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By:  Louis K. Bonham

In testing the IWI Tavor X95 recently [links here and here] using a well-built, side-charging semiautomatic rifle reminded me of the thing I like the least about the AR platform — its charging handle.  Sure, you can add a battle latch or even replace it with an oversized one, but the fundamental flaw of that design remains: it’s in an inconvenient location and pretty much requires you to break your cheek weld to use.

There are side charging uppers out there, but they have their drawbacks too. Some use a reciprocating charging handle that’s screwed into a customized bolt carrier. Others offer a non-reciprocating handle, but require at least a special cam pin on the bolt carrier group (if not an entirely different bolt carrier). And, of course, all of them require you to build your upper around a new (typically more expensive) upper receiver, so you can’t just quickly and inexpensively convert your favorite MSR into a side-charger.

Or can you?

Devil Dog Concepts’ Hard Charger is a fiendishly simple solution that, while not perfect, gets pretty close. It’s composed of four parts: a charger that replaces your current charging handle, a guide rail that securely clamps to the forwardmost slot of the Picatinny rail on your upper receiver, a non-reciprocating charging handle (available in a variety of sizes and profiles), and a push rod that screws into the handle and rides inside the guide rail. Installation is extremely simple and takes about a minute.

Here’s their promo video:

It differs from a true side-charging upper in that you still have a charger that moves rearward above the buffer tube when charging.  In other words, rather than do away with the conventional charger completely, the Hard Charger essentially moves the grip point on it about six inches forward.  It’s not as elegant as a dedicated side-charging upper, but with a couple of limitations (discussed below) it allows you to easily convert your current AR to a side-charger.

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Once installed, the charging handle is positioned right above the front of the magazine well, which for me is very convenient. I installed one on the SBR that I tested alongside the X95, and it performed flawlessly. Once in place, the Hard Charger is very solid and took the usual testing abuse of dropping, dragging it in the dirt, etc., without a problem.

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There are a couple of limitations with the design. The Hard Charger mount/guide rail is machined to fit the profile of milspec flat top uppers. It thus may not fit on some milled uppers that have a different profile, and of course it won’t work with the old M16 “carry handle” style uppers. Also, because it occupies the first slot on the rail, it can interfere with mounting certain optics (for example, an EOTech 512 or a LaRue cantilever scope mount).

Devil Dog Concepts indicates that it has additional models in the pipeline that will mount on various different locations on the rail. When these are available, you will be able to select a model that accommodates your choice of sights/optics.

Sepecifications: Devil Dog Concepts Hard Charger

Compatibility: Standard, forged, flat top AR-15/M-16 platforms
Materials: Anodized 7075 aluminum, stainless steel, impact-resistant polycarbonate
Weight: less than 5 ounces
Price: $154

Ratings (out of five stars):

Ergonomics:   * * * *
It does what it’s supposed to, and greatly improves the ergonomics of the AR. However, It’s not as clean a design or operation as a true side charger.

Reliability:   * * * * *
It’s stoutly built and took a considerable amount of punishment without issue.

Customizibility:  * * *
Your preferred sights/optics may not fit with it. If and when the additional models come out that will allow more mounting choices, then this may be moot.

Overall:   * * * *
At $154, it’s about twice as expensive as a premium charging handle, but a lot less than a dedicated side charging upper package — and you can install it in less time than it takes to load a PMAG. As long as you make sure it’ll work with your preferred sights/optics, it’s definitely worth checking out.

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23 Responses to Gear Review: Devil Dog Concepts Hard Charger

    • Also a lefty, and it seems to me that this charger is on the “wrong” side. Maybe I’m just accustomed to my AK,SKS,Marlin 60 and 795. My Hi-Point carbine also has the charger on the “wrong” side. I’m still kind of new to the AR platform, but like the rear charger well enough.

    • Sorry guys. As a lefty I’ve had to adapt to a right-handed AR. After 36 years I’ve come to terms with the rifle as-is. In fact, If given a fully left-handed system, it would probably reduce my effectiveness (which is admittedly pretty limited as it is).

