Honey Badger-PDW was a full-auto SBR with an integrated silencer, meaning it would have to overcome a two-stamp (that’s a $400 tax) impediment to its commercial debut. There were semi-auto versions made with longer barrels that might’ve overcome Remington executives’ resistance to risk, but there was just too much going on at the time for Big Green to put the bred-in-captivity Honey Badger out into the world. Recall Remington was consolidating operations of its myriad brands to a new plant in Alabama, could barely get the ACR into production, and was knee-deep in a pivot to more pro¬ table products, such as handguns, at the time.

The project lay dormant for years until the regrouped band members resurrected it as Q’s second rifle project, following the release of The Fix bolt-action rifle.

ANATOMY OF THE Q HONEY BADGER SD

Q engineer Ethan Lessard was also part of the design team that made the AAC Honey Badger. He says the inspiration for the original came from the 1980’s M231 Firing Port Weapon. It was basically an M16 with an abbreviated recoil system made to be ¬ red from the ports of the U.S. Army’s M2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle.

The guts of the Honey Badger-SD contain a pretty simple, abbreviated gas-impingement operating system featuring an AR bolt carrier that runs with a single, long recoil spring. The operating spring is held in place by a guide that seats in the carrier on one end and is captured in a shortened receiver extension on the other, making it more compact compared to a standard AR.

The only downside of the long recoil spring is the three-handed operation needed to compress the spring when mating the upper to the lower. When the gun’s new, the spring is a pain in the ass to wrangle, but after a few hundred rounds (and some practice) the assembly becomes much easier.

Interestingly, the original Honey Badger-PDW had some esoteric features that were stripped from the Q HB-SD without being missed, such as a bore evacuating barrel nut. “It basically decreased the total pressure while also providing positive pressure to push gas out the muzzle rather than back through the chamber,” Lessard says. “It was good for a disappointing amount of sound reduction.” The complexity and weight weren’t worth the marginal sound reduction, and the feature was dropped.

BRAINS

At risk of burying the lede, our Honey Badger-SD came with a production sample of Q’s new two-stage AR trigger, named “Literally the Best Trigger Ever.” Q had several reasons for making its own trigger, but chief among them was to take control of its own destiny. Q used AR Gold triggers in their AR builds at first but moved to Geissele triggers when they outstripped AR Gold’s ability to keep up with Q’s production. To eradicate the supply chain bottleneck and reduce costs, Q decided to make its own trigger.

Literally the Best Trigger Ever was designed from the ground up with consistency and drop safety in mind. The drop-in trigger looks different than other AR triggers because it uses a transverse disconnector system rather than a rotary disconnector found in traditional AR triggers. Its nontraditional looks come from the desire to make every part light and rotationally balanced within the trigger system to resist ¬ ring when dropped. For instance, the trigger shoe is made of aluminum instead of steel to reduce its influence on the system during a drop.

“Schematically, it’s essentially a P226 without a ring pin safety,” Lessard says. “If you laid that trigger out in a block diagram, it works just like the short reset trigger system in the classic line, where the trigger bar disengages the sear directly.”

Q uses a Dvorak TriggerScan to quantify the consistency of the triggers it ships, and the company found appreciable variation in pulls of all the triggers they’ve been using. With its own trigger, Q worked to make a consistent, short-reset trigger where they could control both quality and availability.

“Now I can go to basically any machine shop that’s reasonably good and have this trigger made,” Lessard says. “It’s very easy, simple steps. There’s like three dimensions that are critical, but most shops can hit those. We did a full tolerance stack analysis, and we know what we are going to get if the parts meet the print.”

What does all this mean when the trigger is out in the wild? The trigger meets NATO and SAAMI drop tests, has enough regain that it can’t fire without a full pull of the trigger and it can’t perch, and it feels crisp as hell. Ours breaks at just over 2.8 pounds with about 0.117 inch of light take-up followed by another 0.020 inch to fire. Reset is very short, but discernible.

The Honey Badger-SD’s safety is an ambi setup made by Radian to Q’s specs. Instead of a 45- or 90-degree rotation, it uses 75 degrees of rotation which, Lessard says, “is the shortest amount of rotation that we can put in to ensure all of the dimensional safety of the original 90-degree design.”

In other words, Q found the flat of a 45-degree safety could create enough play to allow the engaged safety to let the tail of the trigger rise enough to ¬ re the gun under some circumstances. Using a 75-degree at puts more of the safety’s barrel circumference in contact with the trigger tail and makes for a safer fire control.

DIET

Like the original Honey Badger PDW, the Q Honey Badger eats 300 Blackout. For the uninitiated, the promise of 300 Blackout is its .308 bullet mated with .223-sized brass that runs equally well suppressed and unsuppressed using super- and subsonic ammunition. Ergo, the “Honey Badger don’t care” moniker. The Blackout’s 110-grain super- and 220-grain subsonic bullets with a rifle round’s worth of powder far exceed the capability of the 9mm subgun cartridge the Honey Badger was meant to supplant.

The HB-SD comes with a regular AR mag, not a fancy 300 Blackout-specific mag as one might expect for such a specialized carbine. The truth is that unless you’re running full-auto and dumping mags like a cornered animal, you won’t need Blackout-speci¬fic mags.

