There was a time in the not so distant past where AR15 platform pistols were looked on with nothing short of disdain. They were the subject of ridicule and relegated to nothing more than a range toy. They were said to ineffective, useless, and complete nonsense. Those days are over now. Gentlemen the age of the braced AR15 platform pistol is upon us, and it’s here in a major way.
So what changed? Why has the trend began to swing to the complete opposite side of the pendulum? People could make a strong argument for the renewed interest of pistol pattern platforms being due to new chamberings in cool guy calibers; .50 Beowulf, .458 SOCOM, .450 bushmaster, and 300 blackout ring the immediate obvious bells. Others could make a case for the myriad of new stabilizing braces that are available to the market. I align with the latter and for good reason. Simply put a pistol brace on an AR15 platform makes it a completely different animal, and I have two contenders for the best braces available as of the time of this writing.
The two braces that I am going to outline for consideration today are going to be the Sig brace SBA3 and the Gearhead Works Tailhook Mod 2. As we move forward with the article, lets assume that everyone is aware of the white letter the BATFE published outlining their opinion on the definitions of use in regard to the occasional shouldering of the braces “from time to time, as necessary.” and look at both the intended use of the pistol braces and the “time to time” use. Up first in the Tailhook Mod 2.
The Tailhook Mod 2 is, in my personal opinion, the more sturdy of the two. I’m going to spare you the details of weight, positions available, and total extended length, as I am a firm believer in everyone’s ability to complete a google search, but I will tell you about the feel of the brace. When used strictly as a stabilizer, there is an arm that releases via a button on the side of the brace next to the length adjustment which bottoms out making a contoured 90 degree angle. This arm is then placed under the forearm of the person operating the pistol and used as a means to counterbalance the weight of the pistol. I have found this method of operation to be extremely stable and serviceable. When shouldered, the brace is extremely stable and very easy to adjust. I was easily able to find a length of pull that accommodated both a correct cheek weld and eye relief. I found the brace to be a smidgen on the heavy side, and with a shorter barrel and rail length up front the brace lent itself to a little rear heavy on the balance. When that weight placed on the shoulder however, it had the pleasant effect of making the pistol easy to swing and more importantly easy to stop when on target.
The SBA3 is different in some aspects and similar in others. The big differences are in the composition of the brace material, and the weight. The SBA3 is made of a sturdy rubber composition as opposed to the Tailhooks solid polymer. When used strictly as a brace, there is a strap that is intended to tighten around the forearm of the operator when the hand is placed in the brace. Being lighter weight, this brace has the opposite effect in regards to the balance point of the pistol. It tends to lend itself towards a forward balance point and without it shouldered, all the weight feels like its on the end of the barrel. On the other hand, when shouldered it feels strikingly similar to a traditional carbine stock. The biggest differences with the SBA3 and the Tailhook Mod2 is in the attachment of the brace to the actual pistol itself. The SBA3 uses a standard carbine buffer tube, and has another position of adjustment. I found this to be advantageous when finding the perfect fine adjustments to my eye relief and cheek weld. Another advantage comes if and when the owner of the pistol chooses to pony up the bacon to Uncle Sam and register their pistol as an SBR. This simply requires $200 and a wait of up to 9 months, and when your stamp is safely in place, affixing your choice of carbine stock. I find this to be an interesting capability, and something that I may consider doing in the future.
So which one is better? Quite simply put, I am going to take the easy answer and say, “Depends on what you want to use it for.” For me as it sits today, I have the Tailhook Mod 2 on a 300 blackout pistol with an 8.5” heavy contour barrel. I find it to be very capable at balancing the weight of the stocky barrel up front, and it makes for a very compact and well balanced pistol. Conversely, I have an SBA3 on an 11.5” 556 pistol. I find that paired with the thinner contour of the barrel, and the skeletonized forend the SBA3 is sufficiently heavy to balance the pistol while refraining from adding to the overall weight. In summary, both braces are different in their characteristics, but you’d be hard pressed to find a better alternative to complete your AR15 Pistol.