What is a Side Charging Upper?

A side charging upper is a variation of the upper receiver that relocates the charging handle of the AR 15 to the right side of the chamber.

Traditional AR configuration charging handles are located at the rear of the firearm. This means that you would use the side charging handle to engage rounds into or out of the chamber. 

Side charging uppers come in reciprocating and non-reciprocating models.  Non-reciprocating versions are not semi-automatic, making them easier to purchase in states with strict gun laws.

Modifications to an AR 15

Side charging handles for AR 15’s was born from competitive shooting to increase efficiency and eliminate the need for the traditional charging handle. Why, you ask?

With the conventional handle, there is a limit placed on the top line height that the buttstock can have because the charging handle must be free to retract fully with no restrictions in the way.

Why do most AR 15 adjustable buttstocks have the cheekpiece further back compared to where it should be to receive the most benefit from it and the reason? You guessed it, to provide a traditional charging handle, the clearance must be retracted with no limitations.

A benefit to the side charging handle for your AR 15 over the traditional charging handle is that there is no restriction on the height for the buttstock meaning that a better-designed adjustable cheekpiece, or even a simply higher elevated cheekpiece, can be installed. This more practical cheekpiece install will fit better, offer a better shooting position, and a higher score.

Side charging handles for AR 15’s are now available, boxed, and ready to ship from a wide variety of different sources. They were usually thought of by many as a top-end “custom” modification for precision AR 15’s that were scarce to come by.

The best part of this availability is the affordability that accompanies it. Some side charging handles rival the price of standard upper/ BCG combination packages. In addition, some designs are proprietary which is favorable to ensure the security of the charging handle.

Side Charged AR-15’s allow the operator to unload the weapon more safely by having the gun closer at hand, instead of the outreached arm balancing act offered by the traditional rear top charge handle.

It is a natural movement for right-handed shooters to hold the rifle with the left hand and unload the weapon via the side charge handle with the right hand. Loading and unloading sequences are widespread in many different shooting environments; the large, robust handle is far easier to manipulate than the rear handle. There is no awkward reaching or shifting the gun to retract the bolt carrier.