      Some of my concerns:
      – if you’re a “nose to charging handle” kind of shooter, you’d still have to break cheek weld to operate the handle because that charging handle is coming straight back and I like my nose the way it is.
      – the video mentioned snagging wasn’t a problem but I’d still be concerned about the charging handle getting caught on something. that could cause a double feed or other condition resulting in a stoppage requiring remedial action (not very SPORTing).
      – having that handle sticking out the side of the rifle means just another something to snag on clothing, equipment or the environment which could inhibit movement.

      still I think it is a slick enhancement to an AR platform. If Santa’s listening, I have just the rifle that wants one.

  1. Since this thing merely moves the grip of the charging handle forward, don’t you still have to break cheek weld to use it, since there’s a big metal stick moving right towards your face?

    • That was my impression. If you can’t get rid of the existing charging handle and its implications, then what’s the point?

    • You can see in the video, the guy lifts his cheek off the stock to allow the charging handle to come back. And he mounts his face a fair distance back on the stock to begin with.

      Far as I can tell, this device will maybe prevent you from bopping yourself in the nose if your finger slips off the charging handle. That’s about it.

  2. Damn, I like that! But for the price I guess I’ll pass, not that important to me. About $100 cheaper and I’d need a few.

    I guess it was just luck, but I sure appreciate showing product like this in black on an FDE rifle, it really stands out, what you’re looking at.

    • I actually think $150 is reasonable for this device, considering good ambi charging handles start at $70 and the cheapest side charging upper I have found is around $200.

      • I’m such a terrible cheapskate, but $150 seems like “another whole gun” or “a pretty decent scope” to me.

        • My thoughts exactly.

          Before I read a whole review, I look at the ratings and the price first. If it’s outside my budget, I don’t usually read the review.

  3. Maybe I’m just not enough of an operator to wish for something like this, but I don’t understand the need.

    I figure you pull the charging handle once to load the gun, once to empty it. Other than that, you’re either changing magazines after the bolt locks back when the previous magazine ran dry (which only requires releasing the bolt), or you’re doing a tactical reload with a round already in the chamber.

    The aftermarket part that I do appreciate is the B.A.D. lever from Magpul that allows for a bolt lock or bolt release with the trigger finger.

    • Not that I think this thing helps with it, really, but you would also generally use the charging handle to fix stoppages/malfunctions.

  4. I fail to see the point of this device other than making the manufacturer money selling people the newest, coolest most tactical device out there.

    Seems like their tagline should be “For the discerning mall ninja”.

    • I’m with you and Curtis (above) on this. I see no benefit to my training or routine with this. If my nose is up to the back of the rifle then I have already prepared that rifle to fire.

      I do appreciate gear reviews though, even if it’s not gear I want!

  5. I probably won’t buy one.

    But having heard / read any number of complaints about the AR’s charging handle, and how the usual custom-upper approach to addressing it require custom parts or modifications, I admire their insight and inventiveness in addressing a complaint in a way that doesn’t really change any of the “major” parts. (Well, the charging handle itself, but even so.)

    After all, just because I don’t see a need or have a want for it, doesn’t mean nobody else does or should. (But then my initials are JL not MB…)

    Nice concept, guys!

  6. Am I the only one here wondering about availability? Isn’t this the company that shuttered after it’s owner was revealed to be a fraud (stolen valor)?

    • No. That was Devil Dog Arms. This is Devil Dog Concepts. Different company, different people, just a similar name.

  7. $150 for adding an additional failure point to a self defense tool, having to move my optic, and still having to lose my cheekweld everytime I work a malfunction… yikes
    Another ‘theory’ product that fails upon being made a reality.

  8. BCM gunfighter charging handle is $50 on average, and is miles better than the stock CH. Add the $150 cost of this add on to the cost of a regular upper and it’s pretty close to what a true side charger will cost.

  9. I own a side-charging upper, and I gotta say, it’s nice.

    The only non-spec piece I need for it to work is a cam pin, and that’s certainly no big deal.

  10. If the location of the charging handle was as big a problem as everyone makes it out to be Ascot Defense would be the #1 AR seller

  11. Yes if my rig went down in a shtf scenario or someone elses and had to grab another, I would like them all to operate the same. This thing is fluff, not needed.

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