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.
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.
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
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.