I used my first AR-platform rifle featuring a side-charging bolt handle in 2015. It took about 12 seconds for me to realize that the side charging handle was superior to the standard AR charging handle located at the rear and near the top of the receiver. The side-charger is much easier to use, the leverage being noticeably better when a shooter can use their index finger and thumb to draw back the bolt versus the two-finger approach on the standard AR, with the hand and forearm rather awkwardly coming back into the body.
I’m not sure why there are so few side-charging ARs available to shooters, relatively speaking. However, I am sure that Bear Creek Arsenal, Sanford, North Carolina, manufactures one of my new favorite models, the BC-15 5.56 NATO Right Side Charging Rifle.
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An AR By Any Other Name
Minus that charging handle protruding from the right side of the billet receiver, the BC-15 5.56 NATO was pretty much a standard AR-15. It featured a 16-inch, chrome-moly steel barrel, with a 1:8 twist rate, and a 15-inch MLOK handguard. When firing, the bolt worked from a carbine-length gas system complete with a buffer tube tucked back into the adjustable stock.
The barrel was tipped with a flash hider, the bolt carrier group was BCA’s own BCG, and the multi-caliber lower receiver was made of forged aluminum.
Shooting the NATO At 50 Yards
To test out the BC-15 5.56 NATO, I initially mounted a Mepro Tru-Vision red dot onto the rifle. Made by Meprolight, an Israeli manufacturer, the Tru-Vision featured a 2-MOA LED red-dot reticle with 12-day and 4-night brightness settings, plus an automatic brightness-control system that enabled good visibility of that red dot even when lighting conditions change.
At the mid-level brightness setting, Meprolight rated the unit and its single CR123 battery as able to be on continuous “ON” use for two years. The Tru-Vison went onto the BC-15 easily enough thanks to the quick-release Picatinny rail mount that came standard with the optic.
At my outdoor range, I zeroed the rifle and optic at 50 yards with some random 223 Rem. rounds I had on hand. Then, I switched over the Winchester’s now-defunct Razorback XT hunting round loaded with a 64-grain lead-free bullet—which, by the way, was a great round for taking on wild hogs, as the name implied.
At 50 yards and shooting from a rest, my groups started off large and got smaller. My first five shots hit at 3.30 inches; my next two groups came in at 2.6 inches and 2.0 inches, respectively. I only had four rounds of the Razorback left in the box (sadly, my last box), and those four bullets drilled in at 1.0 inch even with three of the shots nearly touching.
Longer Range Accuracy
For my longer-range testing, I switched out the Tru-Vision for the new Leupold Mark 5HD 2-10×30 rifle scope, clearly made for carbines like the BC-15. The scope featured Leupold’s Tactical Milling Reticle or TMR, the optic-maker’s redesign of the MIL reticle employing hash marks instead of dots. The elevation turret provided 30 MILs of adjustment in 0.1 MIL increments, and Leupold’s patented ZeroLock set screw ensured that the elevation dial wouldn’t shift.
Images seen through the Mark 5HD were sharp-edged, the colors were well-defined, and the controls were very precise.
The Federal 5.56 had the best showing, pegging two, five-shot groups at 1.1 inches and a four-shot cluster at just .80-inches.
My five-shot groups with the Fiocchi were in the 1.5- to 2.0-inch range, though I did make a three-shot group at .80-inches.
NATO Trigger & Magazines
My Lyman Electronic Trigger Pull Gauge put the BC-15’s trigger pull at 3 pounds, 3 ounces on average. The trigger appeared to be of the Mil-Spec variety, a little stiff and held up just slightly before engaging, but nothing terrible.
For my shooting, I used ETS Group magazines for the first time and they worked flawlessly. I used the ETS Black Nylon and Carbon Smoke magazines, both 30-rounders though I only loaded them to 20 rounds. They loaded easily and popped out of the BC-15’s magwell nicely. The ETS magazines were made from heat-, UV- and chemical-resistant materials and featured non-tilt followers and creep-resistant feed lips.
Given the ease of loading/unloading the rifle using the side-charging handle, the accuracy and the fact that I had zero functional problems in over two hundred rounds (without any cleaning, though I did lubricate the bolt before I started shooting), the BC-15 would be a solid and reliable option for anyone looking to add an AR-15 to their collection.
Factor in the BC-15’s suggested retail of less than $600? It’s an even better deal.
On its webpage, Bear Creek Arsenal also shows its side-charging AR-10 models chambered in 243 Win., 6.5 Creedmoor, and 308 Win, among other calibers. I really look forward to trying out these for future big game hunts.
Specifications: Bear Creek Arsenal BC-15 556 with Side Charging Handle
Caliber: 5.56 NATO
Operation: Semi-Auto, Carbine-Length Gas, Gen 2 Right Side Charging
Barrel: M4 Contour, 16”, 1:8 Twist
Barrel Material: 4150 Chrome Moly Vanadium Steel w/Parkerized Finish
Upper Receiver: Billeted Aluminum
Lower Receiver: Forged AR-15 Multicaliber
Feedramp: M4 Feedramp
Handguard: 15” MLOK
Trigger: Mil Spec
Length: 32.25” to 35.5”
Weight: 6.75 lbs.
MISC: BCA AR15 Bolt Carrier Group, Flash Hider