The pistol brace versus the SBR – it’s 2019 and the game has changed again. We’ve covered the AR pistol vs. SBR evolution and those are some of our most read stories. While I love braced AR pistols and you’ll see more here soon, I think there’s a new pinnacle, one that has me thinking about selling my only SBR. It’s the braced Bushmaster ACR Pistol that gives up pretty much nothing compared to the ACR SBR.
Let’s look at how I got here. You’ll probably find it entertaining and possibly educational. We’ll start at the beginning. In 2014 I reversed course with From Hater to Evangelist: My AR-15 Pistol Saga of Eating Crow. My first pistol brace was the original SigTac and using it won me over.
A year and a half later we saw the pistol brace concept pick up momentum, publishing 2016 Update: SBR vs. Pistol with Arm Brace – It’s not Just About AR Pistols Anymore. The Shockwave Blade had entered the market and was winning over more and more people. I shot with a braced Sig MPX pistol and was impressed. What a concept, a civilian legal 9mm in a subgun configuration that didn’t use a ridiculously long 16 inch barrel or require a $200 tax stamp and NFA handcuffs!
Ten more months later and Gear Head Works launched their Mod 1 Tailhook Brace. I was so impressed I did a video on it: Tailhook Pistol Brace – Gear Head Works Changes the Pistol vs. SBR Game in 2017. In that story there’s a picture of the Tailhook Mod 1 mounted to an adapter on a CZ that looks remarkably similar to a folding stock. This foreshadowed what was to come.
Four months later in 2017 the ATF clarified how pistol braces can be used so we published ATF Changes Mind Again – All Pistol Braces Can Come Out of the Closet! Essentially they said, “Sure, your braced pistol can more or less come out of the closet and identify as an SBR,” even though it’s not one. This is binary folks, so no you still can’t put that forward vertical grip on it.
In 2018 pistol braces were mainstream and major AR manufacturers were building pistols remarkably similar to what some of us had built in the few years prior. When CMMG launched theirs we produced the video Banshee vs. Custom Build? Which 300BLK AR Pistol Would You Pick? Video! But in my opinion, the best was still to come.
Since 2014 I’ve been just about all in on the braces, but lust lingered for an SBR. Not just any SBR, however. I wanted a Bushmaster ACR SBR. The ACR is something I first handled years ago when it and the FN SCAR were competing. A friend bought one of each and we both felt like the ACR had the edge. In truth, though, compared to an AR-15 the ACR is heavy. Walking miles and miles hunting hogs at night is one of my favorite things to do and heavy gets old after a few hours.
The solution? Easy, a shorter barrel! Not just for the weight savings, but for the overall maneuverability. And since I believe in suppressing pretty much everything, shorter barrels are a bigger deal. I really appreciate the ACR manual of arms so when I had a chance to score an factory SBR I jumped on it.
Oh yes, it was in fact love at first site. Not only do I appreciate how the gun works, I love the folding stock with its adjustable cheek piece, the charging handle position, the trigger… Just kidding about the trigger. The ACR is awesome, it’s just that SBRs are a bit of pain. Cut the barrel short of sixteen inches and you basically need permission from the Feds to take it across state lines. You pay a $200 tax for the privilege of owning the gun. Last but not least you’ll have to wait months for all that to get approved and then take your gun home. Who knows what local restrictions you might or might not face? It’s craziness, and that’s the nicest thing I can say about it. In spite of the negatives and in love with the positives, I put a Franklin Binary trigger in the ACR SBR and took it hog hunting.
Then Bushmaster released the ACR as pistol with a 10.5” 5.56 barrel. The ACR needs no buffer tube, so essentially they just deleted the SBR stock and just like that (plus whatever it looks like for manufacturers to release an ATF blessed product) you have a pistol. Of course I had to have one. Then I connected the dots!
I’d been following Dan Haga Designs on Instagram for a while (@danhagadesigns). He’s been creating mods to mount the awesome ACR stock to a variety of guns like the HK G36, CZ Scorpion, B&T APC, Bren 805… Customers started asking if he could modify an ACR buttstock into a pistol brace. His answer: the Tailhook Adapter for ACR™ stock. Yes, that’s right, you keep all the versatility and adjustability of the ACR stock but it’s now a pistol brace! Sign me up! Except for one thing. Dan confirms that taking the stock apart and reassembling as a brace can be frustrating so he offers a free service to do it for you. That’s a no brainer. No tools and two large pins later the brace is installed on the pistol!
It was either Dana at Templar Precision (Master ACR Guru, for real) or Paul at Gear Head Works who introduced me to Dan Haga. Dan graciously modified a spare ACR stock we sent over, added the Tailhook brace and sent it back with the adapter to mount it to the ACR pistol. Take a look at the pics in this story and you’ll see how well made these are. Moreover, like ACR barrel changes, adding the brace is a piece of cake, no tools required!
The end result is everything I’d hoped for. Side by side, braced ACR pistol vs. SBR you’ll be hard pressed to see any difference in function and usability. If anything, you get the extra function of the brace while giving up nothing but a rubber butt pad. The adapter plus the Gear Head Works Tailhook Mod 1 plus the ACR stock from Dan Haga Designs will total $420. Dan’s shop is growing but small so we can’t yet get mass produced pricing. Roughly speaking, that’s twice what you’d pay for an NFA SBR tax stamp but nets you a pistol with none of the NFA restrictions, wait times, etc. It’s real money, but if you’re thinking of a braced pistol, at the moment I think this is the top of the food chain.
Final thoughts? Here at the beginning of 2019 in the debate between pistol vs. SBR merits, the pistol is winning by a landslide. I’m sure there will be other braces that come along keeping the innovation alive, but for now… Well, other than some hesitation on weight, I’d put the ACR version of the Gear Head Works Tailhook brace on every pistol configuration I could. In fact, I’ve reached out to my contacts at Bushmaster encouraging them to sell the pistol set up in this configuration. Only time will tell if that happens. Now, you tell me in the comments below what you think!