I don’t know anyone that doesn’t like the idea of a side charging upper receiver for their AR – Easier to rack while in the prone, better clearance from your face, easier pull… But the problem is that non-reciprocating side chargers and BCGs are not cheap. And so we put up with normal charging systems to save money since retrofitting all your ARs would be pretty darn costly. Well, until now.
We got sent a neat little gizmo called a Hard Charger, by Devil Dog Concepts (a Marine Veteran owned company). It promised to make any AR into a side charger, and easy to move between ARs. That’s a pretty big claim, so we wanted to test it out and reached out with a request for one. When they heard we wanted to try breaking it, I could just FEEL the smirk through their email where they basically challenged us to do it.
Yay, free reign to break stuff!
So how did it fare? Better than my hand did, but I’ll get into that later.
When the unit first arrived, it seemed a lot smaller than I thought it would. It’s reasonably light and not too bulky. It attaches by mounting to the picatinny rail on your receiver up in front, and the proprietary charging handle slides in like normal – except that it has a guide assembly on the side that matches up with the other half of the Hard Charger on the outside – the two piece design prevents the tilting and binding of other side charging conversion handles. That’s all assembly it takes. The charging knob on the left sits in the channel on the left side in a channel along the guide assembly.
The only real issue I had at first was that I had to move my optic back a couple slots to leave room to let the Hard Charger mount in front of it, and it would NOT fit on my billet upper – a common enough problem with accessories and billet receivers so I won’t ding it much for that. It fit perfectly fine on our forged receivers though.
It makes charging a breeze while keeping your support hand in a natural position. This allows you to get back on target faster. When in the prone, it makes a huge difference – so much so that this becomes a Must Have accessory if you commonly shoot in the prone.
Even though the charging knob is on the left side, don’t worry if you need to rack the charging handle with your right hand – the way it’s designed, you can squeeze the charging handle and release a latch on the left with your thumb, allowing you to charge it normally with a two finger pull from your right hand.
And for those worried about durability, I was smashing the charging knob against a tree over and over, and smashed my finger – yes, my finger failed before the Hard Charger did. It’s sturdy and will last, don’t worry about that. In fact, the design of the charging handle design reduces stress on the latch roll pin – and as someone who had a charging handle fail at the worst possible time, that’s important to me.
The charging handle still comes out toward your face when you use it. Because you’re not shifting your face and arm to use it like you normally would, you do need to make sure you don’t catch yourself in the face.
It can be moved between uppers by loosening a screw, but it’s still annoying – though I admit it’s nice that you can move it around between receivers…
… But since it costs about the same as a side charging receiver, if you don’t plan on moving it around you may just be better off getting an actual side charging receiver. $220 is a lot for a charging handle, no matter how convenient it is, and that will put it out of a lot of people’s price range (and actual side chargers as well).
Is it the perfect solution? No, I’d rather have all my ARs have side charging uppers, of course. But I can’t afford that. But at least with this Hard Charger, I could setup my rifle for the day with it before heading to the range (though I admit I simply keep it on my .300blk pistol) or take it off at any time to go back to one of my other Ambi charging handles. The Hard Charger isn’t for everyone but I admit I like it. While there will be people shouting “GIMMICK! GIMMICK!”, it actually works as described and is simply awesome to have when shooting prone. Will I tell you to get one instead of a real side charger? No, but I won’t tell you not to get one either. It’ll be your call based on what you are looking for – but at least with this unit, if it breaks, you can still use the charging handle normally, which is a nice advantage.
If you don’t want the charging handle pulling back near your face, and you only have one upper, an actual side charger might be your best choice. If you want the convenience of a side charger, along with the ability to retrofit your AR, or move it to a different upper any time you want? Get the hard charger. It’s tougher than my finger (which is damn tough not Sean Connery thumb tough). It’s convenient. It works. I like it.
And I’ll tell you this: when they finally release one for a .308 AR, I will absolutely be putting one on mine.