CA Legal “Featureless” AR-15 Necessity is the mother of Invention
After a recent relocation back to CA for a career opportunity, I had to evaluate what I would do with my collection of AR-15’s that I’ve built over the years. What many people don’t know outside of California, is that, YES you can buy and own AR-15’s (for now), but there are a few very specific, though ridiculous laws, governing what you can own and how it may be configured. You basically have two options.
The first option is to install a “bullet button” or similar product, which is a device that locks the magazine, making it unable to be dropped freely without the use of a special tool (by law it cannot be your finger). This gets around the legal definition of a “ fixed magazine” that allows you to have what the gun community in CA has deemed “evil features” because of poor wording by CA Lawmakers. Those evil features are: a pistol grip, an adjustable stock, or a forward vertical grip. They were deemed to be features that make the AR easier to control and thus injure other people. I won’t get into the viability of those laws or how they don’t accomplish anything, but if you’re on this website, then you understand already. I understand your initial response, which is confusion. Don’t think about it too long…it doesn’t actually make sense.
The second option, which I prefer, is going with what is referred to as a “Featureless” AR . This means that you don’t have a pistol grip, an adjustable stock, or forward vertical grip. This allows you to operate your AR without a bullet button and drop your magazines freely with your finger. In the past, the common way of doing this was to get a grip that you couldn’t wrap your thumb around, an A2 style fixed stock, and just not putting a FVG on your handguard. Those earlier featureless options did work, but left a lot to be desired in terms of ergonomics, aesthetics and shootability. The solution for the grip would normally consist of a simple kydex wrap that had a large flat portion behind the grip. This prevented the thumb from going around and rendered the grip a “ non-pistol grip”. Suffice to say these left much to be desired.
Slightly later on, some ingenious CA individuals came up with the idea of incorporating the grip into the stock system and started making stock/grip combinations that were more favorable for control and manipulation of the gun. However they were all lacking in aesthetics, features, and tended to sweep the hand too far back to utilize the trigger on the AR effectively.
This brings us to the two offerings I’ll be reviewing in this article. I was very fortunate to be able to obtain a Hera Arms CQR stock that is modified to work for a featureless build. The Hera is a very cool looking futuristic stock combo that most might not have seen yet. Though made by a company in Germany, the Hera was designed by a former video game designer who had a major hand in the design of the game Overwatch. Looking at the stock’s design this fact is evident.
I was also able to get my hands on a brand new offering from Survivor Systems; The Option Zero. This stock is very well made and like the Hera, is a way to incorporate the grip and stock into one piece and build a featureless AR. Some bonuses to this stock/grip are the ergonomics, extra mag storage, sopmod style cheekpiece and secure feel.
Lets get a little more in depth with the Hera stock. It’s a slip on stock and grip that works with any commercial 5 position buffer tube. The stock slips over and installs similarly to an A2 stock, but with the added benefit of making your rifle CA laws compliant and featureless. One smart move that Hera did was to include a separate rubber sheath for their safety selector detent spring. This made installation very easy, and hasn’t shown any indication of coming loose. Once you slide the stock into place you replace the rubber spring sheath into the grip area and it engages the safety selector, nice and easy.
My first impression when installing the Hera was that it looked COOL! Yup, its aesthetics are outstanding. It has a very futuristic look, and if you’ve played the game Overwatch, it may remind you of guns you’ve used in the game. The second thing that struck me was the weight, or really, the lack thereof. It is LIGHT. My lightweight build using the Hera came in right around 5 lbs (without an optic). Not much more than my usual setup with a Mission First Tactical Minimalist stock and Ergo grip.
Getting into the Hera’s ergonomics. It’s not a particularly long stock, definitely much shorter than an A2 (it does have stock spacers to adjust LOP). To me this stock would make a great SBR (if available in your state), or CQB gun. It was easy to get it nice and tight into my shoulder and manipulate the rifle in areas where you don’t have a lot of room to move. The grip is comfortable, though a bit more swept back than I’d prefer. Not quite as dramatic as some of the previous available options for featureless builds, but it does sweep the hand back at an angle that an AR wasn’t originally designed for. The installed plate that closes up the thumb hole (making it CA compliant) doesn’t allow much of your palm to get behind the grip, so most of your stability comes from your thumb riding on the safety, and the fingers you have wrapped mostly around the grip itself. This is one area the Hera isn’t the preferred option. With the Survivor Systems, there is much more purchase provided by the grip, a big advantage in terms of control during rifle manipulation.
