The Advantages of Non-Reciprocating Side Charging AR-15 Rifles
For many shooters, the concept of a side-charging AR is unfamiliar. Some may not see the need, or advantage, of running a “non-standard” rifle. But the truth is that side charging combat rifles are neither new nor non-standard. This method of operation has been around for the better part of the century and offers a number of benefits, even compared to the traditional top-mounted “T-handle” of the AR platform.
The side charging handle, while not part of the original AR-15 design, is not new to combat rifles. In fact, the AR-15’s cousin, the AR-18, had such a handle. So did numerous other service rifles from around the world that were built throughout the 20th century. The AK, SKS, FAL and M14 all had such handles, on one side or the other.
Those shooters who have been trained to do all weapons manipulation in their “work space” may find much benefit to the side-charger. For the uninitiated, work space is an imaginary box from your eyebrows to your sternum, shoulders-wide where all your reloads and malfunction drills are performed. With an AR, the rifle must be pointed muzzle up with the left side of the receiver facing the shooter. This position presents the larger side-mounted charging level directly in the shooter’s immediate line of sight, and within short reach. Side-charging ARs, therefore, allow much greater economy of motion when running the bolt during both reloads and remedial actions for a Type I malfunctions – the ubiquitous “tap-rack-bang” drill. Even in the case of left-handed shooters, where the changing handle is facing away from the shooter, reaching underneath the magazine for a large side-mounted knob may still be easier than trying to pinch a T-handle and rack down the length of you bent forearm, into the crook of your elbow.
Speaking of malfunction drills, the side charger provides a much more positive engagement for when you must forcibly charge the weapon to clear malfunctions. Being able to grab the handle in a closed-fist, under-hand grip creates much greater leverage than the pinching motion required of a T-shaped charging handle. In fact, it effectively eliminates the need for a forward assist. A good forward shove on a side-mounted handle will seat the bolt better than a forward assist, without the potential for complications that that particular part provides.
While those die-hard traditionalists will continue to resist the side-charging AR-15, the updated side-charging variant of the AR platform encapsulates the irony of looking back to move forward.