The Mantis Handguard and Bipod
One of the longest running arguments amongst the rifle community revolves around using a bipod. My earliest sniper schools would not allow them on the range, you fired unsupported or used a bag, had a box full of various designs. Training was often dominated by outdated military doctrine at the time, just not practical for police work, or most anything else for a sniper rifle. Over time those roles reversed, bipods are now standard, and bags are used to supplement support. When it comes to carbine schools, they remain a rarity, just to heavy. Most carbine schools spend a ton of time holding that rifle up, some started that way dropping them by the end of the day. Same for those schools where there is more patrolling than firing, weight is seldom you friend. Patrol rifles seldom see them, they are heavy, hard to stow, and honestly prone is rare. But what if you could have the best of both worlds. Usable hand guard that’s lightweight, strong with a bipod that’s built in. New, not really, Steyr has been doing it for years with their scout rifle, but BLK LBL and Desert Tech have joined forces to introduced their Mantis handguard/bipod, a new take using modern materials. BLK LBL started with the AR, and they now make one for the Desert Tech MDR, and it is admittedly pretty slick.
Elephant in the room
Following the social media traffic when this was introduced the first thing that came up was price, the Mantis is $499.00 retail. Sorry, but if that seems high, well you need to get out more, it’s not even close, in fact it is kind of a bargain. Top tier aluminum handguards for an AR reach $300 with ease, hard to find real quality these days for much less than $200 – $250, even “pre-bandemic”. Many bipods with the same features will cost just as much and can double that. I use two bipods for most carbine use, a Harris with a LMT mount, and an Atlas CAL. Retail on the Atlas is $300, the LMT is $359, a couple used for my precision rifles are more. So, is it cheap, nope, quality never is, and in this case it is incredibly useful and you get it all without the weight, clamps and appendage hanging off your carbine.
Testing was completed using my MDR and a Desert Tech 20” 6.5 Creedmoor barrel. It mounts just like the factory models, but it is noticeably more solid with less flex. FDE was not out yet, so the colors were different, but it looked pretty solid. These days most want a handguard to reach the muzzle. While it does that with the 16.5” barrel, the 20” extends a few inches, not at all uncommon on combat-oriented rifles. It seems a bit long suppressed, but with a brake or flashider it is a nice look. Leupolds LCO / D-EVO optic is perfect for this rifle and the way its used. Plenty of optic for a fighting carbine, smaller footprint, fits in a pack nicely, and works with any caliber it will see.
After confirming zero it was tested as a simple hand-guard, lots to like here. The Bipod is tucked up nicely with nothing to poke or stick you. Most would not even notice it was there, and it is light weight, really light weight given what it is. Lighter than the standard hand guard and a Harris Bipod by just under 3 ounces, the difference over just the hand-guard was barely noticeable during use. Heat it up and you may notice it’s aluminum, on the other hand it won’t melt either. Nor did it shoot loose or twist or torque when hot. It worked well on barricades, the bench, bumper of my truck, better in most instances than the factory model and just felt more solid. MDR owners have been clamoring for an aluminum hand guard since it was introduced and this fits the bill nicely, the bipod is a bonus.
With some practice it was pretty quick dropping to prone and extending the bipod on the way down. Not as fast as some but pretty quick, it does not bounce and no annoying paracord to snag on everything. After a few runs I could release them at the same time and hit the ground pretty quick, setting them backup was a one leg at a time affair and just about like running any other.
Legs are aluminum and carbon fiber, locked in place solidly and extended pretty easily. Once extended they were pretty solid, especially given how light they are. Digging into the dirt, no issue. For those that “set” their bi-pods the legs stayed put and provided a solid backstop for the pressure. Shooting on one leg canting the rifle was as steady as any other bipod. As a bull pup it was easy to reach forward and adjust for height, and the cant lock is at the front of the hand guard and easily reached with either hand. It was also useful on uneven surfaces, with a center cant there is no “flopping” either, it mostly rotates around the barrel. Playing with the legs it was possible to get very solid on uneven surfaces and get the rifle level when needed.
Maybe the best part, especially for those of us that seldom use a bipod on a carbine was how clean things are when folded. Much easier to get in and out of a bag or work in tight spaces, one of the strongest parts of this system. Spend any time in prone moving and this will have some strong appeal. Using a bipod in prone in general is great, unless you are crawling then it is just in the way. No need to take it on and off based on terrain, and it’s there when needed.
On the other hand, heat the rifle up with the legs down and things can get warm. In most cases if you move from prone with the bipod extended you just move. Move out or just up to a different position and keep firing and that open space will get warm. Promotes heat dissipation for sure, but if that is something you do with any frequency gloves are a must, especially if suppressed.
I started out a bit skeptical and by the end of testing was pretty impressed. This MDR generally uses the Reflex hand guard and an old OSS Gen five OTB suppressor no matter the caliber. If that were to change and I moved back to the X2DevGroup VF-18 (or other muzzle device) the Mantis would be choice one. It was light, versatile, strong, and while only mounted for a couple days it was tough to give it back. Once it arrives in FDE there just may be one in my future.