Charging Handles: Location, Location, Location…

Whether you’re a hunter or a dedicated target shooter, you understand the importance of being on target. Shot placement isn’t just important, it’s everything, and if you’re working on groups, the last thing you want to do is move your rifle away from your shoulder. Problem is, if you end up in need of access to your rifle’s charging handle, odds are rather high you’ll be moving it.

The hunting industry, specifically, is booming. If you’re looking for the latest ScentLok apparel in Mossy Oak, you’ve got it. If you’re interested in a new semi-auto rifle from Stag Arms chambered in 6.8 SPC, you’ve got it. But if you’re looking for a hunting rifle with a side-mounted charging handle, you’re going to run into some difficulties.

This is one of those debates that doesn’t exactly cause a frenzy thanks in part to the fact that many shooters see the value of not having charging handles located in their current and most-common positions. Even so, there are always a few naysayers. What’s your opinion when it comes to the best possible location for a charging handle? I can’t be the only one running into problems beyond just needing to lower the rifle, such as when optics overhang the charging handle, making it incredibly awkward to operate (no, it’s not always possible – or a good idea – to shift the scope forward).

Take a look at the video below for a side-mounted charging handle point of view.Then feel free to blow up the comments. Not necessarily in that order, of course.

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  • Anonymoose

    I kinda like the Gibbz uppers, but their lack of a dust cover puts me off.

    • thedonn007

      That looks like the same side charging upper as the one from New Frontier Armory, and X-products. Are they actually the same upper?

      • Cynic

        They are both part of the same design cooperative that share ideas and fund projects so yeah they are

      • Anonymoose

        The New Frontier one doesn’t have lightening cuts on the right side. I wonder if Gibbz licensed the design or makes the as an OEM…?

  • Martin Grønsdal

    Ambidextrous (both sides), slightly in front of the pistol grip, away from top rail, not obstructing potential grenade launcher, torch, laser.

    Like the FN fal, but on both sides.

    • Bal256

      “both sides”, seriously.
      I don’t understand why charging handles are marketed as “ambidextrous” when they require you to partially disassemble your rifle. The correct word is “customizable”, which is ironically probably used more to market firearms than the word “ambidextrous”.

      • Martin Grønsdal

        If you mean like the charging handle on the Tavor, then I agree. It is only customisable.

        I, however, talk about a truly ambidextrous solution, where you can use it left/right as you please.

        Not only that, but I also want the handle to lock the bolt in the rear, like the G3.

        • Tom

          Manticore Arms have/will have a folding charging handle which can be attached to both the left and right hand side, or you can attach one to each side.

      • Anomanom

        Ambidextrous, good for righties or lefties, as opposed to say, a Kalashnikov or a Sig 550 series, which is distinctly not ambidextrous. Most people are only going to use it one way anyway.

  • thedonn007

    “But if you’re looking for a hunting rifle with a side-mounted charging handle, you’re going to run into some difficulties.”

    I would consider my Remington 7400 in .30-06 as a side charging hunting rifle.

  • mike

    Why are you waiting till you are on target to put a round in the chamber in the first place.

  • Nicks87

    I’ve been hunting with AR style rifles for a few years now and have yet to run into any problems with the location of the charging handle. I do prefer an oversized latch though.

  • Pete Sheppard

    A pump action fills the bill ideally. I once borrowed a friend’s Remington 7600, and that was one slick piece of work!

    • Anonymoose

      It would be awesome to have a semi-auto AR15 that charged like a PAR-1, but I’m sure that would make the rifle a lot heavier and unbalanced.

  • Michael Acuna

    Now if the CMMG Mutant had a side charging model…

  • Sianmink

    I like the sidecharging AR uppers and am looking to build my HD .300 blk ‘pistol’ with one from Gibbz. Faxon scores points here too.

    Without argument the worst part of the AR platform is that T-handle.

    • Shmoe

      What about the heavy, oversized buffer system? Not necessarily disagreeing, just sayin’…

      • Plumbiphilious

        It technically has a purpose, and does well at that intended purpose (i.e. extending the receiver length to mitigate recoil by just plain slowing it down over a larger area of travel).
        It’s inconvenient to not be able to easily fold it down, but it makes sense if you stop thinking of the buffer tube as a stock extension, and more just as another necessary part of the receiver.

        I actually agree with Sianmink that the charging handle isn’t great.
        I’d prefer it farther up the receiver on the upper, even if it was ambi and slightly more weight (from a purely ergo/comfort standpoint, rather than the poor grunt having to hoof around another ounces-is-pounds rather than the comfort of the range table).

