Bear Creek Arsenal has been turning out some quite unique and affordable hardware over the years, and they’ve been investing towards improvement. One of those improvements has been to add cold hammer forging (CHF) tooling as an option with their AR-15 barrel lineup. Bear Creek Arsenal was kind enough to send me two AR upper receivers equipped with a CHF barrels, so today we’ll take a look at the BCA BC-15 Side Charger Upper with a 20 inch CHF barrel chambered for 5.56 NATO.
Bear Creek Arsenal @ TFB:
BCA BC-15 SIDE CHARGER 20” CHF UPPER REVIEW
You may have seen the TFB review by Austin R. in which he tested the .300 Win Mag Side Charging complete rifle from Bear Creek Arsenal. That model is scaled up from the standard AR-15 that we’re taking a look at today but features the same basic design. The bolt carrier group is only functionally different from a standard AR BCG in that it is charged by a handle on the right side of the carrier, rather than having a separate piece riding above the bolt carrier. The receiver is also milled to allow the reciprocating handle to travel behind the ejection port. This layout precludes any need for a forward assist assembly since, in essence, the charging handle is also the forward assist, which further simplifies the number of parts needed. I’ll also note that with a side charger AR or a standard AR, if you need to push the bolt carrier into battery, you might want to investigate why it didn’t do it on its own for safety’s sake. I’ll further note that I didn’t have any such issues with Bear Creek Arsenal’s Side Charger.
The matter of whether to Side Charge or stick with the traditional AR charging handle is purely the shooter’s preference, but I’ve come to love the Side Charge AR-15 design. No one asked me to say that, nor was I paid to say it. As someone that grew up drooling over milsurps and classy old guns, I love the throwback simplicity of engaging the bolt carrier directly. Good examples of this would be the SKS, AKM, Remington Model 8, the hunting version of the Browning BAR, FN49 and MAS 49/56, the Browning A5 and every other semi-auto shotgun that came after it. I’m not sure how to word this, but Side Charger AR upper receivers are untraditionally traditional, being a departure from Stoner’s original design, while harnessing earlier roots at the same time.
While setting up the BCA BC-15 Side Charger, I found that the forward quick detach sling was hindered by the gas block. Since BCA uses a slimline handguard rail, there wasn’t enough clearance between them for my QD sling attachment to fit. Fortunately, BCA provides QD sling attachment points, fore and aft on the handguard, so I just used the rear point, but one could also attach an M-LOK sling adapter as well. I rarely have a need to remove AR-15 handguards, but if you need to, you’ll need to first remove any M-LOK attachments to get past the gas block.
The BC-15 Side Charger from BCA still utilizes the standard AR-15 takedown pins but differs from there for field stripping. There’s a threaded plug at the top rear of the upper receiver that must be removed, and the charging handle on the bolt carrier must also be removed using an Allen wrench. Then, the bolt carrier can be removed from the back of the receiver. It’s not a complicated process, just different than the standard AR-15.
Note: The specifications below are for a stainless steel finished .223 Wylde barrel that accommodates .223 Remington and 5.56 NATO, whereas the model reviewed has a black nitride finish barrel marked 5.56 NATO. It appears that this particular model is not in stock at the time of this writing. Follow the links at the end of the article for BCA’s complete upper availability.
|416R Stainless Steel
|1/2 x 28
|Gas Block System
|Right Side Charging
|Complete Upper Assembly
The 20-inch barrel of the BCA Side Charge rifle was begging for a practical optic, thus, I paired it with the Primary Arms GLx 3-18x44mm rifle scope (follow the link for the full review). Most of the ammo I used for the review was the Hornady Frontier 75-grain Match loading. I found that the 20-inch Bear Creek Arsenal Cold Hammer Forged barrel was a tack driver. I consistently printed 1 MOA to 1.5 MOA groups at 100 and 500 yards. I was extremely pleased with the accuracy I was able to achieve out of the Bear Creek Arsenal BC-15 Side Charger!
I wasn’t measuring my hits at 200 yards, but I had no problem hitting my MK Machine 10-inch COVID steel target while shooting offhand. I also had some fun playing a quick game of Battleship at 100 yards and nearly sunk a cruiser and an aircraft carrier on my last groups during a couple different range trips.
The charging handle was intuitive to use, and surprisingly, I didn’t even find myself reaching for the cocking handle placement on standard ARs. When the bolt carrier is locked to the rear, I could keep my firing hand on the pistol grip while rolling that hand up to grab the charging handle and release the bolt with my index finger.
As I mentioned above, Bear Creek Arsenal sent me the BC-15 Side Charger upper receiver, and I thought it would be a good test to mate it to an unrelated lower receiver to see how well it functions. In my experience, the BCA BC-15 Side Charger upper is truly a plug-and-play option as it functioned flawlessly with my Palmetto State Armory lower receiver. While shooting from the prone position, I found that the spent brass was flung into a neat little pile about two feet away at my three o’clock.
The wonderful performance of the Bear Creek Arsenal BC-15 Side Charger CHF upper receiver between flawless functionality and superb accuracy is proof that “affordability” doesn’t have to mean “mediocrity.” Even if you’re not into Side Charger AR-15s, I’d certainly recommend looking at BCA’s other Cold Hammer Forged barrel options. Despite my inability to use the forward QD sling mount hole, the plethora of M-LOK mounting points made up for that loss.
While I don’t have a direct link to the BC-15 Side Charging Upper as reviewed, you can view all of their current Side Charging Uppers HERE, or all of their CHF barrel Uppers HERE. The Upper Receivers in these categories range from around $200-350 depending on charging style and barrel length. If you’re looking for other features, calibers or complete rifles, view BearCreekArsenal.com to see their whole product line.
What do you think about the BC-15’s performance? If you’ve been using a Side Charger AR-15, how has your experience been? If you’ve already acquired a CHF barreled from Bear Creek Arsenal, how has its accuracy been for you?
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