The Hera is well constructed with solid polymer, no loose or rattling parts, and a metal insert that serves as a quick detach sling mount. The added metal sling attachment point near the rear of the stock is also well made and a great addition, opening up the options as to how you can sling your rifle with the Hera installed.
I was able to shoot my rifle with the Hera stock nearly as quickly as any rifle with a pistol grip and just as accurately. Mag reloading is similar to a pistol grip rifle, but not quite as easy. It requires bracing the rifle against your arm as you don’t have the ability to wrap your thumb around the grip for stabilization. I was able to adapt to that style quickly, without much loss of time during a reload. Though reloading on the move will require more concentration so as not to lose control of the gun.
One negative to the Hera is the comb area, or I should say lack of a comb area. The part of the stock where you’d normally get your cheek weld is fairly narrow and completely rounded. Aesthetically it’s pleasing, but in terms of providing a surface for repeating your cheek weld and having ample contact surface, the Hera does not excel.
The offering from Survivor Systems is up next. Overall, I prefer this system to the Hera for a couple of reasons. The Option Zero installs very easily as well, over any commercial 6 position buffer tube. It installs in 2 separate parts. One being just a grip (which can stay on if you want to switch to an adjustable stock when not in CA). The grip installs like any other pistol grip you’re used to. The stock then slides on and mates with the bottom of the grip solidly. It was very easy to install. It comes with stock spacers to adjust LOP (length of pull), quick detach sling point, sling loop, and an extra compartment for a magazine, complete with standard mag release. This area almost makes it look like a bullpup rifle, but really only affords you some extra mag storage. For CA compliant rifles it’s a way to keep a mag on your gun at all times, even when it’s not technically loaded.
Benefits to the Option Zero are obvious when you get it in hand. It aligns your shooting hand better with the trigger than the Hera. The recess behind the grip allows for better purchase and better control of the gun. You can really get your palm behind the back part of the grip, which stabilizes the gun really well. The stock itself has a SOPMOD feel and allows for more consistent and quicker cheek weld than the Hera. The Option Zero felt almost like a normal pistol grip stock, more so than any other offering previous to it. The grip angle and texturing are top notch. The angle, as I mentioned before, really gets your hand in the correct position to manipulate the trigger quickly and the gun as a whole. The polymer is tough and doesn’t feel cheap. It’s a bit heavier than the Hera, but in my opinion, the options are worth the weight. It’s very easy to do reloads with this system as the purchase their grip panel allows for equates to more control when manipulating.
One huge addition and benefit to the Survivor Systems stock is their proprietary safety selector. It’s a 45 degree throw switch, with a BIG thumb pad. This pad allows you to rid it almost like a 1911 and that’s where a lot of the control comes from. It gives your thumb a surface to push against to replace being wrapped around the grip. Without that surface for your thumb, you lose a lot of control over the gun under recoil. Competition shooters will understand the concept by comparing it to the Go Gas pedal or similar thumb ramp. It really gives the gun something to recoil against. With the Survivor Systems safety, it feels almost like a normal pistol grip AR…almost. If you’re a bolt gun shooter, and utilize the thumb over grip, this too will feel very familiar.
Upon testing, I found that I could shoot the Option Zero as fast as my pistol grip gun, and reload mags nearly as fast. I still needed to tuck the stock into my armpit while reloading to keep a solid grip on the gun with one hand. It only added a small amount of time. With the stock and safety together, you’re good to go on 3-Gun, tactical shooting, precision, or just plinking, with very little being given up to maintain featureless compliance.
Overall, the Hera and the Option Zero are leaps and bounds ahead of the existing offerings. Regardless of which one you prefer, I recommend you check out the Survivor Systems safety selector, as it will complement any featureless build. You can’t go wrong with either stock,but, I have to give the nod to the Option Zero from Survivor Systems as having the best combination of features, quality and ergonomics.