      • Sianmink

        I guess I should have phrased that as ‘AR15 platform ergonomics’.
        And aside from not being able to (easily) fold the stock, the buffer doesn’t really hurt the rifle.

        • Shmoe

          Yeah, well, some would consider that a big one. There’s also the fact that it adds considerable weight and moving mass; which might be considered “ergonomic” issues.. (It also makes the rifle relatively controllable in full-auto, but I never said it was useless.) Anyway, not saying you’re wrong, just giving another point of view.

      • Burst

        You forgot the forward assist. And the bolt release, And…

    • MR

      I hold my “pistol” like a pistol, so the charging handle requires nearly the same movement as racking the slide on a conventional pistol. Though my manually cycled rifle could probably benefit from a side-charging set up.

  • Cymond

    First, I haven’t used any left-side charging handles, so I freely admit that this is armchair speculation.

    I do like the idea of a left-side charging handle, but my next purchase will be a suppressor. Does anyone know how these left-hand chargers handle gas? I imagine that the slot in the left side of the X-Products leaks some gas, but probably not as much as a Young Mfg upper would.

    As wild as the rimfire world is, I’m a bit surprised that one one has made a left-side charging 10/22 receiver. I’ve seen T-handle 10/22 receivers and biathalon style 10/22 receivers, but never a left hand charger. There’s a scope rail called the ORCA that includes a left-side adapter, but it looks kludgy.

    Also, Quarter Circle 10 is supposedly working on a side-charging upper for their pistol-caliber lowers.

  • Shmoe

    No mention of the the side (or forward) charging systems that work via an extended gas-key acting as an op-rod and incorporating a recoil/buffer spring. This removes two of my least favourite AR features, the odd charging system and the HUGE buffer system in the buttstock, whilst retaining it’s best feature, direct gas impingement.

  • Spencer

    Obligatory reminder that the AR10 started with a top mounted charging handle(also explains the useless “carry handle”).

    • Anonymoose

      They did away with that on the AR15 because it would get really hot during prolonged firing. I still want to get one of those NDS-15 replica uppers though.

      • noob

        hmm does that also mean there is a long open channel in the top of the rifle for mud and dirt to get in?

        • McThag

          The slot is covered by the “tail” of the charging piece. When you pull the “trigger” the tail extends out a hole in the back of the upper.

          That hole is in the same place as the standard AR handle.

          • Jwedel1231

            Yeah, but is there an open hole during bolt movement, like the M14, SKS, etc.?

          • MR

            No, only when operating the charging handle. Otherwise, it’s non-reciprocating, and latches forward.

          • noob

            Hmm interesting, does that mean you could poke yourself in the face with the tail of the charging handle in the original design? or is it close enough to the stock or inside the stock that it is impossible to injure yourself?

  • Shmoe

    Also, is that a JP upper at the top of the post Katie? Or does someone else make a side-charger with a folding handle?

    • That is a pic I added. It’s from

      I’m testing one now and I really like it. It’s non-reciprocating and the bolt locks back after the last round. The BCG has a small notch to catch the bolt after the last shot.

      • Shmoe

        Ah yes, I’d forgotten about them. Look forward to a review!

  • I really like the left side charging handle on the American Spirit uppers. I’ve been testing one for some and will have a report on it shortly.

  • Fegelein

    The best place for a biased charging handle is on the right side of the gun, directly on the receiver, right where 85% of users’ hands are going to be in easy reach.
    The best place for an ambidextrous charging handle is like above but with a projection on the left side, too.

    • Mike

      the point of having it on the left is so that you don’t have to remove your firing hand to manipulate the action.

  • 24Mossberg .

    Good article! Wow, side Charging Handle looks like a great alternative. Yes, with my scope, I really have difficulty charging my rifle. Even went to an oversized charging handle grip.

  • AlDeLarge

    So, where do you put your nose?
    kidding, … mostly

  • BrandonAKsALot

    I like forward mounted, side-charging. Swappable of course.

  • whamprod

    I own, shoot, and love AR platform rifles, but I also own a SCAR 17, and one of the things about it that I appreciate over the AR platform is the forward mounted charging handle. It doesn’t bother me that it reciprocates at all, but having it easily accessible that way is great. Also, as a lefty, I really appreciated that the charging handle can be repositioned on the right side of the receiver so that I can manipulate it without removing my left hand from the pistol grip. I wish there was some way to retrofit an AR for that, without having to completely rebuild the upper.