I’ve bought six of the BSA side-charging uppers. Here’s what I’ve found.
They Have Really Good Barrels
Bear Creek Arsenal machines their own barrels for their side-charging uppers. They put most of their quality control into barrel production. In all honesty, the barrels are the best thing they make. I’ve known a lot of custom AR builders who hate on Bear Creek but would buy Bear Creek barrels for their custom builds.
The barrels are hammer-forged, which makes the rifling tougher, more true, and longer lasting. I’ve never heard of any issues with bullet stabilization or seen any complaints about their barrels being out of spec or poorly machined on the inside. In the instance of a genuine accuracy issue, I’ve yet to see a problem with the barrel.
There are three normal options for barrel rust-proofing. Stainless steel, Parkerized, and Nitride. I went with Parkerized because it’s a cheaper option. It works decently well, but it’s almost a powder coating and it can wear off. That means a light oil can be useful. I oil all my classic rifles already so it’s not an issue to me. It’s a plain-old good habit.
The Nitride is nice, and they do a good job at it. It’s a chemical treatment that changes the surface layer of the steel, making it rust-proof. Nitride can wear off but it takes a good long while and a lot of wear. The stainless barrels are really nice. A little more expensive, but this steel isn’t going to rust at all. It is nice not having to worry about rust in or on your barrel.
They Are A Simple Proprietary Design
BCA has perfected a custom design for side-charging uppers that uses a standard upper blank. That way, they keep costs at half or less of the next guy making side-charging uppers. Bear Creek charges around $200-$300. Elsewhere, most of what I see are $700-$1000.
I really like how simplistic the design modifications are. It’s definitely not the sort of thing your run-of-the-mill engineer designed. It’s too simple for that. There are several fewer springs, pins, and notches in these as compared to a standard AR upper.
There is no ejection port cover. That makes for less machining and assembly work overall. Most people I know never liked one of those on a standard AR but we had no choice. There is no forward assist on the right side like the original AR design. Frankly, I never cared for that anyways. If I did have a feeding issue that I wanted to push through, I could just hit the side-charging handle.
The lack of those two options also means that the bolt has less machining needed. That’s more of the ingenuity behind a more budget-friendly rifle. They’re getting rid of the unnecessary expense of options most people don’t care about, concentrating on a good barrel, and producing a formidable rifle that every man can afford.
The final part of how the make it so cheap is in the tail-end of the gas system. The rear of the upper is machined out similar to that of a conventional AR with a rear charging handle. This allows room for the gas port on the bolt as it cycles. It has to Be machined all the way out so you can remove the bolt, but then you have to deal with gasses coming out the back with every shot.
On standard rifles, the charging handle deflects the gas away from your face. Side-charging uppers have no such handle. Bear Creek decided to thread the end of the hole and put a bolt in it. It seals with a simple rubber o-ring that lasts thousands of shots. It’s so simple, yet so darn functional. I love it.
That rear gas plug bolt, once in a while, gets in the way with a lower receiver that’s taller than normal. If you have found that to happen, you can get a 50-cent headless Allen bolt from any hardware store and it’ll go right in without sticking out the back.
To remove the bolt-carrier group, remove the rear gas plug and the side charging handle and it’ll slide right on out the back.
They are Available in 14 Calibers
Most manufacturers limit the number of calibers in their offerings. As of right now, Bear Creek makes the side-charging AR-15 upper in the following calibers:
- .17 HMR
- .22 Long Rifle
- .22 Magnum
- .223 Wylde
- .224 Valkyrie
- .300 Blackout
- .450 Bushmaster
- .458 SOCOM
- 5.56 NATO
- 6.5 Grendel (Type II)
- 12.7 x 42
- 350 Legend
I’ve personally purchased 450 Bushmaster, 6.4 Grendel, 350 Legend, and 7.62X39 in their side-charging uppers.
They are generally 1-2 MOA
Average accuracy of a rifle with a Bear Creek side-charging upper is within 2 inches a 200 yards, when fired by a good shooter. Out of the hundreds I’ve seen, about half would shoot 2 inches and half would shoot 1 inch at 100 yards.
All mine have also been within 2-inches at 100 yards. That’s might fine for a $200 AR upper shooting military surplus ammo. I’ll take it. I know some people won’t be impressed by a one or two-inch group at a hundred yards, but realize that that’s better than 98 percent of hunters and soldiers in the world can shoot.
I own, use, and recommend Bear Creek Arsenal side-charging uppers. Here’s a link to see them at Bear Creek Arsenal
Quality Control Has Gone Up
Bear Creek used to be known for fine quality, but then they had a downturn for a few years. Now, they’re back on top of things again and the are both working more on quality control and on customer support. The company had some trouble a few years back and ended up loosening up on the quality inspection and on their ability to answer the phone during the day.
I’m happy to report that any time the quality is back, and in my opinion better than it ever was. And, any time I’ve called or emailed them, I get a reply quite soon because they have a dedicated person for that now. As a gun writer, I contact companies a lot. Bear Creek gets back to me faster than most of the big companies.
Also, they are really expanding their offerings. They have a new line of classic semi-auto pistols, and the new BC-8, which is a magnum caliber AR design for long-range hunting. It’s available in 300 Magnum and 30-06.