The future of pistol braces has arrived. Gear Head Works (GHW) Tailhook™ is a revolutionary new ATF-approved pistol brace that further blurs the distinction between pistol and rifle. It’s one of the most practical products to hit the firearms marketplace in a long time.
AR-15-type pistols were once considered little more than range toys. The advent of the pistol brace changed all that. Originally developed to help an injured veteran shoot, pistol braces took the market by storm and have been adapted to a variety of large pistols.
CLEARING UP THE CONFUSION
There has been considerable confusion surrounding the lawful use of pistol braces. In its Open Letter on the Redesign of ‘Stabilizing Braces’ issued 16 January 2015, the ATF took the position that, while affixing a stabilizing brace to a large handgun or pistol was perfectly legal, employing it as a shoulder stock with a firearm with a barrel less than 16 inches would constitute a redesign, resulting in the making of an unregistered National Firearms Act (NFA) firearm.
In response to a query by the outside council to SB Tactical, ATF clarified its position in a new letter dated 22 March 2017. In the letter, ATF stated, “To the extent that the January Open Letter implied or has been construed that the incidental, sporadic or situational ‘use’ of an arm-brace (in its original approved configuration) equipped firearm from a firing position at or near the shoulder was sufficient to constitute a ‘redesign,’ such interpretations are incorrect and not consistent with ATF’s interpretation of the statute or the manner in which it historically has been enforced.” GHW has confirmation from the ATF that this applies to all ATF-approved pistol braces, not just those from SB Tactical.
TO BRACE OR NOT TO BRACE
Why equip a large handgun with a pistol brace in the first place? Why not go the SBR route? Let’s look at some benefits of a pistol brace.
Equipping a pistol with a brace provides you with all the advantages of a handgun plus the greater stability of a third point of contact for more accuracy, better control, and an overall improved shooting experience.
Since a pistol fitted with a brace is still classified as a handgun, there is no NFA paperwork, taxes, or wait times. You can purchase and sell it just like any handgun. It can be transported across state lines without notifying ATF. And you can carry your brace-equipped pistol anywhere and in any manner that you can legally carry a handgun, subject to state and local laws.
Of course, a brace isn’t the only non-NFA option for a large pistol. Another effective option is to employ a single-point sling with the sling assist method for pistol stabilization. This method originated with protective details employing the HK MP5K submachine gun, and it works quite well.
And with an AR pistol, you also can simply “cheek” the buffer tube. Not ideal, but it does provide a third point of contact for stability. In conjunction with a buffer-tube cover, it’s reasonably comfortable.
GEAR HEAD WORKS TAILHOOK PISTOL BRACE
Introduced at the 2017 SHOT Show, the GHW Tailhook pistol brace is a real game changer in the world of pistol braces. It has a unique combination of features that differentiate it from other pistol braces on the market.
Two models of Tailhook are presently available.
The Tailhook MOD 1 is the compact aluminum version that is made to directly fit a round pistol receiver extension (buffer tube), but can be adapted to many different platforms with the use of adapters.
The Tailhook MOD 2 is the polymer telescoping model. The MOD 2 is the only five-position ATF-approved collapsible brace on the market. All GHW products are made in the USA.
What sets the Tailhook apart from the rest of the pistol brace pack? The answer is its unique patented design. It’s as ingenious as it is simple.
Viewed from the rear, the Tailhook brace is a teardrop-shaped ellipse with a fold-out arm hinged at the bottom of the brace and latched by a push-button release latch. The Tailhook offers true one-handed operation. There are no straps to deal with, making it quick to deploy.
To deploy the brace, simply depress the recessed release button and pull the hinged arm down to form a shelf, which counterbalances the muzzle weight of the pistol and, in conjunction with the other arm, provides both vertical and horizontal stability.
TAILHOOK MOD 1
GHW provided me with the MOD 1 for evaluation. At less than one inch thick and weighing only 4.5 ounces, the MOD 1 is the lightest and most compact pistol brace on the market. It’s also the simplest Tailhook.
The MOD 1 is machined from 6061-T6 precipitation-hardened billet aluminum alloy and milspec MIL-A-8625 Type III hard-anodized. The stationary side of the MOD 1 is equipped with a limited-rotation QD sling-swivel socket.
