Bear Creek Arsenal: Side Charging Handle Rifles

— Jason MosherCADRE Dispatch

Looking for an affordable yet reliable 5.56 or 9mm rifle? Bear Creek Arsenal (BCA) offers a blend of affordability and quality, backed by innovation. Today we’re taking a look at their BC9 and BC15, both of which have a side charging handle.

Bear Creek Arsenal rifles with side charging handles
The BC-9 (bottom) and BC-15 are both side-charging handle rifles from Bear Creek Arsenal. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

My first BCA was a 5.56 complete upper. I purchased it about a year ago, and I’ve put about 1,100 rounds through it so far. It’s held up great and the side charging handle is a cool feature that I absolutely love. It’s much more natural feeling to grab the side charging handle than to reach back for the rear T-handle on a traditional AR-15.

BC-15 5.56 NATO Right Side Charging Handle

I am always searching for new rifles to check out and low-price tags catch my eye. After a few different projects, I ended up with an extra Aero Precision lower I wasn’t using. I wanted a budget-friendly upper to put on it so I started the search.

Once I found the Bear Creek Arsenal upper with the side charging handle, I had to try it. It wasn’t just the affordable price tag that got my attention, it was the side charging handle design. I’ve been an AR-15 fan since the first day I held one, but I’ve never liked the placement of the rear charging handle.

I paid just under $200 for the complete upper and it arrived in the mail within a week.

BC-15 is an AR-15 rifle
The BC-15 is an AR-15 rifle with a side-charging handle. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

I’m curious when it comes to guns, so I took it apart to look it over before heading to the range. BCA milled two holes in the side of the BCG (bolt carrier group) for the side charging handle to screw to.

They also cut out a small groove in the upper receiver just behind the ejection port. This makes room for the handle to move as the bolt cycles. Because the handle is attached directly to the BCG, it is reciprocating, meaning it moves as you fire the bolt.

When I first saw this, I didn’t know how I felt about it, but I realized the benefit of having it on the right side for right-handed shooters. It it was on the left side, it’s more likely my support hand would get in the way. This isn’t an issue however with the handle on the right side. I’ve used it in a variety of drills at the range and it’s never once gotten in the way.

BC-9 AR with side charging handle

Recently, BCA sent me one their BC-9, which is a full-size AR-15 platform chambered in 9mm — with a side charging handle. I was thrilled to check it out. I had already been shooting their 5.56 rifle for a while but with the high prices of ammo, training more with a 9mm version to reduce the cost made sense.

Training with a smaller caliber of the same rifle is just smart in today’s economy. Of course, the magazines and recoil are much different than with a 5.56 rifle. But for all other training purposes, the BC-9 is a great gun that saves a lot of money at the range. Of course, a 9mm AR doesn’t replace the need to train with a 5.56 version, but it reduces it.

I’ve had the BC-9 on the range multiple times, and it is quickly becoming my go-to training gun.

Bear Creek Arsenal BC-9 with side charging handle
The BC-9 Controls are within easy reach and it shot without a single issue. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

Like its big brother, the BC-9 has a side charging handle screwed onto the side of the bolt. The model I have is virtually the same rifle except for the caliber difference. A 15-inch handguard covers just about all of the 16-inch barrel and has plenty of M-LOK slots on the sides and bottom.

The top has 1913 Picatinny rail on the front and back section for mounting any accessories desired. They left the middle of the handguard smooth which is nice for gripping the handguard.

As you would expect, the BC9 accepts Glock magazines which is becoming a default mag for PCC rifles. I like this because I can use my Glock duty mags in the rifle during training events and home defense.

Like many 9mm AR-15 rifles, the BC-9 has a manual bolt hold open but does not have a last-round bolt hold open. Some companies put this on their rifles, but it drives up the price. Whether you want to pay more for this feature depends on how much you want to spend and what you are doing with it.

quality and price

When looking at the quality of a rifle, the first thing to check out is the material used to make it. Bear Creek Arsenal didn’t cut any corners with the materials used in the construction of the BC-9. The billet receiver houses the bolt made from E9310 alloy steel followed by the 4150 Chrome Moly Vanadium barrel. It has a 1:10 twist and M4 contour.

With the 15-inch handguard, the BC-9 weighs 7.2 pounds. That’s a little more than other PCCs on the market, but not by much. For comparison, the Springfield Armory Saint Victor 9mm Carbine weighs 6.9 pounds and retails for $1,200. The BC-9 with a side charging handle runs $526.47 when it’s not on sale.

Again, the price you pay all depends on the features you want and what you plan to do with the rifle. But this is a great quality rifle at an affordable price.

Bear Creek Arsenal BC-9.
Bear Creek Arsenal BC-9: A Glock mag fed PCC with a side charging handle. [Photo: Jason Mosher]

On the range, I fired multiple types of ammo through each rifle without any issues. Among my favorite was 5.56 Winchester 55gr and MaxxTech 115gr 9mm from which is cheap and shoots extremely well. Plus, delivers ammo faster than Jimmy John’s delivers sandwiches.

I also used multiple brands of magazines in each one and didn’t have any problems with cycling in either gun. Because my duty belt already has three 17-round Glock magazines, I used these the most during training.

I have a training belt with just my Safariland holster and mag pouches so I don’t scuff up my other duty gear. This works out great when using the BC-9 because I can pull mags from my belt for a handgun or the rifle.

Ready to check out Bear Creek Arsenal?

Bear Creek Arsenal has a lot of great options and sells the entire rifle or just the upper if you already have an AR-15. For such a low cost, it’s hard to avoid buying one or both. I find the side charging handle convenient and easy to use, and everything else on the gun has held up just fine as well. Both are great guns for a great price.  

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