These days, there’s such a thriving market for AR-15 rifles, more and more entrepreneurs are enticed to make their foray into the market. Nonetheless, plenty of know-how and business acumen are still necessary prerequisites to survive in the business. One new company that has begun manufacturing AR-15 rifles is Head Down Products (HDP), of Powder Springs, Georgia. With many years of experience in the firearms industry, Director of Operations David Hunsucker saw a need for cost-effective, high-quality AR-15 rifles and excellent customer service.
Head Down began production in early 2009 with its mission being to fulfill these goals. What sets HDP apart from the plethora of other AR-15 manufacturers is the fact that they produce billet rifles and parts, while most are machined from forgings. Machining the receivers and parts from solid billet ensures that tight tolerances are maintained and parts are turned out consistently each and every time. Milling receivers from billet similarly results in tighter tolerances and stronger, more precise components.
I recently had the opportunity to test one of Head Down’s rifles—the XPR15 EBR (Enhanced Battle Rifle). It arrived in a padded polymer hard case with an owner’s manual, warranty card and one 30-round magazine. What immediately seemed a bit different about the EBR was the fact that the receivers are machined with unique contours; less rounded, and more angular and geometrical in shape than the standard AR-15 blueprint. As the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words, and the accompanying photos demonstrate just how Head Down receivers depart from the standard.
To be more specific about the EBR’s receivers, the upper and lower are machined from 6061 aluminum alloy billet in a flattop configuration with an oversized, hinged Magpul MOE triggerguard and flared magazine well, and are joined by captured crosspins. The upper receiver is cut to allow the use of a Magpul BAD lever; finish is type III hardcoat anodizing. Bolts and carriers are mil-spec, and milled from carpenter 158 steel, magnetic particle-tested and shot-peened with a properly staked gas key. An aesthetic touch is the Head Down negative image skull logo etched into the carrier, visible through the ejection port. Another such logo can be seen on top of the receiver, just aft of the Picatinny rail.
The EBR’s 16-inch barrel is cold-hammer forged from 4150 ordnance-grade steel and chrome lined with a 1-in-7-inch twist rate. The chamber will handle 5.56mm pressures. A Micor Industries flash hider is attached. The Micor is matched to the rifle’s rate of twist, and Micor makes the claim that it’s scientifically designed to reduce flash signature and muzzle climb. The carbine-length gas system with a low-profile gas block makes for a cooler-running, longer-lasting weapon. A 12-inch Head Down MC12 multi-caliber rail system is a free-float quad-Picatinny rail built for both a 5.56mm and .308 upper (yup, a .308 is in the works) and comes supplied with three soft rubber ladders for comfort. An entire ArmaLite lower parts kit (i.e. pins, single stage trigger and hammer, detents etc.) make up the internals.
The pistol grip is a Magpul MOE unit from reinforced, high-impact polymer, with crackle texture on the sides and deep horizontal grooves on front- and backstrap, with a curved beavertail that fills the grip-to-receiver junction for improved comfort and protection of the web of the hand. A storage compartment may also be accessed from the bottom of the grip.
Buttstock is Magpul’s CTR (Compact/Type Restricted) 5-position buttstock, which incorporates a locking mechanism that friction-locks the stock to the buffer tube for zero movement. The CTR is made from high-impact composite material. Front and rear sights are also from Magpul, specifically their MBUS (Magpul Back-Up Sight) color injection-molded polymer sights. The front sight features an elevation-adjustable front post, while the rear is a dual-aperture peep adjustable for windage via a drum on the right side.
Fit and finish overall was excellent. We could only manage a small amount of wobble between the upper and lower receivers.
The EBR looked like a hot rod, but a session at the range was in order to find out for sure. For directing fire, we turned to Nikon’s M-223 3-12x42SF Matte Rapid Action Turret Nikoplex Riflescope, designed specifically for the AR-15 and, more specifically, the 55-grain .223/5.56mm round. With a one-piece main body tube, this variant of the M-223 has a side focus parallax adjustment and Rapid Action Turret technology, which allows the shooter to adjust elevation from 100 to 600 yards with one revolution.
Nitrogen-filled and O-ring sealed, the scope is waterproof, fog-proof and shock-proof. Nikon has engineered the entire optical system to provide the shooter with a bright, sharp, flat sight picture and light transmission up to its theoretical maximum of 95%. A large ocular lens delivers a bright, high-resolution sight picture with 4-time zoom range and four inches of constant, non-critical eye relief. Magnification reference numbers are viewable from the shooter’s position.
The day I set out for the range, I enjoyed clear skies and 85-degree temperatures, but unfortunately, I was plagued by 15 mph wind gusts. I set up at 100 yards, and benched the rifle atop a sandbag, and took aim at Dirty Bird targets from Birchwood Casey. Playing a game of shooting between wind gusts, I was able to achieve impressive accuracy. In fact, the largest group of the day was only 1.19 inches from Federal’s Tactical 43-grain Lite Open Tip Match. CorBon’s 62-grain DPX tightened the pattern up to an even inch, which was bested by DoubleTap’s 69-grain HP BTM at 0.94 of an inch. Black Hills’ 55-grain FMJ crowded into just 0.88 of an inch, and the best group of the day was turned in by Winchester’s 55-grain FMJ at 0.69 of an inch. The Head Down ran smoothly and flawlessly throughout our tests, with no issues in feeding or cycling or any other functioning.
All of the XPR’s controls were standard AR, so there were no surprises there. The Magpul CTR buttstock was no stranger to us — I’d used it before on a number of AR-15s and have always found it to feel solid on the shoulder, and absent the clunking and rattling encountered with some other telescoping stocks from other makers. The magazine well opening was cut a bit larger than usual, which facilitated smooth loading.
The trigger was a joy to work, and I love a good trigger. The smooth-faced unit had about a 0.6 of an inch of take-up before resistance was felt, then about another 0.6 of an inch of smooth travel before breaking crisply. I would have guessed the trigger break to be around 3.5 pounds, and was quite surprised to learn that it actually measured 5.25 pounds. The oversized Magpul MOE triggerguard would certainly facilitate gloved shooting.
Rubber ladders for handguard rails weren’t invented by Head Down, but it was a thoughtful addition to the rifle—and sometimes it’s the details that make the difference. If you’ve ever shot a rifle with quad rails extensively without them, you’ll appreciate the amount of comfort that they add for the shooter.
This was the first I’d heard of Head Down, and certainly the first time I’d handled one. The rifle made a good first showing, with quality materials and construction, fit and finish, flawless functioning and a high degree of accurate fire on target. The EBR comes with a number of custom accessories from Magpul, and is ready to be further accessorized via its quad rail handguards and flattop upper. The back-up iron sights allow the rifle to be ready to fire out of the case, or to co-witness with any number of reflex-type scopes, and a great trigger makes the rifle easy to shoot accurately.
There’s not much more to say… the EBR would be well suited to both the military troop or police officer… any shooter or operator would be well-equipped with this rifle, and it could serve as the base for even further building.