By Thomas Conroy
Manasquan, NJ –-(Ammoland.com)- For many shooters, AR 15 charging handle seem like one of the most un exciting topics ever.
Who could possibly get charged up about a charging handle? A standard charging handle is just long skinny bit of roughly T-shaped aluminum in the top of the rifle. Sometimes you yank on it, often only to load the very first round of the very first magazine during a range session.
But charging handles are important, especially if you do any sort of shooting beyond casual plinking. Not only do they help you chamber a round, charging handles are your main tool to clear a double feed, or to remove a round or empty case that won’t eject cleanly for some reason.
And if you put a scope on your Black Rifle, you’ll discover that operating a standard charging handle can become difficult to the point that you’ll wish you had a third joint in your thumb, or fingers like a Madagascar aye-aye. ( <– Warning this is weird )
Some AR-15 fans go to radical extremes to improve their rifle’s chargeability by opting for a side-charging upper. Those of us who like to shoot FALs or SCARs already know how easy it is to use a left-hand, non-reciprocating charge handle. But side-charging uppers on AR-15s can be pricey, and they preclude the use of some standard parts.
Luckily, the charging handle is one of the easiest parts on an AR-15 to upgrade, and there are plenty to choose from.
There are so many that I will wind up omitting some very good charge handles from this list. If you have a favorite model that I left out, let everyone know in the comments below. Variety is the spice of life, after all.
My personal list of Best AR-15 Charging handles, and why I list them.
This charge handle has a standard-looking latch on the left side and a much larger latch sticking out the right side, to clear the forward assist. Left-handed shooters would typically use their supporting right hand to manipulate the charge handle, especially if they’re trying to shoot fast on the move. But I’m a rightie, and I like to shoot slowly from pone, and I love this charge handle on one of my rifles. It’s on an AR-15 with a bipod and a big scope mounted on it. As I get down behind my scoped AR, I can charge it with a simple, quick flick of my right index finger.
From the Manufacture: “Machined aluminum charging handle has an extended latch on the right side to enable fast, positive operation by left-handers. Gives both left- and right-handed shooters a tactical advantage in combat or competition to clear jams quickly, and operate the handle even if one hand becomes incapacitated. Extended right-side latch is machined from ordnance-grade steel and features a large, 5⁄8″ square contact pad that projects ¾” from the handle. It’s easy to find under stress and provides extra leverage to release the latch and cycle the handle quickly. Also useful on a rifle with a large scope that limits access to the standard charging handle.”
It’s very intuitive and the extended right-side latch is easy to reach and gives plenty of leverage. It also helps me clear jams, on the rare occasions when they crop up. This one retails for right at $100. http://goo.gl/r8V4B7
This charging handle has a large, ambidextrous latch that works equally well for both righties and lefties or, in an injured defense situation, with your foot. It offers plenty of surface area on both sides, and you can quickly get your fingers on it, even if you have to maneuver around a scope or a folded-down backup sight mounted behind a red dot or holographic sight.
From the Manufacture: “Machined aluminum charging handle drops in to standard AR-15 receivers to give positive operation for right and left handed shooters. Built with thicker dimensions than standard charging handles to withstand wear and rough use. Large diameter coiled spring pin absorbs shock and flexes so it won’t fail under extreme conditions. Broad contact points make traditional and tactical weapon manipulation easy, and grooved surfaces help weapon retention and assist positive charging operation while wearing gloves. Battle Latch Charging Handle Assembly fits AR-15s and is designed for right handed shooters. Ambidextrous Battle Latch Charging Handle fits AR-15s and gives true ambidextrous function.”
All that extra surface area is great when you need to grab and yank to clear a stoppage. It sells for around $80. http://goo.gl/ViTRXQ
The “Gas Buster” is designed to deflect any gas blow-back away from your face. If you shoot suppressed rifles, or rimfire AR-15s, you might rank this one even higher, as both types of firearms tend to spit more gas back at you than standard, non-suppressed ARs.
Even if you don’t use a suppressor or don’t shoot rimfire, it’s still a robust, high-quality upgrade over the standard AR-15 charging handle. You can get it with your choice of a flat latch with a nice, curved gripping surface, or a military-style latch with plenty of real estate to grab.
From the Manufacture: “Extra-thick handle includes a gas deflection groove to protect shooter from gas blowback. Extended finger latches aid in fast jam clearing. Flat Latch has a deep hook contour. Military (Mil.) Latch has smooth face with round edges that are easy on fingers.”
Designed primarily for right-handed shooters, this one sells for right at $90. http://goo.gl/snGWfd
This is another ambidextrous charging handle, but one with almost-symmetrical latches sticking out. The right side is a little longer, in order to clear the forward assist found on most AR-15s. But if you just glance at the Raptor, they look almost like matching wings. The best part about the Raptor is you can charge using your fingers and thumb, two fingers, one finger, or even by swiping it with the edge of your palm.
From the Manufacture: “Drop-in replacement for factory issue handle lets you charge the rifle from either side of the receiver with a rapid palm “blading” motion or the traditional finger/thumb hold. Dual, over-sized release levers are mirror images of each other, with deeply grooved surfaces that ensure positive contact so you can operate the handle in one fluid, fast motion with wet or gloved hands. Radiused edges won’t cut the hand or snag on clothing and gear. Gives top of rifle a unique, aggressive appearance, too.”
If you want an ambidextrous change handle that has clean lines, and isn’t noticeably lopsided, then the Raptor is the one for you. It costs right at $90. http://goo.gl/PhYDkM
Consistently one of the most-popular charging handles, the BCM Gunfighter is available with small, medium and large latches, letting you achieve the exact feel you want. It’s designed for right-handed shooters, and thus has the latch sticking out to the left, for easy reach by the supporting left hand.
From the Manufacture: “Heavy-duty charging handle has an innovative, oversized latch that distributes pull force evenly across the entire handle for fast, smooth, reliable operation with the support hand. Prevents the critical roll pin from breaking and rendering the latch inoperable. Machined from billet aluminum with extra metal reinforcing the stress points to stand up to hard operational use. Available with Medium length extended latch or Large latch that’s ¼” longer for an even bigger, “can’t miss” grasping surface. Small latch duplicates the size of the issue latch but includes the same design upgrades as the Medium and Large latches for increased strength and dependability”
Why is this charge handle so popular? It’s designed to take the force and stress of rapid manipulation off the tiny little roll pin that holds the latch onto the charging handle. The Gunfighter will run and run without breaking or wearing out. sootch00 does a good job explaining this in the video below:
Plus, the design helps keep the handle traveling straight back when you yank on it, which makes for smooth, easy function. Another big factor that makes the Gunfighter so popular is its price of only about $48. http://goo.gl/ZU22QB
The modular design of the AR-15 means that many of its parts can be quickly and easily replaced by just about anyone. The charging handle is one of the easiest parts to upgrade, as removing the charge handle is a simple process and a standard part of breakdown during standard cleaning and maintenance. While the standard, factory original charge handle works well enough, getting several new and different handles can add functionality to your rifle. And some of the replacement charge handles also look really cool, too, which is always a plus.
Thomas Conroy is a writer and firearms aficionado who lives in the Midwest.