The only reason there are special mags for 300 AAC is because the shape of some Blackout cartridges forces their bullet tips to cant slightly inward when stacked in a standard magazine. This, combined with the violence and speed of full-auto operation, will eventually cause a quickly fed bullet tip to bounce off the center of the AR feed ramp assembly and miss the chamber. This happens about once per thousand rounds when cranking full auto mag dumps. But in a semi-auto, the bullets have plenty of time to settle into place with a standard AR mag and follower. So, there’s no need for fancy 300 Blackout mags with the semi-auto-only Q Honey Badger.

MUZZLE END

The Honey Badger SD has a 7-inch barrel with a 1:5-inch twist rate that stabilizes those heavy .308 bullets. The barrel terminates in a tapered muzzle with 5/8-24 threads that mate to the specially made Honey Badger silencer. It’s essentially a thinner, 1.5-inch diameter version of Q’s Full Nelson silencer, complete with ported baffling that traces its evolution back through the AAC Honey Badger PDW silencer, the AAC SDN-6, and all the way to the AAC M4-1000, Lessard says.

The slim can fits under the narrow handguard for an incredibly thin and great-handling front end. But the light, comfortable setup upfront comes with a couple of caveats.

First, the handguard surrounds the can so closely that heat becomes an issue after a few mags. Grip the handguard tightly enough and bare skin will come in contact with the silencer through the M-LOK slots. For anything but a casual range session, gloves are mandatory with the HB-SD.

Second, the can is so close to the handguard that the forward half of the M-LOK slots are ornamental. There’s no room for an M-LOK backing nut, so you can’t attach anything up front unless it’s on the full-length top rail.

BACKBONE

We wanted to apply a maximum capability/minimum footprint paradigm to this review, so we dropped March Scopes’ new 1-10×24 Shorty on the Honey Badger instead of a red dot, which is the more conventional choice for a carbine like this. Running the smallest, lightest 1-10x on the market comes with its own challenges, however. The Shorty has a funky body that’s 33mm in front and 30mm behind the turret.

Fortunately, March makes its own cantilevered 30mm/33mm unimount for the optic; the alternative is a set of split rings, which would be an absolute no-go for reasons you’re about to read.

The only trouble we had was with the scope’s eye relief. The Honey Badger is set up for nose-to-charging-handle ergos, per the original SOCOM requirements that dictated the gun run with the stock closed. And, since we wanted to push the envelope with a magni¬fied optic, we had to push the optic further forward than we normally would on an AR.

There aren’t many guns we’d be comfortable bridging the receiver and handguard with an optic mount, but the HB-SD is a special case. Q uses a combination of precise fit, anti-rotation flanges, and a turnbuckle mechanism that pulls the rear of the handguard against the barrel nut and into contact with the upper to create a continuous top rail.

With an optic mount, as opposed to separate rings, attached, the forend is made even more rigid. We realize people will scream about bridging the handguard with an optic, but we detected no noticeable accuracy degradation or zero deviation after several hundred rounds, including shooting from a barricade.

VISION

The March 1-10x Shorty is a small wonder. It complements the Honey Badger’s size and weight while trumping its optical competition with one feature we’ve missed on 1-10x LPVOs: parallax adjustment. Parallax can introduce sizable POA/POI shift in a 10x optic depending on eye position behind the optic, so bravo to March for including parallax adjustment on the Shorty.

Aside from the inclusion of parallax adjustment, the Shorty has another leg up in the LVPO market. It features a dual reticle arrangement that combines the advantages of both front and rear focal plane optics into one reticle. There’s an FFP mil reticle that changes size with magni¬fication for precision at distance while a static SFP crosshair with a center cutout provides fast aiming at close distance. The cutout allows use of the fine aiming stadia when the optic is at max magni¬fication. As if that wasn’t enough, the optic is also illuminated with a daylight-bright red dot in the SFP.

We bolted the Shorty to our scope tracking test fixture and found the dials were dead on at 100 yards and had extremely stout, but precise, detents. In operational testing, we found the illumination bright enough for use in midday sun, contrast in the shadows was great, and overall accuracy was well up to the challenge of the 350-yard targets we engaged.

On the downside, there’s a bit of pincushion distortion when looking around the eyepiece, but that’s the optical cost when you get as short as the Shorty.

APPEARANCE

The gun is a riot of gray and bronze, thanks to Q’s use of clear anodizing on all the metallic components. The 7075 receiver takes a gold-ish finish while the 6065 handguard is darker. You’re seeing the native colors of the metals. We’ve heard some people say clear anodizing is more durable than color anodizing. That’s not exactly true. Clear anodizing has the advantage of going on more uniformly than color anodizing, which means the clear finish is maybe overall more “durable” when you take into account the thinner spots that’ll occur on a color anodized finish.

Q HONEY BADGER IN THE WILD

The Honey Badger-SD is a quiet creature with a bite far worse than its bark. Running subs, the gun’s report is a bit louder than the “ting” of downrange steel. Dropping rounds on full-size torsos at 200 during up drills was ridiculously fun and easy; reaching out to 300 yards with the scope dialed up was just as much fun. We didn’t feel the need to dial the scope past 6x for hits on 12×12-inch steel, though we did go to 10x for our accuracy testing groups.

On the square range, the Honey Badger’s nose-to-charging-handle ergos forced us into a hunched-over shooting position. With the two-position stock open, it’s a little bit of a reach for the cheekpiece. On the flip side, running the gun in a tight space, say from a car, is entirely doable (with some intense shoulder shrugging), thanks to the very short length of pull when the stock is closed. The steep Magpul MOE-K complements the close-in shooting position ideal for working in tight spaces.



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