The MOD 1 clamps securely to any round pistol buffer tube or adapter spud with a 1.17- to 1.2-inch diameter. Just slip it on and tighten two socket-head screws with the included wrench. The clamp design eliminates the slipping and twisting that may occur with friction-fit braces.
The diameters of pistol buffer tubes aren’t standardized but vary greatly from manufacturer to manufacturer. GHW is compiling a list of tubes that the MOD 1 is compatible with. GHW recommended Damage Industries 1.190-inch outside diameter Pistol Buffer Tube to me as a “near perfect fit,” so that’s what I went with.
Also made in the USA, the Damage Industries pistol buffer tube is designed to use a standard-length carbine recoil spring and buffer and has an overall length of 7 3/8 inches. Machined from 6061 billet and hard-anodized to Mil-A-8625 Type III, the outside diameter of the tube was specifically turned to work with arm braces.
[Editor’s note: At press time, we were notified by Gear Head Works that they will be offering their own pistol buffer tubes (receiver extensions) specifically made for the Tailhook MOD 1.]
Although not ambidextrous, the MOD 1 can be set up for right- or left-hand use by simply installing the brace so it opens on the desired side.
The HK MP5K/SP5K adapter is already available commercially by combining the folding mechanism and hinge from either Atlantic Firearms or Ace stocks, a pistol tube, and a MOD 1.
TAILHOOK MOD 2
The MOD 2 is the telescoping model of the GHW Tailhook pistol brace. At the time of this writing, the MOD 2 had just become commercially available and was already sold out.
The MOD 2 is made of injection-molded fiberglass-reinforced nylon polymer for rigidity, light weight, strength, and comfort. It weighs only seven ounces. The MOD 2 employs the same type of fold-down arm as the MOD 1, albeit polymer. The MOD 2 is initially available in right-hand only.
The MOD 2 telescopes much like a typical AR-15 stock. GHW’s patented proprietary telescoping latch mechanism gives the user five locking positions, from 10.125 inches up to a 12.75-inch length-of-pull (LOP). This lets the user find the perfect “sweet spot” for balance.
The outsides of the MOD 2 are smooth for comfortable “cheeking.” A web-sling loop is on the stationary arm.
The MOD 2 comes with a castle nut, receiver end plate, and proprietary buffer tube, which is designed to prevent a rifle buttstock from being attached, key to ATF approval. Platform-specific adapters for the MOD 2 are in the works.
The MOD 1 is a solid product, very well engineered and obviously built to last. The compact form factor and clean lines of the MOD 1 aren’t only practical but look great as well.
I installed the MOD 1 on a custom 300 BLK STT-15 pistol built by San Tan Tactical, whose STT-15 Ambi Billet Receiver is one of the best AR receivers on the market. Installation of the MOD 1 on the pistol took less than a minute.
The MOD 1 is adjustable by sliding it along the tube and tightening the clamp in the desired position. Rearward positioning of the brace on the tube gave me the steadiest forearm support (it’s simple physics) and thus the greatest accuracy. This positioning also makes a leveraged gun take-away more difficult.
After installing the brace, I put the pistol in my Sneaky Bags SPYDER Covert Rifle Bag, along with a few boxes of Hornady® American Defense® 300 BLK ammo, some Magpul® PMAG® mags, and my range gear, and headed off to the range.
I found that the Tailhook works exceptionally well and is quite comfortable. It does an outstanding job of offsetting the muzzle weight of the pistol, resulting in less fatigue.
The Tailhook provides both vertical and horizontal stabilization, and therefore greater accuracy, yet allows more flexibility in arm positioning than a brace with a strap. It also aids in recoil management, so the shooter can get back on target more quickly.
It’s simpler and quicker to brace and unbrace than a strapped brace, which can be essential if used in a self-defense situation. You don’t want a firearm tied to your arm.
In conclusion, the GHW Tailhook is an outstanding piece of kit that offers unparalleled performance. The MOD 1 has a suggested retail price of $119.00. The MOD 2 retails for $199.99.
Eugene Nielsen’s background includes protective intelligence investigations and threat management, as well as red teaming security consulting. He has a BA degree from the University of California. He currently owns and operates an investigative and security consulting firm and is licensed in both California and Arizona.
GEAR HEAD WORKS
DAMAGE INDUSTRIES, LLC
SAN TAN TACTICAL