Yankee Hill Machine’s Specter Model 57 XL is a testament to quality American gun design. Doug Howlett reviews the feature-packed AR-15.
Florence, Massachusetts, gunmaker YHM has been around almost as long as the AR itself, having been founded in the 1960s. The company primarily originally just made parts and accessories before migrating to include suppressors and eventually fully manufactured rifles.
Most recently, in a late 2014 product roll-out, YHM announced the addition of a billet upper, billet lower and handguard all Cerakoted in an industry standard burnt bronze color that appears anything but standard.
YHM machines the lower and upper itself using 7075-T6 aluminum billet, which allows it to build the gun to exacting tolerances that allow for better fit when assembled and a seamless look once Cerakoted. Billet also tends to offer more durability than a cast lower and upper, though it also tends to cost a little more. It’s definitely considered the most aesthetic of the three manufacturing processes, the third one being forged.
Additional features of this rifle include a 16-inch 4140 steel barrel, heat treated to increase its hardness and improve durability, and then ball cut fluted for reduced weight, improved rigidity and improved cooling.
The end is threaded to accommodate muzzle accessories such as a suppressor if you so desire, but comes with YHM’s uniquely cool looking Slant compensator/muzzle brake. The front angle of the brake matches that of the front end of the Rifle Length SLR-Slant handguard.
A top integrated Picatinny rail runs the full length of the handguard and upper with partial rails mounted at the 3, 6 and 9 o’clock positions on the front of the handguard. The rails allow for the attachment of a myriad of lights, lasers and sling attachments and at no more than 4 inches on the sides and 4.5 on the bottom, leave ample space for a comfortable grip.
The exterior of the magwell boasts finger flared grooves that add both visual appeal and to a lesser extent, another grip point, and is yet another feature made possible by the CNC-machined billet.
The slightly oversized opening to the magwell flares outward to aid rapid magazine changes. Also oversized are the extended take down pins for quick, easy and tool-free takedown, as well as the Tactical Charging Handle Latch.
A rubberized Magpul MOE grip rounds out the functionality of this rifle along with the adjustable Magpul CTR buttstock, which provides for 4 inches of adjustment. The rifle comes out of the box with a YHM Q.D.S. Hooded front sight and YHM Q.D.S. rear sight, both made from aircraft-grade aluminum. Both flip-up easily with the single touch of a side button. The XL model is slightly longer, about 2 inches overall than YHM’s standard length Model 57.
I put the Specter XL through the paces on multiple occasions with two serious testing sessions carried out at C2 Shooting Center in Virginia Beach, Va.
My first session involved shorter 25- and 50-yard shooting, at first with the flip-up sights, more to get the gun dirty and see how it cycled after becoming hot.
We pumped a couple hundred rounds of 5.56 from HPR Ammunition, Winchester and Federal and every round fed and fired without a hiccup.
The flip-up sights were on target out of the box, but this rifle was destined for a new Aimpoint Carbine Optic or ACO, along with an 3xMag magnifier and TwistMount for rapid attachment and detachment. With some help from a good friend, Chris Castle, we had the optics mounted in minutes and the rifle sighted and dialed in with less than seven shots.
With a solid rest we were quickly knocking out quarter-sized groups. Recoil was negligible courtesy of the light-kicking caliber and the compensator/muzzle brake.
At my second session, I tested four loads in the Specter XL: Winchester white box 5.56mm 55-grain FMJ, HPR .223 Rem. 55-grain FMJ, Remington UMC .223 Rem. 55-grain MC (metal case) and Federal Premium .223 Rem. 55-grain Nosler Ballistic Tips. Shooting five-shot groups, the HPR performed ridiculously well, giving me one ragged group of touching shots except for one that strayed less than a quarter inch to the left.
I think had I remembered to grab the Win3Gun or one of the 5.56 Winchester varmint loads, things would’ve been quite different on the paper. And again, as the HPR suggested, this gun is more than capable of going up against any other production—and many custom—models offered accuracy-wise. What’s better, for the aesthetics among us, this gun actually looks as good as it shoots.
Yankee Hill Machine Model-57 Burnt Bronze Specter XL
Caliber: 5.56 tested (also available in 300 BLK & 6.8 SPC II)
Action Type: Semi-auto
Receiver: YHM Billet 7075-T6 Aluminum Lower and Flat Top Upper
with Cerakoted Burnt Bronze finish
Barrel: 16-in. 4140 steel barrel with exclusive ball cut fluting, threaded and outfitted with a YHM Slant compensator/muzzle brake v
Magazine: 2 30-round Magpul Gen 2 PMAGs
Trigger: Drop-in 2-stage upgraded trigger
Sights: YHM Q.D.S. hooded front sight and YHM Q.D.S. flip-up rear sight
Stock: Adjustable Magpul CTR Buttstock, Magpul MOE Grip
and YHM rifle-length SLR-Slant forend in cerakoted burnt bronze
Weight: 7.76 lbs.
Overall Length: 33.5 in. (37.5 fully extended)
Accessories: Hard plastic gun case, 2 30-round mags
This AR-15 review appeared in the May 2015 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.